Stratford St Mary King's Arms
previously known as King's Head?
grid reference TM 042 343
listed building grade II
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CAMRA Ipswich & East Suffolk branch.
last updated 03/04/2016
Now residential, this building is believed to date from the early 16th century, though it is much altered.
A report in Ipswich Journal*** on 17 Feb 1733 that states :
To be lett and entered upon directly, the King's Arms in Stratford in the County of Suffolk. Enquire of Mr William Catchpoole in Ipswich.
From 1960 (Oct) to 1977 - license was in the name of Maurice Burson (information from son, Tony Burson, Brazil - see below)
We first visited the Kings Arms on a chilly winters evening the welcome was not good and first impressions were even worse. We, my father and me, his son in the company of the Estate Agent representing the brewery Cobbold's of Ipswich. The reason for the visit was that the tenancy of the pub was on offer and we were looking for a place.
The public bar was lit by one 20 watt fluorescent lamp hanging at a slight angle on the wooden back of the bar, actually, it wasn't the back of the bar, and it was the outer shell of the staircase from the tenant's quarters at the rear of the ground floor to the rooms on the first floor. There was a fire in the grate with a long log of wood protruding out into the room and providing minimal heat, we were the only clients! I walked towards the far end of the bar room and discovered that there were a few inches of water on the floor, this was, we later found out, a common occurrence during the winter when the river was in flood or merely full. The landlord, later introduced as Arthur Lear, who held the license with his wife Marion, came into the bar hearing the noise and we were introduced, he walked around from behind the bar and kicked the log further into the fire grate in an effort to revive a dying fire. We ordered drinks and the service was at best civil.
That night we returned to our room at the Station Hotel Ipswich and I think neither of us slept as we discussed what we had seen. The following day we visited the Estate Agents office and got a look at the sales figures etc, copies of which we took with us. We returned to the Kings Arms to see it in the daylight a lot better but still in need of a lot of work to get it ready for creating a good and pleasant environment for both us as a family and more especially, for the customers.
Back in Bolsover, Derbyshire... Mum and Dad mulled over the figures and just about everything else. Dad eventually gave notice to his employer and arrangements were made to move to take the tenancy of the Kings Arms. The move was completed and we the family spent a few nights at the Copdock Hotel in Ipswich while the sitting tenant moved out.
The first day dawned; we cleaned floors and stood ready for what life might throw at us.
The colour of all the walls and ceilings in the place was nicotine, thick, smelly and dripping nicotine. The brewery had made a promise to do some upgrading and structural alterations for us and these were under-way. The staircase which protruded into the bar was removed and a full normal bar-back was built and installed. The whole of the bar areas were painted cream after they had been washed and covered in an acid resistant paint. During all this upheaval, we were open and serving customers.
Since we were outsiders we were the subject of much curiosity and teasing. I remember that Brown & Mild by the pint was the drink of choice, ordered in a board Suffolk accent which took some getting an ear for.
All the beers and ales on draught were served from wooden barrels kept on a rack behind the bar and this necessitated bending over with a pint mug in hand and allowing gravity induce flow of beer from the metal tap. These barrels were either Cobbold Bitter or Mild and were cask conditioned. During the winter a pin of "Old Ale" was on the bar-top as a warming drink to keep man and beast together during a cold damp Suffolk winter.
When the beer was delivered it was kept in a room referred to as "the still" a room at the back of the house which was protected by the rest of the house from direct sunlight, with its concrete floor it kept the beers at a low temperature. Each day near empty barrels were drained and was used to top up a near full one, this was done using a specially made filter. These barrels along with any other fresh ones were left for the day to settle all the leavings which if served would produce a cloudy and undrinkable beer. Remember that these beers were living organisms as the yeast was still active.
Bottled beers were supplied by Cobbolds and Tollemache combined. Popular brands were Tolly Light in a clear bottle, Cobbold Ale, Old Ale and then there were the national brands such as Mackeson, Guinness, and Toby Ale etc. We also served a full range of liquors, scotch, gin, vodka, rum etc. We kept a bottle of Plymouth Gin for one ex-Naval officer and a bottle of Booths for an elderly gentleman who initially I thought was ordering, "A spot of Booze" but actually wanted a shot of Booths Dry Gin which he drank with water.
The pub was situated on a very steep bend in the A12 which ran through the village and was heavily travelled. Because of this there were many tourists from London heading to the seaside resorts of Felixstowe, Yarmouth and points in between. As a consequence of this Saturday mornings could be extremely busy as we were on the down from London side of the road, returning travellers used pubs on the up to London side thereby equalizing trade to all of the four pubs in the village, well not really to the Swan, since they were carriage trade only! This was a village of 400 people and four pubs, discount those who didn't drink, those who couldn't drink, leaving a very small number of resident drinkers to share during the long winter months. Strategies to increase the income year round had to be implanted.
I left the King's Arms after about 16 months and returned at intervals especially during the summer when help was needed to tend bar and wash glasses, both never ending tasks.
Mum and Dad left in 1977 to enjoy a retirement in New Zealand, by which time I had been in Canada for 11 years.
(information supplied by Tony Burson)
San Paulo Brasil (2008 Copyright reserved)
(Most pub, location & historic details collated by Nigel, Tony or Keith - original sources are credited)
(*** historic newspaper information from Bob Mitchell)