Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Locomotive

The Locomotive might sound an obvious name for a pub in Swindon, but there have been surprisingly few.  With just one exception, even those pubs built alongside the company houses appear to have declined a railway associated name.

The railway village pubs were all built in what was originally called High Street, a large grassed area enclosed by railings and later renamed Emlyn Square. 

The Cricketers, the first fully licensed public house in New Swindon, opened in 1847 and took its name from its location near the GWR Cricket Field.  The Bakers Arms, on the corner of Bathampton Street, was originally owned by the GWR and served as both a beerhouse and a bakers.  The London Stout House, another GWR property, opened in about 1851 on the corner of Reading Street.  The name was later changed to the Glue Pot when it became the favourite watering hole of woodworkers employed in the carriage bodymaking and finishing shops.  The Engineers Arms, a relatively short lived enterprise, located somewhere in the vicinity of the Mechanics Institute covered market, was closed in 1872, when it was described as three wooden shanties knocked together.

But two New Swindon drinking establishment did eventually adopt the railway themed name.  The Old Locomotive, a beerhouse just north of the railway bridge over the canal was owned by the North Wilts Canal.  Originally called the Crown Eating House, it was renamed in honour of its new neighbours and sold to the GWR in 1888 when it was demolished.

By 1846 Richard Pearce Smith was mine host at a beerhouse called the Locomotive.  Most probably a temporary structure, Smith later bought land in Fleet Street for £92 11s 3d where he built the permanent Locomotive, a project which he claimed had ‘practically bankrupted’ him.

Fleet Street was still under development at the time of the 1851 census, where it is confusingly recorded as Bleat Lane.  Richard P. Smith, 60 is beerhouse keeper at the Locomotive with tea dealer George Selby in a neighbouring grocer’s shop and ‘five house building’ next door.

After Smith’s death in 1858 the pub was let out to various tenants.  In 1861 widowed Elizabeth Jeffcoate was licensed victualler at the Locomotive Inn, Fleetway Road, living there with three of her children and six boarders; all iron moulders, presumably employed at the railway works. 

Newspaper reports reveal that Elizabeth was assaulted by a customer who climbed through a window while in 1862 another tenant J.G. Mayle, was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the RSPCA for allowing badger baiting on the premises. 

Kelly’s trade directories record Robert Shelley was pulling pints there in 1867 and George Greenwood in 1889.  In 1915 the Locomotive had upgrade from inn to hotel with S.J. Strange as proprietor.

The former canal side pub, more recently known as the Mail Coach, closed  in January 2011 due to mounting financial difficulties, but following an extensive refurbishment it reopened three months later.

Images include other Swindon pubs that have closed - The New Inn, The Rolling Mills and The Wild Deer on Westcott Place, now an Italian restaurant - Carbonara.  For more views of Swindon visit The Swindon Local Studies Collection on

Family historians tracing ancestors in the licensing trade may find the following resources useful:
For everything you need to know on how to get started, including how to find out owners and mortgage ties, visit

Researching Brewery and Publican Ancestors by Simon Flower available from

Home Brewed by David W. Backhouse – the authoritative history of local pubs, is available for consultation in the Swindon Collection at Central Library, Regent Circus.

Historical Directories, a searchable digital library compiled by the University of Leicester –

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