Cheshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

George Henry Borrow was an idiosyncratic English author who wrote novels and travelogues based on his own experiences around Europe. Over the course of his wanderings, he developed a close affinity with the Romani people and they figure prominently in his work. In 1854, he stayed here in the Pied Bull prior to embarking on his famous walking tour of Wales. He recorded his experiences in his book Wild Wales (1862) in which he describes the commencement of his journey:
"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". Borrow was a man who liked his beer and in his best known book, the autobiographical Lavengro, he declares: "Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and proper drink of Englishmen! He is not deserving of the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is good ale..." Unfortunately in Chester he was disappointed with both the ale and the Cheshire cheese which: "had the appearance of soap of the commonest kind" His recourse was to open the inn window and eject "the half masticated morsel into the street". The ale was instantly spirited out in the same fashion.
But it wasn't all bad: "Upon the whole 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". He was particularly taken with one of the chamber maids who had pretty eyes and who spoke lilting Welsh which he was charmed by but: "was quite unable to understand..."
The Pied Bull is a traditional coaching Inn located near the centre of Chester on the west side of Northgate Street. Dating from 1155, this lovely old timber frame pub is the oldest licensed house in the city still serving beer. In 1533 it was known as the 'Bull Maison' because of its proximity to the Old Beast Market. In 1784 it is recorded that one John Paul was running a regular four horse coach service from here to Birkenhead. Today there is a cosy snug off the pillared entrance and a roomy open-plan bar beyond with an attractive mix of individual furnishings. There is a selection of real ales and wide choice of reasonably priced food served all day.

Pied Bull - Chester - Cheshire - George Borrow

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810 - 1865)     Robert Shackleton (1860 - 1923)

Victorian novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Gaskell spent much of her childhood in Knutsford. She was bought up by an aunt after her mother died when she was only a year old. Elizabeth went on to immortalise the town as ’Cranford’ in her novel of the same name. In 1960, for the centenary of her birth, a costume ball was held in the principal inn.
The site of Royal George has been completely redeveloped for retail and leisure use. The façade has been retained and incorporates a sea food bar and grill but the old coaching arch now gives access to a modern shopping arcade. This is a boon to Knutsford town folk but and undoubted loss to the literary pilgrim. Mrs. Gaskell featured The Royal George Inn in several of her works. The Cranford ladies met "at the door under the carriage way" to see the magician, Signor Brunoni perform. They went to the "cloakroom where Miss Matty gave a sigh or two to her departed youth as she adjusted her pretty new lace cap before the strange, quaint old mirror". In ’Wives and Daughte’s, Roger Hamley came and went on his travels by the ’Umpire’ and ’Bang up’, names of actual stage coaches which called at the George.
Further along the High Street the elegant Georgian red-brick ’Angel’ is still open for business. This is where Lord Maulever stayed while visiting Captain Brown, whose humble household could not entertain such an august personage. The Cranford ladies were disappointed not to meet him socially; the only person he spoke to was "a little lad he had sworn at for driving a dirty hoop against the aristocratic legs".
American antiques and travel writer Robert Shackleton, undertook a motoring tour of Britain in the year just prior to the Great War. Shackleton and his three companions were Gaskell fans and delighted to start and finish their adventure in Knutsford, at The Angel which he described as an old-fashioned inn: "the very one at which Lord Maulever aristocratically stayed, and it stands right upon the street, with the cobble- stones coming to its very door; an inn where there are excellent service and immaculate cleanliness, an inn with beamed ceilings… an inn where there is still a ’boots’ in his green apron and where they will serve you chops an inch thick, with green peas".
A booklet of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford - with a map showing the links and an introduction to her life and works is available from the Heritage Centre. The Angel, which dates from around 1710, has a spacious interior but almost all evidence of the original fabric is now hidden under a façade of ’Olde English Tudor’.

Knutsford – The Angel – Elizabeth Gaskell – Robert Shackleton

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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