Discover the story of one of Newbury’s oldest pubs

Wheel of Misfortune

The pub takes its name from the medieval ‘breaking wheel,’ a grim instrument employed for executing murderers and heretics. In this brutal process, the victim would be brought to a scaffold, secured to the ground, and subjected to the crushing impact of a weighty cartwheel. This macabre procedure aimed to systematically break every bone, starting with the legs and progressing upwards. If such a form of punishment were implemented in Newbury, it likely transpired in the Market Place, possibly right before the town hall.

Who is Catherine?

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Catherine of the Wheel, is a Christian saint who lived in the early 4th century. Her legend includes the account of her torture, which is depicted in various versions over time.

According to the traditional narrative, Catherine was a highly educated and devout Christian. She was known for her beauty, wisdom, and strong faith. During the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Maxentius, Catherine openly confessed her Christian beliefs and challenged the emperor’s pagan ideology.

In response to her defiance, Maxentius ordered Catherine to be tortured. One of the most iconic aspects of her martyrdom involves the “breaking wheel” or “Catherine wheel.” Instead of causing her harm, however, it is said that the wheel miraculously broke when Catherine touched it. Undeterred by this event, Maxentius then ordered her to be beheaded.

Medieval Origins

The existing structure is a pub built in the early 18th century, designed in the Tudor style. However, the name Catherine Wheel has its roots in the 1400s. Situated between Market Place and Cheap Street, both of which trace their origins to Newbury’s Norman foundation. The Market Place, in particular, would have been a central hub for trade and social activities during medieval times.

the pub earned a place in the inaugural list of town pubs in 1761. Interestingly, by the late 18th century, both the name Catherine Wheel and the associated legend of St. Catherine had lost their popularity.

More Than A Pub

Throughout the ages, the Catherine Wheel has offered nourishment and accommodations to tired travelers while simultaneously fulfilling various other roles. It functioned as a posting house prior to the establishment of the Post Office across the road in 1875. Going back to the 1770s, the inn served as a venue for bankruptcy hearings. Additionally, it is reported that the gatehouse situated over the courtyard had dual purposes, serving as both a gatehouse and a chapel.

Going Upmarket

In 1891, the distinctive crenellated parapet frontage was incorporated into the structure. Designed by the esteemed Newbury architect John Money, renowned for his work on the Newbury Town Hall, this addition showcased a Gothic Revival style characterized by exceptional masonry. This significant investment underscored a deliberate effort to appeal to a discerning clientele and attract high-end customers and guests.

A Stable Business

The initial premises occupied a considerably larger area prior to the establishment of the Kennet Centre. Travelers used to guide their horses through the existing courtyard, leading to secured stabling located at the rear of the pub. The path extended to Bartholomew Street, in close proximity to The Newbury Pub.

Three Decades a Landlord

The landlord with the lengthiest tenure at the Catherine Wheel was Frank Cambridge, whose name adorned the establishment for an impressive 34 years. Frank, previously a track inspector on the railways, assumed the role of licensee in 1908. Remarkably, he retired in 1942 at the age of 76. Following his retirement, his daughter Lilian and her husband took charge, navigating the challenges of the post-war years for an additional five years.

Mergers and multinationals

After a century of mergers, Stonegate, the current owner of the building, came to possess the ‘Wheel.’

The pub  was part of West Mills Brewery in 1897 and became part of the South Berkshire Brewery in 1913 through various local amalgamations.

In 1920, Simonds of Reading acquired South Berkshire brewery along with its 150-strong pub estate. In 1960, Simonds merged with Courage. In 1995, Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage, and in 2007, separated its brewing and pub business, creating Enterprise Inns. Eventually, Stonegate acquired Enterprise Inns and ownership of The Catherine Wheel.

Murders and a Poltergeist

In 2011, reports surfaced about a poltergeist causing disturbances in this pub, allegedly engaging in hair-pulling, unlocking doors, and rearranging items.

Following multiple reports of paranormal activity, a group of amateur ghost hunters conducted an investigation at the pub. Their findings suggest a haunting tale of three young women allegedly murdered by the resident chapel priest and buried in the old cellar. However, additional research is required to substantiate this claim.

What’s in a name

The Catherine Wheel has been the recognised name of the pub for a minimum of 250 years. In 2010, the pub underwent a name change to The Jack of Newbury, accompanied by a fairly inexpensive sign. However, in 2014, the current landlord, Warwick Heskins, reinstated the original name.