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Mr. Brown Goes Off To Town...

...on the 8:21...

I know that the closing credits of Dad's Army don't feature the lyrics but it's difficult not to take Bud Flanagan's part and sing along, even though I've never been a great fan of Captain Mainwaring and his Company. From that you've probably guessed that I hadn't spent the last half hour in the presence of Private 'Stupid Boy' Pike or Lance Corporal 'They Don't Like It Up 'Em' Jones although I can relate to doom-monger Frazer having spent the last half century modelling myself on, and I feel surpassing, John Laurie's eternally optimistic character. Mrs. Bygone Boozer had just turned the set on to watch a decade-old episode of Coast a little too early meaning that I caught a brief sight of Norfolk – and I don't mean Gorleston – for much of the outside shooting for Dad's Army took place just north of Thetford.

What's all this waffle about a 1970s sitcom got to do with bygone boozers? Don't be so impatient. We'll get there in the end.

For quite a while now I've had this image filed away in my 'Mystery' folder. A Bullard's house – so highly likely to be in Norfolk. And is that a horse shoe, or maybe a magnet? A Google search for the image informed me that the building is a sash window. Useful! Other image searches were even less successful, and then recently the same picture, albeit it with a less jarring level of contrast, popped up online.

Horse Shoe in West Tofts
The Horse Shoe.

Seemingly this mystery pub was a Norfolk house after all, the Horse Shoe in West Tofts, near Thetford – and it is a bygone boozer.

A 16th century half-timbered building, with a beam above the door bearing the date 1583, it's likely that it only turned to pubbing quite late in its life. The earliest reference to beer, or anything related to it, that I've been able to find is in the 1871 census when James Scott is living there with his father, also James, and is recorded as a brewer living in West Toft's beer house.

1871 census extract.

Ten years earlier James senior was not an imbecile but an organ builder living in the same house, then known as German Cottage. The Norfolk Pubs website refers to him having a serious head injury in 1867 and being recorded as a brewer upon his death later in 1871.

Following on from James was probably Thomas Sayer. He was certainly in residence by 1877 when the establishment seemed to be simply known as Sayers.

Extract from Harrod's 1877 directory.

The earliest reference to it being called the Horse Shoe that I've been able to find is in the 1939 Register which tells us that Ronald Bell along with his wife Violet are living there. There is a photograph of the pub in c1915 on the Norfolk Pubs site which has the same pub sign as the one higher up this page suggesting that the equine footwear appellation probably appeared around then. There was a change of landlord around 1915 too, so perhaps the two events coincided.

Ronald and Violet would've been the last of mine hosts, and this is where Dad's Army reappears. A lot of footage was filmed on what is today known as STANTA – the Stanford Training Area.

Back in 1942 West Tofts, along with the neighbouring villages of Stanford, Tottington, Beckenham Tofts, Langford and Sturston were requisitioned by the War Office and the residents were forced to leave their homes. The 'borrowed' properties formed what at the time was called the Stanford Battle Area, where troops trained for an eventual invasion of Europe. The Horse Shoe's licence was suspended.

Horse Shoe, West Tofts.
The Horse Shoe can be seen just beyond the village school in this pre-WW2 photograph of West Tofts..

The years passed. D-Day came. Europe was invaded. On the last day of April 1945, Alois Schicklgruber's son shot himself in the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Messrs Atlee, Churchill, Stalin and Truman sat down for tea and cakes in Potsdam. The army was still occupying the villages.

The years passed. The king died. Elvis Presley and then the Beatles dominated popular music. England won the World Cup and Ipswich Town the FA equivalent. The Prince of Wales got married. The Prince of Wales got divorced. The army was still occupying the villages.

The years passed. The Labour Party gained power for thirteen years. The Millennium Bug failed to be a significant problem. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were engaged in and then withdrawn from. I caught a lung and heart-wrecking virus in Spain and a wild-haired, multi-offspringed, fictional feature writer became Prime Minister. The army was still occupying the villages.

The years passed. Today the Heritage Explorer site of Norfolk County Council informs us that the Horse Shoes was destroyed by fire in 1986 so the 1942 suspension of licence now seems to be pretty permanent. Another pub, like the Lifeboat in Suffolk's Shingle Street, lost to a War Office decision.

Thanks to Nick Stone for the image of The Street. He has a piece on the The Lost Villages of Stanta which you can read here.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. If you haven't done so already you can 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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