Berkshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Stag & Hounds

The middle section of the Stag and Hounds dates from the 14th century and was a Royal hunting lodge used by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The latter is said to have watched maypole dancing on the triangular green outside whilst sitting at one of the inn windows. The inn stands at the centre of what was the old Windsor forest and was said to be the headquarters of the Royal gamekeepers. An eight hundred year old tree - the ‘Centre Elm’ - once stood outside. This was ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s and the sad hollow trunk remained for many years until inexplicably removed in 2003.
The lodge became a coaching inn in 1727 and, nearly a century later, on November 9th 1822, William Cobbet passed this way on one of his Rural Rides. He recorded: "When you get through the park you come to Winkfield, and then (bound for Reading) you go through Binfield, which is ten miles from Egham and as many from Reading. At Binfield I stopped to breakfast, at a very nice country inn called the Stag and Hounds".
Sir Terence Rattigan was one of Britain’s most successful dramatists whose works include: ‘The Winslow Boy’ (1946), ‘The Browning Version’ (1948), ‘The Deep Blue Sea' (1952), and ‘Separate Tables’ (1954). ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ opens with the failed suicide of Hester Collyer, who has deserted her husband for the raffish charms of an alcoholic ex-fighter pilot. The inspiration for the play actually came from the successful suicide of one of the author’s numerous homosexual lovers. Rattigan completed a third draft in early 1951, in an upstairs room here at the Stag & Hounds – provided for him by the landlords, Mr and Mrs Newport, to whom he eventually dedicated the work. A sign board in the bar states that he also worked here on his much acclaimed ‘Separate Tables’.
To the left inside the front door is a spacious Georgian drawing room/library. But, unless you are less than 5’ 6" tall, you will have to be very careful exploring the wonderful low-beamed interconnecting rooms that lead off from the main bar on the right. The beer is first class and the food is good enough to pack the pub to the rafters most evenings of the week.

Stag and Hounds - Binfield - Berkshire - William Cobbett, Terence Rattigan

English novelist and balladist Thomas Deloney worked originally as a silk weaver at Norwich. By 1586, he had moved to London and within ten years had written some fifty ballads. In 1596 however, he incurred official anger for introducing the Queen into one of his ballads in ’fond and indecent sort’. In consequence he was compelled to seek temporary hiding and he turned his attention to prose writing.
In 1106 Bishop Milo Crispin established a hospice here at Colnbrook for travellers which became an important stopping off point in the Middle Ages for noblemen on route from London to Windsor Castle. The name Hospice later became corrupted to Ostrich and the inn, as it is known today, dates from about 1500.
This ancient hostelry is the setting for Thomas Deloney’s gruesome story, ’ Thomas of Reading’ published in 1598. It has been described as English literature’s first crime novel; inspiring the story of ’Sweeney Todd’. An Elizabethan landlord called Jarman, installed a large trap door under the bed in the best bedroom, located immediately above the inn's kitchen. The bed was fixed to the trap door and the mattress securely attached to the bedstead. When two retaining iron pins were removed from below, in the small hours of the morning, the sleeping guest was neatly decanted into a boiling cauldron.
More than 60 of the inns richer guests were murdered in this way, silently and with no bloodshed by Jarman and his wife. The victim’s bodies were then disposed of in the Colne River. The murder of a wealthy clothier, Olde Cole, or Thomas of Reading, proved to be the Jarman's undoing. They failed to get rid of Cole's horse and the discovery of the animal led to them confessing. The couple were hanged for robbery and murder.
The inn’s splendid timbered exterior has defiantly survived the centuries. Inside, heavy pillars, sand-blasted beams and crooked stairs blend well with stylish wooden furniture, white plaster walls, dark patterned carpet and black slate floors. Where the original building starts and later additions begin is hard to say. The heavy wooden doors with stained glass windows are now permanently closed, though the stained glass is a nice feature in the main bar. The bar area, accessed through a side entrance, is split into two halves by a central column which supports an interesting model of the building. Both halves of the bar have their own huge fireplaces

Ostritch, Colnbrook,Thomas Deloney

Looking across to Datchet village green, The Royal Stag is the oldest building in the area, dating back to the 1400s. It has been an alehouse since the 1500s and was originally known as the Five Bells, due to its proximity to the village church. It was later known as the High Flyer before finally becoming the Royal Stag in 1796.
One of the most humorous sections of Jerome K. Jerome’s novel Three Men in a Boatis set here when George and Harris are looking for a place to spend the night. After first rejecting The Stag because it had: ’no honeysuckle over it’ they were forced to return because all the other hotels were full.
’We took our traps (bags) into the Stag and laid them down in the hall. The landlord came up and said ’Good evening, gentlemen.’ ’Oh, good evening’, said George, ’we want three beds please.’ ’Very sorry, sir,’ said the landlord, ’but I’m afraid we can'’ manage it. ’ Oh, well, never mind, said George, two will do. ’ Harris thought George and I could sleep in one bed very easily… ’Very sorry, sir,’ again repeated the landlord, ’but we really haven’t got a bed vacant in the whole house. In fact, we are putting two, and even three gentlemen in one bed as it is’. Even an offer to rough it proved fruitless, as there were: ’Three gentlemen sleeping on the billiard table already and two in the coffee-room’.
A small unidentified and undated newspaper cutting in the inn records a connection with textile designer, artist, poet and writer William Morris, then aged 62, it reads: ’In a place of honour in the Royal Stag at Datchet is a copy of a menu of a famous event which took place there 72 years ago, on September 5th 1892. It was the first annual dinner of a very famous printing company - the Kelmscott Press. The firm, noted for the many beautifully printed and bound private editions it produced, as founded the previous year by Mr. William Morris who took the chair at this dinner. The programme which followed a hearty meal included a 19th century guitar offering a Mrs. Sparling singing such items as ’Snowy Breasted Pearl’ and ’Black Eyes’. The early editions printed by the Kelmscott Press are now highly prized by private collectors and many have a place in a museum at Hammersmith. ’

Datchet - Royal Stag - Jerome K Jerome, William Morris

Set in the Berkshire countryside during World War I, The Fox is a novella by D. H. Lawrence which was published in 1923. Like many of his other major works, this story examines the psychological relationships between three protagonists in a triangle of love and hatred. Nellie March and Jill Banford - without the help of any male labourers - struggle to maintain a marginal livelihood at Bailey Farm. A fox has raged through the poultry and, although the women, particularly the more masculine Nellie, have tried to shoot the intruder, he seems always to elude traps or gunshot.
The fox becomes a hindrance but March finds she cannot hunt it, and rather, she becomes entranced by it. Shortly after this, Henry, a young man, comes to stay with the girls, and a link is established between the fox and Henry. This intriguing novella explores gender roles, sexuality, femininity, and the pity of war, as do Lawrence’s other works; The Ladybird and The Captain’s Doll. A 1967 film adaptation of the The Fox was made starring Sandy Dennis as Jill Banford, Anne Heywood as Ellen March, and Keir Dullea as Paul (not Henry).
D. H. Lawrence lived in Chapel Farm Cottage, Hermitage, near Newbury in Berkshire between 1917 and 1918 and drew his inspiration for the story from the surrounding countryside. On the 30th October 1918 he wrote this about the woods across the road from The Fox Inn: ’Here the woods are all yellow – big yellow woods. I never saw them more lovely. The other day we went getting chestnuts. There were quite a number. This is a pleasant place. ’
The Fox is a traditional country inn, originating from the 16th century. Since its conversion from a cottage to an inn in the early 19th century, the building has been extended by embracing two further cottages in the terrace. This friendly place has a basic beamed walk-through cottagey interior. The three bars of the inn neatly divide into a games room with pool table, a central bar and dining room. The terrace at the front has tables stepping down to the road, across which are the woods where D. H. Lawrence walked and ’napped’. Lawrence’s cottage, formerly Church Lane Cottage, is now called Warborough Cottage and is a short walk from the pub.

Hermitage - Fox Inn - DH Lawrence

The Bear at Hungerford is an 18th century coaching inn with 19th century additions but it is built on much earlier foundations dating back to the 13th century. Standing on what has been called "the Crossroads of England" the original inn witnessed many famous and infamous events. At one point the estate was owned by the crown and visited by more Kings and Queens than you could shake a sceptre at.
The two most famous diarists of the 17th Century, John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys both stayed here and were impressed by the quality of the fish. In 1688 Pepys undertook a mini-tour of the west country and his diary entry for 10th june records:
"So forth towards Hungerford, led this good way by our landlord, one Heart, an old but very civil and well-spoken man, more than I ever heard, of his quality. He gone, we forward; and I vexed at my people's not minding the way. So come to Hungerford, where very good trouts, eels, and crayfish".
In more modern times Evelyn Waugh and Dennis Wheatley were among the regulars. In Wheatley’s 1930’s novel The Devil Rides Out his principal characters race out of London in the fastest and most expensive cars of the period and roar through the night to darkest Wiltshire in an attempt to disrupt a ceremony on Salisbury Plain in which Satan himself appears.
Passing through Hungerford we see his hero Rex van Ryn: "…scanning the houses of the market town for its most prosperous-looking inn and mentally registering The Bear", which soon afterwards becomes the communication link and rendezvous point with his friend the Duc de Richleau. "At 8.22. Rex had sunk his second tankard of good Berkshire ale and took up his position in the doorway of The Bear to watch for the Duke". "At 8.37. De Richleau's Hidivo roared into Hungerford, and Rex, who had resumed his position in the doorway of The Bear, ran out to meet it. 'Any messages?' the Duke asked as he scrambled in".
The Bear has a decorous period atmosphere. The beer is good and the food is varied, plentiful and reasonably priced. In the garden there is a tiny green island, surrounded by streams, reached by a wooden bridge. A large weeping willow stands beside the briskly flowing little River Dunn which supplied Pepys’s trout, eel and crayfish.

Bear Hotel - Hungerford - Berkshire - Samuel Pepys, Dennis Wheatley

Today, The Beetle and Wedge Boathouse at the end of Ferry Lane, is a restaurant with rooms. It stands on the site of the original Moulsford ferry and the restaurant building was a working boathouse until 1967 when the last ferrywoman retired. Between 1888 and 1920, three eminent writers each discovered the tranquil charm of Moulsford and the hospitality of its riverside inn.
The Beetle & Wedge is central to H. G.Wells’s delightful comic novel ’The History of Mr. Polly’, where it appears, thinly disguised as the Potwell Inn. After leaving his old life (and wife), Mr. Polly wanders out into the country and takes a job at the inn as a handyman and ferryman. He soon ends up having a few run-ins with the Landlady’s drunken brother-in-law Jim who chases any other man away. Finally Jim accidentally trips and drowns in a weir when he is chasing Polly and the hero returns to work in the inn where he enjoys ’provinder’ and where he is said to be ’particularly charmed by the ducklings’.
In Jerome K. Jerome’s ’Three Men in a Boat’, George and the narrator walk from Wallingford to Streatley and: ’call in at a little riverside inn, for a rest, and other things’. The Beetle & Wedge is the only inn along this stretch of the riverbank. During their rest, several individuals (including the landlord) go into great detail about how they personally caught the impressive trout displayed in a glass case on the wall in the bar. Trying to get a closer look, George accidentally upsets the case and it falls smashing the fish into a thousand pieces. It transpires, after all the exaggerated fisherman’s stories, it was really a ’plaster of Paris’ ornament.
John Galsworthy lived at Kingston-on-Thames and, in ’The Forsyte Saga’ he gives Soames a house at Pangbourne. The last of the trilogy of novels contains a delightful portrait of the Beetle & Wedge, which appears as the Pouter Pigeon with Forsyte’s old butler, Warmson in charge: ’The Pouter Pigeon stood back a little from the river Thames, on the Berkshire side, above an old-fashioned garden of roses, stocks, gillyflowers, poppies, phlox drummondi, and sweet-williams. In the warm June weather the scents from that garden and from sweetbriar round the windows drifted into an old brick house painted cream-colour. To young Anne Forsyte all was’just too lovely’.

Moulsford - Beetle & Wedge - H.G.Wells, John Galsworthy
Bells of Ouseley

In 1885, Charles Dickens’s son Charlie published his ’Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames’ in which he reported the: ’Bells of Ouseley’, a tavern on the Berks bank, at Old Windsor; about a mile below the lock, and close to Beaumont Roman Catholic College. Good accommodation can be had, and the house is noted for its ale. The scenery here is very pretty ... ’
Four years later, in 1889, Jerome, K. Jerome was doing a similar thing but his account - modified by suggestions from his editor - evolved eventually as something between a travel guide and a satirical victorian novel, ’Three Men in a Boat’ is a crafty piece of writing that takes the reader up the Thames river from London to Oxford with three men weary of the city but not quite adept at coping outside it’s bounds. They also take a dog with them, who at times seems more like a kidnap victim than a pet.
Jerome, leads us up the river with a self deprecating narrator and his two pals, all of whom know exactly what they are doing but have no idea how to do it. The trip itself is laden with comedic tales, historical lessons, and sublime meditations on the beauties of nature. The Bells of Ouseley at Old Windsor (which is now a Harvester family dining pub) gets a mention and you can see the comic masterpiece’s origins as a bonafide guide book:
’From Picnic Point to Old Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river. A shady road, dotted here and there with dainty little cottages, runs by the bank up to the ’Bells of Ouseley, ’ a picturesque inn, as most up-river inns are, and a place where a very good glass of ale may be drunk – so Harris says; and on a matter of this kind you can take Harris’s word. Old Windsor is a famous spot in its way’.
’Edward the Confessor had a palace here, and here the great Earl Godwin was proved guilty by the justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King’s brother. Earl Godwin broke a piece of bread and held it in his hand: ’If I am guilty, ’ said the Earl, ’may this bread choke me when I eat it! ’ Then he put the bread into his mouth and swallowed it, and it choked him, and he died’.

Old Windsor - Bells of Ouseley - Charles Dickens Junior

To the left in the photograph, standing next door to The Swan, you can see the flank wall and chimney of a former labourer's cottage. A plaque on the front of this cottage reads: ‘Mary Russell Mitford, Dramatist, Poet, Essayist lived here 1820 – 1851 and wrote most of her works including Our Village.
For most of her life, Mary Russell Mitford, Berkshire's greatest author, lived here with her parents. She had been reduced to these cramped conditions after her father had gambled away all their money. Her most famous work ‘Our Village’, is a sympathetic and intimate book based on rural life during the mid 1800s.’ Three Mile Cross’ becomes ‘Cranford’ and the ‘Swan’ features as the ‘Rose’. The opening passage offers a tempting invitation: "Will you walk with me through our village, courteous reader? The journey is not long…"
The villagers, their homes and businesses are all described in loving detail and, as we proceed along the: "long, straggling, winding street… always abounding in carts, horsemen, and carriages” We arrive at: “the Rose Inn: a white-washed building, retired from the road behind its fine swinging sign, with a little bow-window room coming out on one side, and forming, with our stable on the other, a sort of open square, which is the constant resort of carts, wagons, and return chaises. There are two carts there now, and mine host is serving them with beer in his eternal red waistcoat. He is a thriving man and a portly, as his waistcoat attests, which has been twice let out within this twelvemonth". Today the Swan is a friendly, well run, good value traditional pub. The cosy, beamed interior is divided into comfortable pubby dining areas decorated with a pleasing jumble of artifacts and prints. Now incorporated as part of the pub is the "little bow-window room coming out on one side" seen in the photograph which was once the blacksmith’s forge. There is a striking marble profile of a Victorian lady on the front of the pub which the present landlord bought at auction because he thought it seemed appropriate. To the rear is an extensive car park, garden and barbeque area with cabin-like open fronted kennels where enormous Irish Wolfhounds lounge on sofas and easy chairs.

The Swan - Three Mile Cross - Berkshire - Mary Russell Mitford

Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the review.

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