Harry Jones

Towards the end of 2015 a little book 
came to Oxfam with other donations. It was self-published in 1908 by the landlord of the Kings Arms, Mr Harry Jones, reproducing an article that had appeared about him in the North Wilts Herald.

The article described Mr Jones as a “distinctive personality proclaimed in his outward appearance, a veritable John Bull and the embodiment of the spirit of Charles Dickens” and he was so taken with it that he published it for his friends and fellow townsfolk.

Mr Jones was born a Londoner but spent 54 of his 55 years in Malmesbury. In 1878 he was the proprietor of the Railway Hotel, moving to the Kings Arms in 1880 on the death of his landlord father.

He served a dozen years on the Town Council and was elected mayor in 1885 becoming the first councillor to pro-pose that the Mayor took the Corporation to a place of worship and the first mayor to wear the robes of office. While in the position of chief magistrate he presented a mace to the town.

Mr Jones was regularly found outside the Kings Arms chatting to locals and helping visitors and was said to be at his best when presiding over hunt or market dinners. He was so distinctive and well known that friends in this country and overseas often wrote to him and just “sketched his delineament or adorned the envelope with his portrait accompanied by the words ‘Find him in Wiltshire’ and in every instance the letter reached its destination.”

The hotel coach and horses met every train at the station, either to collect a customer or provide a ‘taxi’ service to town in the hope of gaining custom. Mr Jones was very patriotic and wrote many letters to royalty and heads of state, invariably receiving a reply, in one case hand-written by Prime Minister Asquith. These replies were framed and hung in the King’s Arms Hotel.

Attempting to discover more about some of the things mentioned in the book led us to the museum which has the book, his famous beaver hat, one of the sparsely addressed envelopes and a thank you reply from Buckingham Palace to the commiserations sent by Mr Jones on the death, in Denmark, of the father of Queen-Empress Alexandra, wife of Edward V11.

The Wiltshire History Centre has a copy of the book, several photos, his obituary and a copy of a long poem entitled Man of Malmesbury written by an admirer in the style of Alexander Pope’s Man of Ross. In talking to locals known for their enthusiasm towards Malmesbury History we found at least three more copies of the book in private possession and Oliver Pike gave us copies of several more photos connected with the story. The Town Clerk showed us the mace where we discovered that the inscription is from HenryJones, although Harry is used almost everywhere else. Sadly, there appears to be no evidence left of his time in the Kings Arms Hotel but research continues into one or two missing pieces of information.