The King’s Arms
147 High Street, Berkhamsted
Mary Page, buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery, was the innkeeper’s daughter at the King’s Arms on Berkhamsted High Street in the early 19th century. In its heyday, the inn attracted many well-heeled visitors, including occasional royal customers. Polly became the talk of the town when she struck up a close friendship with the exiled King of France.
The King’s Arms Inn is thought to have been built in the late 17th or early 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne. At this time, Britain’s transport network was expanding and stagecoaches plied their trade along Akeman Street between London and the North. This created demand for overnight accommodation, and a network of coaching inns sprang up all over the country.
The Kings Arms Berkhamsted became a popular stop for coaches on their way between Tring and the Bell and Crown in Holborn, and coaches heading for Banbury and Birmingham. Here, the travelling gentry could change or rest horses, since there was stabling for up to forty horses as well as coach houses and facilities for harness storage. The Universal British Directory of 1791 designated the Kings Arms as the best inn in the town.
From 1792-1840, the landlord of the King’s Arms was innkeeper John Page. He and his wife Mary ran the inn for a full 53 years. The Inn flourished under their management and became a social hotspot frequented by the gentry. He provided a room ‘most tastefully fitted up with artificial flowers and laurels’ and provided musical entertainment. The Sparrows Herne Turnpike Trust, who maintained the trunk road through Berkhamsted, held their inaugural meeting in 1762 in the Kings Arms. As well as working as the innkeeper, John Page was constable and coach master, and operated the local Post Office in the Kings Arms.
No doubt one of the main attractions of the Kings Arms were the three pretty daughters, Mary, Sarah and Catherine, especially the eldest Mary, always known as Polly. In the 1800s Polly became the talk of the town when she became closely acquainted with the Bourbon King Louis XVIII of France, who was in living exile at Hartwell House near Aylesbury 1807-14. Louis often made a point of changing or resting his horses at the Kings Arms en route to London purely to see sweet Polly Page. Rumours abounded of a romance, and the affair was even reported in The Times, who described Polly as ‘the sprightly, chatting entertainer of King Louis XVIII’. John Page doubtless encouraged this since these royal visits were good for attracting a superior clientele.
It is reported that after Louis XVIII was restored to power he invited Polly to visit him at the Palace of Versailles, which led to some malicious gossip. Polly denied the rumours and stated that ‘nothing improprietous had taken place.’
John Page died in 1840 and the running of the inn passed into Polly’s hands. She was a capable and hard-working businesswoman, and the King’s Arms continued to attract a noble clientele. In 1841, Polly welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they changed horses at Berkhamsted, on their way to visit the Duke of Bedford at Woburn. The townspeople made an elaborate decorated arch across the road to welcome the royals, and the party took refreshment at the King’s Arms. Polly managed the inn for a further 25 years before her death in 1865.
The advent of the railways in the 1830s created a threat to Britain’s thriving stagecoaches, and also to coaching inns such as Polly Page’s pub. Angry landowners held a protest meeting at the Kings Arms to object to the London & Birmingham Railway Company’s plans to drive a new railway line across their country estates. Although they managed to influence the route, the controversial railway went ahead, and Berkhamsted Railway Station opened to passengers in 1837. Perhaps in an attempt to soothe feelings of resentment in the town, the railway company donated generously towards the foundation of Rectory Lane Cemetery in 1842, as shown in the inscription on the Bridgewater Foundation Stone.
Despite the decline of coaching, the King’s Arms has remained in business for nearly 200 year. Today it is a thriving pub and restaurant and continues provide refreshment and accommodation to visitors and locals. The coat of arms seen on the front of the pub today is the royal crest of Queen Anne.