The Three Horseshoes

Fordham, near Colchester, Essex

74 Church Road, Fordham, CO6 3NJ

01206 240195






Whenever you see a pub with this name, it is usually a sign that there was once a blacksmith, or farrier, close by. Never two, never four; always three horseshoes - as a horse stands on three shoes when being shod. Sure enough, the earliest mention of this pub seems to be in 1867, when Kelly's Directory lists Oliver Bull of 'The Three Horseshoes' - also a blacksmith and miller. The earliest reference to Oliver Bull is shown in the 1845 Kelly's, described simply as a blacksmith.

Map from 1897 showing 'The Shoes', the smithy next door, the church, Fordham Hall, and the few dwellings in the vicinity. Of course, there are many more houses nowadays.
This is typical of the time, when people took advantage of a change in the law that enabled an ordinary house to become a licensed beerhouse. Not a pub, as it couldn't sell wine or spirits. That elevation was to come later. Many pubs came into being during the 19th century for this very reason. So Oliver Bull added to his income by becoming what was known as a beerhouse keeper and, no doubt, bringing good cheer to the inhabitants of sleepy Fordham. Around about the same time, another blacksmith also turned his house into a beerhouse and named it 'The Vulcan', appropriately, the pagan god of the forge. The only true public house in Fordham at that time was 'The Shoulder of Mutton', an ancient alehouse dating from the 18th century at least but which involved a lengthy walk for some to 'wet their whistles'.

Oliver Bull

The ten-yearly held census of 1871 shows Oliver Bull, aged 53, as a blacksmith but, at the same address, his son Oliver, aged 20, described as a brewer. Mystery therefore presents itself as to which of the Olivers had the pub listed in 1867. Perhaps it was a joint effort, at a time when a living was hard to make and more than one occupation necessary to feed a large family. Oliver and Susannah had six children at least. Oliver senior and his wife Susannah have a fine gravestone in the churchyard, a stone's throw from the pub.

A Murder

But it wasn't all sleepy in Fordham. In March 1875 the village was rocked by a double murder, when the mentally deranged Solomon Johnson brutally bludgeoned his elderly parents to death. After putting up a fight, he was overpowered and apprehended by Jubal Partridge, landlord of the Shoulder of Mutton (also a blacksmith). The inquest was held here in the Three Horseshoes. Johnson was to spend the rest of his life in Her Majesty's Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Broadmoor.

The Building

The building fabric dates in parts to the 15th century. Ask us about the medieval features, those of the Wealden house design, so typical of timber framed buildings of this area of Essex. Fordham used to have two clear medieval settlement areas, that near the church and including us, and that around the Wash Corner area. Early evidence of settlement in Fordham dates from the Iron Age, with a Roman villa known across the road from us and sited on the location of natural springs that are still in evidence today.

Our church was built using Roman materials and was mentioned in 1087 when it was given away by William the Conqueror. In 1377, the poll tax was paid by 121 people. The plague year of 1564 caused as many as 16 deaths in the parish, perhaps another 16 in 1666, as well as many more deaths in other years due to plague. There were 50 households in 1671, and in 1790 we had 34 farm houses and 40 cottages - of which four or five or so (including those on the car park plot) would have been our pub. The 1871 census showed a total of 802 people.

Early Days

The West Bergholt brewers, Daniells, were the owners of the pub by 1911, as it was then shown in the licensing records as a full alehouse, meaning it had a full licence - and not just a beerhouse. The big breweries in the area gradually bought up the free houses, of which this was undoubtedly one, in Oliver Bull's time. That way they could guarantee an outlet for their beer and freeze out the smaller brewers. But that is another story!

We don't know the details of who first had the idea to open a pub; it may have been Oliver Bull, or it may have been somebody who owned the property and decided to open it as a pub and put in a tenant landlord. We have a clue to what was going on from a newspaer article that appeared in the Ipswich Journal in 1888, detailing the sale of the business. This seems to show that the owner was a Mr Robert Nightingale who was selling up - or perhaps George Collings. Were there debts to pay one must wonder?

This include the equipment that was used for brewing beer - presumably on the premises. Although we don't know for sure, the new owners were probably the local brewing company Daniells.

More Recently

By the mid 1960s, the pub was expanded when the adjacent privately owned cottage (where the kitchen and restaurant area now is) was bought and converted by the London brewers, Trumans, who had by then acquired the Daniells brewery business. There used to be houses on what is now the car park and these were removed.

With yet another change in the law (The Beer Orders Act of 2005) designed to curb the power of a few massive brewers, the pub passed into private ownership, giving the owners the opportunity to trade as a free-house, or 'free-of-tie', as it is today. Extensive work was done throughout the building, including the refurbishment of the fine inglenook fireplace that is such a welcoming sight on a cold night.

The experts tell us that the oldest part of the pub is where the big fireplace is, dating from at least the 1520s, with other parts of the 17th century and later. The original buildings were of timber framed construction, with thatched roofs. By the late 19th century, weather-boarding and brick was added, and the thatch replaced by a tiled roof, as we see it today.


Some of the Past Landlords

c1845 to c1878 - Oliver Bull (also a brewer, blacksmith and miller)

1855 Directory - Oliver Bull, Beer Retailer and Blacksmith

1861 Census - Oliver Bull, aged 43, Blacksmith and Susannah Bull, aged 42

1867 Directory - Oliver Bull, 3 Horseshoes and Blacksmith and Miller

1871 Census - Church End - Oliver Bull, head, married, aged 53, Blacksmith and Susannah Bull, wife, married, aged 52 and Oliver Bull, son, unmarried, aged 20, Brewer

1878 Directory - Oliver Bull, 3 Horseshoes and Blacksmith

1886 - George Collings (also a brewer and blacksmith)

1891 - William E Sparkes (also a blacksmith)

1894 to 1906 - George William Brinkley (also a blacksmith)

1908 to 1910 - Ernest Albert Wickens

1911 - William James Arthur Willsmore

1914 - Oliver Saunders

1917 to 1922 - Arthur Chaplin

1925 - Percy Chaplin

1929 to 1937 - Reginald Charles Bell

1938 to 2000 - details during this period are not accurately known, other than that we know the Dyers were long term tenants (certainly here in 1964), followed by Geoff and Judy Perrin, followed by various others as Malcolm, John, Danny and Eddie. Danny's brother Pat also. (Can any of you please help us with this - dates and names and recollections, photographs, etc?).

2001 to 2005 - Pete (Irish Pete) and Hazel McAteer

2005 to 2006 - Trudi and Damian Tuckwell

2006 to 2011 - Tina and Andrew Percival.

2011 to 2016 - Tara Kelly and Jayne opened their doors on 19th November 2011, making extensive changes and bringing new life to the pub, concentrating on the restaurant side of the business.

 The 'Shoes' in 2006

The 'Shoes' in November 2011


In 2016, Roger and Sian Digby took the licence in partnership with the Red Fox Brewery in Coggshall and set about making changes to turn this lovely old pub into a proper drinker's pub but still maintaining an excellent food menu. Please visit their web page here for current details of what is on offer.
Anything that you can add to the history of the Three Horseshoes would be greatly received.

A response to this page came in February 2007.

Have just seen the website and can give you a small piece of information re the pub history.

The 1891 census states that living at the "Horse Shoes", Main Road, Fordham, Essex, were William E.Sparkes, a 43 year old Publican, his wife Miranda aged 35, son Edgar E. aged 6, daughter Clara E. aged 5 and son Evelyn C. aged 1.

Like his father, and some of the previous publicans, William Ezra Sparkes was also a Blacksmith, and by the time of the 1901 census had reverted to that trade. Prior to the marriage to his wife Miranda in 1883 he had been a Blacksmith in Stoke-by-Clare. Miranda was the daughter of Josiah Mitson, the landlord of the "George Public House" in Stoke-by-Clare.

Thats it I'm afraid. William was my Great-grandfather, who died in 1920. It would be nice to see his name on the website. If you can ever find out anything on the Sparkes blacksmiths in the general area I would be obliged.

Regards, Peter Sparkes

page updated

28th May 2016