We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them. Here are his musings on the Great Western Arms, Aynho.
As its name suggests the Great Western Arms has a connection with the famous old Railway Company of the same name, but its history starts much earlier.
In 1790 the Oxford Canal opened linking Oxford with the South Midlands. Along its route Wharfs were built at key locations for the loading and unloading of cargoes. One such Wharf was built 1 mile west of Aynho village. The principle cargo carried was coal from the Warwickshire pits and Wharfs such as Aynho were the unloading point and store for distribution to the surrounding area. In 1793 some 4,100 tons of coal were handled at Aynho wharf.
Given the level of activity on the canal, it is perhaps no surprise that the canal company also built a public house on the site. The pub was named King Alfred’s Head.
In the 1850′s, competition to the Oxford Canal arrived with the coming of the Great Western Railway (GWR) line linking Rugby and Oxford. The GWR needed land for a Station and Goods yard and a deal was done with the canal company for a portion of their land which included the existing Pub. The King Alfred’s Head was eventually remodelled and renamed The Great Western Arms. The rail station opened in September 1850. The station master Thomas Gurney boarded at the pub until a stationmasters house was built.
With the Canal wharf and Railway stations established a small industrial centre came into being with coal merchants, a brickworks and cattle market by this time all thriving at the site.
According to the Kelly’s Directory of 1895, Richard Howe kept the Great Western and in addition to keeping the ‘Great Western Arms Hotel’, he was also a ‘goods agent for the GWR company, a coal, hay and straw merchant, and also provided conveyances meet all trains at Aynho station’.
The conveyances referred to was apparently a pony and trap, providing a ‘taxi’ service typically to and from the station typically to Aynho and Deddington.
By the late 1930′s Mrs Mildred Howe was the Landlady of the Great Western, with daughter Mary as barmaid. Mrs Howe also owned a cow, which she kept in a field nearby.
With the outbreak of WW2, evacuees were housed in rooms at the Hotel.
Up in the village, in Aynho House Park, a major War Department petrol storage base was established. Petrol in 4 gallon disposable cans was brought to the Aynho rail sidings, then unloaded onto lorries to be stored in huge ‘haystacks’ among the trees.
The Royal Army Service Corp provided the transport and the Pioneer Corp provided the Labour. All this activity was overseen by the traffic officers whose office was in the Pub. The soldiers working in the sidings were apparently not allowed in the pub but on hot days some would come round the back and drink water from the pump in the yard.
After the war, traffic on the Oxford Canal declined as motor and rail transport took over, then the Rail station closed in 1964. By the 1960′s a pleasure craft hire firm was established at the old coal wharf, this would signal a resurgence in the use of the canal for leisure purposes. In July 1970, the nearby lock at Nell Bridge had been used 519 times, giving an idea as to the popularity of this particular waterway.
A new age had begun from where it all started 170 years earlier, and still there to welcome all, was the Great Western Arms!
Aynho – A Northamptonshire village – Nicholas Cooper.
Aynhoe Village Life – Dawn Griffis.
The Oxford Canal – Hugh J Compton.
www.aynho.org – Aynho village website.