Fringe Box



The Wheatsheaf – Guildford’s Roughest Pub Ever?

Published on: 28 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2012

by David Rose

The Wheatsheaf pub, once in Mount Street, was at one time the haunt of robbers, conmen and highwaymen.

All kinds of crimes took place there, including the passing of counterfeit coins and the making of illicit soap. It may well have been Guildford’s roughest drinking den during the mid-19th century, and most likely a very rowdy place indeed!

Here are some old newspaper court stories relating to the pub and those who frequented it.

Armed robbers transported to Van Dieman’s Land

Two men who, in 1840, were convicted of armed robbery and attempting to shoot a policeman had been drinking in the Wheatsheaf before they carried out their crime. They were eventually transported to Van Dieman’s Land.

The Standard newspaper of Tuesday, May 26, 1840, carried a report of a hearing held at the Surrey Sessions court in Guildford the previous day.

It stated that footpads [highwaymen on foot], John Summerfield, 22, and Samuel Edwards, 31, had been indicted for stopping William Chalcraft, a farmer from near Godalming, on the highway at Peasmarsh and robbing him of two 10 shilling notes and two sovereigns.

The crime took place at about 8pm on Saturday April 11, while the farmer was returning home on horseback from Guildford market. As he passed through Peasmarsh he saw three men walking together in the road.

He told the court: “When I came up they separated, as I thought to make room for me while I passed. But the moment I got near them the bridle of my horse was seized and the animal was stopped. Two of the men immediately presented a pistol at my head, and one of them exclaimed ‘Stand! Deliver your money, or I’ll shoot you’.

“I immediately alighted, and told them I had no money, upon which two of them stood at each side of me while the third commenced searching my pockets. The three men wore smockcoats very much worked about the breast and arms. They robbed me of two 10 shilling notes of the Guildford Bank, besides two sovereigns, and they set my horse loose, and then they left me and proceeded in the direction of Shalford.”

The farmer then retrieved his horse, rode back to Guildford and reported the robbery.

A painting by Henry Pether dating from 1842 that shows a view of Guildford coming down from The Mount. It forms part of the borough council’s art collection.

As they were being taken to the station house, one of the accused, Samuel Edwards, told the constable he would go no further, so the policeman seized him by the collar. A fellow constable grabbed the accused John Summerfield who then drew a pistol and put it to the policeman’s head.

Edwards then put his hand in his pocket, as if to reach for a gun, upon which Constable Burt stuck him on the head with his staff.

The policemen called for help, during which time the third man made his escape.

At the station they found Edward’s pistol loaded with powder and ball, as well as the stolen money on the men.

Other witnesses were called at the hearing. One of them, William Lawrence, a private in the Rifle Brigade, said that on the evening of the crime he saw the two accused and another man in the tap-room of the Wheatsheaf in Guildford. He heard Summerfield advise Edwards to “drink a gill of vinegar instead of porter or any other liquor”, observing at the same time that if he drank anything else “he would not be fit for the business they had to do that night”.

Two witnesses spoke on behalf of Summerfield and Edwards. One stated that Summerfield had borne good character up to the period of the present charge. Nevertheless, the jury found them guilty and they were sentenced to be transported for life. The chairman of the bench said he was surprised they had not been sent to the assizes instead and charged with a capital offence.

Samuel Edwards was one of 320 convicts transported on a ship called the Asia, on September 7, 1840. Its destination was Van Dieman’s Land, now known as Tasmania.

John Summerfielf left England on board the ship the Lord Kynlock on April 12, 1841, with 260 other convicts. He too was transported to Van Dieman’s Land.


A rare photo of the Wheatsheaf not long before it closed in 1955. It is featured in Mark Sturley’s book The Breweries and Public Houses of Guildford.

Illicit soap manufactory

Back in the 1840s soap was a luxury item.  Makers had to pay a heavy tax on what they produced and this tax was not repealed until 1853. In was not uncommon for unscrupulous people to set up in business making soap with no intention to pay tax to the government. This is exactly what went on at the Wheatsheaf in 1840.

A newspaper of the day, believed to be the Surrey Standard, ran a story concerning the landlord of the Wheatsheaf, Josiah Smith. He was up before the local magistrates on a charge of “being concerned in the manufacturing of a large quantity of soap”.

The court heard from a local policeman by the name of Henry Wilcox who had received complaints from people living near the Wheatsheaf that “quantities of damaged soap”were being made there.

The policeman called in a Mr Ball, a government excise officer, who, with two other officers visited the premises and found about 28lbs of soap “in a finished state” and “a quantity of matter in a wooden frame, quite warm, which he understood to be the same material half manufactured”.

While they conducted their search they saw two men dash from a room adjoining the pub. One, Edwin Harman, was apprehended, but the other escaped.

Landlord Smith denied knowing anything about the making of soap on his premises.

Also before the bench on the same charge was Harman. He said that he, and the other man who escaped the excise men, were not making soap but “a species of paste to clean furniture in gentlemen’s houses”.

The magistrates found Smith and Harman guilty and they were fined 30 shillings each (£1.50), or face prison at the Guildford House of Correction for three months. The newspaper reported that Smith paid his fine “with little delay”.

Stealing a stick

The Surrey Gazette of August 9, 1890, reported that a drover by the name of Robert Wilson of Guildford was fined 10 shillings for stealing a walking-stick (value one shilling) from Frederick Airey at the Red Lion in the High Street.

Mr Airey must have followed Wilson to the Wheatsheaf whereupon he saw him put the stick up his sleeve. The police were called and Wilson offered to give the stick back. He told PC Nash that “he had had a drop to drink and didn’t know what he was doing”.

Stolen mutton for sale

Magistrates at a quarter session in Guildford in 1840 heard a tale of a stolen leg and loin of mutton that was allegedly offered for sale in the Wheatsheaf pub.

Charged with the offence was a W. Bailey. The court heard that the meat had been stolen on November 22 from Wm. Colebrooke, a butcher of St Nicolas parish.

Mr Colebrooke told the court he saw the stolen meat the following morning at the house of an E. Jackson, and he was certain it was his by the way it was “cut out”.

Mrs Jackson said she bought the meat from the accused, W. Bailey, at his house.

Bailey told the court he had bought it from another man at the Wheatsheaf pub for four shillings and sixpence.

The landlord of the pub, by then a John Crowther, gave evidence. It seems he may have been covering up for the accused Bailey, as he said he had known him for about a year and that he was in the pub on the evening in question “smoking his pipe”.

The landlord added that men did often come to the pub to sell meat.

Another witness, a W. Richardson, told the court he saw Bailey buy the meat “in the passage” of the pub, but did not know the person who sold it to him.

In the end, Bailey was found guilty of the crime and received one year’s imprisonment with hard labour. Afterwards, the chairman of the bench, the then Mayor of Guildford, J. French, severely reprimanded the guilty man’s witnesses.

‘Uttering’ counterfeit coins

Described as itinerant hawkers in a report printed in the Surrey Gazette of March 5, 1850, Thomas Hilton, William Smith, Spicer Cooper and William Randall, appeared at Guildford’s Borough Police Court on February 27 of that year, charged with “uttering counterfeit coins, with intend to defraud a William Linsay”, who was, at that time, the landlord of the Wheatsheaf.

Giving evidence at the hearing was a Benjamin Downs, who said he was a lodger at the pub. It appears he also served drinks in the pub during the evenings.

He said that the accused men came into the pub that Friday evening asking for lodgings and also attempted sell clothes. Some of them “called for half a gallon of beer”, which Mr Downs took to them.

He said that the accused Smith paid for it with a shilling coin. Later, the accused Cooper, also asked for a half-gallon beer, and “he gave me what I took to be a good shilling”.

Mr Downs gave the men some change and then gave one of the shillings to “the mistress of the pub”, a Maria Rose, housekeeper to the landlord, William Linsay.

Mr Downs said to her: “The shilling feels very smooth, you had better look at it.”

He then told the court: “She examined the shilling and said it was a bad one; she kept the shilling and took the beer from me. I went back to the tap room and said, ‘the money is bad, my mistress has kept it, and she won’t let you have the beer.’”

Mr Downs then told the court that the accused Hilton knocked a candle off the table, which Mr Downs again lighted from the fire, but Hilton again brushed it from the table with his coat.

At about 11.30pm, Guildford police superintendent Charles Hollington was called to the pub. In total, Maria Rose gave him three shillings recovered from the accused gang. The policeman then searched the men but could only find “good money” in their pockets. However, under the seats from where they were sitting he found a number of “bad shillings”.

At the hearing the prisoners gave various accounts of the events of that night – basically saying that they did not know whether the money was counterfeit or not, some saying they had no money on them at all until they entered the pub.

The newspaper report concluded that they were further remanded until the authorities at the Royal Mint were consulted. Unfortunately, their fate is unknown.


The building today on The Mount that was formerly the Wheatsheaf pub.

Brief history of the Wheatsheaf

The building dates back to the 17th century, but existing deeds reveal that in 1708 it became the property of Thomas Tanner, a mealman of St Mary’s parish in Guildford. It is believed that the building was already an alehouse and he may have chosen the name Wheatsheaf to reflect his profession. The deeds also recall that at one time he was “a husbandman” (farmer).

In 1811, the Wheatsheaf was taken over by the Guildford brewer Francis Skurray, who later sold it to another Guildford brewer, W. E. Elkins.

Perhaps Elkins was keen to get rid of it, considering all the things that had been going on there, as he put it up for sale again in 1847. In the sales particulars it was listed as “containing a bar, parlour, tap, pantry, upland cellar, kitchen and a good cellar under the front; three chambers and two attics: wash-house with soldiers room over; side entrance from the street to a small yard; in which is a well, and timber stable with loft over; garden in rear”.

The previously mentioned landlord, William Lindsay (the newspaper report spelt his name Linsay), was in residence, paying an annual rent of £15 and 15 shillings. Guildford wine and spirit merchants Nealds & Cooper bought it for £540.

In later years, possibly at around the turn of the 20th century, it was bought by Hodgsons Kingston Brewery, who were bought out by messers Courage, in 1943.

Landlord William Jeffree Gerrard had the honour of calling time for the very last time in 1955. The attractive building fronting the road is today used as offices.

I must thank Guildfordian Jonathan Tatlow for bringing to my attention some of the above-mentioned court cases, of which he has four photocopies of old newspaper cuttings.

The story of the footpads I found by searching under “Wheatsheaf Guildford” on the website titled 19th Century Newspapers. It can be searched for free as part of Surrey library services’ on-line information service.

Having the names of the two men convicted and sentenced to transportation, I soon found them on the Australian website .

Details of the pub’s history is from the book The Breweries and Public Houses of Guildford by Mark Sturley (Charles Traylen, 1990).

2 Responses to “Through Time: The Wheatsheaf – Guildford’s Roughest Pub Ever!”

  1. David says:

    Thank you to Penelope for posting the comment about your father. I found his name as recorded in the book The Breweries and Public Houses of Guildford. It may have been an honest mistake by the book’s author Mark Sturley. But I know he was meticulous in his research (he spent 20 years researching and writing it!), so it may have been incorrect from where he sourced it from! We are happy to put the record straight here.

  2. PENELOPE REHBEIN (Nee Jeffree) says:

    Dear Sirs: I believe the Landlord who had the honour of calling time for the very last time was in fact my father Gerald William Jeffree – I believe this should be corrected in all your records. I was born in 1948 and have pictures of me sitting on the steps of The Wheatsheaf.

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