Throughout the mid 19th Century, the Reverend F. E. Witts of Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire made detailed entries of his daily life in a diary. Selections published as The Diary of a Cotswold Parson’enables us to view this fascinating period of English social history in a new light. It was just before the railways made travel faster and easier and we are able to travel with Witts on horseback or in various coaches and carriages around this corner of the Cotswolds whilst he goes about his business as a clergyman and a magistrate. In the summer of 1836 Witts travels in his Phaeton with his "excellent friend" Mr Howell, on an inspection of silk mill factories around Chipping Campden. On August 17th he records:
"Howell inspected the six silk mills… The produce of the labour is sold at Coventry chiefly; some of it is consumed in London. Bengal and Turkey silk is here manufactured into silk thread. The process seems simple and the operatives chiefly young females and boys from 8 to 10 years of age. Howell was engaged for nearly two hours explaining the new regulations to the different masters. There is a strong Dissenting interest in the place, nearly all silk throwsters being seceders from the church".
Witts baited his horse at the Noel Arms which he found to be "a very clean and neat place... ". He didn't feel the same about Campden, describing it as a "dull, clean, disused market town". The warm, golden Cotswold stone of Noel Arms has been a part of the Chipping Campden landscape since the 1700s but it has only been known as Noel Arms since 1821 when the building was sold to the Hon C.N. Noel for the considerable sum of £25. Before then it was The George, and it was through the wide carriage arch (seen in the picture), that trains of packhorses bound for Bristol and Southampton, would carry bales of wool, the source of the town's prosperity. From around 1795, a wagon departed twice a week carring goods to and from London.
During all of Witts’ lifetime the Noel Arms provided the genteel face of Campden, hosting balls, dinners, even opera in its assembly room, with its fine oriel window. It was also an important coaching inn but things were changing. Witts makes numerous references in his diary to the building of ’ The Great Western Railway’ which reached Chipping Campden in 1851. From this time, up to the First World War, the inn provided an omnibus to meet every train at the station.
Although the eminent country writer and broadcaster C. Henry Warren was born in Kent and spent the greater part of his life in Essex, during the 1930s he lived for several years in the scattered Gloucestershire hamlet of Stockend, near Edge. His radio talks and especially a series entitled ’Out and About’, won him a wide reputation as a fine observer of the rural scene. During his time at Stockend, Warren wrote a highly successful book; ’ A Cotswold Year’, in which he describes an evening spent in this delightful small pub in the picturesque village of Miserden.
"I do not know a more attractive inn anywhere in the Cotswolds… and I have certainly never seen one so full of goodwill… Song after song filled the smoke-blue room, everybody joining in with gusto, and quite drowning the impromptu accompaniment of the fiddler, who wandered in and out among the singing crowd, shutting his eyes and sweeping his bow to the ceiling… most of the men must have been in the Carpenter’s Arms, so large an assembly filled the smoke-dense room when we opened the door. "
It is my theory that the lone fiddle player in this pageant could well have been the then unknown and unpublished Laurie Lee. At twelve, Lee went to the Central Boys' School in Stroud. In his notebook for 1928, when he was fourteen he lists ’ Concert and Dance Appointments’, for at this time he was in demand to play his violin at dances. Lee’s teenage years were spent in this remote corner of the Cotswolds. At twenty he moved to London and worked for a year as an office clerk and a builder"s labourer before leaving for Spain in the summer of 1935. This first encounter with Spain, during which he walked most of the time and eked out a living by playing his fiddle, became the subject of (1969).
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning"
Laurie Lee loved pubs and the Carpenter’s Arms is one he knew well. It is only 4 miles (as the crow flies) from his home in Slad, made famous in his phenomenally successful autobiographical novel
Cider with Rosie
In the early 1960s, with enough money to buy a cottage, Laurie returned to live in Slad with his wife Cathy where he remained until his death in 1997. Laurie’s wish was to be buried in the churchyard as near as possible to his favourite pub
The inscription at the foot of his grave stone reads: ’He lies in the valley he loved’.
Hidden deep in a leafy haven, the Carpenter’s Arms is the only building in this idyllic Cotswold Estate village that is not owned by the Miserden Estate. I visited the pub for the first time shortly after the Millennium and on the wall in the dinning room at that time was a collage created with the help of Laurie Lee comprising of illustrations and book covers signed by him. From a warm friendly welcome on arrival, my latest experience (Sept 2011) confirmed that the Carpenter’s Arms is still delivering everything you could wish for from an old fashioned, unpretentious country pub. What’s more, the current landlord who has been here for ten years, is determined that things wont change at all on his watch.
In the early 1850's, whilst staying with friends in Cheltenham, Diana Maria Craik visited Tewkesbury. She was enchanted by the medieval town and decided to make it the heart of her next novel which became the 'rags to riches' story of
John Halifax, Gentleman.
Set against a background
of world events, and at the time of the Industrial Revolution, its moral message of success achieved through hard work and high principals hit exactly the right note with the Victorians. By 1863 it
was second only to Uncle Tom's Cabin in a list of the era's most popular books.
The life story of this young vagabond's rise takes place largely in and around Tewkesbury (Craik's Norton Bury). Craik had lunched at the timber-framed Bell and was told by the landlady that the
building had formerly belonged to a tanner. In that moment, so legend has it, the Bell became Abel Fletcher's home and his tannery business was established at the Abbey Mill - which stands a few
yards down the lane by the Avon.
The book was equally popular across the Atlantic and in 1904 the American travel writer Josephine Tozier arrived in Tewkesbury on a literary tour/pub - crawl. In her
Among English Inns
she wrote: "Tewkesbury has changed but little since Miss Mulock's time inside the Bell the low, square
rooms with high, plain oak wainscoting, where we eat our lunch, the countless queer cupboards in the corners, the dark, winding staircase and the uneven floors and we enjoy our lunch much better for
feeling sure we are in that room where, "to Jack's great wrath, and my (Phineas) great joy, John Halifax was bidden, and sat down to the same board as his master."
In the centre of Tewkesbury is the magnificent Norman Abbey, built between 1087 and 1121. The three gabled Bell, rebuilt after a fire of 1696 is situated immediately opposite the north gate and
occupies the site of the earliest Guest House of the Monastery. The cellars of the hotel are believed to be the original cellars of the Guest House. The 16th century Frescos or tapestries on the wall
of the lounge were discovered under many layers of wallpaper. Today a wide selection of modern and traditional British dishes is on offer, complimented by a choice of real ales and world
which Dickens sets in the late 1820s, the author has Samuel Pickwick and his fellow travellers tour southern England by stagecoach. This mode of transport, which Dickens knew well, was nearing the end of its life. Over the next decade or so as the railways arrived to replace it and spread inexorably across the whole country. Three of the original old coaching inns mentioned in the novel are still thriving today. They include The Leather Bottle at Cobham, The Great White Horse at Ipswich and the Hop Pole here in Tewkesbury.
In Chapter 50 of the story we follow the quartet of immortal Dickensian characters on their journey from Bath to Birmingham via Bristol. They lunched - according to Bob Sawyer’s detailed instructions - at the Bell, Berkley Heath (now a B&B):
"Tell them to put everything they have cold, on the table, and some bottled ale, and let us taste your very best Madeira… Under the auspices of the three, the bottled ale and the Madeira were promptly disposed of; and when (the horses being once more put to) they resumed their seats, with the case-bottle full of the best substitute for milk-punch that could be procured on so short a notice, the key-bugle sounded, and the red flag waved, without the slightest opposition on Mr. Pickwick’s part".
"… At the Hop Pole at Tewkesbury, they stopped to dine; upon which occasion there was more bottled ale, with some more Madeira, and some port besides; and here the case-bottle was replenished for the fourth time. Under the influence of these combined stimulants, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Ben Allen fell fast asleep for thirty miles, while Bob and Mr. Weller sang duets in the dickey".
Tewkesbury is a small Gloucestershire market town, situated at the meeting of the rivers Severn and Avon. The town retains its medieval layout, with the whole of the centre being a conservation area. There are more than 350 listed buildings, including The Hop Pole, which is an amalgamation of buildings dating from the 15th and 18th centuries. The inn has been known as The Royal Hop Pole since the 1890s, following a visit from Princess Mary, later Queen Mary, royal consort of George V. In 2006 The Royal Hop Pole was acquired by the
J D Wetherspoons
pub chain and was subjected to a sympathetic refurbishment. The reopening was severely delayed when the building was flooded by the floods of July 2007.
Tewkesbury is Diana Maria Craik’s ’Norton Bury’ in her fabulously successful
’John Halifax, Gentleman’.
It was also ’Elmbury’ in John Moore’s affectionate ’Portrait’ of the ancient town. Both books feature the Tudor House which, in Mrs Craik">’s imagination, became the Mayor’s house and in reality was John Moore’s childhood home: "The loveliest house in Elmbury looked out across the wide main, street upon the filthiest slum I have ever seen in England".
Mrs Craik, a contemporary of Charlotte Bronte and George Elliott, was an industrious writer who had penned eleven novels by the time she visited Tewkesbury in the early 1850s. So enchanted was she by the medieval town she decided to make it the heart of her next book, a ’rags to riches’ story of a young vagabond who achieves success through hard work and high principals. The moral message hit exactly the right note with the Victorians and by 1863 it was second only to ’Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in a list of the era’s most popular books. Two early film versions were made and it was serialised for television in the 1970s. The action mostly takes place in and around Tewkesbury particularly featuring the Bell Inn, The Mill, the Abbey and the Tudor House in the High Street where Ursula March first sets eyes on the young beggar-lad John Halifax.
In John Moore’s
’Portrait of Elmbury’
the author describes life in the "abbey-glorious, river-misted small market town" as it was, fifty years after Mrs. Craiks visit. The Tudor House, which features significantly in his book, is full of childhood memories and the walled garden is his secret world:
"Above the garden towered the big house. Its ’backs’ were as beautiful as its façade… The back door was a tremendous piece of oak, studied with nails, with a knocker heavy enough to wake the dead… there were strange scars on the oak as if someone with an axe had tried to force his way in… inside there was a sudden cool darkness of stone-floored corridors, sculleries and pantries and whatnot, and then the spice-scented kitchen… Then you came to the hall, its panelled walls hung with brass ladles… pictures would have looked lonely against the dark oak".
Dating back to the 16th century, Tudor House Hotel is on the edge of Tewkesbury, overlooking the River Avon. It is rich in history, with exposed oak beams, open fireplaces and an original priest’s hole. In the photograph, the red brick Georgian house on the left is now incorporated into the hotel and is home to a restaurant and a real ale bar. The gateway on the right gives access to the secret garden and the oak rear door with the axe marks made by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers.
Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the