Goodbye to a Medieval Pub in Downton

on Friday, 27 September 2013. Posted in Architecture

In early times, the parish of Downton formed part of a great estate granted to Winchester cathedral. The village itself was divided topographically into three sections which were linked by bridges. Settlement had developed in the High Street, so called in 1452 in a document in Winchester College archives, and from the mid-15th century the area was called the east borough. 

The King’s Arms, at the junction of Church Hatch and High Street, a solid-looking brick building with a tiled roof, was known to be a public house in 1628. We know who owned and occupied the King’s Arms in the mid-C18 from the Guildhall Library insurance documents.  These refer to James Russell, a schoolmaster of Downton, who took out a policy in 1755 ‘on his house only being the King’s Arms Inn at Downton …in the tenure of Lucy Loveday, Innholder… Brick, Timber and Thatched, Brewhouse only adjoining, Thatched. Two Stables only belonging, Thatched, £10 each.’ He paid £250 on the inn and £30 on the brewhouse.

This historic pub has now closed after at least 350 years of serving customers, and probably a good few years before that. The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (England) investigated it in 1980 and found the substantial remains of no less than three medieval timber-framed ranges inside, hidden by the mid-C18 facelift. This is the type of detail that makes the building archaeologist’s job so absorbing – separating successive layers of alteration which can be driven by fashion, fortune and function.

The King’s Arms proximity to St Laurence’s church, a particularly large and splendid church which accommodated congregations from as far afield as Redlynch, Morgan’s Vale and Charlton, must have been advantageous to the King’s Arms, set right at the entrance to Church Hatch. The church dates from 1150 and represents flourishing trade from early on, which had increased by the 15th century; the date of the King’s Arms. The town used to send not one, but two members to parliament. It is likely therefore, that such a large and commodious inn would be used as a regular meeting spot not only for recreation, but business.

The Salisbury Journal periodically advertised auctions held at the King’s Arms, for the sale of an estate, houses, brick kilns and timber; also a meeting of the Association for the Protection of Property on April 8th 1811 and mention of a ‘stray ox left at the King’s Arms’ on Sept. 10th 1804 – not a common occurrence today! Like many churches with dwindling congregations, pubs are likewise suffering and continue to shut in droves. The Wiltshire Buildings Record’s annual study day this October deals with the architecture of churches and is examining the fine craftsmanship that went into them. To book a place please contact me at the History Centre.

Dorothy Treasure
Wiltshire Buildings Record


Comments (11)

  • john anderton

    john anderton

    04 October 2013 at 18:14 |
    I am a new resident to Downton, and I found the Kings Arms a pub with atmosphere, no other public house in the village is the same.
    The ladies and gentlemen, including youngsters that used the pub were not just local's. They came from all of the area.
    The last Landlord made a good go of it, and built up a great trade in food , and takeaway, but was sadly greedy to take on a hotel,
    I think Enterprise Inns are to blame for it closing,
    I and many people who used to meet there had a great time, it was a local social event, in a wonderful pub, it will be a sad loss to the Village if it is turned into a house, a place with lots of history.
    I for one totally disagree with this happening.


  • John lawrence

    John lawrence

    06 October 2013 at 11:33 |
    Pub has been purchased and is now in private ownership. change of use has not yet been sought. if and when this happens every effort should be made by members of the public to resist this and save the much loved pub. we know that people out there are willing to buy, update and run it as a free house. comments welcome.


  • martin shergold

    martin shergold

    08 October 2013 at 23:58 |
    Wonder how many Shergolds and others related to me frequented the establishment.......... shame folk just can't leave the world with some historic charactor..... no wonder tourism fails...... the icons get bullldozed..... my ancestors will be turning in their graves.


  • Dorothy Treasure

    Dorothy Treasure

    16 October 2013 at 09:45 |
    There are understandably stong feelings regarding the future of the King's Arms. What is most important is that the building continues to be occupied and adapts to a rapidly-changing world.


  • Nigel Chalk

    Nigel Chalk

    17 October 2013 at 18:44 |
    My family also hails from Downton. Is this building not listed, if not why not? It is about time the inexorable loss of our historic pubs is stopped, we save the big houses, parks, even bridges and power pylons in the name of history but what about the second centre of any village life after the church?


  • Margaret Tucker Moxon

    Margaret Tucker Moxon

    09 February 2015 at 02:29 |
    Many of my Tucker ancestors lived in Downton and environs - Hamptworth and Landford, Bramshaw. I visited the pub in 2008 on my visit to the Cuckoo Fair. We arranged our trip from Australia to fit in. So sad to hear it is no longer a pub.


  • Elaine Gray

    Elaine Gray

    26 May 2015 at 15:36 |
    Hi, have read these posts as I am researching the Blake family. James Blake was publican of kings arms in 1855,anyone with info on him would be great. The blakes also had the rising sun in castle street, salisbury,gone too. They also had new inn, Salisbury, which is still there.coming down from Scotland to have meal and drink there. What a shame can't do all three! Old pubs are just great,mwho cares if they're a bit shabby. Also see a mrs Mary Blake had Whitehorse in 1855, any info on blakes very welcome!


    • Naomi Sackett

      Naomi Sackett

      28 May 2015 at 11:12 |
      Hi Elaine
      Thanks for your comment. We have a few wills here at the History Centre that seem to relate to the Blake family. You can search for and purchase digital copies of many of the wills at
      You can search by surname and parish to narrow down what you are looking for (there are several for innkeepers in Downton and also Salisbury) including James (several different James Blakes) and Mary Blake. If you contact us directly for those that have not been digitised we can provide you with a copy for a charge. Alternatively, if you are planning to be in the area, you can visit us here at the History Centre and view the wills free of charge.
      We also have a lease for the White Horse Inn (amongst other leases in the same bundle) with George Blake listed amongst the named parties for the various leases. The document reference for this is 1946/2/2A/86.
      If you have any further queries let me know.


    • Naomi Sackett

      Naomi Sackett

      08 May 2018 at 10:41 |
      I am posting this on behalf of Julie Black: "I stumbled across the conversation and also find myself looking up the King's Arms due to ancestral links. Shame to see history being lost. According to my findings, Elizabeth Blake was an innkeeper there in 1871, having taken over from her Aunt Maria Brown (nee Goulding - which is the name I am tracing)." She would be happy to be contacted by you Elaine on to discuss family history.


  • Gerard Thorp

    Gerard Thorp

    02 July 2015 at 09:23 |
    HI, I am a new to the area and have seen the scaffolding go up around the 'Kings Arms' in Downton. I asked a local resident about the pub and he advised there was a 'priest's hole' in the pub. Did the 1980 building inspection reveal one as I cannot find any reference to one in local books. Many thanks.


  • Naomi Sackett

    Naomi Sackett

    07 July 2015 at 15:34 |
    There was no priest’s hole found at the King’s Arms in Downton as part of Wiltshire Buildings Record investigation, nor mentioned by RCHME. Fireplace features that might be mistaken for priests’ holes are smoking or malting chambers and former staircase positions that become redundant. Priests’ holes are found specifically in the period 1570-1790 and relate to homes lived in by Catholic recusants who celebrated Mass in secret. This sort of feature is very unlikely in a pub. If you have any more questions you are welcome to contact Dorothy Treasure, Wiltshire Buildings Record Principal Historian on 01249 705500.


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