Ancestral pub number 2 – The Leather Bottle Lewknor


The Leather Bottle, Lewknor

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.

Lewknor; Leather Bottle
Inside the Leather Bottle

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.

Lewknor; Hawkins; Neighbour
Grave of James and Sophia Hawkins

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.

Leather Bottle pub sign







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:

Leather Bottle


Oxford Journal – Saturday 21 September 1839


These photos were taken on our visit to the ‘ancestral pub’ just over two years’ ago.

Lewknor; Leather Bottle
The Leather Bottle, Lewknor
Lewknor Church

5 thoughts on “Ancestral pub number 2 – The Leather Bottle Lewknor

  1. Hi, I am James Neighbour and I am directly descended from Sophia’s illegitimate son Richard. Sophia was my 5 x great grandmother, if I remember rightly. My branch of the family moved to Ealing in the late 1900’s. I live in Wallingford and was boring friends with the family connection over lunch in the Leathern Bottle only yesterday! I have a fairly comprehensive family tree going back as far as Moses in the early 1700’s.


    1. Hello James, how great to hear from someone who shares a common ancestor! And how amazing that you live so close to Lewknor! Are you, by any chance, descended from Richard’s son Richard, who married Elizabeth Wakelin, and then from their son Edward? I am descended from Richard’s son William (brother of Richard), who married Eliza Buckingham. Their daughter Annie (born in Ealing!) married my great grandfather William Wakefield. Some years ago I was in touch with a chap called Mike Neighbour who passed on to me a very detailed tree going back two further generations from Moses, to a William buried in 1708 in Lewknor.
      Are you on Ancestry? If so, you can find my Neighbour tree on there, but if not perhaps we can work out how I can send you a copy of my now somewhat tatty handwritten version.
      Thanks so much for being in touch!


      1. Yes, Edward was my great grandfather, my grandfather was Sidney and my father was Roy. I have two sons William and Edward (not coincidental!). I have dug out my hand written tree which does in fact go back to William d.1708. I have copies of the will of his father(?) who died in 1685 leaving him 1/-d and the will of another William who died in 1635. My tree shows Annie Rebecca b. 1870 but I only have a continuation through her brother William Edwin who was a cafe/pub owner in Hayes. I have a copy of the marriage certificate of William and Eliza Buckingham in 1861. I too have correspondence from Mike Neighbour from back in the 1980s and I think one of the trees I have is from him. The rest of the research I have was done by Penny Taylor who was somehow related to my grandparents and referred to them as Uncle Sid and Auntie Doris. Unfortunately my father is no longer with us so I have lost the link back to her research. Everything is on yellowing paper with dry sellotape. I must find time to digitise it! Like you, Sophia and the circumstances of Richard’s birth have always intrigued my family given the importance to our branch. My parents regularly took my grandparents on trips from Ealing to Lewknor when I was a child. When I married and moved out of London, this part of the world was the natural choice.


      2. Yes, you have the same 3 page tree from Mike Neighbour that I have! Ah yes – Penny Taylor. I have been in touch with her, too, via Ancestry, the last time was during 2015. I have an email address for her if you’ve lost contact. It’s getting a bit late in the evening for me to dig out my Wakefield info, but I will send you some more on the family of Annie and William Wakefield. I’ve always been intrigued about the Ealing connection, as there are people on the left hand page of the tree who went to Ealing, too, so what was the attraction?! Have you seen the various Neighbour graves in Lewknor churchyard?


      3. I can’t help with the reason for the move to Ealing I’m afraid.

        I have been to the graveyard many times but I am only really aware of the graves of Richard (and Dinah) on the right side of the path and Robert by the church door (twin nephews of Sophia I believe). A lot of the gravestones are very worn. I was interested to see your photo of Sophia’s grave and I will definitely seek this out. Are you aware of any others? My father told me he had seen Neighbour names hand written on the wall in the bell tower. I haven’t seen them myself.


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