The Royal Stag, The Green

by Janet Kennish


The Royal Stag 2000, photo Rob Gordon


Order 'The Royal Stag', Janet Kennish pub. 2011

Outline History

This pub is the oldest house in Datchet, dating from the 1400s, though there have been many alterations and additions since then. The building belongs to the Barker Bridge House Trust which funds projects of benefit to the local community. The story of the Trust, and of the Elizabethan charity which preceded it, are told in more detail below. From the churchyard the oldest part of the building can be seen, and also how the whole front block with its pillared and porticoed doorways, has been added on to it in the 19th century. The pub's sign has stood across the road on the edge of the Green, as it does now, since at least 1850.

The building may have been an alehouse from the 1500s and was at first called the Five Bells from its proximity to the church. Later it was the High Flyer, changing to the Royal Stag in 1796. The building is reputed to be haunted, though there is no evidence at all for the story of the ghostly hand print said to appear on a window pane, which is most probably a modern hoax.  And unfortunately for those who like a mystery, there is a rational explanation for the presence of a broken tombstone in the rear bar.

There have been several famous visitors to the Royal Stag, both in fact and fiction. More information about them follows the detailed building history, as well as a list of early licensees.

The oldest part of the building from churchyard
with hand-print window on left of ground floor

The early building is timber-framed with brick 
infill between the widely-spaced main structural 
posts. It is partly this wide spacing which 
indicates that the building is so old. It consists of 
five 'bays' or sections, the front two being the 
original house and the rear three, where the roof 
line changes, may have been an animal byre. 
The main living space (the hall) would have been open to the roof rafters with a hearth in 
the middle of the floor and without a chimney; 
an 'open-hall house'. The upper floor, chimneys 
and windows are all later insertions.


The Hand-print & Tombstone Stories

The story of a ghostly hand print appearing on a window pane, which cannot be removed and reappears if the glass is replaced, was not mentioned before about 1970. The window concerned is on the left of the ground floor in the photo above, made of small panes. In 1979 a photograph was taken which is displayed in the pub, telling that it is reputed to be the hand print of a child who died outside in the churchyard while waiting for its father on a cold night. A Mr Smith claimed to have done research in Bucks Record Office which proved that this was the child of a drunken labourer at the end of the 19th century, but no such evidence exists at all. In true folklore fashion, the story has become elaborated, so that we are now told that the child watched the father become involved in a fight. For those who want to believe it, and for encouraging customers to the Royal Stag, the story is fine, but it is only a story with no basis in evidence. If the print reappears in the future, this researcher will be most intrigued and is prepared to eat her words, but currently remains sceptical.

The broken tombstone in the rear bar is that of William Herbert, who may be associated with the history of the Royal Stag, but it is not possible to prove that he 'had a very troubled life', as has been claimed. At the time when the church was enlarged many tombstones were removed and some which were damaged seem to have been used as slab flooring in the pub - it is as simple as that. And there is nothing unusual or macabre about the skull and crossbones design, as a glance at the standing tombstones near the church porch will confirm. 

The Herbert family connection was through John Herbert (William's son?) who took over the tenancy of the Five Bells for himself in 1730, and was one of the new Barker Bridge trustees appointed in 1727. He had already, according to the minutes, used Trust money without permission of the other trustees and employed the Trust's workmen for his own convenience, but failed as tenant to carry out necessary repairs to the Bridge House and lost the tenancy in 1736. He was probably related to William Herbert, who may have been involved himself since he was a maltster, but he is not mentioned in any of the surviving records. William was of some wealth, born in 1638 and died in 1705, his wife Rebecca dying in 1710, as the tombstone records.

Documentary & Building History

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The outside appearance of the pub has changed very little since the late 19th century, although the interior has been altered many times in response to social requirements. Major remodellings were undertaken  in 1967-72, during which plaster was stripped from original beams and the old separate saloon and public bars were merged into one main space. Previous alterations had taken place in 1928, when the left front part of the building became an off-licence, entered from a door in the west side which has since been blocked up. The central front door used to open on to a passage way giving access to various smaller rooms, but this door was sealed off and the passage way opened into the main space in 1972.

Early 1900s postcard view

Rear view of the building

There also used to be a range of outbuildings, some of them very old and some used as a garage business during the 1920s, in the plot of land behind the pub. These were all removed in 1972 to provide a car park, with the exception of the bottle store which still adjoins the rear of The Bridge, the old almshouse shop. It can be seen from the rear of the pub building how it has constantly been added to as needs change over the decades and centuries, from timber-framed and gabled structures to modern flat-roofed extensions.

Detail from 'The Way to the Church', W. Corden 1877

Detail from Corden painting 1857, side of Stag with square-headed upper windows.

However, a view painted in 1877 shows that the new symmetrical front was built by then, but with just one central door; the early 1900s postcard view has two, the one nearest the church partly concealed by the signpost. The Trust's plans and leases show that there was one door in 1893, and from the evidence of an 1894 flood photograph it is likely that the new door was opened up very soon after that, pillared to match the original one. The attractive little pointed Gothic widows of the upper floor can be seen from the evidence of the painting and the photo to be post-1894, perhaps early 20th century. They are typical of many buildings in Datchet and were a local builder's speciality.

The Stag before addition of new front (drawn c.1850)

Flood photo 1894, churchyard corner of Royal Stag

Taking the building further back in time becomes more difficult as there are no images before about 1850 and only one plan (dated 1844 below) drawn up a time when the buildings were dilapidated and a major outlay was required in renovations: 

This shows that the pub then had an open yard at the front 
on the churchyard corner, with the building only extending 
to the road frontage on its west side. In 1862 an addition 
was built in this yard space, when the central doorway was  
made to give entrance into a passage way between the two 
halves of the building. The change of name from High 
Flyer to Royal Stag took place in 1796, although the old
name was sometimes still used.
The plan also shows the turnpike toll bar and tiny toll house 
opposite the corner of the present 'Bridge', here marked as 
'Datchet Poor' as it was the former almshouse. London 
Road was turnpiked in the 1770s and the toll road then 
continued through the village to the bridge over the Thames. 
Land on the west of the plan marked 'Dean and Canons of 
Windsor' was the Rectory House, now Old Priory.

The Records of the Barker Bridge House Trust

The story of this charitable trust is a complex one, but as its records are such an important source of evidence about Datchet from the 1700s to quite recent times, a brief outline of the background is necessary:

The 'Bridge House' of its title is the Royal Stag building. The house was given in trust as an endowment for the upkeep of the bridge across the pool which ran through the centre of Datchet, from the top of the High Street to opposite our Pharmacy, until the Trust itself paid for culverting the stream underground in about 1840. The name of Robert Barker has become attached to the Trust because of his deed conveying the Bridge House to a trust of prominent inhabitants in 1644, although Queen Elizabeth had given the Bridge House to the village, through a similar group of inhabitants, in about 1570. The Trust was not fully established until 1726, when the assumed intentions of Robert Barker were formally stated.  The endowment of bridges with property to provide for their upkeep was extremely common, if not essential.

In 1724 one of the only two trustees left had died and a dispute arose over a sum of money he left. The Court of Chancery was asked to pronounce upon the uses to which this money and the general profits should be put, and to establish arrangements for ensuring continuity when Trustees died. (Today the Charity Commissioners exercise these controls.) The profits from the Bridge House were in future to be spent as follows:

1) To repair or new build the bridge and bridge house 
2) To repair other bridges, causeways and churchways (ie routes to church through the village)
3) To repair the houses called the parish almshouses (now, confusingly, 'The Bridge')

From the time of this pronouncement, detailed minutes and accounts were kept of work carried out. They provide the best source of evidence about people and events for the period since churchwardens and parish vestry minutes have not survived. The Trust became involved in all village matters, having money to spend on vital projects such as mending riverbanks and, later, lighting the village and helping to pay for the fire brigade. These minutes have been deposited by the Trustees at Bucks Record Office in Aylesbury where they are available for research. 

Robert Barker's Deed, 1644

Robert Barker, Printer to Queen Elizabeth and then to James I, died in debtors' prison in 1645. Before he died he had an indenture (a formal deed or agreement) enrolled in the Court of Chancery by which he conveyed or sold a house called the Bridge House in Datchet, together with some land, to seventeen named wealthy inhabitants. Two similar deeds in 1687 and 1705 conveyed the Bridge House to further individuals, the last of whom had died by 1724, leaving the situation needing to be resolved in Chancery. Robert Barker's long and repetitive deed actually fails to state what the property was for or how any profit was to be spent. The only real clue as to the Trust's purposes in the 1644 deed is the designation 'Bridge House' and the fact that a large group of influential men were to be joint owners, but the deed does not imply that his name should be attached to the house or the bridge. 

However, in 1724 the plaintiffs at court stated that the 1644 conveyance of the property was to the 'trustees in trust, for the rents and profits to be applied in erecting a bridge across the street in the middle of the town of Datchet, over certain waters that lay there to the great annoyance of the inhabitants, and that the said bridge was built accordingly' - except that we know the bridge was already there in Queen Elizabeth's time. The explanation seems to be that Robert Barker was the only one still alive of those inhabitants responsible for the Elizabethan Bridge House and was setting up its future in safe hands before his death. This he certainly achieved.

Queen Elizabeth's Bridge and 'Churchlands'

What Robert Barker did not do was to order the bridge to be built, as a document dated 1570  in the Public Record Office makes clear. It states, in essence:

'... all that cottage and curtilage up to two acres of arable land called Churchlands, then or now in the occupation of Roger Tickell, granted to (among others) Maurice and John Hale and all inhabitants of the town of Datchet and by them to the use of maintaining of that bridge called Datchet Bridge, for 21 years, by letters patent dated 13th day of June in the 12th year of the reign of the Queen'.

Queen Elizabeth was able to grant a property to the purposes of bridge-funding because she was the owner of Datchet Manor, as the crown had been since 1472. The Queen may have ordered the bridge to be erected, giving the house (or cottage) to fund its cost and repairs, which would have been the usual procedure. Two surveys of the manor, in 1604 and 1622, repeat that a house is held by named inhabitants for the parish ad pontis (for the bridge) and add that it is next to the poor there, ie next to the almshouse, now 'The Bridge'. So already by 1644 there was a tradition of a trust of leading inhabitants administering the profits of the Bridge House towards upkeep of the bridge, and Robert Barker was the last survivor of these inhabitants.

The name 'Churchlands' of the 1570 deed does not appear elsewhere but seems a reasonable description of a dwelling with its attached land adjacent to the church before its designation as the 'Bridge House'. It is at least likely that it was leased out as an inn or alehouse from 1570 since a profit had to be made.

And Before 1570?

The Bridge House was already old by 1570, and it may still have been an open-hall house as it was originally. It is possible to follow it back further in the survey of the Manor of Datchet made in 1548, which listed all the lands and house with owners or tenants - though not in any way which is conveniently recognisable for us. This house, whose tenant was John Wellesborne, was described as next to the poor, as it was in the 1604 and 1622 surveys, so its identification is fairly secure. 

The survey entry gives another small clue as to the origin of the building, which must have been of  substantial construction, and therefore of considerable status, to have survived so well. The tenancy is held 'at will', that is, directly from the Lord of the Manor and at his discretion, rather than freehold or copyhold as almost all other property was owned or tenanted. While this is a long shot, it is possible that the house was the medieval Manor House or its farmhouse which was superseded by the present much larger Manor House on South Green in around 1550-1600. Its position so near to the church, tucked in tightly to take advantage of the high ground there, is also very suggestive of its being a manorial building. If it was, that would also account for its superior construction, though it has been kept in repair by the Trust. And, of course, the Queen would have an absolute right to use the house to endow the bridge as she was the Lady of the Manor. This theory does not explain the name 'Churchlands', but neither does there appear to be any evidence that it actually belonged to the church; if it had, the Queen would not have it in her gift to bestow elsewhere at will. 

Famous Visitors to the Royal Stag

1) Caroline Herschel, 1782

In 1782 the Herschels moved from Bath to rent a house in Datchet. Caroline and Alex, brother and sister of William Herschel the astronomer stayed the night on their way to take up residence at The Lawn in Horton Road. Caroline wrote of this occasion:

In the course of 4 or 5 days all the household goods, telescopes and most of the contents of the work room stood ready loaded in the evening of July 30th for going off at two in the morning; my eldest brother (William) left Bath with the 11 o'clock coach which goes through Slough, where Alex (brother) and I joined him on the 1st August, from which having taken our dinner with the rest of the passengers we walked over to Datchet where we were obliged to sleep at the public house near the church, and were glad to see on our first waking the wagon with all the tubes etc etc safely arrived and we left our inn to see the wagon unloaded and all the furniture to be put in our new house.

Caroline was obviously not impressed with the High Flyer, as it would have been called then. It seems that it was never of high repute or any pretension to grandeur but was just a village inn offering lodgings.

2) Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome, 1889

Although this is fiction, Jerome clearly knew the scenes and places he described in his humorous novel. In this brief extract the narrator, George and Harris need a place to spend the night in Datchet:

We went a goodish way without coming across any more hotels, and then we met a man, and asked him to direct us to a few. He said, 'You must turn right round and go back, and then you will come to the Stag.' We said, 'Oh, we had been there and didn't like it - no honeysuckle over it'.

Then George spoke up. he said Harris and I could get an hotel built for us if we liked, and have some people made to put in. For his part he was going back to the Stag. ...... We took our traps (bags) into the Stag and laid them down in the hall. The landlord came up and said 'Good evening, gentlemen.' 'Oh, good evening', said George, 'we want three beds please.' 'Very sorry, sir,' said the landlord, 'but I'm afraid we can't manage it.' Oh, well, never mind, said George, two will do.' Harris thought George and I could sleep in one bed very easily.

'Very sorry, sir,' again repeated the landlord, 'but we really haven't got a bed vacant in the whole house. In fact, we are putting two, and even three gentlemen in one bed as it is'. Harris rose to the occasion an, laughing cheerily, said, 'Oh well, we must rough it, you must give us a shake-down in the billiard room. 'Very sorry, sir. Three gentlemen sleeping on the billiard table already and two in the coffee-room. can't possibly take you in tonight.'

We picked up our things and went over to the Manor House ....
But there was no room there either! There really was both a billiard and a coffee room in the Stag at that date, as shown by plans and descriptions belonging to the Trust.

3) William Morris 1892

A small unidentified and undated newspaper cutting records this forgotten event:

In a place of honour in the Royal Stag at Datchet is a copy of a menu of a famous event which took place there 72 years ago, on September 5th 1892. It was the first annual dinner of a very famous printing company - the Kelmscott Press. The firm, noted for the many beautifully printed and bound private editions it produced, as founded the previous year by Mr William Morris who took the chair at this dinner. The programme which followed a hearty meal included a 19th century guitar offering a Mrs Sparling singing such items as "Snowy Breasted Pearl" and "Black Eyes".

The early editions printed by the Kelmscott Press are now highly prized by private collectors and many have a place in a museum at Hammersmith.

Records of Licensed Victuallers & Pub Name

This list is taken from 'Stoke Victuallers' by Laurence Wulcko, an index to the innkeepers, alehouse keepers and victuallers in the Hundred of Stoke (the hundred was an old administration unit within the jurisdiction of the county). All these various drinking establishments were required to be licensed at the County Quarter Session courts and the documents are in the County Record Office in Aylesbury. There are no lists from before 1753 as licensing was a less formal procedure and records have not survived.

Five Bells

  1753-62  Edmund Earley
  1763 John Jones
  1764-69 John Quick
  1770-87 Ann Quick
  1788-91 Edmund Carter
   High Flyer        
  1792-93 Edmund Carter
  1794-95 William Davis
   Royal Stag
  1796-97 Edward Matthews
  1798-1812 John Northcroft
  1813-18 Leonard Addison
  1819-21 James Prior
  1822-23 John Turfrey
  1824-1828 Edmund Land

Listed Building information from local authority

Windsor & Maidenhead, 40661, Royal Stag Public House, Grade II, 5130, SU9877 5/11, GV

Front mid C19 on five bay early C15 hall house at rear. Last three bays probably a byre originally. C18 timber frame extension to left hand at rear, L shape plan on two storeys. Front has hipped slate roof. Rendered & colourwashed two double hung sashes with glazing bars in reveals with cills on first floor. Three light splayed bay to left hand with glazing bars. Ground floor double hung sashes with side lights & glazing bars. Two doors under pedimented porches with plain columns.

Rear C15 (16?) has old tile roof, plastered & colourwashed infill between frame, Yorkshire casements with glazing bars, four Gothic arched casements on first floor, two with central wood mullions. Modern glazed door & sidelights beneath bay to left hand.

Interior has a few exposed beams.

Sources and References

The Way to the Church, painting by William Corden 1877, owned by St Mary's Church
The Church before Rebuilding, by William Corden 1857, owned by St Mary's Church
Plan of the Royal Stag site 1844, papers in possession of the Trustees of the Barker Bridge House Trust
Minutes & Accounts of the BBH Trust deposited at Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury
Robert Barker Bridge House conveyance 1644; Public Record Office, ref: C54 / 3325
Queen Elizabeth I Churchlands conveyance 1570; Public Record office, ref: E310 / 9 / 10
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1548, Public Record Office, LR2 / 188
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1604, Northampton Record Office, Buccleuch Papers 2.6 / X333
Survey of the Manor of Datchet 1622, Cambridge (no ref.)
Extracts from the diaries of Caroline Herschel in The Herschel Chronicle, Slough Reference Library
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, pub 1889, now a Penguin Popular Classic
Stoke Victuallers, Laurance Wulcko,  1753-1828, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Aylesbury