Patrick Chaplin: Pub History

The Twin Foxes, Stevenage, Herts.

Inspiration for the pieces I write for the Pub History Society Newsletter often arrives via an odd cutting found amongst a collection of old papers that I have purchased or found wedged between the pages of an ageing pub tome bought from one of the numerous second-hand or charity shops I visit on my travels every year.

Thus it was that I was rifling through a packet of old documents I acquired, initially only to secure an ancient darts rule book, when I came across a cutting from Reveille for the week ending 6th March 1971. In amongst the ‘Yours etc… Letters and Pictures to the Editor’ section I found the following letter. Titled ‘Double Trouble’ and from ‘B.D.R.’ of London, S.W.5., the photograph accompanying the letter shows the ‘Twin Foxes’; not to be the animal but identical twin brothers, the infamous Albert Ebenezer and Ebenezer Albert Fox. The letter read:



The twin Foxes on this sign at Stevenage, Hertfordshire, were, I was told, poachers with a remarkable alibi – no one could tell them apart. Apparently during the last century the twins led almost identical lives. They even shared the same names – Ebenezer Albert Fox and Albert Ebenezer Fox.
 
They regularly trespassed and Albert had 120 convictions, while Ebenezer’s was 80.
The pub now stands near Monks Wood where the Fox twins committed most of their crimes.

Infamous, at least in the Stevenage area, these devious twins were renowned for their prolific poaching activities which resulted in them committing over 200 detected crimes between them.

The twins were born in 1857 in Symonds Green and were named after the Baptist Ebenezer Chapel on Albert Street, Stevenage where their father, Henry Fox, was a lay preacher. Henry farmed 10 acres of land while their mother, Charlotte Fox, was a straw-plait worker.

Even though they had a respectable family background, the twins turned to a life of poaching. However, they never engaged in those activities together and were thus able to provide alibis for each other which baffled and confused the local police. Despite this, they were caught and convicted on numerous occasions and each spent some time in prison.

Research undertaken in the 1960s by Eric R. Delderfield revealed that Ebenezer Albert was ‘taciturn and would spend hours in a public house drinking’, whilst his brother Albert Ebenezer was ‘a good-natured humorist’; a man whose frequent appearances in court meant ‘a field day for all concerned.’ Delderfield revealed that Albert Ebenezer had a set-piece which he related in court ‘with the air of a man making a public address’; his repartee making everyone in the court laugh, including the magistrates.

On one occasion, as part of his defence, Albert Ebenezer produced a Baptist hymn book, held it up for the court to see, and utilised the ‘good book’ to support his claim that he was ‘only in the woods at midnight to polish up his hymn singing’! Prosecutors could not even be sure that they had the right Fox in the dock and sometimes the innocent one was convicted. According to Delderfield both men took such decisions philosophically, ‘After all,” he wrote, “it worked both ways.”

Such actions ensured the twins’ popularity locally and their notoriety spread across the land. Not surprisingly, their crimes made local, national and international news headlines; they were even featured in the New York Times in 1913. Royalty too was fascinated, albeit temporarily, when King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, was reported to have visited the inn whilst his car, which had broken down, was being repaired. The Prince was, Delderfield recorded, ‘highly amused at the stories Albert had to tell.’

According to Wikipedia (and to be honest I dislike being over-reliant on that source), whilst serving one of their prison sentences, the Fox twins attracted the attention of Sir Edward Henry who used them, and many other sets of twins, in his research to prove that an individual could be identified by his or her fingerprints. Ironically, according to the Stevenage Borough Council website, ‘the Fox twins were among the first criminals to be convicted using fingerprints as evidence.’ If this was indeed the case then the twins were either stupid or one of these sources has the story wrong.

Both twins ended their days in Chalkdell House, Hitchin, Herts; Ebenezer dying there on 2ndOctober 1926 aged 68 but not before having first gone out for one more look at the fields and covers where he had spent so much of his life. Albert died there on 20th May 1937 aged 79. Up to his death he was visited by local gentry many of whom he called his friends even given that some of them had sent him to court on numerous occasions.

Over a quarter of a century later, their notoriety received due acknowledgement when, in 1953, ‘The Twin Foxes’ public house opened in the Bedwell area of Stevenage New Town (as it was then).

Regrettably I have been unable to find any details about the pub itself in my archive and the internet is sadly bereft of references except that is a ‘music venue’ and that its address is 54 Rockingham Way. I do not even know which brewery it belonged to but guess that, as this was built on a New Town development, it had to be one of the major brewers.

As for ‘The Twin Foxes’ pub sign, the photograph in the Reveille cutting shows only one side of it. However, according to Dunkling and Wright, it was double-sided, the front featuring the twins silhouetted with guns under their arms with their dog in the background; the other side showing the heads of two foxes.

In 1998, fifty-nine properties in Woolmer Green, near Knebworth (not far from Stevenage) were named after Albert and Ebenezer Fox; a bust of both men resting on top of pillars at the entrance to the estate.

So there you have it; a pub named after a pair of ne’er-do-wells who seem to have endeared themselves to the public, the lawmakers, royalty, local gentry and New Town developers alike.

Is this unique?

© 2009 Patrick Chaplin (Updated July 2012)

Sources:

Delderfield, Eric R. Introduction to Inn Signs (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1969), pp. 116-117.

Dunkling, Leslie and Wright, Gordon. A Dictionary of Pub Signs (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), page 275.

New York Times, ‘Twin Poachers Mixed Up’ 1913-02-09 (cited on Wikipedia)

Reveille issue week ending March 6, 1971, page 16

Websites:

Stevenage Borough Council www.stevenage.gov.uk

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_and_Ebenezer_Fox

As a music venue, www.lemonrock.com/twinfoxes

www.wheresbest.co.uk/venue/126297/The-Twin-Foxes

Note: The original version of this article appeared in the Pub History Society’s Newsletter Summer 2009 and is reproduced with permission. For more information about the PHS check out www.pubhistorysociety.co.uk.

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