Cumbria - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection



Charles Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins embarked on a limited, curious and prematurely aborted walking tour of Cumberland in the late summer of 1857. The intention was to collect material for Dickens's magazine Household Words. The article was to be called 'The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices' to be written in collaboration - with Dickens as Mr. Goodchild and Collins as Mr. Idle.
On the 7th September they arrived at the village of Hesketh Newmarket and stayed at the Queen's Head (now a private dwelling called Dickens House). Dickens had read something about Carrock Fell; possibly an erroneous account by Colleridge of a vast Druid Circle of Stones to be found on the summit. Despite bad weather he insisted on climbing the mountain but the compass broke and the pair became hopelessly lost in thick mist. The reluctant Wilkie badly sprained his ankle on the descent and, after visiting a doctor in Wigton, they arrived in Allonby in time for lunch on 9th September.
A plaque commemorates the visit to the Ship which Dickens described as a capital little homely inn looking out upon the sea...a clean nice place in a rough wild country'. They stayed in a clean little bulk-headed room at the top of a clean little bulk-headed staircase. The landlord was Benjamin Partridge whose immensely fat wife was 'very obliging and comfortable.
Today the grade II listed 17th century former coaching inn has a bright and cheerful dining room called the Dickens' Room with its original decorative plaster ceiling. There are prints and pictures of Dickens's characters and a full set of his novels on the top of an antique sideboard. Exposed beams, real fireplaces, a tapestry sampler and Victorian patterned wallpaper all help to present a Dickensian feel.

Ship Inn, Allonby, Cumbria - association with Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins
Salutation Inn


The Salutation sits on a commanding hill top position in the centre of the village. William Wordsworth, in a draft for his 'Guide to the Lakes', assumes that visitors will start from here and is fairly cynical about how travellers were hustled along to Keswick: "Is there anything worthy of notice on the road? Nothing but what all travellers see as they pass along will probably be the answer of mine host of the Salutation if the question be asked at the height of the season & he is anxious to have his horses back again for a fresh job". In nearby Church Street there is a plaque on The Old Stamp House which was Wordsworth's office for 30 years when he was distributor of Stamps for Westmorland (collecting a government tax on legal documents).
In 1818 John Keats visited on his walking tour to Scotland with his friend Charles Brown. They spent the night of June 26th here and Brown recorded of Keats that: In the evening he repeated to me his beautiful and pathetic poem of Isabella which had just been written before he left Teignmouth. John Stuart Mill stayed here in June 1831, as did Tennyson and Edward Fitzgerald in May 1835. Tennyson was working on his Morte d' Arthur and trying to convert Fitzgerald to Wordsworth's poetry.
Despite much enlargement, the Salutation's former identity as the town's great coaching inn is clearly visible. Inside you'll find original exposed beams and doors and big open fires. An evocative photograph in the foyer captures the throng of Victorian tourist with their bonnets, top hats and horse drawn carriages. The staff are friendly and attentive and good reasonably priced food is served in both the Garden Room Restaurant and the more informal Lounge Bar.

Salutation Inn - Ambleside - Cumbria - association with William Wordsworth, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edward Fitzgerald


Located at Lake Windermere's halfway point, Bowness-on-Windermere is one of the most popular tourist spots in the Lake District. A long promenade skirts the shore providing views over the lake, the busy little pleasure harbour, and the surrounding fells. The town is vibrant with people and traffic in the summertime.
Lowside, the area behind St. Martin's Church is the oldest part of the town dating from the 17th century. Here, where the houses huddle together against the prevailing weather, you will find The Hole in't Wall pub - whose real name is the New Hall Inn. It was built in 1612 and acquired its nickname because of a thirsty blacksmith located next door. To facilitate his access to beer while working at his forge, the pub knocked a hole in the wall to pass the ale through. The blacksmith shop is now part of the pub which is very atmospheric with beamed ceilings, wood panelling, open fires and slate floors.
Exterior signs on this beautiful old cottage pub boldly state that in 1857 Charles Dickens visited after attending a local sporting meeting - and paid his respects to the remarkable champion wrestler-landlord, Thomas Longmire who won 174 wrestling belts in the 1850's. There is also a cartoon inside the bar depicting the meeting. In addition, the respected journalist John Timpson features the inn and its literary connection in his excellent book of Timpson's Inns.
However, there is no reference to this meeting in Forster's biography of Dickens. And, even enlisting the help of the Dickens Fellowship, (who checked the author's correspondence) I have been unable to verify the pub's claim. The only record of Dickens visiting the Lake District is the trip he took with Wilkie Collins (see The Ship at Allonby). I have to conclude this is another example of opportunism. But, having said that, this is a lovely old pub (the oldest in Bowness) and well worth a visit in its own right.

Hole in t’ Wall - Bowness-on-Windermere - Cumbria


In 1923 Dorothy L. Sayers published her first novel, 'Whose Body', which introduced the English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Between World War I and World War II she continued to detail the exploits of her hero through 11 further novels (plus one unfinished) and 20 short stories.
In 1926 Dorothy married Arthur Fleming and three years later, when she was working on the 6th Lord Peter novel The Five Red Herrings the couple stayed here in this 17th century former coaching inn, located in Main Street, Brough, Kirkby Stephen. The 1929 visitor's book (available to view if you ask) contains the signature of Dorothy's husband Athereton Fleming, who signed in on the 7th of December.
The novel, published in 1931 is set principally over the border in Galloway; a part of Scotland popular with artists because of its landscapes. Sandy Campbell is a talented painter, but also a notoriously quarrelsome drunkard. When he is found dead in a stream, with a half-finished painting on the bank above, it is assumed at first that he fell in accidentally, fracturing his skull. Lord Peter points out the inconsistency which makes it impossible for Campbell himself to have worked on the painting. (Sayers deliberately leaves the reader to work out what exactly the clue is.) Campbell's death is now a murder case.
In the chaper headed 'Farren's Story' we find Lord Peter leaving Galloway and heading South to follow clues over the border: "At an early hour on Monday morning, a large black Daimler car, with an outsize bonnet and racing body, moved in leisurely silence down the main street of Brough. The driver, glancing carelessly from side to side through his monocle appeared to be about to pull up at the principal hotel"
Situated in rural Cumbria this comfortable family run 14 room hotel enjoys the quiet seclusions and charm of a traditional Westmorland village with magnificent views of the Norman Castle and the surrounding Pennines. Sayers makes an oblique reference in the book to one of the five suspects having painted a series of murals. The most striking feature of The Castle is a series of large, beautifully executed, colourful murals depicting mediaeval jousting which cover the walls of the dining room.

Castle Hotel - Brough - Cumbria - Dorothy L. Sayers


Burton-in-Kendal is now a quiet village but in June 1818, when John Keats and his friend Charles Brown arrived here it was a thriving market town. The pair were on the second day of their 3 month walking tour from Lancaster to Cromarty. The weather was unkind and they found themselves in the midst of a national election competing with crowds for food and lodging because the inns were full of exuberant inebriated voters and peace keeping soldiers. The Green Dragon turned them away and the agitated landlady at the King's Arms exclaimed: "Ah! Gentleman, the soldiers are upon us! The Lowthers had brought 'em here in readiness Dear me! dear me! at this election time to have soldiers upon us, when we ought to be making a bit of money. You can't sleep here gentlemen, but I can give you dinner".
Burton was the starting point of the coach route through Westmorland and at the ideal halfway stage between Lancaster and Kendal. The inn's heyday dates from the opening of the Turnpike in 1753 and it survived a major setback in 1820 when the main Stage Coach Route was diverted away through Milnthorpe (along what is now the A6). In 1846 the London and North Western Railway reached Burton and all the stage coach business disappeared over night.
Much of the present building dates from the turn of the eighteenth century but parts of it might be even older - existing when Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites pressed along the narrow Main Street in 1745. Until recently, the pool room existed as 'Keats's Lounge but today the great poet's visit is sadly all but forgotten. This comfortable family run hotel has 6 en-suite rooms and won the tenanted food pub of the year award at the Mitchell's directors awards ceremony 2005.

King's Arms, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria - association with John Keats


During a stay in London, William Wordsworth was dismayed to discover a theatrical melodrama concerning the corruption of innocent Mary Robinson, daughter of the landlord of the Fish Inn Buttermere and he was moved to include the story in his epic poem 'The Prelude' : "I mean, O distant Friend! a story drawn From our own ground - the Maid of Buttermere Ere the broad world rang with the maiden's name Beheld her serving at the cottage inn."
In 1792 journalist Joseph Palmer stayed at the inn and wrote a glowing description of the fifteen year old Mary in one of the very first guide books, "A Fortnight's Ramble in the Lake District". De Quincey subsequently stayed here and reported that Shoals of tourists crowded to the secluded lake but he didn't think much of Mary. On a second visit, in the company of Southey, he reported that, in his friend's presence, Mary flowed much more and added rather elliptically that Southey was well known to Mary by kind attentions and, I believe some services?
Among the throng of visitors was one John Hatfield, who falsley presenting himself as Colonel Hope, the brother of an earl, proposed to Mary. The marriage of the celebrated local beauty into the aristocracy was widely reported. Coleridge wrote in the London Morning Post of "The romantic marriage". As a result of the publicity Hatfield was exposed as an impostor, bigamist and forger and hanged.
The melodrama was produced in all the suburban London theatres and a novel by Edmund Carrington was published in 1843 entitled 'James Hatfield and the Beauty of Buttermere, a Story of Modern Times'. With his 1987 book 'The Maid of Buttermere', author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has developed this sad social history into a fine novel. His background descriptions are beautiful and his evocation of early nineteenth century snobbery is impeccable. Originally the Fish was simply known as the inn at Buttermere - a good centre for char and trout fishing. The addition of heavy ground floor bay windows presents the appearance of an unremarkable Victorian villa belying its size, age and history. The Fish, is actually one of the oldest Inns in the Lake District. It is located in the most stunningly beautiful scenery; and has been extended four-fold to the rear to provide a large dining room and bar.

Buttermere - Fish Hotel - Melvyn Bragg, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Robert Southey


Coleridge stayed here in the comfortable 16th century Black Bull in August 1802 during his walking tour of the lakes and Dined on Oatcake & Cheese, with a pint of Ale, & 2 glasses of Rum & water sweetened with preserved Gooseberries.
It is also the little rustic inn at Church Conniston where the young De Quincey stayed in 1805 and again in 1806. Thomas de Quincey, essaist and intellectual is best known for his book 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater'. He dropped out of school with a plan to reach William Wordsworth, whose 'Lyrical Ballads' had consoled him in fits of depression and had awakened in him a deep reverence for the poet.
Here at the Black Bull in 1806 he wrote an essay on 'The Constituents of Happiness', setting the goals of his future life, and from here, in both years he walked over to Grasmere hoping to visit his hero but lost his nerve and turned back. De Quincey's eventual acquaintance and friendship with Wordsworth led to him settling in 1809 at Grasmere and taking over the tenancy of Dove Cottage which became his home for the next ten years.
More recently Donald Campbell stayed here when attempting his water speed records. The film 'Across the Lake' starring Anthony Hopkins, depicting the last 60 days of Campbell's life, used the Black Bull as a venue and there is a lot of Donald Campbell memorabilia decorating the walls.
The Inn is situated beside the beck and in the shadow of the 'Old Man' mountain and, if you look in the carpeted resident's lounge, you can see the big toe of the old man sticking out of the wall. The bar is full of character with flagstone floor, oak beams and log fires. Two of the regular beers are brewed here on the premises in the pub's own 'Coniston Brewery'. They are 'Bluebird Bitter' a golden, hoppy bitter (CAMRA's 1998 National Beer of the Year) and a stronger ruby red 'Old Man Ale'. There is also simple good value food on offer and quick cheerful service.



The Swan Hotel in Grasmere is inextricably linked to the area so beloved of Wordsworth. An area so beautiful he declared it: The most loveliest spot that man hath found. He mentions the inn and its sign in his powerful and poignant poem about Benjamin The Wagoner who is tempted by "the bird's attraction" and has trouble forcing himself past the inn door: "Who does not know the famous SWAN?... Object uncouth, and yet our boast for it was painted by the host."
Harriet Martineau, the famous feminist writer used to spread a story that whilst staying with Wordsworth in 1805, Sir Walter Scott, finding the fayre at Dove cottage limited, used to slip out here daily for a cold cut and a glass of porter. The secret came out when the two men passed the Swan on a walk one morning and met the landlord, who exclaimed that Scott was early for his drink that day.
Originally a 17th century coaching Inn, The Swan sits serene, slightly removed from the bustle that is Grasmere in the season. The series of traditional beamed rooms are decorated with understated style and complimented with a number of antique furnishings. By entering from the car park through the small porch on the left, rather than the main entrance you will find yourself in the first and simplest of the walk-through rooms. It has traditional half timber boarding and a slate fireplace and is the room Wordsworth would most readily recognise from his time spent here.
The Swan is a charming hotel with the added bonus of being located in the surroundings of Central Lakeland and enjoying dramatic views of the fells. It is full of character. A walkers' paradise and a great place to relax.



This is one of those extremely popular civilised pubs that thrive in the middle of nowhere. It is located 2 miles north of Hawkshead and 3 miles south-west of Ambleside, in a beautiful location with the best view from any pub I know.
Arthur Ransome was a great walker and he created his setting for the Lake District 'Swallows and Amazons' books based on the real landscape. In his autobiography, he remembers an episode in 1908 when he was out on one of these walks with his friend Jan Gordon the art critic and a Miss Turner (who later married Gordon). They were walking from Low Yewdale over to Ambleside and, part way along, when they stopped at the Drunken Duck for beer and cheese, Miss Turner put them all to shame by her tree climbing skill. I wonder if it was the tree in the picture? I wonder if the beer was stronger back then?
Formerly known as the Barngates Inn, the pub has been around for approximately 400 years and is home to the Barngates Brewery, hence the beer on tap is excellent, and is complemented by an adventurous and tasty selection of meals. Swathes of Kentish hops hang from the beams in the long bar where the walls are crowded with photographs and prints of hunting scenes.
The pub got its present name from a funny accident which varies in detail depending on which account you read. The basis of the story is that a previous landlady's ducks became inebriated when beer somehow leaked into their food. Thinking they were dead, as opposed to just sleeping it off, she began to pluck them whereupon they began to revive.
If you want the Arthur Ransome experience, you can just call in for a lunchtime pint and a cheese sandwich and, weather permitting, enjoy the view from the rustic seating across the lane. But this is predominantly a 'Gastropub' with the emphasis on Gastro rather than pub. Indeed the renowned restaurant has won numerous awards including Which 'Gastropub of the Year'. And, If you should find the beer too strong, there are 16 guest bedrooms of various sizes tucked away at the back, in a separate building.



A narrow, twisty lane snakes up from Lake Coniston to the meeting point of the old counties of Westmorland, Lancashire and Cumberland. The various 'not suitable for' notices at the bottom of the lane may be daunting to some motorists but the rewards at the top of the stunning views over the Tilberthwaite Fells are well worth the effort.
Hunter Davies is the author of over thirty books, including biographies, novels, children's novels (Flossie Teacake) and several books about Lakeland. As a journalist he worked on the Sunday Times, where he was chief features writer, and later editor of the Magazine. He wrote regular columns for Punch and currently writes for The New Statesman, The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail. For three years he presented Bookshelf on BBC Radio 4.
Davies's 'A Walk Around the Lakes' first published in 1979 (and still in print) is an enormously interesting and entertaining book. In it the author escorts you on a Boswellian type talk-and-walk; peopling the lakes and fells with all the noteworthies, he met or recalled. He writes very amusingly of a stay here at the Three Shires Inn after climbing Dow Crag and feeling rather like a character in an Agatha Christie play.
This traditional slate Inn was built in 1872 overlooking the valley of Little Langdale - the most peaceful and unspoilt in the central Lake District. You can leave your car and walk from the door on many high or low level walks. The Three Shires has been sympathetically extended (some might say twee) and upgraded to provide 10 comfortable en-suite bedrooms. The slate-floored walker's bar and resident's lounge have log fires on cooler days. Traditional ales, a large selection of malt whiskies and well chosen wines are on offer in the bar and restaurant, where meals are served every lunch time and evening. The views over the Tilberthwaite Fells can be enjoyed from the bedrooms, lounge and restaurant. And in summer from the south facing garden terrace and hotel verandahs which are strewn with flowers.

Three Shires - Little Langdale - Cumbria - Hunter Davies


The present Low Wood Hotel you see in the photograph was built in 1850 to replace an older inn. Many writers stayed in the old inn and in its replacement, which is not surprising when you look at the stunning location. In fact, Thomas West in his 1778 Guide to the Lakes says that: "No other inn in [this] route has so fine a view of the lake A small cannon is kept here to gratify the curious with those remarkable reverberations of sound, which follow the report of a gun etc. in these singular vales".
Dorothy Wordsworth saw her brothers William and John off "at the turning of Lowwood bay under the trees" on their journey into Yorkshire on May 14th 1800. She shed "a flood of tears" and "walked as long as I could on the stones of the shore. The wood rich in flowers Crowfoot, the grassy-leaved rabbit-toothed white flower, strawberries, geranium, scentless violets, anemones two kinds, orchises, primroses Met a blind man, driving a very large beautiful bull, and a cow he walked with two sticks".
William Wordsworth himself dined here with Lord and Lady Holland in 1807, and in 1813 Shelley and Harriet Westbrook stayed briefly on their way to Edinburgh. In a letter written from here dated 11th of October Harriet wrote: "we do not wish anyone to know where we are".
Nathaniel Hawthorne stayed in the present hotel in July 1855 and admired the view across the lake. And in July 1907 E.M. Forster was here: "12/- a day", he told a friend, "but I must admit they do you prettily there as well as well no beastliness: I can strongly recommend it though of course only to fools".
From the original humble lakeside inn the Low Wood has developed into a 4-star hotel with a choice of restaurants and bars. It is a Leisure Club, Beauty Salon and Water Sports Centre and, of course, has that superb lawned shoreline with one of the finest views across Windermere.

Low Wood Hotel - Low Wood - Cumbria


After an unsuccessful first marriage, Arthur Ransome went to Russia, where he was to report for the Daily News on the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath. It was while interviewing Leon Trotsky in St Petersburg that he met his future wife Evgenia Shelepina, who was Trotsky's secretary. In June 1948 the couple came to live in Lowick Hall, just up the lane from the Red Lion.
Lowick is a township made up of the hamlets of Lowick Green and Lowick Bridge beside the River Crake (an outlet of Coniston Water). The Red Lion, a pub Ransome already knew well, stands just across the road from the bridge. The author had published the first of his Swallows and Amazons series of children's books in 1930. They are set in the vicinity of Coniston Water where he spent childhood summer holidays sailing, swimming and fishing. And here you can find Wildcat Island and the promontory of the first Swallows expedition.
Ransome mentions in his autobiography a day spent walking with his friend Lascelles Abercombie. The pair stopped for a pint in the Hark to Melody (now gone) and: "We then walked on by road over the flats on the further side of the Leven, crossed Rusland Pool, neglected the Dickenson's Arms (now called the Rusland Pool)because Lascelles had a poor opinion of its beer, turned right by the Bourth Road, came over the hill and down again at Spark Bridge and drank our second pint in the Red Lion at Lowick Bridge"
This small country cottage pub is so comfortable and familiar you'll feel like you're in your local, even on a first visit. It's the sort of place that has three local bitters; good, better and great. It's the sort of place where a request for a simple variation to the stated menu won't cause confusion to a pre-programmed computerised till. It's the sort of place you almost expect to meet Arthur Ransome in battered trilby, propping up the bar, whilst supping a pint and puffing on one of his old clay pipes.

Red Lion - Lowick Bridge - Cumbria - Arthur Ransome


It might surprise you to know that the National Trust own 32 English pubs and this is one of them. Just after the death of her fiancé, Norman Warne, children's author Beatrix Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey. She visited the farm as often as she could, but it wasn't until 1913 that she finally moved to the Lake District permanently. Some of her best loved works show the farm house and other village buildings including the neighbouring Tower Bank Arms.
Beatrix used the pub as the model for the country inn in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, first published in 1908. This is a tale of a rather dim duck who, annoyed at the farmer's wife's refusal to let her hatch her own eggs, flees and foolishly falls into the clutches of a suave fox. The fox talks Jemima into nesting at his house on a mysteriously ample supply of feathers. He sends the naive bird out to collect traditional herbs for stuffing a duck, saying it is for an omelette. The farm collie, Kep, hears about this, realizes what the fox is really up to, and intervenes. Jemima is eventually able to hatch four ducklings.
Beatrix's love for animals was constant over the years and Hill Top was always alive with dogs, cats and even a pet hedgehog, naturally enough named 'Mrs. Tiggywinkle'. In the foreground of the illustration of this 17th-century small black-and-white cottage pub is Kep, the collie, who was one of Beatrix's own dogs. In the illustration a little artistic licence has been employed in the position of the bow window which affords a view across the village.
Hill Top Farm is owned by the National Trust, and is open to the public on a limited basis, (with a maximum number of visitors per day), and remains in the same condition as it was when Beatrix was living there. Take a peek inside and you will find it still retains many of its original features including oak beams, slate floor and cooking range. Pop in to the pub and you will find a friendly reception, good food and four local real ales; two Hawkshead, a Derwent Brewery beer and a Barngates beer all in good condition.

Tower Bank Arms - Near Sawrey - Cumbria - Beatrix Potter


Europe has long exerted a fascination for American writers and artists. All the way back to Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper (the writers behind the tales of 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Last of the Mohicans'), and on through Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Mark Twain, the transatlantic pilgrimage often described as a voyage back to Our Old Home (the title of a work by Hawthorne) was a long-established feature of American literature.
In July 1853 a political appointment brought the American novelist and short story writer (and his family) to Europe for seven years. He first served as U.S. Consul at Liverpool but he disliked the pent-up consular routine, and very shortly was writing, "I am sick of it . . . and long for my hillside--and--my pen." In the summer of 1857 he submitted his resignation and declared himself "no longer a servant."
During his stay he made a leisurely tour of England, which reinforced his rather bigoted impressions of the British, "sodden in strong beer," whose conversation he declared was "something like a plum pudding, as heavy, but seldom so rich." In 1855 he described his journey by coach from Milnthorpe Station to the Swan at Newby Bridge: !which sits low and well sheltered in the lap of the hills an old fashioned inn where the landlord and his people have a simple friendly way of dealing with guests".
Before returning to America, he completed his last novel, The Marble Faun (published in England under the title, 'Transformation'). One of the British Library's most impressive literary treasures by a foreign author is an original manuscript of the novel in the author's hand, "rewritten and prepared for the press" during his stay in England in 1859.
Overlooking Lake Windermere, this newly refurbished former 17th century Coaching Inn is a tribute to the architects and designers who have managed to perform a minor miracle by seamlessly incorporating a large busy pub, a brasserie and an a-la-carte restaurant into a 4 star luxury hotel complex.

The Swan - Newby Bridge - Cumbria - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Robin Hood


Some years ago, Penrith Urban District Council attached a plaque to the front of this unprepossessing town pub in King Street which states simply: William Wordsworth stayed here with Raisley Calvert 1794-5. Wordsworth was originally a friend of Raisley's brother from their school days together at Hawkshead. The boys were the sons of the steward of the Duke of Norfolk who owned a large estate at Greystone, 4 miles from Penrith.
When all three lads were in their early twenties it became apparent that Raisley was dying of consumption. He had recognised a poetic talent in Wordsworth and wanted to be sure he would be able to fulfil his writing potential so willed him a legacy of five hundred pounds to assure him a start. On October the 9th 1794 the two friends walked from Calvert's house at Windy brow near Keswick, on the first leg of an intended tour of Portugal but Raisley felt so ill they abandoned the idea here in Penrith and stayed the night in the Robin Hood before returning to Keswick next day.
During the following three months William nursed Raisley at Keswick and was back here in Penrith on the 7th of January lodging at Mrs. Sowerby's at the sign of the 'Robin Hood' where he wrote to a friend: "I have been here some time. I am still much engaged with my sick friend; and sorry am I to add that he worsens daily he is barely alive". A short time later Raisley died and it was found on opening his will he had increased his bequeath to the sum of nine hundred pounds. The inheritance enabled Wordsworth to set out on his life's career which otherwise would not have been possible. Wordsworth later acknowledged his debt in a poem to Raisley's memory:

"CALVERT! it must not be unheard by them
Who may respect my name, that I to thee
Owed many years of early liberty.
This care was thine when sickness did condemn
Thy youth to hopeless wasting, root and stem"

Today the Robin Hood is a friendly place which still appeals to young men - particularly those who have a taste for lager and enjoy watching sport on wide-screen TV's.

Robin Hood - Penrith - Cumbria - William Wordsworth


The Wordsworth family's association with the area began when the Poet's Yorkshire grandfather took up the post of managing agent for Lowther Estates. He lived in Sockbridge Hall (now Wordsworth House) a short walk across the field from this pub. His son John married Ann Cookson of Penrith and they had five children most famous of whom was William the poet.
Williams's eldest brother Richard was a local lawyer and a bit of a speculator. On the third of August 1813 he bought "the Queen's Head Inn and some land and property that went with it" for £2,727. This almost certainly included the cottages that now make up the pub's restaurant.
Richard died in 1816 with his affairs in disarray and leaving his one-year-old son John as his heir. William and Christopher his younger brother became trustees of Richard's will. They undertook renting out much of his properties, including the Queen's Head Inn, until young John was old enough to inherit. On the 1st of August 1836, - less than 6 months after he had turned 21 and inherited his father's estate (and debts) - John sold the properties, including the Queen's Head Inn, to finance his further education at university. A copy of the indenture is on display in the bar.
The Queen's Head was built in 1719 and some of the rooms and cellars were hewn out of solid rock. Typical of Cumbria's buildings, the inn has sturdy two-foot thick stone walls keeping it cool in summer and holding in the heat of the roaring real fire in winter. Earlier this century the building was extended into the adjoining cottages and, as these date from 1733, it did little to alter the traditional atmosphere and appearance. Recently the original flagstone and boarded floors have been exposed in the bars complimenting the oak beams and wooden settles. This gives a feel in the inn that would have been familiar to William. The Queen''''s Head is once again a family run Freehouse serving an excellent range of real ales brewed on the premises (by the Tirril brewery). They also provide good food, a warm welcome and a cosy stay.

Queens Head - Tirril - Cumbria - William Wordsworth
Black-A-Moor Inn


From the age of eight, broadcaster, writer and novelist Melvyn Bragg was brought up in this pub on market Hill, Wigton. Melvyn's father Stanley, a stock keeper turned machinist, took the tenancy of the Black-A-Moor Inn with his wife Mary Ethel (Park), a tailoress, shortly after the war.
Bragg has drawn extensively on this period of his life in three novels where the Black-A-Moor features under its own name and the small town of Wigton becomes Thurston. The Soldier's Return (1999), together with its sequel, A Son of War (2001), follows the fortunes of the Richardsons, (Sam, Ellen and their young son Joe) a working-class Cumbrian family during and after the Second World War. A number of scenes are set in and around the pub.
Returning home to Wigton in the spring of 1946, ex-corporal Sam Richardson finds a town in which seemingly little has changed; the same twisting alleys, weaver's cottages and medieval archways; and the same lack of prospects for an uneducated working-class man like himself. In one scene, Sam is haunted by his wartime experiences in Burma as he goes through the motions of pulling a pint for one of the regulars:

The door opened and Sam turned, took a bright sheer pint glass and began to pull the dark mix of ale and porter.
"There's been worse days, Sam," Diddler said.
"Plenty."
Diddler's first sup emptied the glass, and, as always, "A good pint, Sam" he said, "Sign of a good house, so it is."


The final novel in the trilogy, Crossing the Lines, is a continuation of the saga, set during the 1950s. Together the books are one of the finest and most authentic records of the changes in English society, life and manners since the Second World War. The Black-A-Moor today is still very much a working man's pub friendly but basic. Two flashing fruit machines greet you head on as you enter. To the right is a large area devoted to darts. There is a large screen TV but, sadly, no conssesion to Real Ale. Melvyn Bragg's 'Speak For England' is an oral history of the present century, based on interviews with the people of Wigton. In 1988, he was made a Life Peer (Lord Bragg of Wigton).

Black-a-Moor Inn, Wigton - Cumbria - Melvyn Bragg

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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