Buckinghamshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

One day, during their early married life, G. K. Chesterton and his wife Frances set out from Kensington on what he called "a sort of second honeymoon". With no definite goal in mind but in a spirit of mild adventuring they took a bus and then a train and ended up wandering through the Buckinghamshire countryside. In his Autobiography he tells how they passed through a large and quiet cross-roads of a sort of village called Beaconsfield.. They had bed and breakfast "at an inn called The White Hart", learned that a local pronunciation of the place-name was Beconsfield, and then and there decided it was where "someday we will make our home" Seven years later they bought a house called Overroads between the old and new towns and this is where he wrote the Father Brown detective stories.
In addition to his prolific journalism, Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. His poems tend to celebrate the Englishness of England, the nation of beef and beer. Trying to escape tedious situations in his A Ballade of An Anti- puritan he ends every verse with the plea "Will someone take me to a pub?" Naturally he was by no means slow in establishing his own niche in the White Hart and a bust of him stood for many years in his favourite bar.
Dating back to 1570, the White Hart is a traditional English market town inn. It stands in the centre of Beaconsfield and the photograph shows it as Chesterton would have known it. However, today, Chesterton's "quiet cross-roads" is the busy junction where Park lane meets the London Road. The inn has also changed. It is now a large open-plan dining pub - bright and clean but with little trace of the character it must once have had when it made such an impression on the youthful couple. The hotel's sign stands across the road from the building. In 1624 the licensee, Nat Aldridge, was fined two pence for putting it up on 'The Lord's waste' (i.e. land owned by the Lord of the Manor). The sign is still placed away from the building.
This popular pub, restaurant and hotel, is a 'Vintage Inn' serving a selection of real ales and good wines to acompany the Classic Beef & Ale Pie, Sausages with Cheddar Mash, Fish & Chips and hearty Sunday roasts.

GK Chesterton

On the final page of Simon Kernick’s thrilling novel Relentless there is the following author’s note: "Some astute readers will notice that I have taken a few liberties with the village of Hambleden in order to further the plot. For instance, there’s no phone box in the village square anymore, and no such place as Rangers Hill. However, the pub’s real enough, and it serves good beer too. "
Relentless is Simon Kernick’s fifth thriller and crime novel originally published in June 2006. It became what publishers call the break-out book, when it was featured as a Recommended Summer Read on Richard and Judy’s book club in 2007. It became the 8th best-selling paperback and the best-selling thriller in the UK in the same year. It was one of only eight titles picked by Richard and Judy that year and, to date, has sold more than 300,000 copies.
The story is a race against time, described by The Observer as ’unputdownable’. It is about an ordinary family man who finds himself chased by killers who will stop at nothing to kill him, even though he has no idea what he’s meant to have done. Three quarters of the way through the book we find DI Bolt, early on a Sunday morning engaged on a rescue mission, driving at breakneck speeds out of London heading for Buckinghamshire:
"It was ten past nine, just about forty minutes after he’d set off, when he finally turned onto the country road that ran for a little over a mile down to Hambleden village. It had been the summer before her death that he and Mikaela had driven down here for the day. The weather had been mild and sunny, and there’d been a cricket match in progress on the green at the edge of the village. They’d eaten at the pub, sitting outside in the beer garden, basking in the sunshine and feeling at peace with the world. "
The Stag & Huntsman is literally and figuratively at the heart of the picturesque National Trust village of Hambleden. Set against the backdrop of the Chiltern Hills and the beautiful woodlands of the Culden Faw Estate, the village itself is an idyllic cluster of charming brick and flint cottages grouped around an old-fashioned village square with a magnificent chestnut tree by the pump and water trough. The pretty Chilterns village has featured as the backdrop of numerous TV dramas including Midsummer Murders, Poirot, Band of Brothers and the comedy The League of Gentlemen. Sequences in films such as Sleepy Hollow and 101 Dalmatians were also shot here.
Judie Dench and Geoffrey Palmer have sipped wine in As Time Goes By, whilst sitting on the bench outside the handsome brick and flint Stag & Huntsman pub. Inside the numerous rooms provide a choice of drinking environments. There’s a congenial old-fashioned front public bar and a larger, low-ceilinged, partly panelled lounge bar. There are some raised areas and decking in the spacious suntrap country garden in which leisurely summer barbecues are enjoyed.

Hambleden – Stag & Huntsman

Matthew Arnold"> (1822 -1888)     Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Situated on a high point of the northern Chilterns, near the tiny hamlet of Lacey Green, stands the ’Pink & Lily’ pub. This was a favourite place for poet, Mathew Arnold, who came here regularly from Oxford in the 1840s. In his work entitled ’The Chilterns’, memories of visits to the Pink & Lily were surely on in his mind, when he wrote:
"I shall desire and I shall find / The best of my desires; / The autumn road, the mellow wind / That soothes the darkening shires, / And laughter, and inn-fires. "
The Chiltern hills were also a favourite of the young Rupert Brooke. He first happened upon the Pink & Lilly whilst walking on a peaceful summers day prior to the Great War. He fell in love with this place and after his initial visit he became quite the "regular". Brooke returned to share the experience of his new found "secret watering hole" with his good friend Jacques Raverat; also a young man in his 20s and already an artist of some note. It was on one of these occasions, during a typically merry and warm-hearted lunch, the two friends immortilised the pub in a few funny lines of doggerel:
"Never came there to the Pink / Two men such as we, I think / Never came there to Lily / Two men quite so rich and silly".
The theme continues about life and their good fortune and ends with the verse:
"Were ever two so fierce and strong / Who drank so deep and laughed so long So proudly meek, so humbly proud / Who walked so far, and sang so loud? "
The Pink & Lily has been much extended since Brooke’s day and now has an airy and plush main dining bar. However, the pub has retained the charming little old-fashioned tap room which has been preserved as both poets might have known it. On the walls there is framed memorabilia including photographs and the jokey poem.
Rupert Brooke died as a soldier on 23 April 1915 on board a hospital ship off the Greek island of Skyros. He was buried on the island; not quite as he famously supposed in: "some corner of a foreign field", but in the corner of a tranquil olive grove: "that is forever England". Quite fittingly, he is also remembered in this quiet corner of Buckinghamshire, in an English country pub.

Lacey Green – Pink & Lily – Matthew Arnold – Rupert Brooke

Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

The Cock has stood here on the old Roman Road of Watling Street (now the High Street) since 1470 and the Romans may well have had some form of refreshment stop on the site. The present inn was rebuilt following the great fire of 1742 which started in the Bull, next door but one, by a maid who burnt a sheet while ironing and tried to hide it up a chimney. Tradition has it that the competing inns give rise to the expression ’cock and bull story’ deriving from the often misleading items of news exchanged from passengers travelling on the 100 or so up and down coaches that passed through Stony Stratford each day at the height of the coaching era.
The Manchester Flier, which left London at 8.30am and arrived in Manchester at 5.10am the next day, only allowed 25 minutes for lunch at the Cock, so passengers had to eat fast. Among them, on more than one occasion, was Charles Dickens, who drew inspiration for one his characters - Mr. Turveydrop in ’Bleak House’ - on a local dancing instructor, Joseph Hambling.
"A fat old gentleman with a false complexion, false teeth, false whiskers and a wig. He had a fur collar, and he had padded breasts to his coat, which only wanted a star or a broad blue ribbon to be complete. He was pinched in, and swelled out, and got up and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear… as he stood poised on one leg, in a high-shouldered, round-elbowed state of elegance not to be surpassed. ".
The magnificent 17th century carved oak doorcase was imported from the nearby mansion ofBattlesden Park as an imposing front door. The impressive wrought-iron sign bracket is also thought to date from the mid-18th century. A walk through the Cock’s coaching arch past the complex of buildings and out into the extensive car park will give you an idea of the scale of the old coaching trade and the number of horses that were stabled here in Dickens’s day.
Despite being over 250 years old, the Cock today offers all the facilities you would expect from a modern 3 star hotel with 31 full en suite bedrooms. Leading on from the popular Market Bar is a cosy lounge with leather sofas. Here, on a wall is an illustration by Hassell of Stony Stratford market place as Dickens would have known it. In addition there is the traditionally furnished restaurant with polished wooden floors which has a contemporary relaxed feel and, in the summer months, there is a pretty courtyard for outside eating.

Stony Stratford – Cock – Charles Dickens

In his 1875 essay An Autumn Effect ... Robert Louis Stevenson recounts staying the night here at the Red Lion: "a pleasant old house, with bay-windows, and three peaked gables, and many swallows' nests plastered about the eaves". Of the interior he says: "I never saw any room much more to be admired than the low wainscoted parlour in which I spent the remainder of the evening how pleasant it looked, all flushed and flickered over by the light of a brisk companionable fire".
He writes beautifully about his interaction with the landlord's young daughter who showed him her special doll. After spending the evening reading he finally retired to bed and reports hearing a party of children singing together sweetly in the street: "One can rarely be in a pleasant place without meeting with some pleasant accident. I have a conviction that these children would not have gone singing before the inn unless the inn-parlour had been the delightful place it was".
A decade after Stevenson's visit Rupert Brooke became a regular visitor. When I called in 2006, this early coaching inn with its 17th century timbers, low ceilings and giant brick hearths was easily recogniseable from Stevenson's detailed description. I made enquiries about the history of the old place and was told I needed to speak to Dolly but she wasn't working that day. It transpired that Dolly was 91 years of age and had worked at the Red Lion for the last 61 of those. At that time there was a large photograph of Dolly together with her mother, brother and friend hanging on the wall near the foot of the oak staircase which leads up from the bar.
This attractive half-timbered red brick pub has been lately restored and the framing to a large extent renewed. A tablet inserted in the south end gable bears the date 1669 and the initials W.R.F. The building has been closed for six months up to the 17th March (2008) for major internal refurbishment. The local newspaper reports: "We've missed the Red Lion and are glad to have a Wendover flagship back in good order". Marston brewery have spent a small fortune and by most accounts the refurbishment has been sympathetic - good food, great beer and friendly service are once again the order of the day.

Red Lion - Wendover - Buckinghamshire - Robert Louis Stevenson, Rupert Brooke

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

Home Page