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The Baker Arms Bicentenary

In Days of Yore…

In 1641 a man named Arthur Freeman owned a dwelling house on the site of the current Baker Arms.Whether it was the current house cannot be known but we do know that it was owned by Arthur’s great-great-great grandson Robert Young Belbin in 1739. We can reliably attribute a pub being present on the site in 1754 when Robert is granted a licence to sell ale. Unfortunately the name of the pub is not recorded during these years but in 1790 Robert put the “Bear Inn” up for sale and, later, in 1813 the “White Bear”, as it was by then known, was again put up for sale. Auction notices confirm the
name as “White Bear” in 1814 but by 1815 the name had changed to the “Lamb Inn”. In 1821, the Alehouse record, as shown below, mentions the “Baker Arms” for the first time.

(N.B. George IV ascended to the throne in 1820)

Why Baker Arms?
We have seen commentaries which inform us the pub was named after “Lady Baker” without any explanation or accuracy of identity. We know the current pub sign features the coat of arms of “Baker of Ranston” with its motto “finis coronet opus”
(literally “the end crowns the work”).But this sign did not appear until the 1930/40s i.e. over 100 years since the name was first recorded. The previous signs merely read “The Baker Arms” either black on white or vice versa

What do we know about “Baker of Ranston”?
Peter William Baker purchased the Ranston Estate in Iwerne Courtney in 1781. He had no children and on his death in 1817 a cousin, Sir Edward Baker Littlehales, inherited the estate on condition he adopted the surname “Baker”.Sir Edward Baker Baker thus became the first baronet “Baker of Ranston”. Prior to receiving the inheritance Sir Edward was under-secretary of state to the ministry of defence in Dublin and it is recorded that “within a year or two he resigned and the family retired to Dorset”.The family probably arrived in Iwerne Courtney in 1819 and within less than 2 years were acknowledged by a pub named after them in Child Okeford. On first inspection this just does not seem logical. And what of “Lady Baker”? At the time of taking up residence in Ranston House she was mother to 3 sons and 4 daughters and gave birth to a fourth son in 1820. Not, perhaps, the sort of profile to warrant a pub named after you. However, we have discovered a link between the Baker family and the Baker Arms and it is, perhaps, a case that the pub was indeed named after the family but as Sir Edward died in 1825, it is Lady Baker that is better remembered in folk lore. The 1841 tithe map shows 4 plots of land owned by Sir Edward Baker (this would be the 2nd baronet) in Child Okeford and occupied by Susannah Newman. Susannah was the widow of John Newman, the first licensee to use the name “Baker Arms”. He died in 1836 and it seems probable he was the original tenant and the land was inherited by his wife. Naming the pub after his landlord could well just be a case of sycophancy on John’s part or possibly the baronet lent him the money to buy the lease of the pub in exchange for it being named “The Baker Arms”.

We shall keep digging.As an aside John and Susannah Newman went on to open The Union Arms in Child Okeford.

The Building
Externally there has been little change in the past 100 years.

1924: Left to Right Bill Pride, Reg Pride, Maud Pride (Landlady), Ivy & Bert Cooper
Baker Arms at Child Okeford April 2020 Temporarily closed during the height of the Covid pandemic
  • Tile roof replaced thatch in 1969 alongside extensive internal changes
  • Different pub sign [although the bracket seems to be the same.
  • Additional window on Ground Floor …..We believe these changes occurred in the late 1940’s
  • Extension of the porch possibly when Bill Pride took over
  • Gutters and drainpipes

Above the door is this painting

Despite our best efforts, we are unable to ascertain neither the artist nor the rationale for the painting.

The building was formally declared a grade II listed building on 10th October 1960. According to “Historic England” all buildings built before 1700 and most built between 1700 and 1850 which survive in anything like their original conditions are likely to be listed. The building comfortably meets the criteria although we do not know who instigated the listing. Added comment refers to “the projecting stepped chimney breast is of unusual design”.

Pub Signs

Internal Layout

List of Publicans

The Woolfrey family and the Baker Arms
(with thanks to John Housley for permission to reproduce extracts from his book “End of an Era: 1815 – 1860”) As can be seen from the list, the Woolfrey family feature considerably during the 1800’s and that link continued in the 1900’s through the Davies family. In total the family ran the pub for some 80 of the 200 years the pub has been “The Baker Arms”.We pick up the story with William Woolfrey who was born in Milton Abba in 1727. He married Mary in 1748 and they had 5 children before his early death in 1758. The last of his children, James, was born in the year of his death.After her husband’s death, Mary and her family moved to Child Okeford and the line continued with the youngest son, James. In 1777, at the age of 19, James married Elizabeth Arnold, a local girl from an old Child Okeford family.From the dates on the baptism register it would appear that the marriage may have been necessary as her daughter, Mary, was born 7 months after the wedding. On her wedding day Elizabeth was aged 16.Over the next 24 years they raised 10 children and established themselves in the village. In 1797 they
had a son, William, who, in 1826 married Susannah Mullins of Stour Provost.At some time in the 1830’s, probably 1832 when the freehold was sold, William Woolfrey rented The Baker Arms while continuing to work as the village blacksmith. The other smiths in the village in 1841 were Thomas Woolfrey, William’s elder brother, and his son Henry. On the census forms they are
described as bright smiths, a description of a smith who works in shiny metals such as copper, tin or brass. It would seem that the Woolfrey family had a monopoly of metal working in the village. William died in 1852 at the age of 53 but Susannah and her daughter Martha continued to run The Baker Arms until sometime in the 1860’s. But not without the occasional brush with the law!
1858 February: Fined 5 shillings (25p) and costs on her own admission of having opened her
house for the sale of beer before the usual hours on Sunday.
1862 May: Fined 3 shillings (15p) and costs for having in her possession several unjust measures.Susannah died, aged 85, in 1884.Son William took over circa 1865 and continued to run the pub to 1895 or thereabouts when Henry George took over ending a 60 year plus “reign” by the Woolfrey family.William too came under scrutiny by the police. In December 1866 he was summoned by the Deputy Chief Constable for allowing drunken and riotous conduct in his house. The village constable reported that on a number of occasions on one evening he went to the tap room after hearing a great deal of
noise and encountered a number of people who were drunk and despite Mr Woolfrey’s assurances the noise continued and Mr Woolfrey was told he would be reported. Subsequent witnesses were unable to confirm the constable’s version of events and the rector of the parish gave a glowing defence of Mr Woolfrey’s character. The bench were of the opinion there was a slight infraction of the terms of the defendant’s licence but taking into account he bore so excellent a character they wouldn’t record a
conviction. He would however have to pay a fine of 1 shilling (5p). The result appeared to give considerable satisfaction to those in court!

In 1884 William was summoned for having his house open for the sale of beer during prohibited hours.He pleaded guilty but claimed he was selling “supper beer”*. The bench decided he had no power to supply supper beer after hours and fined him 2 shillings with 10 shillings (50p) costs.*”Supper Beer”: Essentially a “take away” service whereby, during licensed opening hours, individuals could take their glass to the pub to buy a beer to take home.The Woolfrey connection continued in 1933 when Reginald Davies took over. His mother was a “Woolfrey” and he ran the pub until he died in 1949.

Any Other Business
As is usual for a village pub “The Baker Arms” catered for more than just selling beer. In addition to the auctions we have already mentioned, and which featured regularly at the pub, records reveal the following participation in village activities.

Vestry meetings
Originally, as the name suggests, these regular committee meetings, which were the fore runner of the
parish council and the parochial church council, were held in the church vestry until 1870 when the
national schoolroom became the venue of choice. From 1910 the meetings were held in the newly
built village hall.

Very occasionally meetings were held in the rectory and on the following occasions in the Baker Arms.
One can perhaps assume the weather may have been a contributory factor in the change of venue.

  • 1849 January ” A meeting of the rate payers of the parish of Child Okeford in vestry assembled at the Baker Arms on the 18th day of January 1849″
  • 1853 27th January A vestry was adjourned from the parish churh to the Baker arms Inn [sic]
  • 1873 7th November A vestry was held at the Baker’s Arms [sic]
  • 1874 24th March A legal vestry was held at the Baker Arm’s Inn

Ball, March 1866

The Sherborne Chronicle records “A ball took place at the Baker’s Arms Inn (sic) on Friday. Though not a large company, those present heartily enjoyed themselves. Dancing was prolonged till about 5 o’clock the following morning, to King’s Quadrille band from Blandford”.

Coroner’s Court 1868
An inquest was held into the death of David Foyne aged 78. The coroner remarked that doubtless the cause of death was apoplexy and the jury returned a verdict of “Died by the visitation of God”.

Gamekeepers Annual Feast The “Dorset Countryside Treasures” produced in 1977 included:

“Sites of Local Traditions Keepers Feast. Gamekeepers assembled every year from the surrounding estates at the Baker
Arms to enjoy a day’s merry-making. Their chief form of entertainment, apart from eating and drinking, was games of skittles”.
We believe these events took place in the 1920’s and 30’s.

In World War II, the Air Raid Precautions Wardens are reported to have meet in a back room at the Baker Arms. We also understand camp beds were available for overnight watch duties.

Village Taxi Service

From the late 1920’s to the 1940’s Reginald Davies, the pub landlord, ran the village taxi service from the Baker Arms. The 2 taxis were stored in a double garage on the site where Daisy Cottage now sits.Cycle Repair Service In the 1930’s Reg Pride set up a cycle repair business in the yard at the pub before opening the garage with petrol pumps opposite Millbrook House. Reg’s step sister was Reginald Davies’ wife, Violet and his brother, Bill, took over The Baker Arms when Reginald Davies died in 1949.

Golden Jubilee 2002
In keeping with other businesses in the village, The Baker Arms gave full support to fund raising and involvement in the celebrations organising darts, crib and pool competitions. The winners were duly awarded medals at a ceremony on the day.
But, of more significance, at the evening dance on the day the bar ran dry of beer. One ‘phone call and The Baker Arms cavalry arrived with crates of beer and saved the day.

Lottery 2010
A 38 strong syndicate from The Baker Arms, including the landlords, won £58,622 in the National Lottery after matching 5 numbers and the bonus ball in the Saturday March 27th draw. The syndicate had existed for around three years with £120 being the largest amount won previously.

Pheasant Fest
In 2010 several pub customers were involved in local shoots as beaters and retrievers and, following a bumper year, discussion at the bar sparked the idea to use the surplus to raise money for charity by selling produce made from the pheasants such as pies, curry, sausages etc. etc. Guided by Tony Foot, Keith Roser, Bob Smith and the landlord, Jim (Jinxie) Dennett the Pheasant Fest became an established and popular annual event which has raised over £16,000 for charity in the past 10 years.

Clay Shoot
Started in 2010 as a competition between The Baker Arms and The Bull in Sturminster Newton, the event grew to an annual contest which at its peak hosted over 45 guns and included 8 local pubs. The day consisted of 40 clays and luncheon at a host pub; The Baker Arms being the first such host. Over 10 years the event has raised in excess of £50,000.

Football Club
A Sunday league football club was sponsored by The Baker Arms between 2013 and 2015.

The Manor Cup

In 2014, as part of the diamond jubilee celebrations, a cricket match was arranged between a team from The Baker Arms and a team from The Saxon. Teams comprised 5 men, 5 women and 5 under 16’s and each innings was a maximum of 15 overs.
A cup was kindly donated, although the sponsors requested anonymity, and was called the Manor Cup. After the first match,
the landlords of the pubs agreed an annual competition for the cup should be held at the village hey day, the actual challenge to be chosen by the winning team from the previous year. The first winners of the cup were The Baker Arms.

2015Penalty Shoot OutThe Saxon
2016Tug of WarThe Saxon
2017Tug of WarThe Baker Arms
2018SkittlesThe Saxon
2019Tug of WarThe Baker Arms

A lot of effort and research has gone into this compilation and my thanks to all of those who have contributed. I am especially indebted to John Davies, John Housley and Kevin Pearce whose input has helped turn an idea into reality and a far more interesting document than it might otherwise have been. A copy of this paper is available for personal use and can be downloaded below.

David Pope
August 2021
Copyright Child Okeford Archive