The Crown and Anchor was built in the later 1850s, on a prime site overlooking the Humber estuary. It was to be the focal point of the new village, which was being created to replace the old village of Kilnsea, fast falling into the sea, the prey of coastal erosion.
Edward Tennison had kept an alehouse in old Kilnsea. His son, Medforth Tennison, was the first licensee of the Crown. Medforth owed his unusual first name to his mother, Mary Medforth. The name was to reappear in future descendants. In 1840, at the time of the parliamentary enclosure, when the open fields were enclosed, his father Edward, was awarded one and a half acres on the site where the Crown was later built. He bought another one and a half acres, and the pub was built there, c. 1855.
The pub was brand new when the writer Walter White visited the area. Not impressed, he said that ‘The entertainment at the Crown and Anchor by no means equals the expectations of a stranger who reads the host’s aristocratic name – Medforth Tennison – over the door. I found the bread poor; the cheese poorer; the beer poorest'.
White also spoke to Matilda, Medforth’s wife. The destruction of the old village of Kilnsea was very much in the minds of everyone then. Matilda remembered ‘Kilnsea Church standing at the seaward end of the village, with as broad a road between it and the edge of the cliff. But year by year, as from time immemorial the sea advanced, the road, fields, pastures, and cottages, were undermined and melted away.’ White observed that when he visited:
The chief portion of the village stands on or near the cliff, but as the waste appears to be greater there than elsewhere, houses are abandoned year by year. Kilnsea exists only as a diminished and diminishing parish, and in the few scattered cottages near the bank of the Humber.
Various parts of the church were rescued when it toppled over the cliff. Stones from the chancel were stored with a view to their being used in a future church. The font was taken to a garden in Skeffling, where it remained for many years. A large holy water stoup and two sanctuary chairs were preserved, and eventually found their way to the Crown and Anchor.
Matilda Medforth died in 1857, aged 47, leaving three children. Thereafter Medforth was helped in the pub by his aunt Elizabeth Medforth (whose brother John had run the Ship in the old village), and his daughter, Keziah, who was 16 when her mother died. Keziah later married William Hodgson and was to be the landlady of the pub many years later. Medforth remained as landlord of the Crown for forty years, until his death in 1893 aged 84.
The enclosure plan of 1840 shows the road from the sea to the Crown and Anchor as newly laid out. However, the river frontage had always been an important part of the economy of Kilnsea. Old maps indicate that a lane from the old village ran just to the south of Southfield Farm and led to the Humber. Moreover, since at least the early 18th century and probably much earlier, a jetty had stood on the foreshore in front of what was to be the site of the Crown and Anchor. There were other landing places further up the Humber, at Easington and at Skeffling. As late as the early part of the 20th century vessels used to anchor off Kilnsea jetty and provide the Crown with custom.
When Medforth died his daughter Keziah Hodgson and son-in-law, William, took over. William died in 1901 and Keziah continued running the pub until her death aged 74 in 1915. She was succeeded by her son, Medforth (Mick) Hodgson, aged 35 at that time.
Ernest Medforth Norwood (Keziah’s grandson), who was born in 1904, wrote a memoir of his life in Kilnsea at the beginning of the 20th century. Ernie described his father as being able to turn his hand to anything. He also earned money delivering oil to Spurn Point lighthouse. The oil was delivered to the Crown and Anchor by barge, 200 barrels at a time; the large barrels were then taken to Spurn by horse and cart, each cart having room for only one barrel. As there was no road down to Spurn, part of the trek was along the beach.
The jetty at Kilnsea must have been more suitable for large bulky deliveries than the beach near the lighthouse, given the problems that Ernie describes in getting the large barrels down a road-less peninsula. He reported that the coal used by the farmers to do their threshing was also delivered in that fashion, as were the broken stones for road repairs, which were laid in piles along the road-sides ‘all of which provided casual work for my Father’. And thirsty customers for the Crown!
World War One brought massive changes to the tiny village of Kilnsea. Although not the pub favoured by the military, the Crown was popular with the villagers. And when Kilnsea effectively became a military camp everyone was roped in. The women of the village were asked to do the officers’ washing, especially before they had acquired proper accommodation in the battery. Ernie’s mother worked at the Crown and Anchor, which benefited from the military influx. One day an officer came into the pub and asked Mrs. Norwood if she could cook some meat for his men. When the meat was delivered, she found to her dismay that it was half a bullock. Recovering from her shock she asked if the Army had a butcher. One was duly found and she was able to produce a substantial meal, cooked in the Crown’s huge oven, which was capable of cooking 18 two-pound loaves at the same time.
In 1929 'Meddy' Hodgson retired as landlord. A little satellite bungalow - Sweetbriar Cottage (later called Kew Villa) was built on Crown land between the pub and the church in the 1920s. Medforth Hodgson intended it for his use after he left the Crown, though he did not live there until some years later. His successor as landlord was William (Bill) Whiskers, who remained at the Crown until the late 1930s. Bill apparently kept the pub open all hours. ‘He would get up to open if he thought there were customers. The police at that time came on bikes and you knew when they were coming’. Apparently the police biked down from Patrington and were easily recognisable at a distance by the white stripes on their helmet. Another story relates that when the owner saw the Bobby coming ‘he hid the spirit bottles in the main fireplace. The policeman who had been informed of this ruse, said “Oh its nippy tonight”. And said he wanted to warm up before his ride back. He got a match and was about to set fire to the newspaper and kindling (which would have caused the spirits to explode) so they had to admit to the hiding place’.
The Territorial camps at Godwin Battery between the wars seem to have been quite jolly affairs. Les Park remembered one occasion when about five men and the Sergeant (real name Brown but nicknamed ‘Huck’ after Huckleberry Finn) were returning after a very convivial night at the Crown. As they passed the church Huck said ‘I’ll ring that bell.’ The others tried to stop him but he climbed up the fall pipe and onto the tiles and rang the bell vigorously. It was almost midnight, and ‘no police then, so we all had a good laugh at Huck when he came down and called him a fool.’ However, the next morning as they were on the parade ground they saw a police car. ‘Now we didn’t know, it had only been a bit of a laugh but apparently the ringing of a church bell at night was a signal for a ship in distress and the rocket brigade had turned out!’ World War Two brought more military personnel to Kilnsea and Spurn. The Blue Bell still tended to be the pub favoured by the military personnel, but nevertheless the Crown too flourished throughout the war years — there could never be too many licensed premises near an army camp! When Pat Robinson and her parents visited Kilnsea in the 1940s Pat said they always favoured the Blue Bell. It was smarter than the Crown and nearer to the sea.
After the war Archibald and Dorothy Butler had the Crown, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Then in 1951 Harry and Anne (Marion) Robinson arrived in Kilnsea and bought the pub, which looked much as it had done for 100 years.
As Kilnsea slipped back into being a quiet hamlet once the military left, two pubs were probably one too many. Certainly in 1957 Hull Brewery decided to sell the Blue Bell, and it became a café. The demise of the Blue Bell must have been welcome to the licensees of the Crown and Anchor.
However, they must have wondered what they had let themselves in for, when the 1953 North Sea surge struck the Holderness coast. Pat, the Robinson’s daughter, was working in Hull but also helping her parents in running the Crown and Anchor. The pub was in a very vulnerable position overlooking the Humber, and the water soon washed over the road and was lapping against the pub walls. Pat said that they had managed to keep most of it out, but when a neighbour, Ivy Piggott, came round they opened the back door and ‘it all came in’. The Crown provided its traditional hospitality nevertheless. The Robinson’s son and his family happened to be visiting for the day, but when they discovered the water ‘window-high’ they realised they would need to stay over-night. In fact Kilnsea was completely cut off from Easington by the floods for several days and the land took years to recover from the salt inundation.
In the photo above note the two boats. The cottage to the left is Diamond Cottage, a predecessor of the one built by Pat Stevenson to retire to in 1986. As in the previous photo the brick façade of the Crown appears to be rendered at that time, and has remained so.
When a reporter from the Yorkshire Times visited the area in June 1957, he seemed to find Kilnsea rather a sleepy place, but the flood had left many memories:
A visit to Kilnsea was, perhaps, more restful than rewarding from a journalistic point of view. There is not much doing there nowadays, for even the soldiers have gone and the sprawling WD site is deserted. Added desolation is felt that the 110-year old Blue Bell Inn is no longer dispensing hospitality. It was closed a few weeks ago, as previously noted in our Holderness Letter. Mrs. Clubley, who was the licensee for some score of years, is now 86 and still lives in the village. There is a surviving pub, however. There – it’s the Crown and Anchor – Mr. and Mrs. Harry Robinson are host and hostess to many visitors to the area in the season and to many ornithologists who are concerned with the bird-ringing station and observatory at Spurn all the year round. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson moved in from Hedon six years ago to this old hostelry which is the successor to one engulfed by the sea. The big flood nearly smashed their front door and wall in four years ago, but despite the sea behind them and the river mouth almost beneath their front windows the Robinsons would not leave for anything.
Harry Robinson died in 1959, but Anne (always called Ma) remained in charge of the Crown for another thirty years, helped by her daughter and son-in-law. In 1960 the MOD sold Godwin Battery for use as a caravan site, and it became Sandy Beaches. Most of the locals seemed to welcome the newcomers on the campsite. They did indeed bring new business to the little village. By the 1960s more and more visitors were coming to Spurn and Kilnsea. The Blue Bell Inn had already closed, but the café established in the former pub did a good trade. The Crown and Anchor flourished. The reference to ornithologists above is a reminder how important the Crown was (and still is!) to visiting birdwatchers. Spurn Bird Observatory had been established soon after the end of the War and the pub provided food and drink to its visitors. Indeed, in the history of Spurn Bird Observatory the Crown has always played a central role!
Ma Robinson, with her daughter Pat, provided sandwiches and meals on demand, as well as alcoholic refreshments, to people staying at Spurn Bird Observatory and to day and weekend visitors. The people who flocked to the peninsula came for many reasons. Those who wanted amusements could go to Withernsea a little further up the coast. Those who came to Spurn and Kilnsea came for the wonderful, fairly empty sandy beaches, with access to both the sea and the Humber, for good beach fishing (many of the people who bought caravans on Sandy Beaches were anglers), and of course for the superb birdwatching opportunities. In the 1960s many of the birdwatchers who came used the buses and stayed at the Bird Observatory. Most could only reach the area by public transport, though some of them did have cars and motor-bikes. Once at Spurn they tended to stay for a few days. The ‘twitchers’ of later years who drove in, ticked a small bird off their list, and rushed off again, were many decades in the future, though in 1951 Eva Crackles had recorded in her diary that she was beginning to become more interested in botany than birds, because of “a rebellion against trends towards mere list ticking and rarity hunting”.
In the late 1950s the Robinsons embarked upon an ambitious extension of the Crown, which increased its size by half as much again. The front windows were transformed into bays and on the northern side a dining room was constructed with two new bedrooms above. The pub looked quite different.
In 1957 Pat married Eric Stevenson, at St. Helen’s Church. Eric was in the Navy at the time.
By the 1960s Spurn was regularly visited by officials and dignitaries. For example, the then Archbishop of York, Dr. Donald Coggan, made a pastoral visit to the peninsula in May 1964. The Lord Mayor of Hull was also Admiral of the Humber, and from 1962 the visit of Hull civic heads was an annual event, arranged by Eric Fenton, chairman of the Hull branch of the RNLI. It became the practice for the party to be given refreshments at the Crown and Anchor after any visit to Spurn.
In those days before drinking and driving regulations country pubs thrived, and the Crown was no exception. Spurn Nature Reserve drew many people in the summer months and many of them called in at the pub. Even in the winter it was popular, because although the population of Kilnsea was and is very low, Easington people, despite having three pubs of their own, also used the Crown.
Pat’s husband Eric died in 1974. Her mother ‘Ma’ Robinson became celebrated as the oldest landlady in Yorkshire, continuing to run the pub, until well into her nineties (Pat did most of the work by then!).
In 1986 Pat decided that she needed a rest, even though Ma wanted to continue, so the pub was sold. The little cottage next door, Diamond Cottage, was demolished and a new bungalow built. Sadly Ma did not live long after. She died aged 93 in 1987.
From 1986 the Wilkin family took over the Crown and Anchor. Bill Wilkin and his wife Marie had farmed in Holmpton for many years, so running a pub was a new venture. Their son, Kevin, had already been helping Pat behind the bar in the Crown, and took to running a pub with great enthusiasm. Kevin’s Christmas decorations were renowned.
The Spurn Heritage Coast Project began in the late 1980s and made many improvements to Kilnsea and Spurn. To improve facilities for visitors the car park at the Crown and Anchor was enlarged and planted with trees and bushes.
The Wilkin family left in 1999 and the pub went up for sale. After being closed for almost a year, and after considerable renovation it reopened at Easter 2000 to general acclaim and relief. The new owner was Jean Bunker. At certain times over its existence the Crown corner has been flooded. This also happened in the North Sea Surge of December 2013, though thankfully the pub itself was fairly unscathed. The floods did mean a slight change to the area in front, because when new rocks were put in place to protect the area a new barrier was erected on the corner, giving the view an almost ‘seaside’ appearance.
Having run the Crown very successfully for almost 20 years Jean decided to call it a day and has handed over to Adrian Bennett and David Whittaker (as of December 2018). Thankfully the pub remains at the centre of social life in Kilnsea and long may it remain so!
Acknowledgements: most of the photos come from my own collection. I was fortunate to be able to copy the photographs belonging to Pat Stevenson, formerly of the Crown. RIP dear Pat.