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The Royal Hotel

This view of Main Street Heysham (right) is taken from the entrance to St Peter’s in early to mid 20th century and given to the HHA archive by the Mitton family of Lancaster. Part of the Royal Hotel is the white building visible on the right at the highest point of the street with almost half obscured by the tree foliage. A more recent view is below.


© Mike Blackstone NWImages
permission requested


What is obscured in the above picture is the higher part of the building. In his History of Heysham David Flaxington writes

.... Heysham’s oldest surviving property, however (with the obvious exception of St Peter’s Church), is the main building of the Royal Hotel, built around 1504 as a grain store.


© Record Office, Kew

Where David gets his evidence for this statement is not clear. but he does add some more detail about it. He lists many sources for his material, so it must presumably be in one of those.  He also repeats the statement in his commentary on postcards in Images of England: Heysham . (Sometiimes the year is 1502.) The building is listed by English Heritage (now Historic England) and there is no mention of a 16th century date in the listing. What is the clear from the listing is that there is a collection of buildings on the site. Referring to the 1838 Tithe map (section left) shows that the Royal main building and the additional buildings adjoining it to the north are all in the same plot as the Rectory 389; plots are clearly outlined on the map and the Tithe Schedule accompanying the map lists owners and occupiers of the plots, in this case the Church (Glebe)  Why would the Church have such a building? The Historic England listing refers to the tall section as a ‘former warehouse’.   “At the right is a former warehouse, of 3 storeys with its gable facing the road. It has a door at the left with chamfered stone surround and a window to its right with plain reveals. Above, rising through the 1st and 2nd floors, is a former loading door with plain reveals and with glazing bar sashes separated by a transom”
What was the warehouse for? Is this all to do with the local tradition about a granary?  Granaries are often tall builldngs and have a long history because in an agricultural  community there would always be the need to store grain in a safe dry place.. Traditionally such buildings are often referred to as Tithe Barns; in the viillage  of Glasson (Dock) across the Lune Estuary from Overton is a ‘Tithe Barn Hill’. The local church is Christ Church, but this only dates from 1840 so the barn may have been associated with the nearby very old Cockersand Abbey.  Many barns get labelled as Tithe Barns despite the fact that they never were. An example is in a painting of the old village of Torrisholme which we have in the Heritage Centre; someone viewing it said ‘that is a Tithe barn on the left’. The problem with this is that the church in Torrisholme is late Victorian; previously Torrisholme was in the parish of Holy Trinity Poulton le Sands, and even that only dates from 1745 and was first a Chapel of Ease for St Mary’s, Lancaster (Priory).
The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 (see sectiom 3 in link) changed tithes from goods/labour to hard  cash and the Schedule lists tithe money to be paid by owners and occupiers of property to the Rector. Any building in which he previously stored goods would have soon be rendered redundant. The cottage and barn south of the main building (392) and garden (391) were owned and occupied by Robert Hudson in 1838. The owner of plot 390 has not been so far identified.. For those familiar with the village note that there is a significant building and garden (394) in the area of the present Royal Fold.


A recent article in the Visitor about the refurbishment of the Royal mentions the 1502 date and also states that the building has been used as a hostelry since 1730.. Neither of these dates have we been able to substantiate.
Because the building is listed Lancaster City Council, before granting planning permission, commissioned a report on it from a local specialist firm Greenlane Archaeology based in Ulverston. For a copy of a summary of their report  click here.

Chris Wright, the Estates Manager of Daniel Thwaites plc, has  reviewed the deeds packet for The Royal and given us some very important information. First it confirms that the Church (Rev CTT Royds) owned The Royal well into the 20th century finally selling  it 1922 to representatives of William Mitchell and the associated five cottages  2 years later likewise.  Prior to those dates William Mitchell himself leased The Royal for a period of 10 years from  1914. William Mitchell was a Yorkshireman who leased his first public house The Black Horse in Lancaster in 1871. He founded Mitchells of Lancaster in 1880. For further details about Mitchells click here.

Since the Royds family owned The Royal, perhaps when John Royds was the first of the family to become Rector in 1858, that could be when the name change from Dobson’s took place. Royds Hotel perhaps and thence The Royal.  (Pure surmise.)

Dobson’s Hotel

In the 1825 Baines Directory entry for Heysham a Henry Baines (no connection we assume) is listed at ‘Dobson’s Hotel’. Let us assume that this is the same /part of what we now call The Royal. Hotel. From the Lancashire  Parish Clerks website we have traced a Thomas Dobson who was born in Poulton le Sands in 1764, married  Jane Lord of Heysham in 1898. They had at least 7 children. He died in 1815 when Thomas Dunham Whitaker was Heysham’s rector. In that entry his occupation is listed as innkeeper and on a previous one too. The entries do not always include the occupation so we cannot be certain when he started that occupation, but is does at least suggest a reason for the name of the hotel.
In an 1851 Directory there is a Richard Blacow, victualler at  Dobson’s Arms.
In the 1881 census Abraham Dodgson is listed as a Licensed Victualler at the Royal Hotel. His wife is Grace and they have five children.. This does not necessarily mean he owns it but the name change is established.. From the birth record of their youngest son in 1880 Abraham’s occupation is listed as Stonemason so in 1881 he had only just taken over as licensee at the Royal. 
Other church records mention innkeepers: examples include Ralph Gerrard (1837), Lawrence Curtis (1859), John Pearson (1884 and 1885). The Roiyal is specified in the last one and prior to 1862  the Battery and Cumberland View didn’t exist. However no St Peter’s Church registers in the second half of the 18th century appear to have any mention of an innkeeper or equivalent.

Nettle1935LR NETTLEDrinkGrannyHutshinsonLR

Granny Hutchinson’s Nettle Beer

In the early and miid 20th century the Cottage south of the main Royal Hotel building was one of the main places which sold non-alcoholic Nettle Beer/Drink. The cottage can be clearly seen in both the pictures at the top of this page. Heysham has become much noted for its association with this beverage.The first picture to the right of Granny was taken in 1935 during celebrations for George Vth’s Silver Jubilee. At this time ia glass cost two (old) pence, ’Granny’ was Mary Ann Parr before she married husband George in early 1894 in Leeds ; this  is confirmed (with thanks) by one of her great grand daughters Sarah Hutchinson Ash, whose grandfather was John Parr Hutchinson, Granny’s eldest son.

The second photo is perhaps the best known one; the price has gone up; probably c.1950.



T D Whitaker (1759-1821) and J M W Turner (!775-1851)

Thomas Dunham Whitaker, eminent hiistorian and author of his time, was Rector of Heysham from 1813-1819; and consequently owner of Dobson’s Hotel.  H
It is remarked elsewhere on the website that he was an absentee rector though he did conduct services at St Peter’s on occasions. It is perhaps significant that he officiated at the funeral in 1815 of Thomas Dobson, the innkeeper of Dobson’s Hotel, since as such he would have been an employee of the rector.
It is probably no accident that  J M W Turner visited Heysham during the period of T D Whitaker’s rectorship, on Thursday morning  of 8th August 1816. Whitaker’s History of Richmondshire contains 32 engravings by Turner. It often surmised that Turner would have partaken of an ale at Dobson’s Hotel since by then he was well known for such  habits on possibly a warm morning in August.

On that morning he made sketches and notes which subsequently provided the basis for his watercolour Heysham and Cumberland Mountains’.
Is it possible to pick out the tall part of the Royal in the picture?

Thomas Dunham Whitaker
1816 engraving by William Holl the elder
after a portrait by James Northcote.
public domain

A page on this website about the Royal Hotel was long overdue ; after all it is probably the oldest building in the village. Or is it? Possibly..
We have been spurred on by the huge refurbishment being undertaken by Daniel Thwaites brewers plc, and in particular by communications from Chris Wright, Estates Manager of Daniel Thwaites plc and from Lyndsey Markland-Clay of tlcontracts in Cheshire who are working on the decor of the refurbished Royal for the brewers. Thank you both for the inspiration to get on with it.
An image of the refurbished Royal will appear here in due course.