Portrait of George Borrow

Frances Thomas

The owner of the Pied Bull Inn, Northgate Street, Chester, when George Borrow and his family stayed there in 1854

This is a work in progress and probably contains typos and error of factThe intention is to update it as more research becomes available.

On Friday 28th July 1854 George Borrow, his wife Mary, and her daughter Henrietta Clark, arrived in Chester for a short stay, before continuing to Wales.  George would write of their time in Chester in his book Wild Wales and it is from his writings that we are introduced to the place they stayed:

On arriving at Chester, at which place we intended to spend two or three days, we put up at an old-fashioned inn in Northgate Street, to which we had been recommended ...

Wild Wales, Chapter 2

Although Borrow doesn’t name the inn, it’s been established that it was the Pied Bull Inn, now the oldest coaching inn in Chester: it’s even got a blue plaque today to commemorate Borrow’s visit:

Blue plaque on Pied Bull, Northgate Street, Chester,
commemorating George Borrow’s visit in 1854

Pied Bull, Northgate Street, Chester, as it is today

Frances Thomas, widow, was the innkeeper of the Pied Bull Inn at the time and Borrow briefly mentions her:

... we found ourselves very comfortable in the old-fashioned inn, which was kept by a nice old-fashioned gentlewoman, with the assistance of three servants, namely, a “boots” and two strapping chambermaids, one of which was a Welsh girl, with whom I soon scraped acquaintance.

Wild Wales, Chapter 2

Note that referring to Frances as a “gentlewoman” was a deliberate compliment: Borrow clearly liked her.


Frances Thomas was born Frances Wilkinson, and was christened at Tarporley, Cheshire on 20 June 1779. [1]

The next event known in Frances’ life is that on 3 January 1806 (aged 26) she married Edward Thomas, a servant, at St. Peter’s Church, Liverpool.  Both Frances and Edward are noted as being “of this parish” on the document, so it’s likely that she’d left Tarporley to seek work in Liverpool, possibly as a servant or similar, and there met Edward.  Servants did not have lots of time off so to have met at all implies they lived reasonably close to each other.

A number of children then followed: their first child, Anna Maria Thomas, was born 25 November 1806 and baptised at St. Michael’s, Chester, on 5 August 1807. [2]  So, soon after the marriage in Liverpool, they are in Chester, where they remain for the rest of their lives.  A daughter Eliza Thomas was baptised 2 February 1808. [3]  Sadly Anna Maria Thomas died 27 August 1808, so sadness started early in their marriage.  On the burial Edward (Frances’ husband) is down as victualler: so they were involved in the trade by then.  A son, John Thomas, [4] was christened 11 September 1809 at St. Oswald’s.  A daughter, Anna Maria Thomas was christened 3 October 1810. [5]  Obviously this would have been painful for them: the new child having the same name of their recently deceased one.  Two sons followed: Henry Thomas born 22 February 1812, [6] and James Thomas, was baptised 24 July 1813. [7]  Again, the christening of James is useful as not only is his father listed as publican, but the family are said to be in Northgate street: so they were almost certainly running the Pied Bull Inn by 1813, although Edward didn’t take it over until a few years later.

Around 1811–1821 (if the 1841 census entry is correct) Edward and Frances had a daughter, Emma. [8]

The Chester Chronicle, 22 March 1816, contains Edward’s announcement of his taking over the Pied Bull Inn.

Pied Bull Inn, Chester.

Respectfully begs leave to inform his friends, and the public in general, that he has taken and entered upon the above INN, and trusts by unremitted attention to the comfort of his friends, he will be enabled to give that satisfaction, which has hitherto been experienced, for a number of years, under the management of the late Mr. and Mrs. Hartley, and their successors, by a numerous circle of respectable friends and a generous public.  E. THOMAS having laid in a choice assortment of the best wines and spirits, he solicits, and hopes to merit by every other attention, the continuance of those favours which which have been so liberally bestowed.

N.B. Neat POST CHAISE, handsome HEARSE, and MOURNING COACH, good HORSES, and careful DRIVERS.

March 16, 1816.

Edward would continue the funeral business (cf. the hearse) as will be seen later.  Quite where the money to take over the Pied Bull came from is currently unknown.

The Chester Chronicle 14 June 1816 has what looks like the formal opening event:

Pied Bull Inn, Chester.

Begs leave to inform his friends and the Public, that his house opening will be on TUESDAY NEXT, the EIGHTEENTH of JUNE, inst. In CELEBRATION of the BATTLE of WATERLOO.

J. FINCHETT, ESQ. President.

S. N. BENNETT, ESQ. Vice President.

Dinner on the Table precisely at FOUR o’Clock.

Tickets, 15s. each, to be had at the Bar of the above Inn.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought 18th June 1815: hence the patriotic reference.

Another son, Charles Thomas, was baptised 13 February 1817 [9].  Three more children were all baptised at St. Oswald’s on 22 February 1820, and dates of birth are not recorded for any of them: Edward Thomas, Charlotte Thomas, Charles Thomas. [10]  Those following closely will notice that a Charles had been baptised in 1817, and another Charles in 1820: it’s not permissible in Church Law to baptise a child twice, so either this was a mistake, or the first Charles had died and another child had been born.

The commercial directories now start to list Edward under the Pied Bull:

Pigot’s Commercial Directory for Cheshire 1818-19-20, under Inns: Pied Bull, E. Thomas, Northgate-street

Pigot’s Cheshire 1822-23, under Inns: Pied Bull, Edwd. Thomas, Northgate-street

Newspapers contain regular mentions of the Pied Bull Inn, but it’s interesting to note that Edward is often mentioned when locating it: hardly necessary given the Pied Bull is difficult to miss.  E.g. Chester Courant, 23 August 1825:


At Mr. Edward Thomas’s, the Pied Bull Inn, in the city of Chester, on Thursday the 25th day of August, 1825, at seven o’clock in the evening

Edward died on 15th January 1827, with a short notice in the Chester Chronicle appearing on the 19th January:

On the 15th inst. Mr. Edward Thomas, of the Pied Bull Inn, in this city.

Edward was buried 22 January 1827 at St. John the Baptist, Chester: he was 47. [11]  Frances, with a family to support and the Pied Bull Inn as the only way to do so, took over as innkeeper.  A few years after, on 19 April 1830, Frances’ daughter Eliza married a James Ray.  However, by the 1841 census James Ray had disappeared and Eliza was back living with Frances at the Pied Bull, where she stayed for the rest of her working life.

Frances, now the innkeeper of the Pied Bull Inn, is recognised as such in the directories:

Pigot’s directory for Cheshire, 1834 has (under Chester, Inns & Hotels): Pied Bull (and posting), Frances Thomas, Northgate st.

Chester General Directory 1840 (under Inns and Hotels): Pied Bull, (and posting), Frances Thomas, Northgate street

By this time Frances was clearly a well-known lady in Chester, as when Thomas Sudworth, assistant tithe commissioner was in Chester, he announced he would be at:

… the house of Mrs. Frances Thomas, the Pied Bull Inn, in the city of Chester …

Chester Chronicle, 17 November 1837.

The census of 1841 now occurs and gives us an inside look at Frances and her family.  The entry has Pied Bull written next to it:




Frances Thomas



Harry Thomas



Emma Thomas



Charlotte Thomas



Edward Thomas



Eliza Ray


William Stott


[cannot read occupation]

Cath. Steel


Janet Steel


Jane Peers


Castle? Jones


Emma Hughs


Bridget Vielly


Joseph Shotton


So, essentially the Thomas family business was the Pied Bull Inn: Harry [i.e. Henry] would later take over as head of the business, Eliza (presumably now a widow) was working there, etc.  It’s interesting that Edward saw his career as lying in other areas.  The others listed may have been servants or perhaps relations of the Thomas’s—the 1841 census doesn’t give the relationships.  Note that many of the ages are multiples of five: the 1841 census allowed rounding to the nearest five years, and the above doesn’t mean Edward and Frances had two sets of twins!  As with all such transcriptions some of the above isn’t easy to read and mistakes may have been made: anything in italics is a wild guess.

Whilst a woman running an inn was not unusual at this time, society still thought only men did jobs and so Williams’s Commercial Directory of Chester 1846 lists:

Thomas Francis vict., Pied Bull, Northgate street

Francis being the male spelling of Frances.  Fortunately Samuel Bagshaw’s 1850 Directory of Cheshire correctly has: Frances Thomas, victualler of the Pied Bull in Northgate Street.

The 1851 census gives more details, but this time the Pied Bull is not listed by name, but instead as 82 Northgate Street:


to head (Frances)




Place of birth

Frances Thomas




Innkeeper’s widow

Tarporley, Cheshire

Eliza Ray




Innkeeper’s assistant


Jane Peers





Hope Flintshire

Margaret Williams




house maid

Halkyn Flintshire

Robert James






James Sheriff




Chelsea Pensioner


Frances Sherriff




share holder [census has classified as Rail]

Lameuel Eshire

Eliza Sherriff




share holder


The census record is split over two pages, with the second page starting with Frances Sherriff.  The handwriting is dreadful, even by census standards.

On 28th July 1854 George and his family came to stay, and George recorded his brief but complimentary mention of Frances: a nice old-fashioned gentlewoman.

Frances died 29th January 1856, with a rather nice compliment appearing in the Chester Chronicle, 2 February 1856:


29th ult., much and deservedly respected, Frances, relict of the late Mr. Edward Thomas, Pied Bull Inn, Northgate-street, in this city, in her 78th year.

Frances was buried in Overleigh Cemetery, Chester.  Find a grave have photographs.  Deceased online have a record, saying she was buried 5 February 1856.

The Cheshire Chronicle, 24 July 1858 (repeated 7 August 1858) has the sale of the Pied Bull.  From this it’s clear that James Gill of Birkenhead was dealing with the estate, and that Henry Thomas (Frances’ son) had been involved in the business for some time.  Note the reference to their funeral business.  Lastly, note it’s “freehold of inheritance”—i.e. Frances had owned the freehold.

In the centre of the City of Chester.

To be SOLD BY AUCTION, on SATURDAY, the Seventh day of August, 1858, a 3 o’clock in the afternoon, on the premises Northgate-street, subject to such conditions as will be then and there produced.

All that well known, old established, and respectable HOTEL, known by the name of the “Pied Bull,” situate o the west side of Northgate-street, and on the south side of King-street, in the city of Chester, with the yard, stabling, coach house, and other outbuildings thereto adjoining and belonging, and the large garden behind the same.

The premises, which have been upwards of thirty years in the occupation of the late and present proprietor, are in the best part of the city of Chester, and within one hundred yards of the Markets and Town Hall.

The Hotel contains bar, three parlours, large dining room, sitting room, kitchens, &c., sixteen bed rooms, and every convenience suitable for a first-class Hotel.

The outbuildings consist of stabling for eleven horses, lock-up coach house, granary, piggeries, &c.

There is a good posting and funeral business attached to the house.

The premises are now in the occupation of Mr. Henry Thomas.

The tenure is freehold of inheritance.

To view the property apply on the premises; and further particulars may be obtained at the Offices of Mr. Gill, Solicitor, Birkenhead.

Perhaps surprising, it turns out that Henry purchased the Pied Bull at the sale.  The money raised was perhaps due to go to his brother and sisters, or to pay off a mortgage, etc.  If Frances left a will it hasn’t been found (yet) and so the reason for the sale isn’t fully understood, given Henry was proprietor and then purchased it.  However, with Henry Thomas now formerly taking over the Pied Bull from his parents, he decided to have a major opening event.  The Chester Chronicle, 11 Sept. 1858, has:


HENRY THOMAS begs to return thanks to his friends and the public generally for the liberal support he has received since entering upon the above old-established Inn, and respectfully informs them that his OPENING DINNER is fixed for Monday, 27th instant, when the honour of their company will be esteemed a favour.


Vice-Presidents—G. TIBBITS, ESQ.; E. W. TOPHAM, ESQ.

Tickets, including bottle of wine and desert, 10s. 6d., to be had at the bar.

Dinner on the table at four o’clock punctually.

Sept. 11th, 1858.

It’s rather nice that Henry uses “old-established”, echoing Borrow’s “old-fashioned”.  The Cheshire Observer, 2 October 1858, has an account of a dinner:

Dinner at the Pied Bull Inn

We announced some time ago that Mr. H. Thomas (son of the late Mr. Edward Thomas, for many years the respected proprietor of the Pied Bull) had succeeded his father as owner of the house by purchase.  On Monday last the “House warming” as it is usually termed—or more properly called the opening dinner, took place at four o’clock, when nearly forty gentlemen and friends of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas sat down to a sumptuous banquet, got up in a very superior style by the worthy host and hostess, the venison and other game, with every delicacy at present in season, being of first rate quality, and abundantly supplied—and the wines of the choicest vintage.  Our esteemed fellow citizen (the ex-Mayor) Peter Eaton Esq., president, with George Tibbets Esq. and alderman Thos. Griffiths as his vice-chairmen.  On the removal of the cloth, the following toasts were given—Her Majesty “the Queen.”  Song—“God save the Queen” with three times three; the Prince Consort, Albert Prince of Wales, and the rest of the Royal family; the Army and Navy of Great Britain.  Song—“Rule Britannia”; the Lord Bishop of Chester, proposed by the chairman with high eulogium on the excellent character of his Lordship.  Our most honourable neighbour, the Marquis of Westminster.  Song—“The true born Englishman.”  The members for the county.  Members for the city.  Song—“The fine old Admiral.”  The President in complementary terms proposed long life, health and happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, and success to the “Pied Bull Inn”.  Mr. Thomas acknowledged the flattering compliment conferred upon himself and Mrs. Thomas, and concluded by saying it should be his study to deserve and realised the expectations of his friends.  Song—“Should auld acquaintance be forgot.”  Mr. Tibbits gave the health of the Chairman, Mr. Eaton, observing that in all relations through life, he had earned the good will and esteem of his fellow citizens, particularly during his office as Chief Magistrate of his native city; three times three and musical honours.  Mr. Eaton responded to the toast in a neat but brief speech.  The Chairman next gave the type of the prime old English gentleman, our venerable neighbour, Jno. Fielden Esq., of Mollington, whose heart and purse were always open to the poor needy.  Song—“The fine old English gentleman” (Mr. Brown).  Then followed the health of the Mayor of Chester, P. S. Humberston, Esq., with three times three and musical honours.  Song—“The brave old Oak”  The vice-presidents Messrs. Tibbets and Griffiths and musical honours, Mr. Tibbetts in a humorous speech returned thanks.  Song “The tie of friendship, have faith in one another.”  The visitors from a distance (by Mr. Brown) was responded to by Mr. Welsh of Nantwich.  “Town and Trade of Chester,” acknowledged by Mr. Alderman Griffiths in an effective address.  Many toasts and songs followed, and glee and good humour prevailed until the company separated about 10 o’clock, with the parting pleasure “to happy meet again.”

There’s one more mention of Frances, in the Chester Chronicle, 20 November 1858, where the final bills etc. were being settled:

All Persons having any Claims against the Estate of EDWARD THOMAS, late of the city of Chester, innkeeper, deceased, or against the Estate of FRANCES THOMAS, late of the same city, innkeeper, deceased, the widow the said Edward Thomas, are request to send the particulars therefore immediately to the undersigned.

Dated this 3rd day of November, 1858

JAMES GILL, Solicitor, Birkenhead.


[1]  Hand-written parish record.  Parents were “John Wilkinson of Tarporley by Sarah his wife.”

[2]  The Bishop’s transcript has Anna Maria Thomas, born 25 November 1806, christened 5 August 1807, at St. Michael’s, Chester, parents Edward and Frances Thomas.  The parish burial register has Anna Maria daughter of Edward Thomas Victualler and Frances his wife, died 27th August, buried 30th August, aged 18 months, died of Water in the head.  A transcript of the grave inscription exists with a poem:

Like to the rose
Just open’d into bloom,
This lovely Child in
Nature sweet did grow,
Its Beauty scarce appear’d
Ere Pluck’d Away.
Like flowers that Buds
and Withers in a day.

[3]  Eliza Thomas was baptised 2 February 1808 at St. Oswald’s, Cheshire: parents Edward and Frances Thomas.  [This from transcription of Bishop’s Transcripts.]  St. Oswald’s is next to Chester Cathedral and just down Northgate street for the Thomas’s, a very local church!  On 19 April 1830 Eliza Thomas married James Ray at St. John the Baptist, Chester.  James Ray doesn’t appear in any of the subsequent records, and presumably he died soon after the marriage.  Apart from what’s mentioned above, in the 1861 census Eliza say still living at the Pied Bull, then being run by her brother Henry and his wife Ann.  The 1871 see Eliza living in Congleton, Cheshire, aged 58, head of house with a lodger, and giving her occupation as “retired publican.”  So although no census tells us she worked in the Pied Bull, she does appear to.

[4]  Parish register has John son of Edward Thomas, Publican & Frances his wife born May 7th.  The baptism is dated 15th [not very readable] September [1809].  No further trace of John has yet been found.

[5]  This was apparently at St. Oswald’s, Chester.  The parish register has Anna Maria dau. Of Edward Thomas, Publican & Frances his wife, born 20th September.  The date of the christening is October 3rd [1810].  No further trace of this Anna Maria Thomas has yet been found.

[6]  The parish register has Henry son of Edward Thomas Publican & Frances his wife , born Feb. 22nd.  The baptism was 2 August [1812].  In the 1851 census Henry and his wife Ann were living in Bold Square, Chester with a daughter and servant, with Henry being a railway clearing house clerk.  The 1861 census sees Henry and Ann at keeping the Pied Bull with his sister Eliza Ray.  The 1871 census appears to show Henry as a widow, living with teenage family in Gwrych, Denbeighshire, so the link with the Pied Bull had ended by that point.  He’d gone back to being a clerk to the commissioners of income and assessed taxes.  He died at Abergele, Colwyn Bay, 31 May 1883, possibly in a mental assylum.

[7]  Cheshire Parish Register (now the ruled form rather than just handwritten line): James, son of Edward and Frances Thomas, living N. Gate St., publican.  The baptism was 24 July 1813 at St. Oswald’s, Chester.  James is another child where no further reference has yet been found.

[8]  There is a baptism for an Emma Thomas in 1814 at St. Oswald’s, but the parents were John and Susanah and they lived in Eastgate Street and so it is not the right person.  I’ve not yet round a baptism.

[9]  The baptismal register, on the usual pre-printed forms, has: Charles, son of Edward and Frances Thomas, of N. Gate St., Innkeeper baptised February 13, 1817.

[10]  For some reason the parish had gone back to writing lists, rather than using the pre-printed forms.  Three children are baptised on the same day, register reads:

[11]  Ancestry has a transcription of the Bishop’s Transcripts for this.  The original has not been consulted.  If the age is correct it means he was about two years younger than Frances, which isn’t a common situation.

Baptisms solemnised in the Parish of St. Oswald in the City of Chester in the Year 1820: ... and then all recorded as February 22:





Children’s Christian name




Parent’s name

Edward & Frances

Edward & Frances

Edward & Frances






Northgate street



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