Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Bernard Arms - the story of the name



The Bernard Arms has long been an important landmark, lying on the road from Risborough to Aylesbury, but the site now faces an uncertain future. It closed as a pub and hotel in 2011 and there is a planning application to demolish the existing building for residential development. These proposals have been strongly opposed by the parish council and many local residents. In the meantime the building has fallen into a state of disrepair.


The Bernard Arms in June 2015

Political links
Due to its proximity to Chequers, the pub has served many British Prime Ministers, including Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and John Major, as well as visiting heads of state, among them Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin.

Norma Major in her book about Chequers shows her notes about the visit of Boris Yeltsin:
John is with the President and I am with Naina, but we are hardly out of second gear before the convoy is pulling up outside the Bernard Arms and we see John and Boris knocking on the door. The pub is closed but we are within licensing hours. John tells me later that when someone announced the Russian President a voice jokingly called "Oh yes, and I'm the Kaiser!" Pierre welcomes us in and our party fills the Saloon Bar. We hastily lock the doors against the pursuing paparazzi and John orders a pint for the President."
Norma Major: Chequers - The Prime Minister's Country House And Its History (1996)

The most recent Prime Minister to drop in was David Cameron who visited in 2010 along with Aylesbury M.P. David Lidington during British Pub Week – an initiative to support pubs. The following year the Bernard Arms closed.

Following the closure, David Cameron seems to have taken his custom to the nearby Plough at Cadsden - with stories of him leaving his daughter behind after a visit in 2012 and, more recently, taking Chinese President Xi Jinping there for a pint.

Harold Wilson at The Bernard Arms April 5th 1976 on his last day in office as Prime Minister


The origins of the pub name
The pub’s name refers to the Bernard family and in particular to Sir Scrope Bernard, later Sir Scrope Bernard Morland, who was lord of the manors of Little Kimble (from 1792) and Great Kimble (from 1803) until his death in 1830. There is some evidence that prior to this the pub was known as the Chequers.

Scrope Bernard’s father, Sir Francis Bernard, was governor of the province Massachusetts, and Scrope was born in America in 1758. He was involved in politics, becoming Member of Parliament for Aylesbury in 1789.

After his death, the Manors of Great and Little Kimble were sold; this included the Bernard Arms. The sale took place at the George Inn in Aylesbury in April 1833. It was reported:
The Freehold Bernard's Arms public house, with an adjoining shop and cottages, stabling, buildings, yard and garden - £430.

Around this time, the name of the pub was changed to The Bear and Cross.

The Bear and Cross

The name continued to be used until 1933, when Walter Durling applied to change the name back to the Bernard Arms, following extensive renovations needed due to the widening of the road. The Durling family had been landlords at the pub since the 1890s.

The pub sign shows the arms of the Bernard and Tyringham families – the bear representing the Bernards and the cross, or saltire, the Tyringhams, and the family motto Bear and Forbear.

The Bernard Arms pub sign

The Bernard Morland family
Earlier this year we visited Nether Winchenden House, the ancestral home of the Bernards. It has a unique history having been in continuous family occupation since the mid 16th century.

Nether Winchendon House

Sir Scope Bernard Morland made changes and additions and re-designed the mediaeval and Tudor exterior, cladding the house in stone and stucco in the fashion of the time, much of which has now gone.

On the wall of the house can be seen the Bernard family bear and motto, similar to that incorporated in the pub sign at Kimble. The family told us that the design of the pub sign is incorrect, as the background to the cross should be blue rather than red and thought that the bear looks very miserable and should have a gilded bridle.


NetherWinchendon House has limited opening times and offers guided tours of the house, usually given by the family.

Wisteria at Nether Winchendon House

Sir Scrope Bernard Morland is buried in St. Nicholas Church along with his wife, Hannah Morland, and two of their children – Thomas who died in infancy and William. A third son, Sir Francis Bernard Morland, is buried in the churchyard (see photo below). The Bucks Herald noted that this was necessary due to "the family vault in the chance being closed for sanitary reasons". (Bucks Herald 29th January 1876).

Grave of Sir Francis Bernard Morland in St. Nicholas graveyard

Inscription on the grave

Can you add more, or offer any corrections? If so, please do contact me.

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