The Hop Leaf was a beerhouse without a name in 1869 when George Benwell was granted a Beerhouse certificate. This is the first licensing record for the pub which had probably operated since at least the end of the 1850s. In 1830 the Beerhouses Act had allowed easy registration of beerhouses on payment of a fee of 2 guineas (£2.10) by householders who paid rates. In 1869 beerhouses came under the same regulations as other premises licensed for the sale and consumption of alcohol and there was continued pressure to reduce the explosion in numbers licensed premises caused by the 1830 Act [ref 1].
The pub continued with a beerhouse licence until 1951 when it added a wine licence. In 1958 it acquired a publican’s licence which required a payment of £1,750 for what was known as the monopoly value. The amount was reduced by £1,000 to £750 on surrender of the beerhouse licence. This would appear to be a common practice around this time as the nearby Woodley Arms and Pheasant did the same the next year [ref 2].
Licensing records do not record the owners of premises until 1875 when for this pub it was Harris & Hewett [ref 3]. In 1877 the firm became known as R. Hewett & Son [ref 4]. Hewett’s Victoria Brewery occupied a corner site on Chain Street and St Mary’s churchyard, now occupied by Bill’s restaurant. Hewett’s brewed their own ales, but apparently not their own porter. They advertised in the local press that they could supply ‘Barclay and Perkins superior London Porter’ [ref 5].
Hewett’s owned the property until 1899 when Simonds bought the two cottages making up the beerhouse, 163-165 Southampton Street and the adjacent cottage 167 Southampton Street [ref 6]. In 1900 Hewett’s brewery was sold to H & G Simonds [ref 7].
By 1903 the pub was known as the Hop Leaf. It had a bar, bar parlour and smoke room, but did not provide sleeping accommodation for travellers or stabling. It was tied to Simonds for beer. It had a very close competitor in The Mount, a Wethereds Beerhouse almost next door at 169 Southampton Street [ref 8].
It became a Courage pub in 1960 when Courage took over H & G Simonds Ltd [ref 7]. In July 1994 the pub was bought from Courage by the Hop Back Brewery of Salisbury, in whose ownership it is today. It opened on 9 February 1995 with its own brewhouse, the Reading Lion Brewery [ref 9]. The first person through the door of the Hop Back pub was John Granville-Twigg who still drinks there today.
In the early 2000s a trip was run from the pub to Salisbury to see the original premises at the Wyndham Arms and the current, modern brewing premises.
The pub occupies three adjacent cottages in a terrace of six. The terrace was there by 1853 between the entrance to Pink Court, next to the British Free School and Rose Court.
In 1907 an application was made to rebuild the pub which was approved, the work to be done by local firm Millar & Cox [ref 10]. According to licensing records an application in May had been turned down, but in October it was approved. The approval was subject to a condition that should compensation become payable if it was closed by licensing magistrates, then the amount would only be based on the previous three year’s profit and current property value. Compensation for closure had been introduced in the 1904 Licensing Act which allowed closure of a pub the magistrates deemed not required. A note on in the Register of Licenses says that this work was not carried out [ref 11].
In 1909 construction of a room for off-sales only was rejected. In 1912 enlargement to take in the cottage next door and re-arrangement of the pub accommodation was turned down [ref 11]. However, at some point after that, but before 1995 the cottage next door was incorporated into the pub.
The whole terrace of which the Hop Leaf is part was listed in 1978. The listing description says the cottages were originally built around the end of the eighteenth century, but have been altered.
As part of the Hop Back Brewery’s refurbishment, a brewhouse was added, a single storey rear extension was built to house the cellar, the central off-sales cubicle removed, the two bars turned into one and a new entrance in the middle of the building added.
Licensees and managers
Records show the Hop Leaf as a well run pub, with no problems with magistrates or the police, each licensing register showing a clean sheet. There have been several long serving licensees and families of licensees [ref 11].
Early licensees combined being a beerhouse keeper with other jobs. Thomas Lascelles also operated the premises as a grocers shop. In the 1851 census he lived on Southampton Street and was described as a ‘grocer master’ and in the census ten years later as a ‘grocer, retailer of beer’.
Sometime during the 1860s George Benwell took over the business. He and members of his family were behind the bar for the next thirty years. In the 1871 census he was described as ‘engine fitter and beer seller’. The vertical engine he made and exhibited at a bazaar held at the Town Hall in 1870 to raise money for the new Wesleyan School Chapel in Spring Gardens was ‘worthy of especial mention’. The foundation stone of the School Chapel had been laid on 31 August 1870 and the total cost was expected to be £490 [Ref 12]. George Benwell was followed by his wife Anne and son, Harry [ref 13].
Charles Bracey Duguid (1910-1914 and 1919-1925) came from a family of publicans and brewery employees. His father, who died in 1899, and his mother had run the Beehive on Broad Street [ref 14]. In 1911 he was landlord at the Hop Leaf and two of his brothers Leslie and Alfred worked as a clerk and a cooper at a brewery, which was probably Simonds.
On the outbreak of the First World War he joined up with the Berkshire Yeomanry and his wife Sarah Jane Duguid took over the pub for the war years. On enlistment he gave his trade as a self-employed shoeing smith. He was with the 2/1st Brigade, which was at home during the war. When discharged in April 1919 he had been serving with the Royal Field Artillery in France.
It was possible that he might have come back to find that his pub had been closed because the licence was reviewed for redundancy in February 1919 before renewal was agreed in March.
Nola and Eddie Robinson were the third licensees after the Hop Back Brewery bought the pub in 1994. Eddie had originally come to run the Reading Lion Brewery when the pub re-opened in 1995. In 2001 the pub won the Reading and mid-Berks CAMRA pub of the year award and in 2002 the town pub of the year award.
The present licensees Dave and Claire Richards took over on 24 August 2007. Dave knew the pub and its customers well as he had played in the darts team for some time and had worked at the pub for two years before that. In their first year (2007-8) they won the Common and Aldbrickham Branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) Pub of the Year award. They repeated this achievement in 2013-14, pictured above. In 2010 they won a Pubwatch award.
Claire Richards won a Pride of Reading award in 2010. She was nominated by a Hop Leaf customer for her concern and care for another regular who had not been seen in the pub for some time. She discovered that he was ill in hospital and visited him. When sadly he passed away a while later, she made arrangements for the funeral and a wake at the pub [ref 15].
The pub today
The Hop Leaf was repainted in the summer of 2015 and is looking smart for its 21st birthday as a Hop Back Brewery pub. The Simonds heritage is celebrated in the name, the hop leaf on the railings at the front of the building and some of the decoration and old photographs of Reading inside.
Customers at the Hop Leaf include many local regulars, local occasionals, students and others attracted by the beer.
For the last four years, a Hop Leaf team has participated in the London to Reading bike ride for the British Heart Foundation, continuing a long tradition of fund raising by landlords and landladies.
The pub has a bar billiards team (Monday evenings), men’s darts team (Tuesday evenings), ladies’ darts team (Thursday evenings) and two football teams (Saturday mornings). The men’s darts team was very successful winning the league, the team competition, men’s singles and highest finish in the summer 2015 competition.
The Hop Back Brewery celebrates 21 years at the Hop Leaf on 9 February 2016. There is a beer festival running from 11 – 14 February and Saturday 13 February is a party night.
January 2018 update:
Landlord Dave Richards achieved a BIIAB Level 2 award in Beer and Cellar Quality (Cask and Keg). Congratulations!
I am grateful to the current managers Dave and Claire Richards, the Hop Back Brewery, Salisbury and John Dearing for their assistance in preparing this article.
I would probably put myself in the ‘local occasionals’ category of Hop Leaf customers, it is a welcome stop on the way home up the hill to the Whitley Pump.
- 1869 Licence Register PS/R 14/1 Berkshire Record Office (BRO)
- 1929-1951 Licence Register PS/R 14/10 (BRO) and 1952-1961 Licence Register PS/R 14/11 (BRO).
- 1875-1886 License Register PS/R 14/3 (BRO)
- Berkshire Chronicle, 4 January 1877.
- Reading Mercury, 12 October 1839.
- Particulars of freeholds, copyholds, leaseholds, lifeholds etc belonging to H & G Simonds Ltd. The Brewery Reading 1895. ACC2305/60/120. London Metropolitan Archive (LMA).
- Brewery History Society, Century of British Brewers Plus.
- County Borough Of Reading. Licensed Houses: REPORTS of the committee of borough justices appointed to visit Licensed houses to obtain Statistical Information, and of the Clerk to the Justices, and Statistical Information obtained. 1903.
- Hop Back Brewery
- Minutes of the Drainage and Buildings Committee, 9 October 1907. R/AC2/15/4 (BRO)
- Licensees of the Hopleaf
- Reading Mercury, 5 November 1870.
- 1898-1928 Licence Register PS/R 14/7 (BRO)
- The public house at 11 Broad Street was known by other names at other times.
- Pride of Reading Award for pub landlady
- Dearing, John. Reading Pubs
- Barnes-Phillips, Daphne. The Top of Whitley Revisited
- Gold, Sidney M. A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Reading
- Various authors. Berkshire in the First World War, Reading Borough Libraries
- 1904 Licensing Act and 1910 Licensing (Consolidation) Act
- Berkshire Stories – Reading Borough Library website of digitised First World War sources, including newspapers and images
- findmypast – Census information, digitised newspapers, birth marriage and death records. A subscription is required but the site is available at the BRO.