The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Mary (Polly) Page (1787 – 1865)

Grave Number 146

Mary, or Polly, as she was known, was the eldest of three daughters born to John and Mary Page. She was born on 21st September 1787 and baptised in St Peter’s Church on the 21st October. Earlier in that same year John had purchased the Kings Arms, the principal coaching inn in the centre of Berkhamsted, for £933. The Inn flourished under his management of fifty-three years and became a social hot spot frequented by the gentry. He provided a room ‘most tastefully fitted up with artificial flowers and laurels’ and provided musical entertainment. 

The Kings Arms

John’s tenure coincided with the heyday of the coaching era and the maintenance of the road by the Sparrows Herne Turnpike Trust, the very first meeting of which had been held in 1762 in the Kings Arms. He became a very important and well-known figure in the town.  As well as Innkeeper he was constable and coach master. The Post Office was also operated from the Kings Arms. The Universal British Directory of 1791 designates the Kings Arms as the best inn in the town. The Tring coach stopped at the Kings Arms every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 o’clock and returned from the Bell and Crown in Holborn, at 8 o’clock every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Other coaches stopped at the Kings Arms on their way to Banbury and Birmingham. The Kings Arms was a favourite stopping point for the gentry, where they could change or rest horses, since there was stabling for up to forty horses as well as coach houses and facilities for harness storage. 

No doubt one of the main attractions of the Kings Arms were the three pretty daughters, Mary, Sarah and Catherine, especially the eldest Mary, always known as ‘Polly’. It was widely reported that King Louis XVIII, living with his court in exile at Hartwell House near Aylesbury made a point of changing or resting his horses at the Kings Arms en route to London purely to see sweet Polly Page, who according to The Times was ‘the sprightly, chatting entertainer of King Louis XVIII’. John Page doubtless encouraged this since these royal visits were good for trade of a superior nature.

It is reported that after Louis XVIII was restored to power he invited Polly to visit him at Versailles, which led to some malicious rumours. Polly felt obliged to issue a statement to the effect that ‘nothing improprietous had taken place.’ Polly was not, however, just an attractive young woman, she also had artistic and good organising skills. In 1815 she was complimented on her arrangements for a party – ‘the arrangement of the ball and supper rooms, which was highly nouvelle and elegant, does great credit to the taste of Miss Page.’

John Page died in 1840 and the running of the inn passed into Polly’s capable hands. It was Polly who welcomed the royal visitors, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, when they changed horses and no doubt also partook of some refreshment, in 1841. They were on their way to visit the Duke of Bedford at Woburn. The townspeople made an elaborate welcoming arch across the road, which has been captured for posterity in pre-photographic days by William Claridge in two prints, one of which hangs in the Clock Room at the Town Hall. The enjoyment of this event was some clouded by the sudden death of Polly’s younger sister, Sarah.

Triumphal Arches

Although the importance of the Kings Arms as a coaching inn gradually declined with the coming of the railway, it remained a focal point of the town. As a post and excise office, links were made with the station to transport parcels and luggage, and important meetings were held there.

Not a great deal is known about Polly’s old age, nor how long she remained in charge of the Kings Arms, the inn which she and her parents had made the best inn in Berkhamsted. She never married and one gains the impression from her probate report that she might have lived a rather lonely old age. She died on 23rd April 1865, but probate was not granted until 27th November 1866. ‘The Will of Mary Page, formerly of Berkhamsted St. Peter, but late of Northchurch, both in the County of Hertford, Spinster, deceased, who died 23rd April 1865 at Berkhamsted Common in the Parish of Berkhamsted St. Peter aforesaid was proved at the Principal Registry by the Oath of Catherine Page of St Peter aforesaid Spinster, the Sister, the sole Executrix.’ Polly had apparently moved from the centre of the town before she died. Had she collapsed and died suddenly whilst walking on the Common? We shall never know.

Mary (Polly) Page is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery. A simple grave marks her resting place ‘Mary Page who departed this life 23rd April 1865 aged 75.’ In fact, she was 77 years old. Pretty Polly Page who once turned the heads of many young men, including royal ones, had almost sunk into oblivion. We shall remember her!

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