There is some peculiar fascination about the study of old inns, particularly in cases where they have subsequently undergone a change of use, or where they have disappeared altogether.
This is possibly due to their having been in former days the scene of village life in, as it were, concentrated form, such gatherings having taken place in what may now be an ordinary cottage or nothing more than a gap in the village street.
The 17th and 18th century public houses were of varying sorts and sizes, from the larger inns catering for travellers and visitors, to the more humble alehouses catering almost exclusively for local custom.
These latter establishments were usually no more than ordinary dwellings licensed to sell beer, where the patrons would simply sit and drink around the kitchen or living room table.
As they were primarily for local custom, stabling accommodation, signs or other distinguishing features were unnecessary, and hence in such buildings which have subsequently reverted to private dwellings there are no visible features to indicate their former use.
The larger inns, however, are recognisable by their basic plan form, being usually located on a corner site with a yard and stabling accommodation at the rear, such as is still evident at the present Royal Oak and Drax Arms.
In the 18th century there were at least seven public houses in Bere Regis; the Royal Oak, Kings Arms, Kings Head, Crown, New Inn, Duke William and Greyhound-and information concerning them is obtainable from a number of sources.
Firstly, the Dorset Alehouse Registers cover the period 1714-1770. Before 1753 the names of the licensees only are given, but after that date the names of the inns are frequently given also, providing a complete picture for the years 1753-1770.
With this latter period as a starting point it then becomes possible to trace the inns further by means of the churchwardens and overseers accounts, particularly the rate assessment lists.
The parish rate lists go back to 1614, and although they are incomplete for a large part of the 17th century, they exist for each year from 1678 to 1778.
When the churchwardens or overseers drew up the list of ratepayers for a particular year they naturally made use of the previous year's list as a basis, and consequently the names of the ratepayers occur in the same order year by year.
A change of tenant can therefore be easily spotted by this means alone, but in addition this is sometimes confirmed by a reference to the previous tenant, e.g. "Stephen Masters for Norrices late," which occurs in the rates for 1735-38.
Sometimes when a property lay vacant the lord of the manor was required to pay the rate, and in such cases the name of the property is often mentioned, for example in 1724 and 1725 this item occurs in the rate: "Major Duckett & his Lady's Sistrs for ye Kings Arms."
As this latter item occupies the same position in the list as the previous item concerning Stephen Masters and Richard Norris, both of whom are known to have been innkeepers from entries in the expenditure section of the churchwardens accounts, their association with the Kings Arms is therefore established.
The expenditure section of the churchwardens accounts gives clear indications of the names of innkeepers by items in which they are nominated as receiving payments for beer for the ringers, for beer consumed at church meetings (which incidentally appear to have taken place at the various inns in turn, in order presumably to avoid unfair patronage) and for the accommodation of passing travellers for whom the churchwardens were responsible.