Hertfordshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Graham Greene, one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers was born in Berkhamsted in 1904 and lived here until 1922 when he went up to Balliol College, Oxford. Charles Greene, Graham’s father, taught at the Boy’s school for many years before being appointed Headmaster in 1910.
Berkhamsted and its pubs feature in a number of Greene’s early novels including ’The Ministry of Fear’ which has been described as a phantasmagorical study in terror. It is set in the torn landscape of the blitz and the author, through the character of Arthur Rowe, makes repeated references to memories of the dances held in the barn behind the inn: " …this time he was in the main street of a small country town where he had sometimes, when a boy stayed with an elder sister of his mothers. He was standing outside the inn yard of the King’s Arms, and up the yard he could see the lit windows of the barn in which dances were held on Saturday nights.". In August 1974 Graham and his brother, Sir Hugh Carlton Greene, came back to the King’s Hall - once the inn's stables, to give a talk about their childhood in the town.
Berkhamsted’s mediæval High Street is part of the Roman Akeman Street linking Verulamium (St. Albans) with Akemancester (Bath). As such, it was a major staging post for travelers westwards towards Windsor, as well as to the north and south. The eighteenth century King’s Arms became the principal inn of the town with a capacity to stable up to forty horses. Ostler turned highway man James Snooks worked at the inn. He is believed to be the last person to be hanged in England at the scene of his crime. He held up the post boy along Westbrook Hay and escaped to London, where he was apprehended, tried and sent back to Berkhamsted for execution. Snooks’s memorial stone can still be seen in a field on Boxmoor Trust land.
In December 2010 The King’s Arms was finally unveiled after an extensive £1.2m refurbishment which has transformed it into an elegant and stylish Restaurant, Bar and Rooms. As this is the King’s Arms, one would naturally expect the splendid arms displayed on the pub to be those of a King. In this case perhaps the exiled King Louis XVIII of France who was a frequent visitor and fond of the landlord’s daughter, Polly Page. Instead, the arms on the sign are those of Queen Anne.

Berkhamsted – King’s Arms – Graham Greene
Eight Bells

In 1835, during his days as a reporter on the Morning Chronicle, the young Charles Dickens came to Hatfield to cover the story of the great fire at Hatfield House . He stayed at the Salisbury Arms (now gone) and used his experience as background material in his second novel Oliver Twist - for the flight of Bill Sikes from London after the foul murder of his mistress Nancy whom he suspects of being a police informant.
Sikes and his dog travel out through the north of the city and finally arrive in Hatfield at: "nine o'clock at night, when the man, quite tired out, and the dog, limping and lame from the unaccustomed exercise, turned down the hill by the church of the quiet village, and plodding along the little street, crept into a small public-house, whose scanty light had guided them to the spot. There was a fire in the tap-room, and some country-labourers were drinking before it."
Although it is not actually named in the novel, this 17th-century coaching inn standing just outside the grounds of Hatfield house was chosen by Dickens as the setting for Sikes refuge. After taking a pint and paying his bill, the house-breaking murderer panics when a local pedlar insists upon trying to remove a blood stain from his hat: "The man got no further, for Sikes with a hideous imprecation overthrew the table, and tearing the hat from him, burst out of the house."
Whilst trying to escape the ghostly thoughts of Nancy, Sikes finds shelter in a field shed but during his torment he hears: "the cry of Fire! mingled with the ringing of an alarm-bell". He rushes towards the sound of the commotion, and becomes heroic in his efforts: "Hither and thither he dived that night: now working at the pumps, and now hurrying through the smoke and flame, but never ceasing to engage himself wherever noise and men were thickest".
Later in his career, Dickens utilized the village again in his Christmas story Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy in which the grand old lady is buried in the churchyard. The Eight Bells is a traditional old local in the village-like part of Hatfield with a good mix of loyal regulars and young folk mainly students. Its partly flag-stoned floor and traditional décor is everything you would expect and the menu and beer won't disappoint either.

Eight Bells- Old Hatfield - Hertfordshire - Charles Dickens

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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