Dorset - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection



In John Cowper Powys' 1929 novel 'Wolf Solent' the North Dorset village of Bradford Abbas appears as 'King's Barton' and its 15th century Rose & Crown village pub as 'The Farmer's Rest'. Bradford Abbas is located a little South off the A30 between Yeovil (which appears as 'Black Sod') and the small exquisite Abbey town of Sherborne ('which features as Ramsgard'). The area was well known to J. C. Powys from the time of his childhood, as his father had been curate of the church which stands next to the pub - and a master at Sherborne School which his son had attended. After ten years in London, Wolf Solent, the young hero of the novel, returns to Dorset to work as a literary assistant to John Urqhart. The novel has been described as complex, humorous, romantic and sometimes extravagant; 'written with extraordinary vitality and memorable beauty'. All the more remarkable that it was not actually written in Dorset but in hotel rooms and trains across America towards the end of a debilitating series of lecture tours undertaken by the author.
The Rose & Crown has recently been re-furbished with many old features restored within the four linked rooms including the open fire, bread oven, oak beams and thatched bar. They serve 4 real ales - three of which are local - and enjoyable, reasonably priced food. The charming sheltered garden is overlooked by the medieval church. In fact, both buildings occupy a central place in the geography of the village and of the novel as rumours emanate from the tap room of The Farmers Rest concerning the fate of Urqhart's assistant Redfern who is buried in the churchyard.

Bradford Abbas - Crown
Bridport


Thomas Hardy's short story Fellow Townsmen is set here in Bridport. One of the townsmen is; George Barnet, a gentleman of means inherited from his family's connection with the local rope-making industry.
The old town is Hardy's Port Bredy and consists mainly of the principal long, wide, main street, running east-west where his Black-Bull Hotel is located. And the harbour road which intersects the high street at a T-junction by the Market House and heads due south down for a mile and a half to West Bay. This road and the harbour feature significantly in the story.
The Bull at one time was one of the most famous coaching inns of the West Country and is one of those resilient, old fashioned hostelries that has somehow survived more than 500 years of England's turbulent history. The 16th-century coaching house stands three stories high with prominent bay windows from pavement level and is three or four times the width of any of the adjacent buildings. The stuccoed 19th-century facade is painted in pastel pink, blue and grey giving the impression of a gigantic Wedgewood ornament.
Hardy's characters enter and exit the scene via the Bull's stage coach. When George Barnet loses Lucy (the girl he loves) to his fellow townsman he departs from the inn to travel abroad for more than twenty one years. At the close of the story, he arrives back at the Bull where we see him disappearing...up the staircase, preceded by a chamber maid and candle, and followed by a lad with his trunk. In the final scene, Lucy goes herself to the Black-Bull, and questions the staff closely but (in true Hardy style) Barnet has left without leaving a note.

Bridport Bull


Between the two World Wars, this tiny village seven miles west of Weymouth, became a Mecca for artists and writers. They were drawn to it not only for is beauty and tranquillity but also because it was home to the remarkable author T. F. Powys whose stories explore universal themes within this microcosm of the rural world.
Chaldon Herring features as Folley Down in his haunting novel 'Mr. Weston's Good Wine; (the title taken from Jane Austen's Emma) in which Mr. Weston believes that there is no place in the round world provides more peace and joy to its inhabitants than this village.
Just up from the village green is the long low whitewashed Sailor's Return which appropriately enough appears in the story as the Angel, considering that Mr. Weston's assistant is the Archangel Michael. The pub, its Landlord Thomas Bunce (a gentleman who, by the appearance of him, could be merry in all his parts) and his daughter Jenny are all central to the story. The Sailor's Return has been enlarged since 1926 but Powys' description (apart from the sign) is still true today:

The inn is placed upon a little hill. At its entrance is a finely painted sign board of an angel. The inn itself is covered by a good coating of thatch, that is the very best straw in use in this part of the country and is called reed. The thatch keeps the house warm in winter and cool in summer, and the ale that is kept in a narrow passage between the kitchen and the parlour is by no means in a common way a bad beverage.
One of the writers attracted to the village at that time was David Garnett who stayed in the pub and wrote a insightful novel about colour prejudice set in the 19th century. It is called 'The Sailor's Return' an is about a retired sea captain who brings home his African princess bride to help him run the inn.

Chaldon Herring - Sailor's Return
Cranborne


In Tess of the d'Urberville's Cranborne, is Thomas Hardy's 'Chaseborough' - the little town set on the edge of the Cranborne Chase where, for centuries, Royalty have had the 'Rights of Chase' and have imposed severe penalties for poaching. With its background of feudal repression, this was the perfect environment for Hardy to use as Alec d'Urberville's rape of his 'pure woman' Tess.
On a Saturday night, Tess's friends from Tantridge (Pentridge) used to walk to Cranborne and there let their hair down to atone for the monotony of the working week. Sometimes young Tess would join them, but on one fateful Saturday she arrived on her own later than the others. Finding no merry-making at the seventeenth-century Fleur de Lys inn, she was directed to 'a private little jig at a house of a hay-trusser'. Some of the girls had become shy of dancing at the inn: 'The maids don't think it respectable to dance at 'Flower-de-Luce', they don't like to let everybody see which be their fancy-men.' As the evening wore on Alec d'Urberville spotted Tess and offered to hire a trap from the pub to drive her home.
The simply furnished beamed public bar of the Fleur de Lys is so little altered that one could fancy the Tantridge folk had left it the previous evening. A pair of ancient stone pillars are said to have come from the ruins of a nearby monastery, while the walls are lined with historical documents. Taking pride of place above the fire in the panelled lounge, among mementoes of other people who have stayed here over the centuries is a framed copy of a witty poem by Rupert Brooke about going to the wrong pub.

Dorchester
Kings Arms


Dorset's County Town is the setting for Thomas Hardy's story of Henchard, 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. The author, who lived at nearby Max Gate, the house he built for himself, now in the care of The National Trust, regularly dined in the 'King's Arms'. The ancient inn stands prominently on the right hand side of the Higher East Street incline and above its pillared portico are the distinctive bow windows through which Susan Henchard sees her husband presiding over a dinner surrounded by his Councillors - but drinking only water. Henchard sold his wife in a fit of drunken depression at Weydon-Priors country fair eighteen-years previously and the shame led him to a solemn oath to 'avoid all strong liquors for the space of twenty-one years. Later, in the novel Henchard's bankruptcy hearing takes place in the King's Arms. Hardy also mentions the inn in 'Under the Greenwood Tree', 'The Trumpet Major' - and in 'Far from the Madding Crowd', Farmer Boldwood carries Bathsheba inside to recover after she fainted on hearing the news that Troy was thought to be drowned.
Robert Louis Stevenson stayed at the King's Arms when visiting Hardy. The two writers walked the few yards up the hill to the county museum where, in a century old book of local dignitaries, Stevenson took inspiration from two names he saw on opposite pages Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. T. F Powys calls the pub the Rod and Lion Hotel at Maidenbridge and features it in the opening chapters of Mr Weston's Good Wine. In Colin Dexter's 'The Way Through the Woods', Chief Inspector Morse takes a holiday from sleuthing and stays here. Hardy was the detective's second favourite novelist after Dickens, and The Mayor of Casterbridge his second favourite novel after Bleak House.

Dorchester Kings Arms
Evershot


Set among the rolling hills of West Dorset, in an area of outstanding beauty, the village of Evershot, is Thomas Hardy's 'Evershead' which features in ' Tess of the d'Urbervilles'. Tess passes through here on her journey to meet Angel Clare's parents: '...the small town or village of Evershead, being now about half-way over the distance. She made a halt here, and breakfasted a second time, heartily enough - not at the Sow and Acorn, for she avoided inns, but at a cottage by the church'. The church stands towards the top of the long main street and is unusually the dedicated to St. Basil, a saint well known to Eastern orthodox Christianity but almost unheard of in England. One of Jane Austen's favorite poets - George Crabbe (1754-1832) was rector here from 1783-7.
Immediately above the church is 'Tess' Cottage' where she breakfasted and just below the church is the 16th century Acorn Inn which - although Tess avoided - does feature as 'The Sow & Acorn' in two of Hardy's other powerful stories: In 'Interlopers at the Knap' Philip Hall collected Sally's dress that had been left here by the carrier. And in 'The First Countess of Wessex' Squire Dornell's man Tupcombe, sat in the inglenook in the hope of hearing news of Betty.
The small inn has been very little altered outside, but completely redesigned within. It is built of an attractive mix of stone and brick with a slate roof, fronting directly on to the main street. Pillars support a porch which straddles the pavement and the bay lookout window above is a reminder of the pub's origin as a coaching inn when it was known as The Kings Arms, and brewed its own ales with water drawn from the source of the River Frome.
The main part of the interior has been opened up with a light freshness into a large L-shaped room, formed from three smaller rooms including the inn's original breakfast room. The nine ensuite bedrooms are individually decorated and have their own style and character, each taking a name from one of the characters in 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles'. Out towards the back is the 'village bar' with flagstone floor and open fire which still provides some of the atmosphere conveyed by Hardy.

Evershot Acorn Inn
Fleet


John Meade Falkner was brought up in Dorchester and Weymouth when the tradition of smuggling was still fresh in the minds of the fishing community. He used Fleet, its legends and setting for Moonfleet (1898), one of the best adventure stories of the illicit free-trade ever written. Fleet is a unique place with an irregular seawater lagoon separating most of Chesil Beach from the mainland. Here you will find the essential landmarks of the story and a pervading atmosphere of that bygone time.
Central to both story and location is Moonfleet (Mohune-Fleet) Manor Hotel which stands on the edge of the Fleet Water at the end of the minor road. The mansion was formerly called Fleet House, built by Maximillion Mohune in 1603, and extended and re-modelled in 1806. Much of it was rebuilt in 1889 - the year following Meade Falkner's story but there are some remnants of the original Jacobean manor and the Georgian portico remains intact. A foot-path leads from here to a group of cottages at Butter Street. The present day Strawberry Cottage is most likely Elzevir Blocks the Why Not inn which plays such a prominent part in the story. One of the most memorable heart-stopping episodes takes place in the Mohune vault beneath the old church where the free-traders hide their contraband and spread rumours of Blackbeard's ghost haunting the place to keep the inquisitive away.
Though imposing, this family friendly hotel is warm and welcoming and there is no stuffy dress code. There is a spacious bar/restaurant with a timber decking terrace overlooking the countryside and the Fleet Water. Many of the rooms are named after characters in the story including Master Ratsey, Trenchard and Mohune.

Fleet Moonfleet Manor
The Horton Inn


The Horton Inn is located on the edge of Cranborne Chase, eight miles east of Blandford Forum on the B3078 within easy reach of the New Forest . This striking 18th century hostelry stands in a commanding open position at Horton Cross where the original turnpike road connecting Poole and Salisbury is intersected by the minor country road from Woodley Down to Ringwood.
This is Thomas Hardy's Lornton Inn, described by him as 'the rendezvous of many a daring poacher for operations in the adjoining forest'. It was at one time a noted posting-house where the London to Exeter stage coaches changed horses. Since then the building has doubled in size by the addition of a wing at right angles to the eighteenth-century original. In his collection of short stories 'A Group of Noble Dames', Hardy had the Horton Inn in mind as the rendezvous for his eloping heroine (Dame the second - Barbara of the House of Grebe) as told in the old Surgeon's macabre tale. The inn features again later when Barbara goes 'as far as Lornton Inn' to meet her husband Willows who is returning from Southampton. She had to wait and: 'There was not much accommodation for a lady at this wayside tavern but, as it was a fine evening in early summer, she did not mind walking about outside'. As she waited Barbara became: '...conscious that more eyes were watching her from the inn windows than met her own gaze.'
The Horton Inn, which has welcomed hundreds of travellers for centuries, has been recently refurbished to a high standard. The restaurant serves freshly prepared home cooked food every day. There is an excellent lunchtime & evening menu as well as light snacks and baguettes available in the comfortable spacious bar. The Horton Inn is also open for morning coffee from 10am and cream teas are available from 3pm onwards.

Horton Inn
Crown

Jack Hargreaves' favourite pub.

Though Jack Hargreaves had in his time been a Fleet Street columnist, a magazine editor, scriptwriter, journalist and author he is best remembered (by people of a certain age) as a popular television broadcaster. His weekly magazine programme 'Out of Town', about life in the country, was first broadcast in 1959 and ran for twenty-four years until 1981. Much of his country lore and ideas came from a chat over a pint in his local. The Crown at Ibberton nestles in the lea of Bulbarrow Hill (one of Thomas Hardy's favourite spots) in deepest, deep-thatched Dorset. It's not easy to find - but then the best things seldom are.
Jack lived in the adjoining hamlet of Belchalwell and, weather permitting, he liked nothing more than to harness his pony to the trap he built himself and trot the rig down the lane to enjoy a pint at what he considered to be a 'real pub'. His criteria, though sadly disappearing elsewhere, can still be found at the Crown. The pub serves marvellous beer and, although it also provides excellent good value food, beer drinkers do not feel at all alienated - as is the case with many modern gastro-pubs.
Jack's favourite seat was by the side of the open fireplace, with a view from the adjacent window across open country. Although they occasionally play some good blues music in the background, the principal sound in the spacious bar is the murmur of conversation and occasional gentle laughter.
Jack liked real pubs, real ale and real people and all three can still be enjoyed in the Crown. Lawyers and farm labourers, hedge layers and carpet layers rub shoulders in a happy appreciation of the qualities of a good pub.

Crown Ibberton


In 1921 Sylvia Townsend Warner spent Easter with friends at the Weld Arms in East Lulworth. Among the party was Stephen Tomlin, a charming young sculptor who ten years later was to produce the famous lead bust of Virginia Woolf. When the others returned to London Tomlin wandered on over the downs looking for somewhere to set up a studio. Arriving at East Chaldon he stumbled upon T. F. Powys in a house full of unpublished stories. Tomlin was soon writing to Sylvia: 'there is a most remarkable man living just beyond the village, he is a sort of hermit, and he has a very fine head. He reads Dostoievsky... (and) I believe he writes. It was letters such as that one, and Tomlin's enormous enthusiasm about the village of East Chaldon (Chaldon Herring) that intrigued his artistic London friends and incited them to go and see for themselves. Tomlin sent examples of Powys' work to Sylvia Townsend Warner and she in turn passed them to her friend David Garnett who was instrumental in getting them published. Thus began the process by which Theodore's work became widely known and the village gradually filled with Bloomsbury types. David Garnett stayed in the Sailor's Arms in Chaldon and wrote an evocative novel centred on, and named after the pub. Events stemming from the Easter weekend at the Weld Arms led Sylvia to move to Dorset where she spent most of her life. Much of her writing was influenced by or is directly about the area. The Weld Arms is part of the estate of the Weld family who live in the adjacent Castle. The pub was run by Richard Champ around 1770 who was a smuggler operating with the well-known gang of smugglers from Osmington Mills. Lulworth was the scene of many a smuggling tale and the despair of the Lulworth Customs Officers but today things are very quiet around here. The pub is friendly with a nice mix of individual furnishings and an attractive little snug. There is a good range of food from filled rolls upwards and it would be hard to think of a nicer place to enjoy a summer lunch than being seated at one of the tables in the large rambling garden.



Jane Austen stayed in Lyme with her family in the summer of 1804 and used her impressions of the beautiful little seaside town as background for her novel Persuasion. 'a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see the charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.' Built as a coaching inn in 1601, the Lion as it was known in Jane Austen's time, stood in a yard behind the houses that front Broad Street today. In the middle of the nineteenth century the inn was extended forward by incorporating Broad Street houses into the whole. As the family of a retired country Parson, the Austens were more likely to have chosen to stay here at the slightly less fashionable and less expensive of the two available inns. With regard to the room with the bay window where the Musgroves watched Mr Elliot's curricle leaving Lyme, there are two possibilities. Either the inn was already leasing additional adjacent accommodation to meet the burgeoning demand following the trend for sea bathing, or Jane simply used artistic license to extend her mind's eye view. The Royal Lion enjoys a further literary connection with John Fowles's novel 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'. The inn and the surrounding area were used as the setting in the book which was filmed on location starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. To the left of the entrance in this friendly, family run hotel, there is a cosy beamed lounge bar. And upstairs, just across the landing from the spacious and comfortable dining room is the small Edward VII lounge with its bay window and famous view of 'the principal street almost hurrying to the water.'

Lyme Regis - Royal Lion - Jane Austen, John Fowles
Marnhull


This straggling village of stone and thatch cottages is Thomas Hardy's Marlott, with Rollivers Inn at one end and The Pure Drop Inn at the other. It is the home of Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and the Crown is The Pure Drop Inn of the novel.
Standing near St Gregorys Church, the exterior complex of extensive stone buildings with acres of thatch roof has changed little since Hardy's day. The central farmhouse of rough stone is mid 17th century with wings added in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before the construction of the A30, Marnhull was on the main route between Shaftesbury and Sherborne and the large barn facing the Crown's spacious car park suggests its use for large numbers of carriages, horses and their fodder.
The entrance to the Pure Drop Bar is through a deep porch, where a heavy oak door opens into the big main bar with stone walls and steps down to the flagged floor. Leading off from this area are smaller heavily beamed irregularly shaped rooms used for dining and one of the stone floors is marked out for the old form of skittles. A priest hole is partly uncovered in the main bar and an oak, circular staircase leads up from here to an old panelled room
Along the roadside frontage, a carriage arch shelters under an exterior stone staircase which leads to the first floor of the extension where courts were held. Today The Crown could be described as the crown jewel in Dorset brewer's Hall & Woodhouse estate. They have recently spent lavishly on refurbishment but have been faithful to the essence of this ancient country inn.

Marnhull Crown
Marnhull


The village of Marnhull is Thomas Hardy's Marlott, birthplace of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. It is located in the northeast corner of the Blackmore Vale; which Hardy called the 'Vale of Little Dairies', in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry. The Blackmore Vale Inn, in the heart of the village, is Rolliver's of the novel. There's a very pretty brew in the tap at the Pure Drop, though to be sure, not so good as Rolliver's Tess's father told Parson Tringham. It was here at Rolliver's that Parson Tringham told Tess''s father John there was a rich d'Urberville relation living in Trantridge, and so the tragic story that was to become one of the finest novels of the English language was set in motion.
The exterior of the pub belies its 400 year existence. Built originally as farm cottages it later became an old bake-house and brew-house. Today everything about the Blackmore Vale Inn is as welcoming as you could wish. Inside there are two very atmospheric bars having heavily beamed ceilings, bare stone walls and two beautiful open inglenook fireplaces. At the time of the story however things were very different and Rolliver's is described as a disreputable and illegal drinking house, where only local people in the know were allowed to drink inside - secretly in an upstairs bedroom. The landlady greeted every arrival with: "Being a few private friends I've asked in to keep, up club-walking at my own expense. She was afraid it might be some gaffer sent by Government.

Middlemarsh


This 'blink and you'll miss it' hamlet on the A352, features in two of Thomas Hardy's stories. The quartet of itinerant characters in 'A Trampwoman's Tragedy' roam through the New Forest and the Blackmore Vale; climb the Mendips, ford the Yeo river near Yeovil and head on through the Marshwood Fens. Two of the 'lone inns' they visit are still in existence. One is 'The Windwhistle Inn' at Cricket St. Thomas near Crewkerne and the other is this one which until recently was known as The White Horse, but in Hardy's story it is 'The Horse' on 'Hintock Green'.
The essence of Hardy's novel 'The Woodlanders' revolves around a small rural community he calls the Hintocks centred on Middlemarsh. Just beyond 'The Hunter's Moon' the Dorchester road divides. To find Hardy's 'Revellers Inn', take the left hand fork for half a mile down the original old coaching turnpike and, set back, you will see the little changed Lower Revells Farmhouse. This was once a posting house of no mean size and is where Tim and Suke and the wedding party were bound after: 'Just walking round the parishes to show ourselves a bit'.
The present roadside frontage of the Hunter's Moon, with its three ground floor bay windows is unchanged since Hardy's day when his friend, pioneer photographer Herman Lea, described it as: 'a picturesque building of weatherworn brick; the tiled roof is laid to a pattern and the tiles themselves are moss-grown, the chimneys are massive and elaborated with dentil courses under the copings'. Much extended now - but with great sympathy - the comfortably welcoming beamed interior rambles around in several linked areas. A cosy, soft-lit relaxed intimacy is created with loads of bric-a-brac, open log fires and a great variety of tables, chairs and booths created from settles.

Middlemarsh - Hunters Moon

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 - 1972)

In the 1950’s, pub trade novices Joan and John Elven, took over the old inn at Plush. It was soon included in the Good Food Guide thanks to Joan’s culinary skills and her quiet charm as ’Mine Hostess’. Notable people came to stay including Cecil Day-Lewis who first stayed here with his actress wife Jill Balcon in May 1960.
Day-Lewis became Poet Laureate in 1968 but he was also a successful thriller writer under the non-de-plume of Nicholas Blake. His novel ’The Deadly Joker’ is dedicated to Joan and Jo and set in Plush with many of the scenes taking place in the pub. In the story the village becomes Netherplash Cantorum, and the inn appears as the Quiet Drop.
The story begins with a cuckoo calling out in the dead of night preventing pub guests; writer John Waterson - and his much younger wife Jenny - from getting to sleep. But why were the cuckoo’s notes so repetitive? And who shot it? The irritation turns out to be the first in a series of practical jokes, some not at all funny and actually criminal. But are the jokes being perpetrated by one or more of the local inhabitants? And what is the reason? Is it for revenge or out of loathing for the new lord of the manor, businessman Ronald Paston?
A number of the characters in the story are drawn from Day-Lewis’s own family and friends. Vera Paston, ’A passion-flower among the primroses’, is based on an Indian novelist, with whom he was involved in 1961/2. John Waterson’s son Sam has some of the traits of Day-Lewis’s own journalist son, Sean. And Sean notes some specific examples of this in his biography of his father; including the fact that a real cuckoo did keep Cecil and Jill awake on their first stay at the Brace. John and Sam gradually pieces together the confusing strands of the puzzle, leading to a thrilling conclusion.
Plush is a timeless place hidden in a small side-valley of the River Piddle about eight miles north of Dorchester. The Brace is a picture-postcard-perfect pub. Think thatched cottage, open fire, skittle alley and a Tolkien-like interior and you’ll be pretty close to the mark. Although Day-Lewis was from Ireland he came to love Dorset. He also acknowledged that the poet that influenced him most was Thomas Hardy and it was his wish that he should be laid to rest in Stinsford Churchyard near the spot where Hardy’s heart is buried.

 Plush – Brace of Pheasants  – Nicholas Blake
Portland, Chesil


Effectively built in to the sea defences, the Cove House Inn stands high and defiant against the elements at the Portland end of Chesil Beach looking as if it might have risen from the waves. This dramatic situation gave J. C. Powys the idea for his fictional name The Sea Serpent's Head which he used in his Wessex novel Weymouth Sands. Powys describes the pub as a: "...curious inn... of not more than half-a-dozen rooms all told composed of huge square blocks of Portland stone on the seaward side of the hamlet of Weston" and run by John and Ellen Gadget. In what remains one of the few instances of sexual fulfilment in the whole of the Powys' canon, ferryman Adam 'Jobber' Skald (a native of Portland) and the orphan Perdita Wane consummate their love under the roof of the inn.
This pleasantly refurbished, beamed and bare boarded 18th century pub has great views from the three-room bar where friendly staff serve reasonably priced food. In Thomas Hardy's novel 'The Well-Beloved', the angle formed by the junction of Chesil Beach with the island of Portland becomes Deadman's Bay, a reminder of the countless souls lost in this most exposed and treacherous place. The interior of the pub is decorated with maritime memorabilia including a detailed map pointing out the location of scores of ships wrecked along the Chesil Beach. In ferocious storms, stones from the beach have been thrown higher than the roof of the pub and come crashing down the chimney



In the 'The Woodlanders', Thomas Hardy tells us that:. "The chief hotel at Sherton Abbas was the 'Earl of Wessex' - a substantial inn of Ham-hill stone with a yawning back yard into which vehicles were driven by coachmen to stabling of wonderful commodiousness". Sherton Abbas is the small, exquisite Abbey Town of Sherborne - and its then chief hostelry was the 'Digby Hotel'. One of the most dramatic incidents in the story takes place in the yawing back yard where Giles Winterborne has set up his mobile apple-mill and cider press. From one of the inn windows, Grace Melbury sees Giles for the first time since becoming another man's wife.
   Alas, as I write, almost all of what remains of this once prestigious coaching inn is being converted into luxury apartments. However, there is a tiny part that continues as a thriving pub - and for many, including me, the old 'Digby Tap' room is the perfect pub. But, be warned, this is not the place for those seeking sophistication. If you like down-to-earth old fashioned ale houses, then this splendid example of a basic town local is for you.
   Sherborne School and The Digby Tap also have another more modern literary connection. Though it was obviously never pretentious, the old pub was deliberately de-smartened in the early 1990s to suit its use for filming a 1962 John Le Carre thriller 'Murder of Quality' staring Denholm Elliot and Glenda Jackson - and there are framed stills from the movie hanging in the bar. Le Carre was actually born in Poole in Dorset and educated at Sherborne School but the story involves a murder at Eton where he became a schoolmaster.
   The interior of the Digby Tap feels as comfortable as a favourite old sweater. There is simple uncluttered decor throughout a series of small rooms and a flagstone-floor main bar with traditional seating, and a warning that you will be fined (proceeds to charity) for using a mobile phone. The relaxed friendly atmosphere has plenty of character and attracts a mix of all ages and walks of life. Just round the corner is the glorious golden stone Abbey but, the Digby Tap is sufficiently tucked away, for only discerning tourists to find it. There are huge helpings of reasonably priced food and at least five great beers on handpump drawn from a changing selection of about 20 - mostly west-country - real ales such as Exmoor, Otter, Sharps and St Austell.

Sherborne - Digby Tap - Tomas Hardy
Upwey


The Ship at Upwey is located on the old Roman road between Weymouth and Dorchester and features in Thomas Hardy's most light-hearted novel 'Under the Greenwood Tree'. The two main characters 'Dick Dewy' the carrier (who is a bit wet) and 'Fancy Day' the pretty young school-teacher (who is a bit airy-fairy) rest here for a while at the inn where they eventually get round to making a commitment to each other.
The Ship started life in 1647 as 3 cottages - plus a blacksmith's forge at one end and stables at the other. The white painted exterior has not changed since Hardy was here other than the 'mast and cross-trees' sign he describes has gone. However, there is a Victorian photograph in the pub showing the mast as he, and generations before him would have known it, when this narrow steep hill was the main thoroughfare between the coast and the county town.
Here and there, old timbers, stone flags and open fireplaces compliment the cosy interior which is now open-plan; leading through doorways and arches, and up and down steps in an unrestricted way. In Hardy's day the rooms would have had doors for privacy and the separation of social classes. The 'little tea-room' into which Fancy is ushered would no-doubt have been a private parlour.
'Half an hour afterwards Dick emerged from the inn, and if Fancy's lips had been real cherries probably Dick's would have appeared deeply stained.' When the newly betrothed young man returned to the inn yard, the jovial publican smited him playfully under the fifth rib, and said in broad Dorset: 'This will never do, upon my life, Master Dewy! calling for tay and for a feymel passenger, and then going in and sitting down and having some too, and biding such a fine long time!'

Upwey - Old Ship - Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy‘s novel ‘The Hand of Ethelberta‘ is described by the author as ‘A Comedy in Chapters‘. The social climbing heroine successfully hides the fact that she is one of ten children of a Butler. Widowed young, Ethelberta is determined to win a rich second husband in order to provide for her family. Lord Mountclere is entranced by her but will a Lord welcome a butler as a father-in-law?
The first act opens and plays out in: ‘A Street in Anglebury – A Heath near It – Inside the Red Lion Inn‘: ‘Young Mrs Petherwin (Ethelberta) stepped from the door of an old and well appointed inn in a Wessex town to take a country walk. By her look and carriage she appeared to belong to that gentle order of society which has no worldly sorrow except when its jewellery is stolen…‘
Hardy created a kind of trade mark for his fiction that made his works distinguishable from the writings of other novelists. This trade mark came to be Wessex. In his construction of the region, Hardy used a mixture of real and fictional names for landscape features, towns and villages. Anglebury is King Alfred‘s famous Saxon Town of Wareham. Unusually for Hardy, most of the novel is set in London. However, the opening chapters and the exciting conclusion are set in Dorset. In addition to Wareham, Swanage appears as Knollsea, Bournemouth as Sandbourne, and Corfe Castle becomes Corvesgate Castle (featuring the Castle Inn).
‘Two years and a half after the marriage of Ethelberta and the evening adventures which followed it, a man young in years, though considerably older in mood and expression, walked up to the ‘Red Lion‘ Inn at Anglebury… His way of entering the inn and calling for a conveyance was more off-hand than formerly… He wanted to be taken to Knollsea to meet the steamer there, and was not coming back by the same vehicle‘.
The original 14th century inn, standing on the same spot known as the Town Cross, was destroyed in the Great Fire of Wareham in 1762 and the present building dates from this time. In the summer of 2011, after years of neglect, The Red Lion at Wareham was rescued. The very sympathetic refurbishment has restored the building to its original Georgian elegance. There is a formal restaurant, relaxed snug dining area and comfortable bar plus a lovely courtyard.

Wareham - Red Lion - Thomas Hardy
Winfrith Newburgh
Red Lion


The 'Red Lion' at Winfrith is part of a composite picture comprising Thomas Hardy's 'Quiet Woman Inn'. The old ale house he describes features significantly throughout 'The Return of the Native' and reappears in his later short story 'The Fiddler of the Reels'. In a postscript to the 1912 edition of the novel Hardy explained that: 'The inn which really bore this sign and legend (of the Quiet Woman) stood some miles to the northwest of the present scene, wherein the house more immediately referred to is no longer an inn; and the surroundings are much changed. But another inn, some of whose features are also embodied in this description, the 'Red Lion' at Winfrith, still remains as a haven for the wayfarer.'
Whenever Hardy describes the setting of the Quiet Woman Inn, it is consistent with the former ancient 'Wild Duck' set at the edge of 'Egdon Heath', immediately to the east of his Higher Bockhampton birth-place. The author used artistic licence because both narratives rely on crucial scenes where large gatherings of people congregate at the inn. The Wild Duck was in the right place but it was too small for his dramatic purpose. In consequence he imagined the action taking place inside the present-day Red Lion.
Although the inn doesn't have a view of Egdon Heath, other outside physical characteristics are similar to those described. It still stands with its back to the village looking to travellers along the highway for the majority of its custom. It has a large area of garden with a 'still deep stream' forming two sides of the boundary - indeed you have to cross a small bridge to access the car park. Unfortunately Hardy's 'Red Lion' fell partial victim to fire and the present-day inn looks nothing like the one he would have known. However, the external stone walls of the original pub were so thick and resilient they remained intact after the blaze and can still be evidenced forming part of the interior of the extended inn you see today.

Winfrith - Red Lion - Thomas Hardy


Weymouth is Thomas Hardy's Budmouth, and the Old Rooms Inn - situated at the old harbour quayside in the most historic, picturesque and least changed part of the town - features in a couple of his stories. The adjoining photograph of the Old Rooms Inn shows the Georgian extension to the Elizabethan original. You need to walk to the water's edge and look back to appreciate the juxtaposition of the now conjoined buildings; separated in time by one-and-a-half centuries. A tablet on the original building explains the new wing was added in the 1760's for balls and concerts.
This ancient harbour area is the territory of Hardy's tale: 'A Committee-Man of The Terror', who put up at The Old Rooms Inn. The hostelry also features in 'The Dynasts', the author's vast work in blank verse and prose, which occupied him to some degree throughout his life. Here we find the town burghers and boatmen sitting around speculating on the transportation of Nelson's body preserved in a barrel of spirits following his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. They concluded that the Admiral had been his men's salvation after death - as he had been in the fight. The crew were so broken down in battle, and hardly able to keep afloat they drank the barrel dry... "twas a most defendable thing, and it fairly saved their lives".
The exterior of the two-storey Old Rooms Inn is classic symmetrical red-brick Georgian. Although the ground floor has had a later shop-front type of conversion providing large windows for much of the length with views across the harbour. And, there is now a modern conservatory dining room to the front right hand side with a patio area, making the most of opportunity from the holiday visitor trade.

Weymouth Old Rooms Inn
Weymouth


The island of Portland and Weymouth's network of streets, terraces, esplanade and harbour provide the setting for J. C. Powys's novel Weymouth Sands. The main character, ferry man and carrier, Adam 'Jobber' Skald, drinks in The Weeping Woman, run by Miss Guppy. As we follow his hurried walk through the town to his preferred quayside pub; clues eventually lead us down Maiden Street to the present day Ship Inn "The perturbed man now crossed the road and leaving the old King's statue before him plunged into the town... he scarce had time to beat down the image of Perdita before he came along the dark warehouses and narrow alleyways and reached the Tap Entrance of the Weeping Woman. Later we find Jobber taking Perdita into his old haunt and we learn through her that: "The Weeping Woman was so close to the harbours edge that at one moment she thought she could hear the lapping of the water".
One of the most remarkable features of the author's career is - with the exception of Maiden Castle - all his great Wessex novels were penned in America. Weymouth Sands was written from memories of childhood holidays and local guide books sent to him by his brother.
A modern extension, four times the size of the original stone built Elizabethan Ship Inn now extends along the front of the quay. The interior of the whole is neat and spacious modern open plan. Proof of antiquity can be found by walking a little way up Maiden Street past the back door of the pub (the original Tap Room entrance) and, lodged high in the gable end stonework of the adjoined building is a cannon ball from a shot fired in the Civil War in 1645.

Weymouth - Ship Inn - John Cowper Powys

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