Bear With Me.

Updated: Apr 18

Quite a while ago now, Mrs. Bygone Boozer returned from a ride and informed me that she'd followed the line of the old Derby Canal for part of it. There was certainly no canal in Derby when I moved there in 1980 although there were clues to its former existence. After all, I did make innumerable visits to IFS on Canal Street to purchase various sizes and lengths of UNF bolts (OK, set screws if I'm to be pedantic) during the rebuilds of the Land Rover and Austin Healey.


Curiosity kindled, I started to do a little digging and found that the Derby Canal was completed in 1796 and running from Swarkestone to Sandiacre it linked the Trent & Mersey and Erewash Canals. What's all this stuff about a canal got to do with lost pubs? Bear with me, for speaking of links, it was during this process that Mr. Google produced one to this image on Picture the Past, taken around 1955, by R. G. Hughes.



With Home Brewed Ales painted on its gable end the building on the right must surely have been a pub. And there started a quest to establish its identity. Initially it was a slow job for, despite being pretty certain of its location, I could find no indication of a pub on any old Ordnance Survey maps showing Exeter Street and no mention of it being on Exeter Street in any directories either. The street name reading Derwent... followed by something short was also puzzling. The letters certainly didn't spell Exeter Street. Perhaps Picture the Past had got it wrong and it wasn't on Exeter Street after all. Then I came across this.



Picture the Past had not got it wrong. The initial lack of progress and the puzzlement were down to me being a plonker. For some reason I'd convinced myself that the bridge in the photograph was at the north-western end of the street where in actual fact it was at the south-eastern one. And it turns out that the building was a pub – the White Bear Inn on Derwent Row, which adjoined Exeter Street. Fred Wildsmith is shown as the licensee but quite when this image dates from I can't be certain. Fred was at the Seven Stars on Nottingham Road in 1911 and I've read that that place closed before the outbreak of World War I (watch this space!). Did Fred move to the White Bear from the Seven Stars or was it the other way around. It's likely to be one or the other.


Whichever way he moved, the pub was going long before Fred Wildsmith had it. The earliest that I've managed to track it back to is 1841 when at the time of the census John Smedley was an innkeeper at 18 Derwent Row.



John's son Alexander took it over and was running the place in 1861 but had moved on a decade later.


Extract from the 1861 census.

If the White Bear was in the hands of the Smedley family for around a couple of decades in the 1800s the Becketts were there for half a century in the 1900s. William Beckett was in the pub by at least 1918 and the family was still there when the place closed in December 1969. The Free has this image posted on its public Facebook page of the pub taken that year.


After closure the White Bear was demolished and the canal filled in. The site where the White Bear used to stand is now covered in tarmac as part of Darwin Place. If you can bear to see what the above view is like today Mr. Google has provided the one below.


The view in 2021. © Google 2022

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.

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