Derbyshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection



Dr. Samuel Johnson, poet, essayist and lexicographer (famous as the collater of the first English dictionary) was great friends with Ashbourne's Revd John Taylor and a frequent guest at his Mansion House in Church Street. Johnson was often accompanied by Boswell his biographer and so we are privileged to details of these visits.
At the town end of Church Street, where it becomes St. Johns Street, is "The Royal Green Man and Blackamoor's Head Commercial and Family hotel" with its road-divning gallows sign - listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest inn sign in the world. It commemorates the amalgamation of 2 coaching inns in 1825. Johnson and Boswell never actually stayed here, but in September 1777 they were given a meal by Mrs. Killingley, the landlady, as Boswell records:
"I took my post-chaise from the Green Man, a very good inn at Ashbourne, the Mistress of which, a mighty civil gentlewoman, curtseying very low, presented me with an engraving of the sign of her house; to which she had subjoined in her own handwriting, an address in such singular simplicity of style that I have preserved it, pasted upon one of the boards of my original journal at this time, and shall here insert It for the amusement of my readers.
M. Killingley's duty waits upon Mr. Boswell; is exceedingly obliged to him for this favour, whenever he comes this way, hopes for a continuance of the same. Would Mr. Boswell name the house to his extensive acquaintance. It would be a singular favour conferred on one who has it not in her power to make any other return but her most grateful thanks and sincere prayers for his happiness in time and in a blessed eternity. "
The pub has two bar areas, each with a different character; Johnson's is modern and lively whilst Boswell's Lounge Bar is traditional and relaxed with dark wood panelling topped by a dark red frieze and ceiling. It is comfortable but spoilt by the social club type tables and chairs. A wide selection of food is available and the pub is open all day. There is also a very nice bitter, called Dr. Johnson's Bitter, brewed exclusively for the pub.

Green Man and Blacks Head - Ashbourne - Derbyshire - Samuel Johnson, James Boswell

John Hampson (1901 -1955)

John Hampson was born into a formerly wealthy Birmingham family who lost their fortune in a business collapse. The struggle with poverty heightened conflicts in the family and this, combined with his weak physical health, led to Hampson being educated at home leaving him with a life-long sense of inferiority.
During the First World War Hampson worked in a munitions factory and for some years after he took a variety of different jobs, some of which would later be reflected in his fiction. At one point desperation led him to steal books for which he was convicted and served a term in Wormwood Scrubs prison. He worked as a kitchen-hand, a waiter, a chef, a billiard-marker and, for a while he helped his sister to run The Nettle Inn in Ashover, which provided him with the background for his first book ’Saturday night at the Greyhound’.
"The Greyhound stands at a cross-roads on the high Derbyshire moors, and on a winter Saturday night its tap-room is full of miners, cottage girls and labourers settling down to a long night’s drinking. But behind the scenes hover the sinister Mrs Tapin and her barmaid daughter Clara, hard-working Ivy and the lustful dreaming Fred, each brooding in their own way on past regrets and future hopes quot:
The hypnotically simple and ominous book was published by the Hogarth Press in 1931 and was an immediate success. Other books followed throughout the 1930s although none was as popular as the first. Hampson made many literary friends, including Forrest Reid, Graham Greene and W.H. Auden, and became a leading figure in the Birmingham Group which included Walter Allen, Walter Brierley, Henry Green and Peter Chamberlain.
The inn was given the unusual name ’Nettle’ in the early 1700s by its new landlord, a merchant seaman who skippered a ship of the same name. A keen greyhound courser he also called his best dog Nettle. The dog won him the prestigious Waterloo Cup and to commemorate the occasion he renamed the pub the Nettle Inn.
The Nettle is a family run 16th century country inn situated on the outskirts of the pretty village of Ashover surrounded by unspoilt breath-taking countryside. This delightful pub featured regularly in the television series ’Peak Practice&rsquo. As you might expect the Inn has many original features including log fires, exposed stone walls and rustic beams throughout the bars, snug, and restaurant.

Ashover - Nettle Inn - John Hampson


Charlotte Bronte is usually associated with the village of Haworth in Yorkshire as this is where most of her novels are set. But possibly her most famous novel, Jane Eyre, seems to be set in the small village of Hathersage in Derbyshire. In the summer of 1845 Charlotte visited this village in the heart of the Peak District. She was 29 and had come to stay with her old school friend Ellen Nussey at the Rectory.
Charlotte arrived by stage coach which stopped at the George Inn. Local historians are keen to point out how she used her visit to great effect in collecting impressions for her famously passionate novel, published a couple of years later. In Chapter 11 we find Jane newly arrived and waiting nervously in The George to meet her new employer; the dashing Mr. R.
" A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet; my muff and umbrella lie on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of an October day… ":
It was on one of the tombstones in the graveyard of St. Michael’s Church that Charlotte saw the local family name ’Eyre’ which she chose to adopt for her heroine. During her stay she took the opportunity to explore, walking on the moors and visiting many of the houses scattered around the area. One of these houses, the crenellated North Lees, is said to be the model for Thorn Field Hall, home of Mr. Rochester and the place where he and Jane fell in love. The George Inn which still stands on the main street has been welcoming travellers for over 500 years, first as an alehouse, and, since 1770, as an inn.

Hathersage - George - Charlotte Bronte

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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