Answers to Questions


JOHNSON, Albion Inn, Hemel Hempstead, Late 19th Century



Hemel Hempstead


February 2002

The Albion in 1996, taken by Mike Milward


 The Inn has gone

The same view in 2010

Mike Milward (mmilward @t of Loughborough posted the following query to the ENG-HERTFORDSHIRE-L list: Looking for Thomas JOHNSON. He was the Proprietor of the the Albion Inn, Durrants Hill Road, Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead, but I don't know exactly when. He was probably born between 1835 and 1845 so was likely to have been at the Albion no earlier than 1865. I also know his eldest son, William, was born 22 May 1867, and was confirmed in Leicester in 1884. There were at least two other younger sons, Ernest and Herbert. I have an advertising card for the Albion Inn, a copy of which I can send as an attachment if anyone is interested. [reproduced below]

 I have already been in touch with: who have no record of our Thomas as a publican or of the Albion (as yet), but they will be very eager to have any information to add to their database.

[I have posted the answer here to allow the pictures of the Albion and the advertising card to be included.]

The Albion Inn early in the 20th century
(Detail from a picture in the book Dacorum within Living Memory.)

 This public house is described in Jolliffe & Jones as "This lovely flint building on the Grand Union Canal was built in about 1826 by Thomas Ebburn, coal merchant from Watford, together with cottages, wharves and other buildings on land previously part of Corner Hall Farm. In 1852 Ebburn went bankrupt, the entire property being sold by his creditors. The Albion, kept by James Turnham, was bought by John Andrew Groome, brewer of Kings Langley." It sold Greenalls beer, formerly Ind Coope, Benskins (see sign in picture) and Groome.

Roy Wood published a series of articles on the Hemel Hempstead pubs in The Gazette starting in October 2001 and his account of The Albion added the following facts: The tithe map of 1836 described The Albion as a cottage, garden and wharf. It is known to have stabled three horses that were used to work the canal. One of the earlier beer sellers was James Turnham (1851). A later one was A Simpson (1891).

 In the 1881 census the occupants were:

Henry MAY



Carpenter & Beer Retailer

Kings Langley

Elizabeth MAY



Wife To Carpenter & Beer Retailer


Elizabeth HATTON


Step Daur





Step Daur

Pupil Teacher


Katherine HATTON


Step Daur

Dressmakers Apprentice


The building was last recorded as being occupied in the 1993 electoral register. It was demolished in about 1999 to make way for a new canal-side housing development.


I found the following references to the wharf, and other licensees in various directories (all Kelly's Directories for Hertfordshire unless otherwise stated):

I also found the following additional Johnson selling beer - or a related activity - in a number of directories :

It is not clear whether there is any link with the other Johnsons, but I would guess that Thomas moved in to The Albion shortly after 1891 and died by 1897. (Alternately he worked the canals and was frequently away from home, leaving his wife to run the pub. It should be well worth while checking the 1901 census.)

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Matt Wheeler, curator of the Dacorum Heritage Trust, has found the following reference to Mr Johnson's death in the "Advertiser & Times" of 1895:


On Tuesday evening Mr Thomas Johnson, landlord of the Albion Inn, Hemel Hempstead, died suddenly from heart disease. The Coroner was informed of the circumstance, but did not consider an inquest necessary, as the deceased had been medically attended for a long time past. In the afternoon, it appears, Mr Johnson was out exercising a young colt and was taken ill. Assistance was at hand and he was conveyed home, where he died shortly afterwards.

Friday 15 November 1895


The internment of the late Mr Thomas Johnson, particulars of whose death were recorded in our last issue, took place in Apsley End churchyard on Monday afternoon. The body, enclosed in a shell and polished oak coffin, with brass breast-plate and brass furniture, was conveyed from the Albion beerhouse to the churchyard in the hearse, the mourners following in the mourning coaches, behind which walked the following representatives of the licensed victuallers of the district, Messrs C. J. Collings, C. Timberlake, W. Newbury, C. Turner, G. R. Jones and R. Furr, amongst personal friends present at the funeral service being Messrs G. Pitkin, G. Tibbles, C. Turner jun., H. Smith and others. The service in the church and at the grave were impressively rendered by the Rev. J. B. Hawkesford, vicar of St. Mary's, Apsley End. The mourners were Mrs. Johnson (widow of the deceased), Mr. William Johnson (eldest son), Mrs. Smith (daughter), Mr. Herbert and Mr. Ernest Johnson (sons), Mr. and Mrs. Bentley (sister), Mr. Child (nephew), Mrs. H. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Kendal and Mr. and Miss Maude Godwin. Wreaths were sent from The Wife; the family and relatives, Misses Annie and Maude Godwin, Mr. and Mrs. G Coleman, Mr. G. Lea, Mr T. G. Middleditch and Mr. and Mrs. G. Sells. The deceased, who was a member of the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society, leaves a large circle of friends to regret his sudden departure from their midst.

Friday 22 November 1895

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July 2009

Just over 7 years ago I was in touch with you about my wife's great grandfather, Thomas Johnson, who was 'proprietor' of The Albion Inn, at Two Waters, for a few years before his death in 1895.
I am now wondering if you can help in identifying the building which is shown in two different photographs from the late 1890's
The photo with the photographer's name at the bottom is of, we believe, Thomas Johnson with one of his two wives (and a dog).
The other photo with the pony and trap is of Christopher Bill (later known as William) Johnson, Thomas's eldest son, with a lady who appears to be in dark clothing (mourning maybe?). In the trap appears to be the same dog. This William, who lived in Leicestershire, was shown in the 1901 census in Brighton just before his marriage there.
The two photos were taken at different times as evidenced by the change in the foliage around the door, but the dog doesn't seem to have aged much.
It is possible that the building is the Albion Inn as it looked in the 1890's, but later photos show that there must have been some reconstruction of doors and windows since then.
Thomas was twice married. His first wife, Ellen (nee Child), died in 1882 and he married Mary (nee Hoskins) in 1883. Thomas was living in Leavesden at the time of the 1891 census, but we think that he became 'proprietor' of the Albion Inn soon after. He died in 1895 and his wife carried on being 'beerhouse keeper' until well after the 1901 census.
I hope you will be able to shed some light on this problem, or know someone who can.


1881: George Tap, Verulam Street, St Albans.

Thomas Johnson, Head, 45, Coachman
Ellen Johnson, Wife, 31, Domestic
Christopher Johnson, son, 12, Scholar
Herbert Johnson, son, 11, Scholar
Minnie Johnson, daughter, Scholar
Ernest Johnson, son, 4 Scholar
1891: High Elms Lane, Leavesden, Watford
Thomas Johnson, Head, 52, Coachman, domestic servant
Mary Johnson, Wife, 45,
Ernest Johnson, son, 14,
1901: Durrants Hill (The Albion Inn), Hemel Hempstead
Mary Johnson, Head, widowed, 53, Beerhouse Keeper, Own Acct.


I will work backwards and start by my conclusions - and then explain my reasons.

The picture of Thomas and Mary Johnson is a typical picture from around the end of the 19th century which was almost certainly taken in or shortly after their move up in the world to become publicans at the Albion Inn, probably in the summer of 1891 or 1892. The second shows Mary in black, and was almost certainly taken not more than a year or two after Thomas's death in 1895, in the middle of the year.

Dating the Picture of Thomas and Mary Johnson

The photograph of Thomas and Mary Johnson is a typical picture form around the end of the 19th century. These came in two standard sizes - the smaller "Carte de Visite" (visiting card) and the large "Cabinet" card. Both involved sticking a paper print onto a thick card backing - which carried the photographer details, either at the bottom (as in this case) or on the back. In the 1891 census Henry William Lane (28) was a self-employed photographer living in St Peters Street, St Albans. He is not listed in the 1886 or 1890 Kelly's Directory for Hertfordshire but is listed as a tobacconist and photographer of 43 St Peters Street, St Albans from 1895 to at least 1926 and possibly later. This would suggest that the photograph was unlikely to have been taken before about 1890, and as Thomas Johnson died in 1895 this ties the date of the photograph down to the 1890-1895 period.

We know that up to and including the 1891 census Thomas Johnson worked as a coachman. He was in Sarratt in 1871, at the George Tap public house, St Albans, in 1881, and as a domestic coachman in High Elms Lane, Watford, in 1891 - possibly working for the people who lived in High Elms house. Shortly afterwards Thomas and Mary became the publicans of the Albion Inn, which is known to have been a Benskins house before 1903, and probably was at the time. Bearing in mind the likely date of the photograph, and the fact that they are posing outside what could reasonably be assumed to be their house, the only likely locations are High Elms Lane, Watford, or the Albion Inn.

The move would appear to indicate some significant change of status and it would seem far more likely that Thomas would have paid to record his new (and undoubtedly more expensive looking home) than what may have been a tied cottage when he worked as a coachman. (As an aside - do you have any idea what happened to make the move possible? Perhaps a relative died and left some money/)

There are no direct clues to location from the photograph - except that the building is clearly identical to the second photograph. My guess (and I am not a gardener) is that the climbing plant is a nasturtium - which was probably an annual. There is no sign of any other creeper. (BTW - I wonder if the dark patch behind Mary's head is a cat fleeing from the photographer!)


 Who is the lady?

Could these two be the same? My feeling is that the face in the second picture looks a bit more haggard and perhaps a little slimmer - but that they could be the same person - i.e. Mary Johnson. The press reports of 1895 suggest that Thomas had been ill for some time, and Mary would have ended up running the inn, and tending a sick husband.


Locating the Picture of William and Mary

The dating evidence for the Thomas and Mary photograph points to the location being the Albion Inn - but is it?

One's first reaction is to doubt it. It doesn't look like a public house (see Postcards of Hertfordshire Pubs for some examples). If it was a public house one would expect there to be a licensing notice over the door and almost certainly some other signs. However the Albion was architecturally unusual. It was a canal side public house next to a road bridge with (initially) few other houses nearby. It was a three storey building to supply canal workers with the ground floor being at towpath level, and the first floor being at the level of the road leading to the bridge. Alternately one can think of it as a house with the bar in the basement. This means that the licensing sign would have been over the canal entrance - and all advertising would have been in a position to be seen from the canal. From the road there is no reason why it should not look like a private house, even if some of the rooms were accommodation for those staying in the inn.

A comparison with the picture from Dacorum within Living Memory (see above) is relevant. While the roadside wall of the house is far from clear as printed (the original photograph will show more details) the general form of the buildings fit well.  The gate by the wall seems, at first sight to be a little lower than one might expect, until you realise that the road must be sloping down towards the bridge over the canal and the 1990's picture (above) shows that there was a flight of stairs down at this point. The only significant difference is that background trees in the William and Mary picture are replaced by a building. The 1897 Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map of the area (reprinted on reduced scale in the Alan Godfrey Maps series) shows that up the hill from the Albion Inn was a field - which could well have had trees in the hedgerow. (The position is similar in the 1883 map, see insert, available on Old Maps.) This would suggest that the photograph is consistent with the situation shown in the 1897 map, and that the photograph was taken after there had been further development along Durrants Hill Road.

Dating the Picture of William and Mary

There are at least two different types of climbing plants growing up the wall - and the key difference between the two pictures is that the "nasturtium" on the cane arch has been replaced by a climbing plant on the wall by the door. If the climbing plant was a fast growing one, such a Virginia Creeper, the difference in the pictures my only be a few years.

The flowers in the flowerbed and the pots on the window sills suggests a summer date.

The shadows are not strong, possibly a cloudy day, but those of the horse's front feet suggest it was taken outside the Albion Inn at about midday.

The fact that the dog looks the same puts a likely maximum date difference of 10 years - but probably significantly less than this.

The woman I am assuming is Mary is in Widow's Weeds (Wikipedia) which were worn (at least in high society) for up to four years after bereavement. There is a hint in the photograph that a thin face veil has been thrown back over the black bonnet, and this could indicate high mourning.

While there are a lot of assumptions my best guess for the date would be about midday in the summer of 1896 .

If you can add to the information given above tell me.