Man who financed White House is inspiration for pub’s revamp

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The man who financed the building of The White House in Leighton Buzzard in the 19th century is the inspiration behind the relaunch of a town centre pub.

After several months of extensive refurbishment The Office, in Lake Street, will re-open on Saturday (July 26) with a new look and a new name.

Privately owned bar Mr Ridgway’s is named in honour of Charles Ridgway.

The name came about after is was discovered that the bar is on the site of what was once the town’s largest shop named Ridgway and Pledger.

The shop was originally opened in the late 1700s and stocked everything from haberdashery to furniture. Owner Mr Ridgway was known throughout town as a hard-working man who would travel miles every evening to London to make his daily purchases before heading back to Leighton Buzzard by stagecoach ready in time for work the next day.

The business was so successful that Mr Ridgway was able to construct The White House – which is now home to Leighton-Linslade Town Council – for his family to live in (see story below).

The new look for 2014 will have “an industrial yet luxurious feel” and customers are promised a lot of big changes such as the installation of a mezzanine level.

Bar manager David Pugh said: “We want to create a nice atmosphere where people want to come dressed up and have fun in a relaxed environment. We will bring something completely different to the town and hope it will become a place where people can try new drinks and buck the trend of cheap shots and instead offer great cocktails in classy surroundings. We fell that once the bar is open people wont need to travel to places like Milton Keynes for a good time.”

Throughout the refurbishment the owner has tried wherever possible to use local skills and resources – with everything from local builders to the staff uniforms originating from Leighton Buzzard or the surrounding areas.

For Saturday’s opening there will be local DJs preforming throughout the evening.

Ridgway and Pledger was a large and very successful drapers shop in Lake Street. In Victorian Leighton Buzzard its owner Charles Ridgway made enough money to build the family a handsome villa in Hockliffe Street, now known as the White House, home of the town council.

The story of the shop begins in the late 18th century when a Matthew Ridgway from Thornborough in Buckinghamshire, married Mary Newman in Leighton Buzzard. In a directory of 1811 he is described as a stationer in Leighton Buzzard.

He owned land in other parts of the town, and a house at 6 Lake Street which later became the shop. In 1819, at the time of Bevan’s survey of the town, it was clear Matthew had died and his son Charles had inherited the house in Lake Street. He had set up as a linen and woollen draper and over the next 30 years he built up a successful business in the town.

The census in 1851 shows him, aged 57, at the Lake Street house and shop with his wife Maria and only son Henry William. The size of the business can be gauged by the fact he employed seven assistants and two travelling salesmen.

His son Henry was 26 and unmarried, and among the assistants listed at the shop was Jane Pledger, a 27-year-old banker’s daughter from Cambridge. By the spring of 1852 these two were married, and Henry became a wholesale linen and woollen draper, also running his business from the Lake Street shop.

However Henry lived in Hockliffe Street and by the 1860’s the family were building a new villa there in the style of Queen Victoria’s magnificent Italian styled holiday home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. This was to be what is now known as the White House.

The census for 1861 lists Henry and Jane living in Hockliffe Street with three of the their four daughters Louisa Jane, Rosa and Maria. They had three servants presumably all living in a house close to where the White House was to be built.

Their eldest daughter, eight-year-old Frances was staying with Henry’s parents, Charles and Maria, in the family’s second shop in the High Street near the Market Cross. Charles, his father, later moved out the new High Street shop, having made enough money to live in one of the smart new houses in The Terrace in Church Square. In 1864 Henry’s business in Lake Street had continued to prosper. His address is given as ‘The Villa’ in Hockcliffe Street and two years later they are advertising for a groom.

A Leighton Buzzard Observer report for January 1867 describes the annual new year treat given by Messrs Ridgway and Son to all their workmen and other employees. It was held at “the new mansion erecting in Hockliffe Street” and the foreman of the plasterers is listed among the guests, implying that work still continued on the new house.

Within two years tragedy hit the family; Henry died suddenly at his house on December 22, 1869 and was buried in All Saints churchyard. He was only 45. He was survived by his father Charles and his widow, Jane, was left with six young daughters.

She was a capable woman, however, and took over the business and by 1871 the census described her as a linen draper. Among her household at The Villa was her 78-year-old father-in-law Charles, and they were looked after by four servants. It seems that Charles died later that year.

In 1875 Jane remarried, a Quaker gentleman William Woolston, who was also widowed, and the following year the business became known as Ridgway & Pledger. The Pledger half was Frederick, probably a younger brother of Jane.

They advertised themselves as “Ridgway & Pledger, London House, wholesale & retail linen & woollen drapers, silk mercers, haberdashers, hosiers, glovers, lacemen, costumiers, outfitters, funerals”.

Ridgway & Pledger lasted as a drapers until the 1920s and then became Rylands.

> Information kindly provided by Maureen and Paul Brown of Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeological and Historical Society.