When we drive north on the M40 I always look out for the Red Kites. I love seeing these majestic birds, and just where the concentration often seems greatest – just after the Chilterns – is junction 6. If you come off at this junction you quickly find yourself in Lewknor – a lovely little Oxfordshire village.
This pretty little village has a Church, a school and a pub, and that pub is the Leather Bottle. Sophia Neighbour, my 4 x great grandmother, was for many years the landlady of this pub. I feel that Sophia must have been a woman of some stamina and resilience.
Aged 19 she had an illegitimate son Richard in 1805. However, five years later she married one James Hawkins with whom she eventually had four more children. By 1841, aged 55, Sophia was running the Leather Bottle pub in Lewknor together with James, but my examination of the Licensed Victuallers Records within the Quarter Sessions Records at Oxford History Centre (QSD/V/1,2,3 and 4) for the period 1753 – 1822 have revealed that a Hawkins was running this pub from as early as 1758. The licence was held by a Richard Hawkins, and then his widow Hannah Hawkins, and then their son William Hawkins. William’s widow Alice in turn was then the licencee from 1786 – 1790, before their eldest son Richard then ran the pub from 1792 to at least 1812. His brother William took over the running of the pub around 1816 and held the licence until at least 1822. There is then a gap where I don’t know for certain yet who ran the pub, but by 1841 the licence had passed to James Hawkins.
The relationship between James and the Hawkins family mentioned above is unclear, but there has to be some familial connection I feel sure.
The ten yearly census returns then help to fill in the picture and we see that by 1851, aged 65, James was additionally farming 70 acres. It was quite common for a pub to have land attached, and small-scale farming would have supplemented the family income.
James Hawkins died in April 1860, and the next census shows Sophia, now aged 75, still running the pub (!) and her son John running the farm. Two of her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, are both living with her, and Louisa is herself a widow.
Amazingly, in 1871, aged 85, Sophia is still the innkeeper and son John is still running the farm. But four years later, aged 89, Sophia died and was buried at Lewknor church, with James. Their grave can still be found on the south side of the church.
At this point Louisa Guy, the widowed daughter of James and Sophia, took on the running of the Leather Bottle, as seen in the 1881 and 1891 censuses. Louisa had a son Thomas, and when he died in 1880, his widow Eliza Annie and their 2 year old son James came to live at the pub too, and lo and behold the 1901 census shows that Annie Guy is now the publican – making her the third widow in a row to hold the licence! The 1907 and 1911 Kelly’s Directories for Oxfordshire indicate that Richard Whiting took over the licence and the 1911 census confirms this, showing Richard and his wife Ellen at the Leather Bottle. I have no evidence that they were related to the Neighbour/Hawkins/Guy families at all.
Today the pub sign says “Leathern Bottle” rather than “Leather Bottle”. I’m not sure when the change in name occurred, or whether in fact it had always been somewhat interchangeable. The pub sign also gives Brakspear as the brewery, but apparently that brewery was taken over by Wychwood in 2002, brewing at Witney. (Brakspear ales were originally brewed in Henley). Unfortunately Brakspear have failed to reply to my emails asking if they hold any additional information.
Continuing to take advantage of my subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, I found this wonderful snippet on goings-on at the Leathern Bottle in 1839:
Oxford Journal – Saturday 21 September 1839
These photos were taken on our visit to the ‘ancestral pub’ just over two years’ ago.