(Most photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)
The Royal Stag is one of the oldest house in Datchet. Part of it, visible from the churchyard, dates from before 1500, but the whole front block facing the Green was added in the mid-1800s. The building may have been an alehouse from the 1500s and was at first known as the Five Bells from its proximity to the church. Later it was the High Flyer and then the Royal Stag by the 1790s. The story of the Royal Stag is inseparable from that of the Barker Bridge House Trust, which now funds projects of benefit to the local community. It is only told briefly in these pages, but in 2011 The Royal Stag at Datchet and the Robert Barker Bridge House Trust was published, which is available in Datchet library and can be bought at The Bridge or ordered by contacting us. For more about the Royal Printers, Christopher and Robert Barker, click here
The Robert Barker Bridge House Trust
Before about 1840 Datchet had no village greens. A watercourse ran from the Slough Road through to the present recreation ground, widening to a pool in front of the Manor Houses and crossed by a bridge from the top of the High Street towards the modern Pharmacy. This bridge was the responsibility of the Church Parish and needed constant repair at the parishioners’ expense. (There were no Civil Parish Councils until the 1890s.)
In 1570, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, several influential local men acquired a house which they would be able to lease out to provide funds for repairing the bridge, a very common solution to such a problem. This house, which is still our Royal Stag, was from then known as the Bridge House although it also had a pub name, at first the Five Bells. Trustees were appointed from 1570 to administer the Bridge Trust, as their successors still do, and in the 1600s one of them was Robert Barker, Royal Printer. Before his death in 1644 he placed the Trust’s affairs on a sounder footing and from then it was known as ‘Robert Barker’s Bridge House Trust’. However, he was not the Trust’s founder as has usually been said, and it dates from 1570 rather than 1644.
In the 1840s the Trustees paid to have the troublesome watercourse culverted underground, thus ending the need for a bridge and creating the dry land which is now the Greens. The modern Bridge House Trustees still own the pub and apply the income from its lease to support the community in many important ways. (There is no connection between the Trust’s ‘Bridge House’ and the joint Datchet Churches’ Community Cafe next door which is confusingly called The Bridge.)
Building History of the Royal Stag
It was established that the old bar overlooking the churchyard (with two windows in each floor) was roofed with timbers cut down in 1494. Behind this is a longer range built in about 1600, its roof ridge not quite aligned with the earliest section.
The Trust’s buildings expert thinks that the original house here had a front wing facing the road, as the pub’s facade does now, and that the early Trustees demolished that part as too dilapidated but kept the 1494 building behind it as still sound.
It was not until the mid-1800s that the front was extended out towards the road, firstly on the west side in 1843, and then in 1862 by another block at the eastern end of the front, a little wider than the old building.
From the outside it is only doors and windows that have changed since then, but the interior has been remodelled many times. Until the 20th century the long yard at the side, now a car park, was lined with stables, a coach house, wash-house, henhouse and garden.
In the 1844 and 1862 plans (below) the old almshouses which are now The Bridge community cafe are shown as ‘Datchet Poor’. By these dates the building was leased as a shop with the rents going towards the general parish poor rate. (for The Bridge click here)
Pictures of the Royal Stag in the 1800s
This early engraving shows for how long the Stag’s sign has existed in the same place it is now, but also the corner of the building adjacent to the church before the front block was built. It can be seen that the gable-ended, timber-framed building is set back from the road with a small porch projecting into a small fence front yard, the same arrangement as in the 1844 plan (above). What a pity the artist was only interested in drawing the church and not the pub!
The Corden flood painting shows both front blocks completed, but only one entrance door in the centre. To the left is the parish shop, once almshouses and now The Bridge, with front window possibly as it is now. William Corden is not a particularly accurate artist, having omitted the Stag sign which was almost certainly in place. The church rebuilding had been completed in 1864, and the building on far right is the blacksmith’s workshop belonging to Church Cottage.
Famous Visitors to the Royal Stag
William & Caroline Herschel
In 1782 the family of William Herschel the astronomer moved from Bath to rent a house in Datchet. Caroline and Alex, brother and sister of William, stayed the night on their way to take up residence at The Lawn in Horton Road. Caroline wrote of this occasion:
In the course of 4 or 5 days all the household goods, telescopes and most of the contents of the work room stood ready loaded in the evening of July 30th for going off at two in the morning; my eldest brother (William) left Bath with the 11 o’clock coach which goes through Slough, where Alex (brother) and I joined him on the 1st August, from which having taken our dinner with the rest of the passengers we walked over to Datchet where we were obliged to sleep at the public house near the church, and were glad to see on our first waking the wagon with all the tubes etc etc safely arrived and we left our inn to see the wagon unloaded and all the furniture to be put in our new house.
Caroline was obviously not impressed with the High Flyer, as it would have been called then. It seems that it was never of high repute but was just a village inn offering lodgings.
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome, 1889
Although this is fiction, Jerome clearly knew the scenes and places he described in his humorous novel. In this brief extract the narrator, George and Harris need a place to spend the night in Datchet:
We went a goodish way without coming across any more hotels, and then we met a man, and asked him to direct us to a few. He said, ‘You must turn right round and go back, and then you will come to the Stag.’ We said, ‘Oh, we had been there and didn’t like it – no honeysuckle over it’.
Then George spoke up. he said Harris and I could get an hotel built for us if we liked, and have some people made to put in. For his part he was going back to the Stag. …… We took our traps (bags) into the Stag and laid them down in the hall. The landlord came up and said ‘Good evening, gentlemen.’ ‘Oh, good evening’, said George, ‘we want three beds please.’ ‘Very sorry, sir,’ said the landlord, ‘but I’m afraid we can’t manage it.’ Oh, well, never mind, said George, two will do.’ Harris thought George and I could sleep in one bed very easily.
‘Very sorry, sir,’ again repeated the landlord, ‘but we really haven’t got a bed vacant in the whole house. In fact, we are putting two, and even three gentlemen in one bed as it is’. Harris rose to the occasion an, laughing cheerily, said, ‘Oh well, we must rough it, you must give us a shake-down in the billiard room. ‘Very sorry, sir. Three gentlemen sleeping on the billiard table already and two in the coffee-room. can’t possibly take you in tonight.’
We picked up our things and went over to the Manor House ….
But there was no room there either! There really was both a billiard and a coffee room in the Stag at that date, as shown by plans and descriptions belonging to the Trust.
William Morris 1892
A small unidentified newspaper cutting records this forgotten event:
In a place of honour in the Royal Stag at Datchet is a copy of a menu of a famous event which took place there 72 years ago, on September 5th 1892. It was the first annual dinner of a very famous printing company – the Kelmscott Press. The firm, noted for the many beautifully printed and bound private editions it produced, as founded the previous year by Mr William Morris who took the chair at this dinner.
The Hand-print & Tombstone Stories
The story of a ghostly hand print appearing on a window pane, which cannot be removed and reappears if the glass is replaced, was not mentioned before about 1970. The window concerned is in the ground floor on the churchyard side. In 1979 a photograph was taken which is displayed in the pub, telling that it is reputed to be the hand print of a child who died outside in the churchyard while waiting for its father on a cold night. A Mr Smith claimed to have done research in Bucks Record Office which proved that this was the child of a drunken labourer at the end of the 19th century, but no such evidence exists at all. In true folklore fashion, the story has become elaborated, so that we are now told that the child watched the father become involved in a fight. For those who want to believe it, and for encouraging customers to the Royal Stag, the story is fine, but it is only a story with no basis in evidence. If the handprint reappears in the future, this researcher will be most intrigued and is prepared to eat her words, but currently remains sceptical.
The broken tombstone in the rear bar is that of William Herbert, a maltster and brewer whose son John leased the tenancy of the Royal Stag. The family’s brewing business was probably on the site of the house now called Riverside, at the corner of Queens Road and the riverfront. At the time when the church was enlarged many tombstones were removed and some which were damaged were used as slab flooring in the pub. And there is nothing unusual or macabre about the skull and crossbones design, as a glance at the standing tombstones near the church porch will confirm, it was a popular momento mori, a salutary reminder of death in the midst of life.
The Way to the Church, painting by William Corden 1877, owned by St Mary’s Church
The Church before Rebuilding, by William Corden 1857, owned by St Mary’s Church
Minutes & Accounts of the BBH Trust deposited at Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury
Robert Barker Bridge House conveyance 1644; Public Record Office, ref: C54 / 3325
Queen Elizabeth I Churchlands conveyance 1570; Public Record office, ref: E310 / 9 / 10
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1548, Public Record Office, LR2 / 188
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1604, Northampton Record Office, Buccleuch Papers 2.6 / X333
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1622, Cambridge (no ref.)
Extracts from the diaries of Caroline Herschel in The Herschel Chronicle, Slough Reference Library
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, pub 1889, now a Penguin Popular Classic
Stoke (Buckinghamshire) Victuallers, Wulcko, 1753-1828, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury