The story of the Spotted Cow


The canal setting

When the Grand Junction Canal was first opened on 25th June 1796  there would have been no buildings at Whilton Locks, apart from the Mill, in existence since Saxon times, and Mr Westley’s House, in a spot as yet unidentified.

Many Whilton residents still had memories of the open fields, when sheep and cattle could be penned in hurdles for the night, or else driven home to the village farms.  Since enclosure there were now hedged fields and stock pastured in the fields at night could be vulnerable.  It was relatively easy for criminals or the desperate poor to slip in and out of the area, unnoticed. On 29th April 1808 there was a notice that: 


“Some evil-disposed Person or Persons did, late on Monday Night or early on Tuesday morning last, steal and take away, out of a Close the in Lordship of Whilton, in the County of Northampton, in the Occupation of Mr. William Whitmill, adjoining the  Grand Junction Canal TEN TEGS or LAMBHOGS.”  The animals were all branded with the letter W on the near hip, but there is no evidence that these sheep were ever recovered or the thieves found. 

Because there was a road bridge here, and also the end of a series of locks, it appears that within a decade there were plans to develop the area around the Whilton Bridge as a service area.  It was suggested that buildings in this “commanding situation”  rendered them “an Object worthy the Attention of any Person desirous of carrying on a large Concern in the Corn and Coal Trade, Brewery, Brick and Lime, or any Business that requires Room.”  

The coal itself was unbelievably attractive to the poor, who could only gather their own wood. As a result it was sometimes cruelly, guarded. In 1825 William Ellis was imprisoned for a week for stealing a piece of coal from a barge, the property of Thomas Humphrey of Whilton.

The building of the Spotted Cow

As the canal was being built, bricks had been made along the route, and there was a brick kiln erected at Whilton for this.  The kiln would have been used to bake bricks for the new houses and the brick kiln and 19,000 bricks were sold at the 1811 sale.  Whilton Wharf began life as a brick yard. 

It is likely that the builder was Samuel Arlidge. The Arlidge family spread around the canal in several counties and were colliers, coal mine agents,  brick makers,and builders.  There is some evidence that Samuel Arlidge built Windlass Cottage, and we know he owned a hay rick in the Rector’s meadow by the canal in 1808. He would have had to use horses, and they had to be fed. 

By 1811 a range of newly-erected buildings had been completed beside the canal and some were occupied. Four properties were offered for sale.  

The first was built of brick and thatched and comprised: “a Dwelling House, Store-Room, Hay Barn, and Straw ditto, Stable for 20 Horses, and a Butcher's Shop, in the Occupation Mr Hale Marriot.”  This may be the Spotted Cow. 

The second was a “large commodious Dwelling House with a large arched Cellar, Coal House, Stable, and three Pigsties, all Brick and Tiled, and Pump of excellent Water in the Occupation of Elliot.”  This may be the Wharf House.

The third was “one other Cottage House with a Smith's Shop nearly adjoining, brick and Tiled in the Occupation of Joseph Hadley.” This is likely to be the Blacksmith’s next to the Spotted Cow. Joseph Hadley, the blacksmith, had married Martha Marriott two years before.

There was also “one Acre and three Roods more or less, of Land, attached to all the above-mentioned Buildings, now occupied as a Brick Yard, in which there is an inexhaustible Bed of Clay; part of which Land has been separated for the Purpose of a Garden, and is well planted with choice Fruit Trees.”  We can identify this as the wharf and garden of the Wharf House.

There was a fourth building, being “one other newly erected capital Brick and Tiled Dwelling House, detached from the above a few Hundred Yards, adjoining the Grand Junction  Canal, with a Rood of Ground belonging to the same.”  This is most probably Windlass Cottage, or another canal house, since demolished, which stood near the modern Garden Centre, but I think that belonged to the Canal Company. 

From this account it seems that by 1811 both the Wharf House and the building to be the Spotted Cow were already privately built and let to tenants.

The Elliott family

By the about 1810 a farmer called Richard Elliott was living at the Locks. He had been born in Barby and his wife Elizabeth came from Bedworth and so had Warwickshire roots.  They were the first residents of the Wharf House (later the home of the Reynolds family).  As was common at the time, Richard made his living by combining several occupations. He was a farmer, and developed a business as a coal and slate merchant on the canal, using the wharf by his house. If the first house built was the Spotted Cow, and this was thatched, it would suggest that it was finished before slates and tiles began to be brought into Whilton Wharf. In 1811 Richard Elliott was described as a boatman, probably indicating that he had a coal boat. He was also a grocer and shopkeeper and was described as a butcher too in 1831. This variety of occupations reveals the possible openings for trade  by the canal for those who were willing to turn their hand to anything to make a profit.  

The building to become the Spotted Cow was let to Mr Watson, who left in 1819.  It was described as “A Very neat and commodious dwelling house and good BUTCHER'S SHOP replete with every Convenience for carrying on  that Business, advantageously situate upon The Grand Junction Canal, at WHILTON' LOCKS” , the proprietor being Richard Elliott.   As yet the building does not appear to have been selling alcohol. 

The next tenant was Thomas Humphrey, son of the Whilton miller,  and by the time he left in 1834, it held a licence. The premises had a “Grocer's Shop, Butcher's Shop, bakehouse, stabling for about 30 horses, requisite outbuildings, and good garden, containing One Acre” and a retail beer licence.  Two acts were passed in 1828 and 1830 which created relatively loose regulations and which led to a noticeable rise in the numbers of licensed premises selling alcohol. By adding alcohol to the selling pitch, Thomas Humphrey was making his business even more attractive to those who stopped at the Locks.  This appears to be the time when it gained the name of The Spotted Cow.

At the Wharf House Richard Elliott and his wife Elizabeth had 11 children to feed, of whom 10 lived to adulthood. This Richard Elliott had three surviving sons. The oldest, John Elliott was actually born in Braunston in 1811.  Perhaps his mother was staying with a relative for her confinement.  The baby was home in Whilton for baptism and then remained here for life. His two brothers continued in farming and the coal business, but John became the landlord of the Spotted Cow, probably from 1834. 

He was therefore the landlord in 1839 when two plain clothes policemen, John Smith and Benjamin Hopper were following a boat carrying wine and spirits as it travelled from London to Staffordshire.  One of the risks on the canal was that of leaving your boat- load of valuable goods, and another was having an untrustworthy crew member.   On this occasion the” Dudley Castle” was carrying a puncheon of rum and a cask of sherry, which had been checked and weighed at the London City Basin. The boat had passed through the bottom lock on its way northwards.  The boat master left his crewman Hodson while he went ahead to fill the next lock.

 As soon as he had departed up the towpath John Webberly, who lived in one of the cottages opposite the lock, went into the cabin of the boat, carrying a pair of shoes. He came out again and went into his house, followed by Hodson with a can.  Hodson then returned to the boat and came back with a 9 or 10 gallon cask.  This was carried upstairs, where Webberley’s wife began pouring out rum from the can.  This was too much for the policemen, who followed them in. One of them called up the stairs "Mrs. Webberly make haste down with that can." She replied "Stop till I’ve emptied it." When she came down she poured out about half a pint of rum into a mug and the policeman then said to her, " Mrs. you are doing wrong to encourage people to steal property in this way."  She replied, “You must not blame me—it is my husband's doing."   The police must have identified themselves at this point as one of them then seized the stolen goods and took them to the Spotted Cow, where he locked this evidence in a cupboard in the pub.  It transpired that the puncheon of rum and the casks of sherry were now heavier than when they started, and that the quality, especially of the sherry was paler and thinner.  Hodson was punished with hard labour in the House of Correction. 

Webberly was declared not guilty. He was given a good character by Thomas Betts.  He was probably a shoe maker and repairer and perhaps the rum and sherry was in payment for his work.  On the other hand, he must have had some suspicions at so generous a reward.

John and Elizabeth Elliott

John’s wife was Elizabeth, who came from South Kilsworth in Leicestershire.  The young couple were busy even before they had children.  On census night in 1841 John Elliott said he was about 25, although the records suggest he was nearer 30 and his wife Mary 20.  They had three young servants, all aged 15.  They also had two paying guests, boaters Thomas and Henry Swinfield.  In the following year they started a family, which eventually included William, John, Elizabeth, Caroline, Ellen and Richard. For the Spotted Cow, as for many of the boatpeople, extra children also meant extra hands for the business. Their daughter Elizabeth only lived 15 years, but the others grew into adulthood. 

The Spotted Cow provided refreshment for passing trade, but also catered for leisure activities for the whole community.  On 27th September 1842 a  “most interesting game was played…, between a select number of the single and married members of the Whilton Albert Cricket Club, when the latter came off victorious.”  This match was played on the flat field opposite the Spotted Cow. Between the canal and the new railway embankment (now the Marina) Both landlord John and his brother Richard Elliot were members of the Married team, while brother William was part of the Singles team.  “After the conclusion of the game the members retired to the Spotted Cow Inn, where a most excellent supper was prepared by the worthy host, Mr. John Elliott, and the evening spent with the greatest humour and conviviality”. 

John’s brother, Richard, had married Mary, sister of Thomas Henry Reynolds, and so counted as part of the Married team.  He followed his father as a farmer, coal, lime and slate merchant on the canal. He later fell into financial difficulties, and was declared bankrupt in 1866, blaming his bankruptcy on: “loss of trade, the railway having ruined my wharf and coal business." The London to Birmingham Railway had opened in 1838. 

John Elliott, the publican, died in 1854 aged only 43, two years after his father, old Richard Elliott who had lived to be 68.  John’s widow, Elizabeth, kept the pub on, sharing the responsibility with her children, William, Caroline and Ellen. Surprisingly the 1861 census records William Elliot as innkeeper, with his wife, Elizabeth, born in South Kilworth, Leics.  This must, in fact, be  his mother, since his father had died. Perhaps by working together there was no longer a need for servants. Lodgers helped to make ends meet. In 1871 a shoemaker named Charles Heath was lodging with them and by 1881, Elizabeth’s nephew was a lodger.  Born in Birmingham, he was aged 23 and described as a hairdresser, perhaps providing yet another service to passing boatpeople.

Life at the Spotted Cow through late Victorian times

Elizabeth continued as the innkeeper until her death aged 76 in 1891, but her son William worked with her and her two single daughters too. William was referred to as a publican, but his mother was in charge and held the licence  as various directories reveal. William remained single and gradually took over many of her duties, although in 1862 he was fined for using unjust measures, perhaps as a result of an inspector’s visit!

The sale of food, drink and provisions for the boatpeople, coupled with lodging for men and horses kept them well occupied.  It was true, as John’s bankrupt brother Richard had claimed, that the canal trade did suffer when the railway came in 1838, but there was ample for the Spotted Cow, and from at least 1841 until the 1920s there was also the Mill Inn at Whilton Mill, although this may have been mainly for customers at the mill. 

The Spotted Cow continued with the tradition of providing refreshments for sporting activities at the Locks.  In 1873 there is a record of supper being provided there after a cricket match.  Another account describes a match on 12th August 1875 played on Mr Reynolds’  field across the canal from the pub. Whilton Locks was playing Norton “and resulted in an easy victory for the former club, with 84 runs to spare.”  No doubt the players crossed the lock gates to get their refreshment. 

There were social events organized by the pub, which involved the villagers as much as passing trade.  A ticket has survived for William Elliott’s Christmas draw in 1876.  250 members paid one shilling each and the draw took place on 22nd December. The prizes were “turkeys, geese, ducks, fowls, and game, etc, bottles of brandy, whiskey, gin, rum and boxes of cigars.”

A place for inquests

Sometimes, however, crossing the lock gates and walking by the canal could be hazardous. Local children played by the water without supervision. In June 1860 an inquest was held at the Spotted Cow “on the body of Charles Gardner aged five years, who was found drowned in the Canal the previous day.  William Gardner, a brother of the deceased aged seven years, said he left him playing on the bank of the Canal, as he would not come home.  He was afterwards missed, and the Canal immediately dragged, when the body was recovered by George Collier and a man named Hillyard from the bottom of Lock 12.

Verdict: “Accidentally drowned.”

There was no lighting, and perhaps with the intake of alcohol, regular trips could lead to tragedy.  Harry Cattell lived in the modern-name Wheelgate House.  He was aged 33 and a saddler and on a Thursday night in late November 1892 he was in his usual health and in very good spirits. He drank a little beer in the Spotted Cow with James Dunkley of Whilton, but was quite sober. It was a very dark night.

On Friday morning he was found lying in the canal with about a foot of water over him. Once again an inquest was held at the Spotted Cow.   William Elliott, the landlord of the Spotted Cow, confirmed that Harry Cattell lived about 100 yards from his house, on the canal side. The canal locks were just opposite his door—about seven yards off—but Harry would not have to cross them. 

Arthur Cox, the surgeon from Long Buckby, said he had no doubt but that drowning was the cause of death.  He  had known Harry Cattell all his life. He was a strong and hearty man. A verdict of "Accidental death from drowning in the Grand Junction Canal” was returned by the jury.

Ten years later there was another inquest at the pub. In late September 1902 Edmund Chapman, a 73 year old hurdle maker from New Duston had come to Whilton to arrange about doing some work for Mr Reynolds. Henry Jones, a boatman from Wolverhampton noticed Edmund coming out of the Spotted Cow at about 7 p.m.  About a minute later he heard a splash. The boatman gave the alarm, and the hurdler was fetched out of the canal and still alive. 

George Surridge from Whilton who had been in the pub, said that Chapman was quite sober when he left the Spotted Cow and had said he was going back to his lodgings. As Chapman was unable to speak a man called Henry Telling, a brewer from Long Buckby Wharf tried to revive him, using Sylvester’s Method of artificial respiration for half an hour, but without success.  Mr Cox, the surgeon, again declared the death was by accidental drowning. 

The various people present on that sad evening give us a picture of some of the customers in the Spotted Cow. 

One of the deaths recorded in an inquest at the Spotted Cow had no connection with the water or with alcohol, but does remind us that the presence of the canal and the road would bring strangers and travellers to the area.  It also throws light on the kindness of two Whilton residents, Mr Emery and Mrs Gardener. In August 1873 there was another inquest at the pub, following the death of John Taylor.  Here is the report of the inquest:

He was 88 years of age, and for a long period had followed the occupation of a drover. During the last twelve months, however, he had not been able to pursue his ordinary vocation, but had travelled with a woman named Elizabeth Goodman, with whom he had lived for thirteen years, from village to village selling religious tracts and getting a living as they best could. They had no regular home, and had slept in barns and hovels. On Thursday night week they stayed in Mr. Emery's hovel at Whilton. During the night he complained of a pain at his heart, and on the following morning, according to the statement of Goodman, he tried " with all his might" to leave the hovel and go to Towcester Union [the Workhouse]. He managed, with her assistance, to get outside the hovel, but was compelled to turn back, and Mr. Emery coming up at this juncture gave the woman sixpence to purchase some food. She did so, but he was not able to eat. Mrs. Gardener, of Whilton-road, supplied the old man with tea and wine and water during the day; but he died about five o'clock.

On occasion the Elliotts had to deal with unsocial behaviour.  There was drama and violence on 19th April 1869.  George Thompson the blacksmith at the Locks was also the Parish Constable and was called to the pub, where boatman John Bayliss had knocked his wife  flat on her back with his fist and thrown her out of the pub. When the policeman tried to intervene Bayliss knocked him to the ground too, shouting that he did not care for any constable.  The blacksmith went next door to his home and when he returned with his staff, he was knocked down again with the nose bag belonging to the towing horse.  By this time, James Pool, the blacksmith’s trainee, had arrived and saw his master struck to the ground and his staff broken, with threats from the boatman that he would take George Thompson’s life. 

Mary, the terrified wife of the boatman, who had to return to the boat with him, knew that she had to stand by him in court, and just claimed that:  “some way I happened to fall.”

With its frontage onto the canal giving public access and space for a crowd, the Spotted Cow had other uses too, especially at times of tragedy in the area.  While William Elliott and his mother Elizabeth were running the pub, it was used several times in this way. 

In September 1867 a Norton man, John Hide,  was run over by a train and the inquest was held at the Spotted Cow.  One of the witnesses was Sarah Wilding, who lived in one of the gate houses to Whilton Lodge.  She reported: 

A few minutes before four last evening I saw the deceased, who lives at Norton. He passed close by the lodge coming from Norton, and was going in the direction of railway. He looked very excited, and seemed very hot. His excited manner attracted my attention. I heard that he was found on the railway a few minutes before five o'clock.

William Norman said : I know the deceased. I saw him yesterday morning in Weedon, coming from the Black Horse Inn. He had slept there. I did not think he was hardly sober. He went then to the Wheat Sheaf and had a pint of ale. This was in the morning about seven o'clock. 

His sister claimed he was sober in the afternoon. I have no reason to suppose he meant to kill himself. He was 26 years of age. 

John Rigby, who had helped rescue him with a trolley said : 

“He was alive, but could not speak. He moaned when we moved him. We took him to the Spotted Cow, and a surgeon was sent for. He had no business on the line. It is a place where all trains pass at full speed. It appeared to me as if he had been struck by the fire box. His hat, which was much torn, was about 25 yards from him: the wind of the train would take it. He was evidently injured by the train passing over him. 

Mr. Frederick William Dix, the surgeon, reported that he had hurried to the pub to find the victim, “lying on his back on a table at the Spotted Cow. He was alive, and appeared to be conscious… his injuries were of such a fearful nature that he died at a quarter to eight that evening. He died quietly. I administered to him brandy, but no treatment could avail.


Property sales/ auctions

Public houses had facilities and space for other gatherings of people,  and were often used as an auction hall when local properties were offered.  In Whilton the Plough, the Mill and the Spotted Cow were all used in this way. 

After the deaths of Thomas and Ann Wright their property at the Locks was auctioned at the Spotted Cow in February 1880.  This included  a house and butcher’s shop, three cottages including the blacksmith’s let to George Thompson and James Pool and a quarter acre of walled garden, all of which were beside the Spotted Cow. 

In 1884 the local paper carried notice of an auction of 2 houses, shop and land with frontage on Whilton Wharf to be held at Spotted Cow.  

1888 saw another auction there, under the will of Mrs Ann Collins.  Part of the  property was: 

“A brick-built and tiled Dwelling-house, situate at Whilton Wharf, containing two sitting and four bedrooms, attic, kitchen, and wash-house; also a roomy Shop, with frontage to the towing-path of the Grand Junction Canal. 

There is a greenhouse stocked with vines, wood and coal-houses, pigstye, and small garden, with good well of water, the whole late in the occupation of Mrs. Ann Collins, deceased. 

Sometimes too the pub was used almost as an office by local agents, who knew there would always be public access there.  This occurred in January 1841, when Thomas Emery had timber to sell.  The auction was to be at the Wheat Sheaf in the village, but there were several collection points for catalogues, including the Spotted Cow.

A change of ownership and tragedy

The evidence suggests that up till 1891 the Elliott family not only sold the beer, but also brewed it themselves, as had been the pattern in many pubs. Hops can still be seen growing in  the hedge nearby.   However, at the end of the 19th century this arrangement was declining as larger “common brewers” replaced them. Common brewers sold to pubs and often owned ‘tied estates’ of pubs who only sold their beer. In addition public tastes were changing from dark, cloudy ales to lighter, clearer ones. These were made using new methods of brewing, requiring too much investment for smaller brewers. Besides this canals and railways were making it cheaper and easier to transport ales. Publican brewers could not keep up. Brew pubs produced 40% of beer in the 1830s, but only 10% by 1890.  

While his old mother was alive, it may have been difficult for William to introduce new ways, but almost immediately after her death in 1891 he put the pub up for sale, preferring now to be a tenant of a brewery.  The property was described as : 

“The Freehold Full Licensed and much frequented FREE PUBLIC HOUSE known as the Spotted Cow”.  The auction was held at the Peacock Hotel in Daventry on 5th June 1891 and it appears that the buyer was Hopcroft and Norris, a  Brackley brewery. 

The sale catalogue provided a good description of the buildings in late Victorian times:

“The above brick-built and slated old-established Public House, very eligibly situated near to the road from Daventry to Whilton, and adjoining the towing path of the Grand Junction Canal, having an extensive frontage thereto.  The house contains taproom, bar, two sitting-rooms, pantry, kitchen with room over scullery, top and underground cellars, and four bedrooms.

The outbuildings comprise stabling for ten horses, granary, hen and coal houses and piggeries, large yard with pump and well of good water, and extensive garden, well planted with fruit trees, the whole occupying an area of one acre, or thereabouts.

The property was for many years in the occupation of the late Mrs Elizabeth Elliott, and is now of Mr William Elliott, the proprietor.  It is in close proximity to Whilton Locks, and is much used as a halting place for boats, there being no other licensed house within a considerable distance.”

William and his two sisters Caroline and Ellen continued to run the pub as landlords.  Perhaps Caroline was unwell because two years later in 1893 she died aged only 46. This left William and Ellen running the Spotted Cow together. 

Perhaps Ellen was now over-worked.  She had acted as the housekeeper for years, but now she may have been struggling to manage having lost both mother and sister in a short time.  On 15th March 1895 she had been boiling a ham in the kitchen, and had taken the ham out of the pot, and was in the act of emptying the pot in the back yard.  Her brother heard her call out "Will." He ran out, and found her lying on the ground with the pot lying empty close to her. She said she had caught her foot against a stone.  He thought she had scalded her hand.  

Mr Cox, the Long Buckby surgeon, attended her. He found a bruise on the temple and the left eye, and very extensive scalds on the left arm and hand, and also the left thigh and leg. The surgeon continued to come daily for months and considered she was “going on falrly”.  William agreed that she had received every attention. However, around the middle of June  Mr Cox found she was getting worse, blood poisoning set in and she died on a Sunday in late June.  He concluded the death was caused by the blood poisoning and the shock of the scalds. 

There is no record of how William managed through these difficult months, or how the pub trade fared.  He must have known he needed help.  It seems likely that a relative or connection of the family came to help.  His mother, Elizabeth had come from South Kilworth in Leicestershire.  Within a year of his sister’s death William, the life-long bachelor, had married Mary from South Kilworth.  Mary was ten years younger and they employed a teenage servant, Rose Hutt, from Drayton. 

William and Mary continued to run the pub, although their domestic servants varied.  In 1911 a fifteen year old, Elizabeth Penn from Blakesley, was working for them.  They were still at the Spotted Cow in 1914, but William was over 70 and they were ready to retire.  This marked the end of a century of Elliott involvement with Whilton Locks.  William and Mary moved to Blisworth, where William died in 1928.

Woodhams and Wrights and Two World Wars

The new landlords in the pub were Fred and Eliza Woodhams who had already been running a pub at Long Buckby.  Their son, Oscar, was a wheelwright and had already enlisted when the family came to Whilton. He served as a private in the Northamptonshire Regiment  and was wounded in his back in 1915, his hand in 1916 and his thigh in 1917 Each time he was brought home for hospital treatment, and each time returned to the front. From October 1916 his home address was the Spotted Cow. 

Oscar moved away after the War, but his parents stayed through into 1920s. These 

were hard times for many. In December 1920 Mrs Emily Tomlinson’s shop was

 broken into. Two tins of salmon, two tins of cocoa, two tins of tomatoes, one pair 

boot laces and one packet of cigarette papers were stolen.  Fred Woodhams said 

George Smith had been on a boat that stopped there the night. The horse was put in 

the Spotted Cow stable  and this had been paid for.  When the Police caught up 

with the boat at Long Itchington, George still had the bootlaces and cocoa, and said 

he did it, “because the old woman kept him short of food”. The Police Sergeant said 

the “prisoner was nearly 17. He had never had a chance in life.”

The Woodhams were followed by Frederick Joseph Brown, who was landlord in 1926, when another tragedy struck on the canal. Arthur Christopher Elliott was two years old at the time.  He was the son of Ernest Elliott an engine driver, but perhaps a relative of the earlier Elliott family. He had been playing with a toy boat on a Sunday morning and accidentally fell into the canal.  He fell near the lock gate.  Although there were several adults present, not one could swim.  Fred Brown was in his garden and “heard screams and people running about near the lock. He found the lock-keeper dragging, and saw him bring the body to the surface. He at once tried artificial respiration, and sent for Dr Cox of Long Buckby, who pronounced life extinct.”

Four years later another couple from Long Buckby followed Fred Brown.  William Frances Wright had been born illegitimate and so disadvantaged, but he was a man of strong character and ability.  His early employment was in the shoe business and he had married  Maud Elizabeth Blincow in 1917.   They moved to the pub in 1930, when their son Jack (John William) was 10. Jack had a happy childhood here and recorded his memories in his later years. 

He remembered they had stabling for 20 horses, but usually had only 10 overnight.  The pub provided bedding at 6d a night, the boat people providing the food. Jack’s father had a smallholding and sold the vegetables.  He also sold bacon, cockerels and rabbits, mainly to the boat people.  The boat people had a strong Black Country accent.  Jack’s father had no trouble with them, although there were some rough diamonds.  They could live well, as a boat family could make £20 in a round trip in the 1930s. Poachers would come to the pub and gypsies with things to sell.  There was a slide on the pub kitchen door, to spy who was there – it might be a gipsy with 20 or 30 conies in a pram – they could be resold at 2 or 3d each. 

The Wrights were musical.  William Frances played the cornet and his son Jack played piano accordion. Jack may have played the piano too, as he did this in later years.  This made the pub a congenial meeting place for the boat people and others.  

Jack remembered Sunday cricket matches and weekend teas, continuing the traditions set by the Elliott family. There were fishing competitions and his father gave a pig as a prize.  His mother provided teas for as many as 200. People came out from Northampton on bikes and motorcycles.  This included doctors from the hospital who liked the melodions and clog dancing of the boat people. 

The Wrights left the Spotted Cow in 1942, while Jack was serving in the Far East, but remained a part of Whilton life.  Meanwhile Mr and Mrs Hawgood took over, although after the Second World War there was much less trade on the canal.  William Thomas Hawgood had come from Great Brington and was head groom for Sir Kay Muir at Whilton Lodge. His wife, Millicent, was the daughter of John Henry Townley, a Whilton saddler, but also known in village and family as a drunkard. Millicent was about 46 when they moved in and she seems to have been the licensee. She brought her own character to the job.  The beer slops were used as fertiliser or just thrown out of the window.  She had a flexible approach to opening hours and was known to close during the day so that she could clean the chimney with rags soaked in paraffin.  This suggests that trade was slack. The pub closed in 1959, the year the Motorway opened,  and Millicent died in 1960. Her husband survived her, living on until 1977 when he died near Watford. 


After that the pub became a private house, with the new name of  Foursquare Farm. For most of its life there had been a smallholding attached to the Spotted Cow, which had been rented.  In 1899 William Elliott was paying £15 a year.  These acres must be the land which provided the new name – perhaps with better measurements.  Foursquare Farm was so named because of the four acres which went with it. 

For over 40 years members of the Linnell family lived there, but by the end of their time, the building had become neglected and run down.  It has now been purchased by Dylan Roberts and is in the process of being restored and brought up to modern living expectations.  We hope there will now be a future for this building with its fascinating history.