6. The Green Dragon

4 College Street

The Green Dragon in the heart of Higham

The Green Dragon licensed premises, situated in the historic heart of Higham Ferrers, opposite the medieval remains of Chichele College, displays the typical features of a British “coaching inn” of the seventeenth century. Such inns were essential staging points of the European inland transport network prior to the establishment of the railways. Likewise, it was an important halt for stage coaches and horses on the North Road route from London to the industrial towns of the Midlands and beyond, following the route now known as the A6. The Green Dragon provided welcome rest, food and drinks for tired travellers, with a spacious yard and stabling for ostlers and farriers to attend to the horses.

The Duchy and the Dragon

The Inn has long been part of commercial activities in Higham. It appears in records as early as 1680 when the Duchy of Lancaster held the land and property of Higham Ferrers and adjoining counties. 

In 1724, Robert and Sarah Sanders are cited as the Inn Keepers, paying the annual licence fee of £10, plus a two shillings annual rent. In 1750, records show Robert is obligated to pay a window tax for the 15 windows of the Inn to the amount of 13 Shillings and Threepence. 

On 2 June 1781, the following announcement was printed: 

Ann & Sarah Sanders, Daughter of the late Robt. Sanders who kept the “Old Green Dragon” at Higham Ferrers begs leave to inform the Nobility, Gentry & others that they have for the better convenience of their customers now set up Post-Chaises & that able horses & a careful driver are provided for & will be ready to attend them upon the shortest notice on any part of the road.

The Green Dragon continued to be an important meeting place. In 1792 the following was published:

At a Meeting of owners of Land in Neighbourhood of Higham at “Green Dragon” the 1st Dec. 1792 in Pursuance of a Public Advertisement for taking into consideration the proper & legal mode for Delivering Corn in the future. (Walter Spong, Mayor in Chair) 

In 1802, the licensee of the Inn is John Mee, who promotes his services by advertisement, 

“A variety of The Choicest Wines and Liquors, and several Post- Chaises, with able horses and careful drivers, which he is determined to furnish on the most liberal terms”.

The Green Dragon circa 1890

The Friendly Society … for men

In 1805, on the first Monday of each month, a Friendly Society met at the Inn, observing strict requirements on the members to refrain from “laying curses, swearing, gambling, quarrelling, or fighting.” One pint of ale per member was provided by the Society prior to the meeting. Society members had to be male, and resident within three miles of Higham Ferrers. The purpose was to raise £200 annually through subscriptions to the Society. Payments from this fund were disbursed to members who faced financial difficulty, including paying their funeral expenses and a sum of money to their widows.

The Green Dragon 1914.
In the intervening years between the two pictures the Green Dragon has been renovated. Note the difference in the roof lines to the left of the pictures. 

George Bryon’s overnight stay

A notable event of the year 1824 was the death in Missolonghi, Greece of the renowned Romantic Poet/Adventurer Lord George Gordon Byron. After some national controversy concerning the poet’s own wishes, his body was transported by sea back to London. His friends wanted him buried in Poets' corner in Westminster Abbey but permission was refused, so his family requested that his remains be brought to his family vault at Newstead Abbey, near Hucknall. After leaving St. Pancras Church the funeral procession and cortege took the North Road proceeding in slow stages to Hucknall. One overnight stop was The Green Dragon Inn, before the hearse proceeded on the final stages through Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to Newstead Abbey.

The range of services provided

In 1830, Mrs. Francis Mee, the widow of John Mee, became the leaseholder and licensee of The Green Dragon. Between 1847 and 1854 William Chapman was the proprietor of the Inn. He also farmed 182 acres and traded as a Wines and Spirits merchant. At this time The Green Dragon served as the main Post Office as the London and Northwest Parcels Post used the Inn for their scheduled deliveries.

Mr Simpson would seem to have an account at The Green Dragon. In December 1891 his expenditure from January to June 1891 totalled £2 , 2s 2 ½  d (or two pounds, two shillings, and tuppence halfpenny). His expenditure included hiring a trap and a brougham (which was a light horse drawn carriage) and enjoying champagne, whisky and cigars.

The rear of The Green Dragon in the 1950s
showing the stables on the left-hand side.
Next door to The Green Dragon was a blacksmith.
The Phipps brewery ceased trading
as an independent enterprise in 1960.

… and all that Jazz

As has ever been, licensed premises everywhere become the favoured venues for jollity and entertainment within local communities and The Green Dragon Inn has performed that function over centuries, particularly in the final quarter of the 20th century. A former Mayor of Higham Ferrers, Eric H. Barrett wrote in his memoir, “Squires, Spires, and all that Jazz” of the years 1947 1972 when The Green Dragon became one of the foremost venues for jazz and dance music in Northamptonshire and surrounding counties.

In the early 1960’s the Inn hosted The Rushden and Higham Jazz Club of over 500 members. Eric Barrett recalled “The upper room was completely overloaded to the extent that the floor moved up and down under the multitude of the dancing feet.” 

The club’s astonishing popularity eventually proved to be its downfall, as the local council were understandably fearful of safety arrangements, and subsequently restricted the numbers permitted to attend to a mere fraction of those formerly allowed.

On for another five centuries

The Green Dragon Hotel and Inn continues to provide services to the community of Higham Ferrers and to visitors from near and far. The Inn retains its place as a public transport hub insofar as it is a central stopping and pick-up point for several local bus routes to and from surrounding towns and counties. It maintains the traditional aspects of the beloved English ‘pub’ hosting Real Ale Festivals and Cider Tastings under the sponsorship of the Campaign for Real Ale and continues to provide ‘live music’ events which are well supported.

The Green Dragon today.  Little has changed in the architecture over the last 100 years.