At the time of the Inclosure Act in 1807 the land where the Kings Head Inn [New Dawn] now stands was known as Cold Elm Ground but there did not appear to be a building on the site at all. It was owned by Thomas Rudge Esq who also owned other land around the village at that time. It is not known when the Inn was constructed but it is possible that the Simmons family were the first occupants.
A ‘terrier and valuation of the messuages, lands, and other hereditaments liable to poor rate in the parish of Norton’ from 1838 still survives giving various details about the village. From this document we can discover that The Kings Head was occupied by George Simmons along with his wife Elizabeth and 9 year old daughter also Elizabeth and was described as a public house with land. The full schedule of the property recorded :-
“Part of allotment in Lower Church field, part orcharded, 0- 3- 0
Lower Church field, arable 4- 1- 0
The Kings Head public house, garden and orchard 1- 2-21
Buildings &c 0- 2-32
Orchard 1- 1- 9
Part of allotment in Smith Field, pasture 1- 3-36
Part of allotment in Smith Field, arable 5- 1-27
Total: 16- 2- 5
Gross estimated rental or annual value of each holding £45
Rateable value or net annual value of each holding £36”
The Simmons’ appear to have been a Norton family of long standing. George was born in 1793 and was the son of William and Elizabeth Simmons. William was in fact from Down Hatherley but came to Norton after marriage to Elizabeth White of Norton at St Mary’s in 1786. They were to have at least eight children with several dying in infancy. In 1807 the family occupied two plots of land at Powell’s Ground; a cottage and garden in Wainlode Lane where Fir Tree Cottage now stands and an allotment that ran around this property. Opposite the house and running alongside the lane to Hill Farm was a piece of land known as ‘Symmonds Orchard’ that may also have had earlier family connections. The family line has not been researched prior to William, however, it may be interesting to note that as far back as 1st May 1668 Charles, son of John Simmons, labourer of Norton, was apprenticed to John and Jane Smallwood for 8 years to learn the trade of an inn holder. 40s was to be paid upon completion of the term. The family certainly have pedigree.
William died, aged 62, in 1829 and his wife Elizabeth, aged 80, in 1845. They both have a memorial at St Mary’s churchyard along with two of their infant children; William and Charlotte.
George and Elizabeth were to remain landlord and landlady of The Kings Head for at least thirty years until George’s death in August 1868. Elizabeth was by now an elderly lady herself and perhaps she lost the will to live after her husband’s death and she followed him a few months later in December 1871.
George had a brother, William, who had married Harriet Marston at St Mary’s in 1834 and they lived at Norton Green, most likely at Court Hay Farm. The family remained in the village over the years with William employed as a cattle dealer and they had three children; Elizabeth, Alfred Thomas and George William. It would appear that upon the death of George, William took over the running of the pub, however, his tenancy was only to be short term. Harriet died in May 1882, aged 70, and William in May 1883, aged 67. William appears to have given up the farm business the previous year as the following auction sale reported in The Citizen newspaper of 12 July 1882 reports; "Kings Head Inn, Norton, Gloucestershire,. Messrs T Rust & Co. Have been favoured with instructions from Mr William Simmons who is giving up the business. To sell by auction on the above premises on Friday next July 14th, 1882, the whole of the household furniture, farm implements, garden tools, harness, and out-door effects, including 30 head of capital poultry".
Their eldest son Alfred had moved to Deerhurst some years previously where he was employed as a pig dealer. He had married Ann and they had four children; Laura Gertrude, Herbert, William Thomas and Percy Marston. Following in the tradition set by his father when he took over the pub, Alfred in turn took over the licence upon the death of his father and the family moved back to The King’s Head.
When the licence for the pub was granted to Alfred Simmons in 1891 The King’s Head was actually owned by Charles Betteridge Walker of the Norton Court Estate and was given a seven day licence as an alehouse. In 1896 Alfred’s daughter, Laura, married Ralph James, son of William James landlord of The Red Lion Inn, Wainlode, bringing both the pubs almost into the same family.
When the licence for The King’s Head Inn was granted in 1903 it was still owned by George Norton Walker and it was described as a free house, alehouse, with seven day licence closing at 10pm. It had a gross estimated rental of £40 and a rateable value of £78 10/-. Alfred Simmons still held the licence.
I am indebted to the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of 16 September 1905 for informing us of the Inn’s opening date as well as confirming the Simmons family’s long standing association; “Presentation to an Innkeeper. – At the Kings Head Inn, Norton, on Wednesday evening, Mr and Mrs A T Simmons, who are relinquishing the license, were each presented with a handsomely stained walnut chair appropriately inscribed. A framed tablet indicated that they were gifts from the parishioners of Norton and friends. The license of the Kings Head has been in the hands of the family since the inn was opened 78 years ago, and has been held by Mr Simmons for 23 years. … Mr Simmons in acknowledging the gifts, said he never thought the time would come when he should have to leave the parish and the friends with which he and his family had been associated all their lives. He thanked them all most heartily for their gifts, and observed that he did not feel the parting as keenly as he might have done but for the fact that he was not going to live very far away”.
From this article we know that the Kings Head Inn opened its doors for trade in 1827 although it is possible that this was not the name that it traded under at that time as several other sources refer to the Cold Elm Inn.
This is the only photograph of any age I have seen of the King's Head Inn and is believed to date from approximately 1905. No doubt there are a few members of the Simmons family present.
The County Petty Sessions of the Gloucester Police Court of 30 September 1905 confirms the transfer of the license for the Kings Head Inn from Thomas Simmons to William Williams. At the time of the Norton Court Estate Lady Day Rentals in 1908, W G Williams held the Kings Head Inn and land opposite the pub as well as a close of land that is named but largely illegible total area of 11-2-5. He paid a yearly rent of £40 for the pub and £10 for the land. He is also recorded as paying 10 shillings per annum for repairs to a gate, £2-3-7 per annum for new wells, and 15/- per annum for attention to the orchards. Alfred Thomas had married Ann Williams who had a brother named William, just two years her junior. Could this have been the same man who took on the license ? As the incoming tenant, George Williams spoke expressing his desire to gain the same respect from the parishioners of Norton as they had evinced towards Mr Simmons. It would appear that the Simmons family moved to the Swan Inn at Coombe Hill.
Mr Williams’ stay wasn’t to have been long enough for him to ‘gain the same respect from the parishioners of Norton’, however, and at Gloucestershire County Court sessions in September 1909 we find an application for a temporary transfer of the license of the King’s Head Inn from George William Williams to William Walter James who had previously been the licensee of the Crown Inn at Dymock.
The Kings Head made the local newspapers again in 1910 when the Gloucester Police Court, County Petty Sessions, heard a case against William Green, carpenter and shopkeeper of Norton, for refusing to leave the Kings Arms (?!), Norton, when asked to on 16 May 1910. The day was Whit Monday and a game of skittles was in play, the customers playing for threepenny checks which they could exchange for beer, tobacco or whatever they wanted from the bar to a value of 2½d. The landlord, Walter James, played with the defendant and other customers, when someone who was observing the game began to voice criticisms of the defendant making him angry. Green became abusive then attacked his taunter, Mr Ballinger, a turner of Cheltenham Road, Churchdown. Mr James stepped between the two and Mr Green aimed a blow at the landlord. The two tussled on the skittle alley floor for a few minutes before a temporary calm was restored and Mr Green was asked to leave the premises, something he did not do for some time. The defendant offered in his defence that when the landlord had stepped between the two, the landlord had struck Mr Green a blow to the face and ripped his shirt collar. They fell to floor when the defendant hit his head and was temporarily dazed. He then said that he didn’t leave the bar immediately as he needed to sit and let his head clear. The bench convicted Mr Green who was fined £1 with £1 12s costs. As to the character of the Kings Head, the vicar himself was prepared to testify that the house was conducted in as admirable a manner as it could be.
The Simmons family association with the Kings Head was to continue. William James, of the family who held the Red Lion Inn for so many years, had a son named Ralph who had married Laura, daughter of Alfred Thomas Simmons in 1896. On 22 December 1923 Ralph and Laura moved into partnership with William James at the Kings Head and Ralph later took over the license himself.
An agreement was signed on 22 December 1923 between Captain G N Walker of Norton Court and Ralph James of Norton. His tenancy was to commence from 29 September 1923 at a yearly rent of £60 payable in four quarterly payments. The Agreement stated :- “to preserve for the use of the Landlord (who shall be at liberty at all times with his friends to shoot, hunt, fish or sport over the premises) all the fish and game but with liberty to destroy the rabbits if the same shall be found in excess on the said premises except that he shall not use a gun for their destruction between the 1st of March and the 1st of August in any year … that the tenant will spray in the proper season, in Winter and Spring, all fruit trees once in every other year with lime or lime sulphur solution the Landlord providing the necessary machine and materials but the tenant to bear the cost of the labour…”
At the time that the Agreement was signed the property was defined as follows :-
No on Ord Description Area
Map a r p
225 Pasture 2 - 1 - 2
232 Pasture 2 - 1 - 35
287 Pasture Orchard 1 - 3 - 3
288 Pasture 3 - 3 – 27
289 Kings Head Inn, Gardens &c 0 - 1 - 8
294 Pasture Orchard 0 - 3 - 11
11 - 2 - 6
Alfred Thomas Simmons died in 1917 and it is possible that his wife, Ann, returned to live at the Kings Head Inn. In June 1929 it was reported that Ann Simmons, aged 89 years, had fallen down the stairs at the Kings Head Inn and had been conveyed to the Gloucestershire Royal Infirmary in a City Ambulance, where she was discovered to have fractured her thigh. Ann died in 1936 and was buried alongside her husband at St Mary’s, Norton, where they both still have a memorial in the churchyard.
In 1935 King George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee as King and amongst a number of events to commemorate the occasion Norton planted a tree on the grass verge between the entrance and exit roads to the King's Head Inn. Mrs Walker of Norton Court is shown on the following photo formally planting the tree.
Ralph James died in December 1939 and at a meeting of the Norton Parish Council of 15 April 1940 it was recorded that “A notice has been received regarding the transfer of the license of The King’s Head, Norton, from the late Ralph James to Mrs Laura G James” thus putting a Simmons back at the helm.
By 1946 Laura would have been 73 years old and would no doubt have been finding things hard work. The following is a transcript of an application to end her tenure by transferring the licence to another Simmons, I guess yet another member of the same family :- “I, Laura Gertrude James, of the Kings Head in the Urban District of Norton in the County of Gloucester the holder of a Licence granted by Justices in pursuance of the Licencing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, at the General Annual Licencing Meeting for the Licencing District of Gloucestershire held at Gloucester in the said County on the ninth day of February 1946 authorizing me to sell by retail intoxicating liquor to be consumed on (or off) the premises thereunto belonging situate at Norton aforesaid, and commonly known by the sign of the Kings Head do hereby give you notice that it is my intention to apply at the Special Sessions for the said Licencing District, to be holden at the Petty Sessional Courthouse, Bearland, in the City of Gloucester on Saturday the nineteenth day of October 1946, at 11 o’clock in the forenoon, for permission to transfer the aforesaid Licence to Gilbert William Simmons now residing at No 48 Heathville Road in the City of Gloucester and for six months last past having resided at No 48 Heathville Road aforesaid and during the aforesaid period of six months having carried on the trade or calling of a plumber. Given under my hand this 30th day of July 1946”.
The main auction when the Norton Court Estate was finally broken up took place in 1952 but there were several sales prior to this disposing of pieces of the estate. One such sale took place in 1951 when the two village pubs were put up for auction by Bruton, Knowles & Co at the Bell Hotel, Gloucester, on Friday 27th July 1951. From the records that still survive much interest was shown in both properties by prospective buyers from around the country. In response to requests from prospective buyers, Bruton & Knowles estimated that in their opinion the Kings Head would fetch about £8000”. The Kings Head was in the occupation of G W Simmons who held the property from George Norton Walker on a yearly tenancy paying £125pa rent. The Kings Head was purchased by the Cheltenham & Hereford Brewery. The auction bidding started at £4000 and eventually they paid close to the estimate at £7,400.
It is not known when G W Simmons left the pub or who replaced him as licencee but perhaps it was Jack May. Laura died in 1956 and this does appear to have ended the Simmons family connection with the inn that had lasted, almost unbroken, since its opening some 129 years previous.
In the late 1990s, Dennis Williams of School House shared his memories of the Old Lane through Cold Elm from when he and his family moved here in the 1950s; "At this time the landlord was Mr & Mrs Jack May, [wife was Phylis], a very popular landlord, crib, board games, darts, skittles were played. On Boxing Day the married men would play the single men at football and Mrs May would lay on sandwiches and refreshments. There were very few rules, a referee was unheard of ! Those of us still on our feet would make our way to the pub after the match to restore our aching limbs. Licensing laws were very strict, time was called at 10 o’clock, in winter Mrs May would prop open the door and with an east wind blowing it was the quickest way to clear a pub I ever saw".
Taken as recently as 2009 this photograph shows how things have changed in the last 10 years. The tree standing in the foreground is the one planted to mark the occasion of King George V's Silver Jubilee.