This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of The Clock Tower, the newsletter of the Friends of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre or (FOMA). To join FOMA, you can visit their website at http://www.foma-lsc.org

Unfortunately, this picturesque old pub on the London Road in Strood was gutted by fire on Saturday, 26th March, 2011. It had been closed since September, 2010 because, as the landlord Mr. Sketchley said, he could not afford to keep it open because of lack of trade, as is the case with many pubs in Medway recently. At the time of writing, it is believed the fire was started deliberately and police enquiries are on-going.

It is hoped the building can be restored and surveyors are investigating; it would be tragic if it were to be demolished. The present building is early 17th century with later alterations and is Grade II listed by English Heritage. However, according to a document FOMA member Roy Murrant found at Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre, the original building goes back to 1203 and was a dwelling house with jettied upper floor and a thatched roof. It was named after Crispin and Crispianus the patron saints of shoe-makers and the tenancy was given to Ralph Meakin and two others in 1276 for services to the Knights Templars. The next recorded tenancy was for 1361 when William Bathhurst, a woollen draper of Rochester City, used it as a shop. It remained ‘a draper’s shop on Strode Hill’ until 1493 when Sampson Bullard sold it with a small orchard to Richard Clement, a vintner of Rochester City. He imported wines and it was then a wine shop until 1556 when an ale house licence was obtained by Elisha Clement. Maria Clement (a shoe-maker and clothier of Strode) sold it in 1558 to another shoe-maker, Isaac Cadams. He was granted a wine licence and his son Jacob inherited it on his death in 1613 and kept it until 1645. The name Crispin and Crispanus was still in use, which was particularly appropriate.

Subsequently, the building was bought by James Killick of Frindsbury and when he died in 1658 it passed to his sons Richard and David and it was then called Crispinn Inn. In 1667 Richard Killlick bought out his brother for £123 and then sold the inn on complete with wine licence to John Parks, sailmaker of Strood, for £241 in 1673. The document continued to list subsequent landlords, owners and or tenants up to 1967. For the family history buffs, these are listed at the end of this article.

Apparently, the thatch was replaced with tiles in the 18th century and the original daub and wattle covered with Kentish weatherboard. Also in the 18th century when Strood was turnpiked in 1784, the pub, by now known as the Crispin and Crispianus, became an established coaching and travellers’ halt.

When Charles Dickens lived at Gads Hill Place, Higham, he would often walk to the Crispin and Crispianus. J. A Nicklen wrote, “The master of Gad’s Hill, his lithe, upright figure, clad in loose-fitting garments, and rather dilapidated shoes, was a familiar sight to all his country neighbours, as he swung along the shady lanes, banked high with hedges that were full of violets, purple and white, ferns, litchens and mosses. Often he would call at the old-fashioned ‘Crispin & Crispianus’ for a glass of ale or a little cold brandy and water, and sit in the corner of the settle opposite the fireplace, looking at nothing and seeing everything…” Dickens was no doubt gathering material for his novels and short stories for the pub is mentioned in a collection of the latter entitled, The Young Commercial Traveller.

According to a letter in The Chatham News of 1945 from Mr. W. Glanvill Mason, a member of the Dickens Fellowship, on one occasion, Dickens noticed a woman with a baby in her arms sheltering outside from a thunderstorm. He told the landlady to call her in. After buying her a brandy he gave her a shilling and sent her on her way rejoicing. The Workhouse was just round the corner in Gun Lane – could this have been Dickens’ inspiration for the opening scene of Oliver Twist?

Humphrey Wickham was a successful lawyer who, on 17th September, 1830, was summoned to the Crispin Public House to execute the will of a lodger, Charley Roberts, who had lived in the neighbourhood for over twenty years. It turned out that Charley Roberts was, in fact, Lord Coleraine, an impoverished peer. In 1893 it is recorded that the unlucky landlord at that time, Thomas Masters, was beaten up by one Noah Moore, alias Austin. Moore was sentenced to 14 days hard labour. By 1967 the landlord was John Kirby, a former Coldstream Guard and who had been one of the guards at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

In recent times the pub has been very popular as a venue for many local clubs and societies, for example from the 1970s onwards, the Strood and District Aquarist Society, and in the 1980s the Swale Search and Recovery Club. Locally well-known folk groups played there regularly and the writer well remembers jolly staff gatherings after Parents Evenings at the secondary school where she used to teach. “It is a very comfortable and congenial place to meet, having a bar and a large lounge at the rear of the building,” one group recorded.

‘And Crispin Crispian shall ne’re go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’
(Shakespeare Henry V’s call to arms at Agincourt on St Crispin’s Day, 25th October, 1415)

But who were St Crispin and St. Crispianus? Why should a pub in Strood be named after them? Traditional legend has it that they were twin brothers from a respectable Roman family. They were soldiers in the Roman army who converted to Christianity. In AD 284-6 they fled persecution for being Christians from co-Emperors Diocletian and Maximianus and settled in Faversham. They worked as shoemakers at the site of the Swan Inn. They were able to make their shoes very cheaply because angels delivered the leather to them in the night. The site was visited by pilgrims until as late as the 17th century and Faversham church has an altar to commemorate them as patron saints of shoemakers, saddlers and tanners. Well into the 18th century Faversham had festivities marking their saints’ Day, 25th October.1 After their stay in Faversham, Crispin and Crispianus set off round Gaul as missionaries. They refused to renounce their faith and were executed on 25th October by order of Emperor Maximianus at Soissons (Roman Noviodunum), a contradiction to the execution story is the version that has them shipwrecked off Dungeness and entombed in Lydd, one of the Cinque Ports. There is a pile of stones at the east end of the town purporting to be their tomb. A version of the legend which attempts to accommodate both versions has it that their headless bodies were washed up on the shore at Dungeness and it was these which were buried at Lydd.

Yet what is the Strood connection? Remember, the first records we have of the building are in 1203 and it was given the name Crispin and Crispianus then. The owner’s trade is not known – was he a shoe maker, tanner or saddler? Naming his house after his patron saints would very likely bring good luck and it is thought that the inn sign is an exact copy of a painting in the church of Saint Pantaleon at Troyes, in France.

At the beginning of April, shortly after the fire, FOMA Vice President, Sue Haydock, contacted Edward Sargent of Medway Council who gave the following informal report:
“From what I have seen from the street, the damage seems to be from the first floor upwards. The left hand room was the worst affected but the two to the right of these do not seem as badly damaged in fact the walls at the front of the building that you can see through the windows in these two rooms do not even seem to have any smoke damage. However the structure at the rear of these rooms is now visible so it clear that there is more damage at the rear. The roof has virtually been destroyed. However, from what I could see, this is fairly modern and was probably built in the last century. There was no evidence of any early timber in the structure at all and it seems to have been made of small section softwood.”

So, fingers crossed the surveyors and engineers will say the building can be salvaged and restored. It would be a shame to lose it to an arsonist after at least 808 years, wouldn’t it?

Owners/landlords/tenants since 1673
1673 – 1708 John Parks, sailmaker. Full name of inn restored on his death
1708 – 1754 James Eyre Turner, victualler of Frindsbury –
-leased to Joseph Smallman, victualler of Rochester and longest serving keeper of it.
1754 – 1786 On Smallman’s death passed to daughter, Susannah Duke, wife of a Frindsbury miller.
1786 – 1801 On Susannah Duke’s death Rachel Turner, brewer, leased the house to Rufus Day, victualler of Rochester.
1801 – 1823 Samuel Turner leased it to Rufus Day’s son William.
1823 – 1844 leased to Stanley Collins, ironmonger of Strood.
1844 – 1854 Lease passed to William P. Wilson. (Ownership passed to Holmes & Style Medway Brewery during this time.)
1854 – 1858 Lease passed to James Butcher
1858 – 1869 Leased to Thomas Gray
1869 – 1898 Thomas Martin Masters
1898 – 1912 George Elford.2 (By this time Alfred Style, brewer of the Medway Brewery, was the sole owner)
1912 – 1929 Passed to his widow, Emma. (Now listed as owned by Style & Winch of Medway Brewery)
1929 – 1941 1929 sold to Barclay Perkins Brewery and leased to Sidney Herbert Sweetman, son-in-law of Emma Elford.
1941 – 1953 Leased to Gladys Sweetman, Sidney’s widow.
1953 – 1958 Lease handed over to nephew, Roy Elford. (1955 Barclay Perkins merged with Courage Brewery to form Courage Barclay.)
1958 – 1967 Tenant George Gillham
1967 – ? John Kirby (former Coldstream Guard)

* * * *
Sources and Acknowledgments:
MALSC Couchman Collection
Henry Smetham History of Strood
Coulson & Collins A Chronology of Strood to 1899

My grateful thanks to Roy Murrant for sourcing the old document at MALSC