The Devonshire Arms is located on the corner of Somercotes Hill and Birchwood Lane. Public houses with the name “Devonshire Arms” usually have an association with the Dukes of Devonshire, whose seat is at Chatsworth. Whilst a public house in Somercotes seems to have no connection, it is possible that it was named after the Derbyshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, which was raised in 1859 following a request to the Duke of Devonshire. It is after this militia that the Rifle Volunteer on Birchwood Lane was named and the Devonshire Arms could also be named after the Duke for a similar reason. Although no documentary evidence has been found, the 12th (Butterley) Company of the Rifle Volunteers was formed in April 1860, around the time that the Devonshire Arms may have been established.
The first evidence available for the Devonshire Arms is from an article published in the Derbyshire Courier on 7 March 1868 referring to an Inquest which was held by the Coroner on the death of George Simpson [who had died in an explosion while sinking a mine shaft at Swanwick]. The Inquest was held on the premises, implying that it was already well established by this date. Over the years, many Inquests would be held there.
The Devonshire Arms, like many establishments, was run as a beer house, and did not have a licence to sell spirits. The Derbyshire Courier of 18 September 1869 confirms the landlord at the time as Henry Carline [or Carlin]. The newspaper ran an article on the Alfreton Brewster Sessions and reported that Henry Carline had applied for a licence. Although a memorial was handed in by the applicant, signed by the churchwardens and overseers, Mr. John Bingham, of the Rifle Volunteer Inn on Birchwood Lane opposed the application, on the grounds that there was already sufficient public-house accommodation in the neighbourhood. The licence was refused.
In 1873, the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald reported that Henry Carlin, with other landlords from the Somercotes area, was charged with keeping his house open for the sale of beer after 10pm. He was fined 40 shillings, which was considered a substantial fine in those days.
By 1886 the landlord had changed. A notice for an auction appeared in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald on 29 September 1886 which read in part: “… TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION… at the house of Mr Fearn, “The Devonshire Arms”, Somercotes Near Alfreton…”. Thomas Fearn would remain the landlord for many years.
The Devonshire Arms was well placed to take advantage of passing trade, situated as it was on the Alfreton-Nottingham Turnpike, across from the Market Place. As well as food and drink, it also offered accommodation. Like many other beerhouses and inns, it was also the venue for many events.
The coal masters of the day, such as Seely, Oakes and Morewood, did not always have their own way, as by the late 19th century the unions were growing in strength. An interesting meeting took place in the Devonshire Arms regarding a dispute at Birchwood [probably Shady Colliery]. A reporter from the Derby Mercury was there to record events, and details of the meeting were published on 29 May 1889: “SOMERCOTES, On Thursday evening a large meeting of the miners employed by the Babbington Colliery Company was held at the Devonshire Arms, Somercotes. The chair was taken by Mr. George Burt, and addresses given by Messrs. Haslam and Harvey. — Mr. Harvey said he had every confidence that to a man they would take their tools out if they could not get what they wanted without. The 29th of June was a very important day, and he reminded them that at the last agitation they did nothing themselves to obtain better wages, but allowed others to fight for them. Referring to the system of contracting for the supply of coal, be said that the Great Northern Company, which paid 5s. 9d. last year, had contracted for 1889 to pay 8s., and the miner was surely entitled to a fair share of this difference. The Yorkshire masters had admitted that the state of trade justified the demand of the men. — Mr. Haslam also addressed the meeting”
By 1900 the Devonshire Arms was still trading as a beerhouse, despite many applications for a licence over the previous years. The Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald of 1 September 1900 reported on the annual Brewster Sessions: “FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE MARKET. Thos. Fearn, the landlord of the Devonshire Arms Inn, Somercotes, applied for a full license to his premises, which are a beer house. Mr .Whittingham, of Nottingham, was for the applicant, while Mr J. A. H. Green, of Nottingham, and W. M. Wilson, of Alfreton, opposed the application.
Mr Whittingham, in his statement expatiated upon the merits of his clients premises to be fully licensed. His character was irreproachable. The house was not tied, and it was not likely to be so. He objected to the brewery monopoly. Houses had been built in the vicinity of the house, and there was a great need now for the concession. Thos. Fearn said he had kept the house since 1876, and it was owned by his father. It was a good house, plenty of accommodation and it was a free house, while it was intended to keep it so. A new market had been opened opposite his house, and there was a great demand for spirits. It would be a convenience to get this concession.
By Mr Green: He had applied many years ago. He had done a good business in the house, and the real reason was that people attended the market and wanted accommodation.
Mr Whittingham: Do you know that these houses near to you are brewers' houses and are tied for beer, sand, saw-dust, etc? (Laughter) [in the court].
Mr Fearn: Yes.
Thomas Hicking, the Somercotes schoolmaster and secretary of the Somercotes Market Company, said he believed it was a general wish that full license should be granted.
Mr Green: Has the fact of not having a full license been detrimental to your market?
Mr Hicking: No, I don't think it has, but I have heard many requests for spirits.
The application was refused.”
Despite the statement made by Thomas Fearn that the Devonshire Arms would remain a Free House, at some point in the following few years the Home Brewery took over and it became tied to them. Thomas Fearn, of course, may not have been the landlord when this occurred.
By 1913, Thomas Dennis was the landlord. His name occurs in the Derby Daily Telegraph published on 1 May that year, when he appeared before the Derbyshire Licencing Committee. The report read: “DERBYSHIRE LICENSING COMMITTEE - A SOMERCOTES APPLICATION. A meeting of the above was held the County Hall. Derby, this Thursday morning... Mr. Maddocks (counsel) appeared in support of an application for the confirmation of an excise (or spirit) license granted to Thomas Dennis, beerhouse keeper, of the Devonshire Arms, Somercotes. The premises are owned the Home Brewery Co. Nottingham, who also own the Horse and Jockey, a fully-licenced house in the same village. Mr. Maddocks said the Alfreton Bench granted the license subject to the applicant paying £500 for the monopoly value. This was an outside figure, but after conversation with Mr. Hornsbv who was present representing the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, he (Mr. Maddocks) would not apply for variation of the amount. The Devonshire Arms was on the main road from Nottingham to Alfreton, and was opposite the Market Place in the centre of Somercotes. Witnesses were called in support of the application. . A. Slack (solicitor), who opposed the application on behalf the tenant of the Royal Tiger, a fully licenced house, said the additional licence was not necessary, Somercotes being well off both in beer-on and fully-licensed houses. He pointed out that there was license for every 245 persons at Somercotes, compared with one to every 297 for the whole the county. The license was confirmed, but the Bench intimated that they would require better sanitary arrangements to be made.”
During the 20th century the Devonshire Arms has seen many changes to the village of Somercotes but has kept trading despite the fact that many of its contemporaries have closed. The building itself has also seen changes over the years. From a side view, it can be seen that the original building has been extended, as the structure facing Birchwood Lane clearly has its own gable end and is orientated differently to the front portion of the building. Which came first, however, is not clear, although the address was once considered as Birchwood Lane, implying that the rear structure may be the original building. An extension was also built on the front (facing right), which was erected in the 1960’s. Not forgetting the age of the property, the Devonshire Arms would also have had stabling, and the structure in the rear yard, whilst not necessarily original, is probably on the same footprint as the stables and outhouses that once serviced the public house.
In recent times, the Devonshire Arms has once again become a free house and is still trading.