Everyone Needs a Safety Valve.

I remember the Forncetts from my days of trudging the fields of East Anglia back in the late 1970s. I'd had a farm visit nearby and had called in at the now closed Pelican on Norwich Road in Tacolneston for a bit of lunch. I don't believe I'd ever been in a Pelican until then. I can't actually recall being in one since! Originally a single parish, Forncett was split into two, Forncett St. Peter and Forncett St. Mary, around the time that our bygone boozer was built and then they were reunited about eighty years later. In 1849 the villages acquired a railway station when the Eastern Union Railway thought that it would be a good idea to connect Norwich and Ipswich, and in 1851 a hotel was built in its vicinity. Unsurprisingly, when it opened it was called the Railway Hotel and it had one James Harvey as the innkeeper.


The 1851 census shows James Harvey at the new Railway Hotel in Forncett St. Peter.

Three years later, when White's directory was published, the pub had become known as the Safety Valve and James was supplementing his income by selling corn, coal and timber as well as hiring out the odd light carriage known as a fly. We'll see that this remains a bit of a theme.


Extract from White's 1854 directory.

Why the name change? And why to the Safety Valve? It's a rather odd name for a boozer, isn't it? I can't find any record of another pub anywhere in the country, either extant or extinct, with the same name. I can't find any connection with an industry in the local area to which safety valves might've been linked either. The Forncetts are home to an industrial steam museum however, so perhaps there is a connection after all, but just what it might be I can't find and have no idea.


It's obvious why it was originally called the Railway Hotel, but why the Safety Valve?

James Harvey was followed at the Safety Valve in the mid-1860s by John Waters who continued the habit of multi-occupations, something which was probably a necessity with there being another four or five pubs in the Forncetts at the time.


1871 census suggests John had two further occupations in addition to innkeeper and coal merchant...

...one of which was farming according to Kelly in 1879.

Within a couple of years of the publication of Kelly's 1879 directory the first of three generations of the same family who ran the Safety Valve was ensconced. Along with wife Anna, Robert Keeler combined running the pub with farming and... selling coal.


1881 census

Robert, possibly in keeping with the experiences of many of today's publicans, felt that his landlord was not treating him fairly. It must have affected him greatly for on the 1st July 1903 he was found hanging. There was a letter with him which included the sentence"Messrs. Steward and Patteson caused me to kill myself." The resulting inquest returned a verdict of 'Suicide by hanging whilst in an unsound state of mind.'


The Railway Inn has morphed into the Safety Valve or even the Station Hotel.

After Robert's death his widow Anna (it's highly likely that it's her that's standing in the doorway in the above picture) takes on the license, but it's only a matter of months before their son Lemon ( Yes, Lemon! It was his mother's maiden name.) takes over the reins. Coal-selling still features in 1911.




So, selling coal is still an additional line for the Safety Valve's landlord but when Ford started producing its Model T in the UK in 1913 Lemon added yet another string to his bow and must've been one of the first individuals in the country to have had motor cars for hire. Not coal and flys (Should that be 'flies'? Old adverts seemed to use the 'y' spelling.) like James Harvey, but coal and carriages powered by something other than horses.


A later view of the Safety Valve (note the new side entrance) and a couple of Lemon's cars. c1913.

Lemon gives up the Safety Valve in 1913 but continues his interest in the motor trade just around the corner. Twenty-seven years later a third generation of Keelers moved in and ran the place until 1945: Lemon's son Bob with his wife Ada.


The pub continued to operate until it served its final pint on 3rd December 1970. It has since been demolished although the outbuildings were still standing in 2009.


The pub's gone but the outbuildings linger on. September 2009 © Google 2021

It seems as if some of the site now has residential accommodation on it as a couple of months ago South Norfolk Council received a planning application relating to The Old Safety Valve. The pub's gone but at least its name, wherever it came from, lives on.



And whilst I'm speaking of living on, as the UK's Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close this year, remember that it's OK not to be OK. Everyone needs a safety valve. Someone to let off steam to; someone to reduce the pressure. Talk. Talk to someone. Talk to anyone. Don't end up as another David Bairstow, Gary Speed or Dan Vickerman; as another Kelly Catlin, Ellie Soutter or Caroline Flack. Hopefully I'm not the common link but, without much thought, I can produce the names of seven friends, former work colleagues or other associates who are no longer with us. Don't end up like one of the 5000 - 6000 'ordinary' individuals in the UK who commit suicide each year. Don't end up as another Robert Keeler.


The Ordnance Survey extract is copyright and is reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Scotland and reused under this license.


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