Somerset - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Appley

Peter Benson (1956 - )

"The Globe at Appley was a pub, but it was more like a house. You walked in the front door and into a corridor, and a fat woman with purple legs served the drinks from a hatch in the corridor. There was a bench you could sit on and a room with a dart board. She was a strict woman, and would have you out of there if you cursed God or said something about the Queen she didn’t agree with, so I bought my beer and went to sit in the porch. I’d been there half an hour when Spike turned up. He was fresh from work at the blackcurrant farm, where he’d been spraying. He smelt of chemicals and had a bad cough. He fetched a pint, drank it in gulps and closed his eyes".
For me, the Globe is the perfect English country pub. It is hard to find, quirky and full of interest. It started life as two cottages and the corridor, with its polished red quarry tile floor and whitewashed arched ceiling and walls, was the access between them. The hatch through which the drinks are dispensed was once the front room window of the right hand cottage. There are a number of small drinking/dining rooms leading off from the corridor and linking with each other. The strict landlady with purple legs was Mrs. Endicott who died in the 1980s. She had been resident for 30 years and before her the pub was in the same family for 80 years.
The quote is from the novel; ’Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke’ by Peter Benson. The story is set in a largely undiscovered part of Somerset among the hills, fields, farms, woods and narrow high-hedged lanes to the west of Wellington. It centres on the villages of Appley, Hockworthy and Ashbrittle, where young Elliot, the main character lives and where his dubious former school-friend Spike continually leads him into trouble.
Another nice pub, ’The Inn at Staple Cross’, also features in the story where country lore and old superstitions have not been forgotten. Written in Benson’s distinctive style with echoes of Laurie Lee and J.D. Salinger, this is a tale of misplaced loyalty, which unexpectedly develops into an unconventional but believable thriller. In addition to several award winning novels, Peter Benson has also published short stories, screenplays and poetry, some adapted for TV, radio and many translated into other languages.

Appley – The Globe – Peter Benson
Ashcott


As you can see from the photograph, Pipers Inn now comprises two buildings of contrasting architectural styles. A former inn on this site called The Castle appears to have been rebuilt, possibly in the late 17th century. Pipers inn is recorded in 1723 and there are a number of romantic and prosaic reasons given for the name. Whatever the truth, an inn has stood on this site for over 400 years. About 200 years ago an imposing house was added to the side of the existing building to form the present day frontage. No attempt was made to match the architectural styling or roof lines of the original building and hence we have the rather odd appearance of the building today.
In 1841, two years before he succeeded Southey as Poet Laureate, Wordsworth returned to Somerset on a nostalgic trip to visit his youthful haunts. He and his wife Mary stayed at a friend’s house in Bath and on 29th April, the Chronicle briefly announced his presence in the city: 'The distinguished poet Wordsworth is at present residing in Bath, where we understand he will remain until the middle of June'. Towards the end of his visit he attended the wedding of his only daughter, Dora, to Mr. Edward Quillinan at St James's Church. One day the wedding party drove out to Ashcott to have breakfast at Pipers Inn and afterwards they all went to Alfoxden (see separate entry) where the poet sought reminiscences of his past.
Today Pipers stands bold and defiant against the incessant traffic speeding past along the A39. There is a large welcoming beamed lounge with wood burning stove and comfortable leather armchairs. And this former coaching inn enjoys a good reputation for a wide choice of reasonably priced food – although they no longer serve breakfasts!

Bath
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In Colin Dexter’s ‘Death is Now My Neighbour’, murder first strikes in an old Oxfordshire village. Investigations begin to unearth links with the academic world and the hunt for clues takes Morse and Lewis into the hot-house atmosphere of collage elections and eventually down to the West Country City of Bath.
"Morse stood for some while on the huge slabs that form the wide pavement stretching along the whole extent of the great 500-foot curve of the cinnamon-coloured stone, with its identical facades of double Ionic columns, which comprise Bath’s Royal Crescent. It seemed to him a breathtaking architectural masterpiece, with the four-star hotel at its centre: Number 16"
In this story Morse’s over-fondness for real ale and single malt whiskies finally catches up with him and he is diagnosed with diabetes. The Royal Crescent Hotel first features when a murder suspect uses a stay here as an alibi. Then, after the case is successfully concluded, Morse returns a few days break from Oxford accompanied by the nursing sister who tended him in hospital. The hotel’s opulent atmosphere and his new affair prove such a heady and weakening mix that in a rare display of gratitude Morse sends Lewis an aerial view picture postcard of the city with a touching message signed:: Yours aye, Endeavour (Morse); thereby finally revealing the closely guarded secret of his Christian name.
As ever, Colin Dexter’s description is razor sharp, which you can verify if you are happy to pay £250 for the luxury bed & breakfast experience on offer. The hotel is a Grade I listed building of the greatest historical and architectural importance. Completed by 1775, it was completely refurbished in 1998 and the work undertaken has restored many of the classical Georgian features with all the additional modern comforts.

Royal Crescent Hotel Bath - association with Colin Dexter
Bath


On arrival at Bath, Mr Pickwick and his friends: "respectfully retired to their private sitting rooms at the White Hart Hotel, opposite the great Pump Room"
This magnificent inn (now gone) was owned in Dickens’s time by one ‘Moses Pickwick’ who also ran a coaching business from here. In the story, Sam Weller receives an invitation from his fellow footmen to a social evening described as a "leg o’ mutton swarry" and:
"Sam at once beetook himself into the presence of Mr.Pickwick, and requested leave of absence for that evening, which was readily granted. With this permission, and the street-door key, Sam issued fourth a little before the appointed time, and strolled leisurley towards Queen Square, which he had no sooner gained than he had the satisfaction of beholding Mr John Smaulker".
The companions walked together from Queen Square towards High Street, turning down a side street along the way. Clues lead to this tavern which was either: "the small greengrocer’s shop” in whose parlour the Bath footmen held their social evenings. Or the public-house from which, we are told, drinks including “cold srub* and water, gin and sweet water and a large bowl of punch" were fetched for that dignified occasion.
Either way, this is an interesting and atmospheric city centre pub. It was obviously known (and most likely frequented by Dickens) as is stands obliquely across a narrow road junction from the prominent city landmark of the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases established in 1739.
Now bright and welcoming, like the man himself, Sam Wellers has been closed for nearly a year for refurbishing. They keep a good range of real ales and home cooked food to order is available all day.
*Srub (or Shrub) is a drink made from orange or lemon juice, sugar, and rum or brandy.

Sam Wellers, Bath - association with Charles Dickens
Bath


"The Saracen’s Head is proud of its Dickens associations; the actual chair he sat in, the actual jug he drank from, and the actual room he slept in are each shown with much ado to visitors; whilst several anecdotes associated with the novelist’s visit on the occasion are re-told with perfect assurance of their truth."
So B.W.Matz tells us in ‘The Inns and Taverns of Pickwick’, writing in 1921 with his pen in his hand and his tongue in his cheek. Dickens did stay here in 1835 during his journalistic days when following Lord John Russell through the country and reporting his speeches. But at that time Dickens was an unknown, and no one other than the author himself, would remember his stay at the Saracen’s Head. Such was Dickens’s eventual fame, the proprietors were more than happy to promote the connection, 50 years after the author’s death.
As a humble (yet observant) reporter Dickens was obliged to stay in this back street inn whilst Lord John Russell no doubt sojourned at the White Hart - Bath’s most prestigious establishment owned by a Mr Moses Pickwick (who also ran a stage coach business). Dickens’s later used his memories of Bath to wonderful effect in Pickwick Papers.
The Saracen’s Head stands at 42 Broad Street, and has a rear entrance (shown in the photo) opening onto Walcot Street. This attractive triple-gabled tavern built in 1713, is one of Bath’s earliest buildings and the city’s oldest pub. It is easy to lose direction among the various odd-shaped ‘Dickensian’ rooms and bars. However, the sense of antiquity is dulled by the fact that the original fabric is hidden behind a modern ‘Olde Worlde’ facade. If you can put up with the piped music and the flashing fruit machines The Saracen’s Head does carry a good range of real ales.

Saracens Head, Bath - association with Charles Dickens
Bath


In ‘The Bath Detective’, a thriller trilogy by Christopher Lee, Inspector Leonard contemplates his cases in the (real-life) relaxed ambience of Woods Bar & Restaurant ‘just across’ from ‘Albert Street’ (Alfred Street) under the amiable gaze of its streetwise owner, Selsey.
It’s easy to underestimate the eccentric, quietly spoken Inspector James Boswell Hodge Leonard, with his bicycle and his tweeds, munching gingerbread men from a Broad Street bakery. But superiors who make the mistake of doing so soon discover that he's not too keen on toeing the Establishment line. When the grisly corpse of a traveller is found dumped in the Roman Baths, Leonard's orders are to clear up the mess with no fuss. But he soon begins to kick over Bath's social dustbins and out tumbles a decade of secrets and suspects, smelling to high heaven.
Christopher Lee is the author of more than 70 Radio 4 plays and series including, The House for Timothy West, Julian Glover and Isla Blair, Colvil & Soames for Dudley Sutton & Christopher Benjamin, Our Brave Boys for Martin Jarvis & Fiona Shaw and the Los Angeles production of his The Trial of Walter Ralegh which Rosalind Ayres produced with Michael York in the title role.
I have not dined at Woods but they make it sound an attractive proposition: “To dine at Woods is to indulge in the style that comes with over twenty years of confidently supplying the culinary needs of those who understand and appreciate good food. Add to that excellent value for money with polished service and a calm setting and you have Woods. It is perhaps best described as purveying warm nostalgia without a hint of pretentiousness.”

Woods Bar, Bath - association with Christopher Lee


Claims are made that this pub is the ‘Spy-Glass’ of Robert Louis Stevenson’s great adventure story Treasure Island where Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver but, other than being located in the old Bristol docks, it does not match the description in any way.
Chapter VIII of the novel is entitled ‘At the sign of the "Spy-Glass"’. Jim is instructed by Squire Trelawney to deliver a note to long John Silver by: "following the line of the docks, and keeping a bright look-out for a little tavern with a large brass telescope for a sign". We also read that the tavern had: "a street on each side, an open door on both, which made the large, low room pretty clear to see in, in spite of clouds of tobacco smoke".
In the previous chapter Jim tells how he travelled on the overnight stage from the Admiral Benbow alehouse to Bristol. In an evocative descriptive passage that brings the 18th century dockyard to life we follow Jim on his walk to meet up with Mr Trelawney who: "had taken up residence at an inn far down the docks, to superintend the work on the schooner (Hispaniola)" The ‘Hole in the Wall’ at 2 The Grove, Harbourside (off one corner of the resurgent Queen's Square) is as far down the docks’ as you can get without falling off.
We also learn that Trelawney’s residence is ‘a large inn’. And, as you can see from the photograph the ‘Hole in the Wall’ is so large it doesn’t fit into the frame. The picture perhaps gives another clue to the misunderstanding. If you look at the extreme left of the building you will see what appears to be a porch - but there is no door, just two small slit windows positioned to ‘spy’ out for advancing pressgangs – who forced (or pressed) men to join the navy. Constructed in the 1700s, this rambling old building is now a Beefeater dining pub with a 110 seater restaurant, split into 3 sections. It has a welcoming atmosphere and fast, friendly service.



Three pubs feature in Robert Louis Stevenson's great adventure 'Treasure Island', and two of them are in Bristol - 'The Old Anchor' where Squire Trelawney stays; "to superintend the work on the schooner (Hispaniola)" and the 'Spy Glass' owned by the one-legged pirate, Long John Silver.
Young Jim Hawkins travels to Bristol to meet up with Squire Trelawney. He walks through the docks wondering at the great multitude of ships of all sizes and nations. And tells us: "while I was still in this delightful dream, we came suddenly in front of a large inn". The Squire "had taken up residence at an inn far down the docks," called the Old Anchor. As you can see from the photograph, the Hole in the Wall is a large inn and its location at The Grove, Harbourside is as far down the docks as you can get without falling off.
For years The Hole in the Wall has been identified as the model for the Spy Glass but the description doesn't match in any respect. In chapter 7 Jim is instructed to deliver a note to Long John by: "following the line of the docks, and keeping a bright look-out for a little tavern with a large brass telescope for a sign". We also read that the tavern had: "a street on each side, an open door on both, which made the large, low room pretty clear to see in, in spite of clouds of tobacco smoke".
The Hole in the Wall far better approximates The Old Anchor. The odd porch-shaped extension to the left of the photograph may be a clue to the misunderstanding. This has no door, only two small slit side windows. Tradition has it these were used to spy out for advancing pressgangs. More likely they were employed to watch out for arriving coaches as this was originally a coaching inn. Constructed in the 1700s, this rambling old inn formerly called the Coach and Horses is now a Beefeater dining pub with a 110 seater restaurant, split into 3 sections. It has a welcoming atmosphere and fast, friendly service.
I have not been able to identify Stevenson's model for The Spyglass. However, when his book was published Bristol had 850 inns, since then 80 have been lost to antiquity and the bombing raids of the Second World War.

Llandoger Trow - Bristol - Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson


William Wordsworth, recalled of his ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey: "I began it upon leaving Tintern and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol". It was finished in Joseph Cottle’s parlour whose bookshop was round the corner from The Rummer. And the poem was published as part of The Lyrical Ballads, by Cottle who was so central to the support of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey during their West Country sojourn.
Southey was born in Bristol in 1774 in a house which stood diagonally across the road from the Rummer. At Oxford in 1794 he met Coleridge who filled his head with dreams of an American utopian community where selfishness was to be extinguished, and the virtues were to reign supreme. Coleridge and Southey soon met again at Bristol, and with Robert Lovell developed their pantisocracy idea - often discussing emigration plans over drinks at the Rummer.
Finance was the problem and Coleridge devised the fund raising idea of publishing a magazine to be called ‘The Watchman’. He convened his friends to a meeting at the Rummer, to determine the size, price, and frequency "with all other preliminaries, essential to the launching this first-rate vessel on the mighty deep." Unfortunately, after only ten issues, the vessel sunk and the long-suffering Cottle, once again stepped in to save the impecunious poet from the debtors’ prison.
The front part of The Rummer has been closed off and boarded up since 1999. However, the original part of the inn survives and can be accessed down All Saints’ Lane - a narrow passage leading from Corn Street to the heart of the old Flower Market. The present inn has been known as the Rummer (a large drinking vessel for rum ) for over two hundred years but its history goes back to 1241 when it was called the Greene Lattis and granted Bristol’s first licence. The name and ownership have changed many times over the centuries. The early premises were rebuilt in 1440 but the name and present structure was finally fixed in 1743 and in 1784 it became Bristol’s first coaching inn. Today’s interior has been stripped to clean simple lines but there are still some signs of antiquity to be found if you look carefully.

Carhampton


Two inns feature prominently in Thomas Hardy’s most autobiographical novel ‘A Laodicean’. The larger one is easily identified as ‘The Lutteral Arms’ in Dunster (see separate entry). When the story begins, the hero George Somerset is staying at the ‘smaller inn’ at Sleeping-Green and, after seeing Paula Power at the Baptist Chapel, he tries to discover her identity with some subtle questioning of the landlord.
The ‘small inn’ is not named, but there are clues to its location; a short walk from Dunster across fields and a stream to the village. It is hard to think of Carhampton today as a model for ‘Sleeping-Green’, because it straddles the busy A39. And the village inn, the Butcher’s Arms, fronts directly on to the road. However, an impressive collection of old photographs in the bar of this rambling old free-house, clearly show what a quiet place this was in Hardy’s day when the pub stood in a cider apple orchard..
At that time, cider comprised part of the Wessex farm-labourer’s wages and we see the role cider played in agricultural life in a number of Hardy’s books, particularly in ‘Under the Greenwood tree’ and in ‘The Woodlanders’, which is saturated with cider. Hardy would have been very aware of the Butchers Arms, which is still famous the world over for being one of the few hostelries to maintain the tradition of ‘wassailing’ - an ancient form of pagan tree worship.
There are still a few cider apple trees in the grounds of the Butcher’s Arms which was built about 1600 and became an inn, probably a cider house, in 1638 when the original single storey building was ‘modernised’. The annual Carhampton Wassail celebration is held on the ‘Julian Calendar’ 12th night, which is the 17th January.




The small market town of Castle Cary has now absorbed the neighbouring village of Ansford which stands on the old coaching route from Poole to Bristol. James Woodforde was born at the Parsonage in Ansford on 27th June 1740. In adulthood he led an uneventful, unambitious life as a clergyman: a life unremarkable but for one thing - for nearly 45 years he kept a diary which provides a unique insight into the everyday routines and concerns of 18th century rural England.
For a decade from 1763 he worked here as a curate and his diary entries at this time are thickly peopled with memorable Somerset characters from all strata of society, many of them immortalised with nick-names - Peter 'Cherry Ripe' Coles, 'Mumper' Clarke, 'Riddle' Tucker. There are numerous references to the Ansford Inn (now a private house) and James's frequently drunken brother who enjoyed the sport of cock fighting here.
The George Inn in the centre of Castle Cary features prominently. The entry for March 1st 1768 records the happenings at election time: " Great dinners etc., given today at the George Inn There were a great multitude of all sorts, gentle and simple. Bells ringing etc., and a great procession through Town with Musick playing and guns firing. And less happy occasions like that of July 2nd 1777 when a crowd assembled at the George to see the wretched Robert Biggins lashed to a cart and whipped round the streets of the town for stealing potatoes. There was a collection of seventeen shillings and six pence for the Hangman "an old man and most villainous looking" who did the whipping but James Woodforde would have none of it.
The George is an ancient thatched inn dating back to 1452 and built of stones from the nearby Norman castle of which only the foundations remain. An inglenook fireplace in one of the bars is original and its supporting elm was growing as a young tree in AD 900. Today the George is a quiet, civilised 16 bedroom country town hotel. It is a friendly, family run establishment offering decent food from sandwiches and filled baked potatoes up and has well kept Greene King ales and decent house wines.

The George - castle Cary - Somerset - Parson Woodforde
Cricket St Thomas



Standing ‘lone’ at a high point on the main A30 halfway between the small Somerset towns of Chard and Crewkerne, the aptly named Windwhistle Inn, is one of the halting places of the four characters in Thomas Hardy’s sad narrative poem ‘The Trampwoman’s Tragedy‘:

Lone inns we loved, my man and I,
My man and I;
'King's Stag', 'Windwhistle' high and dry,
'The Horse' on Hintock Green,
The cosy house at Wynyard's Gap,
'The Hut', renowned on Bredy Knap,
And many another wayside tap
Where folk might sit unseen.

This is a Hardy pub but it always reminds me of Alfred Noyes’s atmospheric poem about the highwayman riding up to the old inn door along a road which is a ribbon of moonlighton a night when the when the wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees and the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
This spacious family dining pub was once a noted posting house on the coaching route to Exeter and it still preserves many of its old-time characteristics, including high-backed settles. In former times the inn was famed as a favourite haunt of certain highway men; its isolated position no doubt making it an excellent rendezvous. It has a romantic ‘Jamaica Inn’ type atmosphere and there are many stories about the gang who met here. The old well (now filled in) used to be pointed out as the hiding place for victims bodies.
Of the other pubs mentioned in Hardy’s poem; the cosy house at Wynard’s gap is still there and The Horse at Hintock Green can be identified as The Hunters Moon at Middlemarsh (see separate entry for both). There is a very interesting feature about life at the Windwhistle Inn during the 1940’s on the BBC’s People’s War website submitted by the publican’s son of that time.

Crowcombe


In 1913, the poet Edward Thomas made a cycle journey from London to Somerset and wrote of his experience in In Pursuit of Spring, which describes the people and landscapes of Southern England in the last months before the First World War. Following his route I visited the inn at Bagborough where he stayed (see separate entry) but I was so disappointed. Resulting from a destructive fire, the old pub that Thomas knew has been modernised beyond all recognition. However, on the way, I had passed the Carew Arms at Crowcombe just as Thomas did:
"By the time I reached Crowcombe, the sun was bright. This village standing at the entrance to a great cloudy coomb of oaks and pine trees, is a thatched street containing the 'Carew Arms' a long, white inn having a small porch, and over it a signboard bearing a coat of arms and the words J'espere bien."
I retraced my route in pursuit of a more authentic experience and was never more pleased. The Carew Arms looks tempting from the outside and it turned out to be an absolute delight. I recommend it for anyone who likes their pubs untouched by modernity. The front bar is quite possibly the least spoilt and most original I have visited. It is of a type that Thomas would have been very familiar with long benches; and a couple of old long deal tables standing on dark flagstones. The room immediately invites speculation, how old is the high backed antique settle? Who, over the centuries, has sat in the shiny old leather wing arm chair by the wood burning stove; warming themselves in winter months by the huge brick inglenook fireplace? A back room behind the bar is a carpeted and gently updated version of the front one.
This is one of those places where people of all walks of life feel comfortable and welcome. Consequently there is plenty of lively conversation stimulated by well kept Exmoor Ale tapped from the cask. It is a good value place to stay, with wonderful food and drink, in a quiet spot in an attractive village surrounded by rolling wooded pasture - what more can I say?

Doddington


The Castle of Comfort is a Grade 2 listed building believed to date from the 16th century or even earlier. It was a Coaching Inn during the 17th century after which it became a coffee house and then a cider house when copper mining took place in the area. Miners collected their wages from the Counting House just to the east and came down to the Castle of Comfort for refreshment.
During the latter part of the 18th century the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth were living in the area. Coleridge lived for three years in Nether Stowey in a cottage which is now a National Trust property and where he wrote much of his best poetry. He spent many hours wandering the Quantocks with William and Dorothy Wordsworth who lived at nearby Alfoxden House in the village of Holford. On a day in 1798 the trio called in at the Castle for sustenance on a walk to Lynton and Dorothy refers to the visit in her journal.
Dorothy's journals are a unique record of her life with her brother William, at the time when he was at the height of his poetic powers. Invaluable for the insight they give into the daily life of the poet and his friendship with Coleridge, they are also remarkable for their spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, places, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth's best-loved poems.
Her Alfoxden Journal was written during 1797-8, a couple of years before the Grasmere Journal was begun at Dove Cottage. She notes the walks and the weather, the friends and neighbours. The journals were not intended for publication, but to 'give Wm Pleasure by it'. Both journals have a quality recognised by Wordsworth when he wrote of Dorothy that 'she gave me eyes, she gave me ears'.

Castle Of Comfort, Doddington, Somerset


Set in a commanding position at one end of Dunster’s only street is the Castle and at the other end is the Luttrell Arms - used in medieval times as a guest house by the Abbots of Cleeve. The core of the hotel is a 15th century Gothic Hall which is now divided by a floor into two parts. The upper chamber contains a fine hammer-beam roof and the lower chamber, which was once the inn kitchen, is now the bar. The porch tower seen in the photograph was built between 1622 and 1629.
The first half of Thomas Hardy’s novel A Laodicean centres around Dunster and most of the action takes place in the Castle and two local inns. The principal of these inns is the Lord-Quantock-Arms at Markton which is easily recognisable as the Luttrell Arms.
In the Bible-reading culture of Hardy’s day, the title would have been more immediately understood; ‘Laodiceanism’ being a word taken from the Book of Revelations, denoting luke warmness; an attitude adopted as a delaying tactic by the two main characters Paula Power and George Somerset when faced with problematic situations, particularly those of the heart. Paula has inherited Stancy (Dunster) Castle from her railway magnet father and this is a tale of her self-discovery; a story of sublimated passion, of villainy narrowly defeated and, unusually for Hardy, it has a happy ending where true love - although very hard won - is triumphant at last. Written when Hardy was on the threshold of middle age, the novel draws deeply on early personal sources. George is an architect who writes poetry and is inclined to introspection. Hardy admitted that the novel: "contained more of the facts of his own life than anything he had written".
The building is known to have been an inn called the Ship in 1651 and some of the rooms have fine plasterwork dating from that time. It became the Luttrell Arms in 1799 in compliment to Hugh Luttrell whose family had been lords of the manor since 1404. The inn is stylish and comfortable and the restaurant offers creative modern British cuisine. For a more informal meal or a quiet drink, the bar is a traditional English pub serving meals on the garden terrace in summer.

Luttrell Arms - Dunster - Somerset - Thomas Hardy
Emborough


We gain some glimpses into Georgian life at this important, strategically placed inn, from the journals of three unconnected Somerset country parsons:
James Woodforde - Tuesday February 1st 1774: "I got to Old Downe between 3 and 4 this afternoon where I stayed about a Quarter of an Hour, eat some cold roast Beef, drank a pint of Ale, and then got into a fresh chaise for Ansford. It snowed all the way very thick from Bath to Old Downe. At Bath for chaise pd 10/6d. Gave the Bath driver besides a dram 1/6d. For a chaise at Old Downe to Ansford pd 10/6d. Eating etc., at Old Downe pd 1/0. "
John Skinner - August 6th 1810. George Dando, a servant of Skinner’s, was up before the Magistrates Court which was held at the inn. He also mentions attending a meeting of the Commissioners of the Turnpike Trust on Saturday 5th February 1825: "…Sir John Hippisley, treated us with two or three long speeches about himself and his inn at Old Down, disclaiming all interested motives for what he did, at the same time shewing everyone present that this was his principal object. " On New Years Day 1828, Skinner reports that. "The Ball at Old Down was much crowded, the number of persons assembled amounting to upwards of 150. It is somewhat singular that I should date the beginning of the New Year from a ballroom; but such vagaries will happen in this changeful scene. We did not get home until four o’clock in the morning. "
William Holland - Monday December 31st 1810: "At Street we heard a good deal of Lucien Bounaparte and his train who passed that way a few days before as the good natured fat landlady at the inn told us. We passed through Wells without stopping and got to the Old Down Inn after it was dark. This inn does not please me so much as it does some people. We were first shown into a dull little room but at last we were ushered upstairs in a very good room after some apologies. We had very good beds and other accommodation but the waiting was bad and charges were very high. William (his son) slept with me and Margaret (his daughter) with her mother."

Exebridge


R. D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone begins with the death of Jan Ridd's father at the hands of the Doones and the boy is called home from Tiverton where he is a pupil at Blundell's the West Country's most famous school which Blackmore himself attended. John Fry is dispatched to escort Jan but, at this stage, keeps the reason from him. The couple's journey takes them via Dulverton which means they would have used this vital crossing of the river Exe, just below the confluence of the Barle. We know that Blackmore visited and stayed in a number of Exmore hostelries whilst researching the book and the odds are he would have stayed here at the Anchor.
Blackmore introduced a number of real and legendary characters into the story and one such is Tom Faggus, the West Country Robin Hood who plays a large part in the plot. Blackmore uses Faggus as a prominent character, marrying him to Jan Ridd's sister Annie and involving him in both the Doone plot and the culmination of the Monmouth rebellion at the battle of Sedgemoor. In the book, Faggus gets a royal pardon, fathers a son with Annie and lives happily ever after. However, Blackmore must have known that local folklore has it that the legendary highwayman was captured here in the Anchor; his famous strawberry mare, Winnie, was shot, and Tom was hanged at Taunton. Why Blackmore chose a happy ending for Tom we will never know?
In any event this 17th century coaching inn is well worth a visit. It enjoys a superb setting, by the banks of the gently flowing Exe, and has fishing rights to the stretch of the river that forms the boundary of the beautiful garden. Late on a summer's evening salmon can be seen on the last stages of their journey from the Atlantic, battling their way to the upper reaches of the Exe to spawn. The rather hotelish bar in this Greene King pub has been modernised but in the main retains its old world charm. In addition to their own excellent brew they also keep a couple of guest ales including Exmoor.

Anchor Inn - Exbridge - Somerset - R. D. Blackmore


Tom Barter is one of the main characters in John Cowper Powys’s 1932 tour-de-force A Glastonbury Romance. He has rooms in Glastonbury High Street next to the George & Pilgrims and enjoys spending time in this very special old inn..
”His diurnal relaxation was his mid-day dinner at the Pilgrims, which he relished with the appetite of a fox-hunter. The waitresses there, with every one of whom, especially with a girl called Clarissa Smith, he had a separate and complete understanding, rivaled each other in catering to his taste. Tom’s taste was all for freshly cooked meats and substantial puddings. Any petticoat fluttering about these solid vivands was sauce enough for him.”
Powys has been described as a powerful genius and this work - which has been compared with the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky - is his masterpiece. It is a novel on a huge scale in which the small town of Glastonbury and its legends, both Christian and pagan, exert a supernatural influence on the life and the complex loves - both sacred and sexual - of the inhabitants.
The George and Pilgrims Inn was built by Abbot Selwood around 1465 and replaced an earlier inn on the site. The ‘Pilgrims’ part of the name acknowledges that it was built to accommodate visitors who flocked to the abbey and it remains as one of the finest surviving medieval inns in Britain. The ancient building would not look out of place among the Oxford colleges. Although only eleven meters wide, viewed from the opposite side of the narrow high street it looks twice the size. In the front bar, the mullioned windows with their carved stone surrounds look out on to the modern street scene but the interior furnishings are genuinely antique and iron gates can still close off the cosy, pubby bar as they have done for centuries.



Six pubs feature in John Cowper Powys’s powerful novel A Glastonbury Romance and three of them are in Glastonbury itself. ‘The George & Pilgrims’ is described in the previous entry, ‘Dickery’s’, now demolished, stood in the former cattle market and ‘St Michael’s Inn’ can be identified as the seventeenth-century Rifleman’s Arms at number 4 Chilkwell Street, where licensing laws were liberally interpreted:
“The present dictators of Glastonbury would of a surety never have dared officially to interfere with the national regulations about the closing hours of public houses, but once the local police-force had received a hint in favour of greater laxity from the mayor of the town, it became easy for the smaller taverns, like St. Michael’s on Chilkwell Street, and Dickery’s at the Cattle Market, to admit a group of habitual customers, while keeping their blinds down and shutters closed ”
The Rifleman is unfussy and the dim lighting and low ceilings help convey the very real impression of antiquity. Entering through the central door, the original two small rooms on either side have been combined to form the bar. A central doorway from the bar leads through to a small parlour which features significantly in the story. In the brick fireplace is an old kitchen range and above the mantle-shelf are a couple of framed sepia photographs. One is of Elgar Masters, a former owner of the Rifleman’s Arms who died in 1883 aged 79. The other is of his wife Maltilda who died the same year aged 68 - both are buried in Glastonbury churchyard. Information tells us that their son, William Masters, who was born in 1752, may also have owned the pub. Beyond the parlour is a brightly-lit modern dining room extension. There is also a good games room and a sunny terrace.

Holford


In 1912, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard honeymooned here in this 16th century pub. On a postcard sent to her friend Lytton Strachey Virginia wrote: “Divine country, literary associations, cream for every meal”
The following year Virginia was suffering from one of her recurring bouts of mental illness and, following medical advice, the couple took a holiday and chose to revisit the pub. In his autobiography Leonard writes of the Plough: “The people who kept it were pure Holford folk. The food was delicious. Nothing could be better than the bread, butter, cream and eggs and bacon of the Somersetshire breakfast with which you begin your morning. But in his diary Leonard recorded Virginia’s swinging moods – “bad mornings and good evenings, delusions by day and peaceful nights, bad nights and cheerful days.” Increasingly concerned, he telegraphed for their friend Ka Cox to join them; she arrived the next day, the 2nd September. Despite her arrival Virginia was no better and the party returned to London six days later.
The village bar of the Plough is popular with today’s Holford folk - and their children. They enjoy the flashing fruit machines and converse happily to the accompaniment of loud rap-music. In this village bar is an atmospheric painting of the pub as Virginia and Leonard would have known it in quieter days when the road outside was an unmade single carriageway. My recommendation is to go through to the smaller of the two dining rooms. This is non-smoking and, although the piped music will follow you, it is at a much lower volume. This room is cosy with an inglenook and a mass of carved Tudor beams. In the larger dining room there is a photograph of the pub which Virginia would instantly recognise. div>

The Plough, Holford, Somerset - association with Virginia Woolf
Holford

Samuel Taylor Coleridge     William & Dorothy Wordsworth

Set in a hollow on the lower slopes of the Quantock Hills and surrounded by 50 peaceful acres of its own grounds, Alfoxden Park Hotel enjoys magnificent views across the Bristol Channel towards the Welsh coast. The Manor of Alfoxton is recorded in the Doomsday Book and there has been a dwelling at Alfoxton Park for centuries. The most recorded period in the history of the house covers the time when the Romantic Poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived here. In 1797 they leased the property which was then a private house for a rent of £23 for the year (including taxes). Dorothy wrote in her journal:
“Here we are in a large mansion, in a large park with seventy head of deer around us There is furniture enough for a dozen families like ours. There is an excellent garden, well stocked with vegetables and fruit. The front of the house is to the south, but it is screened from the sun by a high hill From the end of the house we have a view of the sea.”
“During the Wordworth’s stay in this Somerset haven many of the leading literary figures of the day come to visit them. Amongst these, fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived in the next village, spent a great deal of time with them, sometimes staying over at Alfoxden. They all roamed the beautiful Somerset countryside and the hills that inspired many of their finest, most powerful and influential works including Wordworth's ‘Lyrical Ballads’ and Coleridge's ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’.
“Today this Queen Anne country mansion is still beautiful and romantic but with an air of quiet faded grandeur. The small hotel takes guests only in the summer season but they can enjoy herbs, fruit and vegetables from the walled Kitchen Garden Dorothy mentions.



Ian Marchant is a novelist, short story writer, dramatist, travel writer and an occasional presenter for BBC Radio Four. Simon Armitage has described Marchant’s latest travel memoir ’The Longest Crawl’ as: "Drunkenly funny, obsessively factual, soberingly poignant". Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian enjoyed it too. He said Ian Marchant: "… has a way of telling a story, a pleasing tone, and a way of shoving in a lot of information - and philosophy, too, at one point - without a trace of lecturing".
’The Longest Crawl’ takes its underlying theme from GK Chesterton's poem ’The Rolling English Road’. The concept for the book was very simple - Ian and his photographer friend Perry Venus, determined to go on the longest pub crawl possible in the British Isles; from the Turk’s Head in St Agnes (the most south-westerly of the Scilly Isles) to the Baa Bar at RAF Saxa Vord, Unst, (the most northern island of Shetland).
Almost from the start, when the travelling companions discussed their plans with people they met, a recurring theme began to emerge. They were frequently advised: "If you get the chance, you should go to Eli’s in Huish Episcopi". Mrs. Pittard’s family have been running this very unspoilt thatched pub for well over 140 years and now her son and two daughters are involved in the business. Known locally as ’Eli’s’ - after Elijah Scott, grandfather of the present family members running the Rose & Crown - this special pub maintains a determinedly unpretentious atmosphere and character. To enter is to take a real step back in time.
In his book, Ian Marchant confirms this when he says: "We drove through the village (Huish Episcopi) several times without spotting Eli’s. We asked a Goth girl at a bus stop, and she put us on the right road. ’It’s not really called Eli’s’ she said. ’Really, it’s called the Rose & Crown. ’Go down there and you can’t miss it’". When they arrived, they were unimpressed with the exterior of the early nineteenth-century brick built pub: "It was difficult to see why we had been told to come here by so many people. Until we went inside".
In 2004 Adam Edwards wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph eulogizing about Eli’s which begins: "There is a lost pub in Somerset that is spoken of in hallowed terms. It is mentioned in whispers, with a rustic nod and a rural wink. The talk is of an ancient, standing-room-only taproom where you serve yourself".

Huish Ipiscopi – Rose and Crown – Ian Marchant
Kilve


In his "In Pursuit of Spring" First World War writer and poet Edward Thomas tells us:
”I had lunch at the ‘Hood Arms’, and made up my mind to stay for the night. Kilve, dark and quiet, showed one or two faint lights. Only when I lay in bed did I recognise the two sounds that made the murmurous silence of Kilve - the whisper of its brook, and the bleat of sheep very far off”.
Thomas stayed in this 17th century former coaching inn in 1913 when the road carried hardly any motor traffic. The pub fronts directly on to the present day A39 and the current entry in the Good Pub Guide states: "nice bedrooms - back are quietest".
There are a number of photos in the bar of the pub as it looked in Thomas’s time. One of these shows a small chapel attached to the building which belonged to the local friendly society. These societies were the forerunners of our modern trade unions and were often formed in pubs. The symbol for this Kilve brotherhood was a black bird (chough) with crossed anchor, and helps explain the strange present-day pub sign.
Another of the photos shows the very young landlord and landlady, Frank and Annie Stevens, whom Edward Thomas would have met. They took over the pub in 1909 and stayed for 52 years. One of their grand-daughters, Penny Davis, worked here as a girl and still lives in Kilve.
The present owners undertook a sympathetic renovation in 2004. There is now a woodburner in the bar, a cosy little plush lounge and a no-smoking restaurant. Outside there are tables on sheltered back terrace in a delightful walled garden. Beware, if you stop for lunch at the Hood Arms today you too might be tempted to make up your mind to stay the night.

Hood Arms, Kilve, Somerset - association with Edward Thomas

John Taylor (the Water Poet)

When John Taylor stayed here in 1649 he found that: "The hostess was out of town, mine host was very sufficiently drunk, the house most delicately decked with artificial and natural sluttery" Taylor was a prolific, colourful and popular writer with an acute observation of men and manners. He gives us a unique picture of England from James I to the civil war through the eyes of a London waterman. He carved out a pioneering role for himself as a `media celebrity' and became a national institution.
Before starting on one of his eccentric walks, he would circulate a quantity of prospectuses or "Taylor’s bills," as he called them, with the object of securing subscribers for the later published accounts. On this West Country excursion he tore his breeches on a stile and had them roughly patched at Bridgwater before he "came to a ragged market town called Neatherstoy".
Having placed his order, he sat in the street outside the Rose & Crown for three hours waiting for his supper because he could not bear the "odours and contagious perfume" within. Or the tapestry of spider’s webs or the smoke that was "so palpable and perspicuous" he could "scarcely see anything else". Supper was not forthcoming and he went to bed hungry only to be bitten all night by fleas the size of new boiled peas before being woken at dawn by bawling children, barking curs and hogs crying out for their breakfast: "so I arose and travelled almost sleeping towards Dunster".
The run down old 16th century coaching inn underwent extensive renovations during Victorian times when the thatched building was tiled and slated. Many interesting features of the pubs historic past are still to be seen, with lots of exposed beams, and an old inglenook fireplace in the front bar with plenty of seating at sturdy tables. Today the Rose & Crown is warm, welcoming and friendly. It’s the sort of pub where you’re almost certain to meet some entertaining local characters who are attracted here by the emphasis on real ales. There are always three different beers to choose from, including one supplied by the small independent Stowey Brewery, located less than 300 metres from the pub – with a beer called ‘Nether Underestimate a Blonde’?

Rose & Crown - Nether Stowey - Somerset - John Taylor (the Water Poet)


In the summer of 1668 Samuel Pepys, his wife Elizabeth and their two servants made a brief excursion into the West Country. On the 12th of June they left the George Inn in Salisbury heading for Bath and Pepys's diary entry records:
"Up, finding our beds good, but lousy; which made us merry. We set off led to my great content by our landlord to Philips-Norton".
"At Philips-Norton I walked to the Church, and there saw a very ancient tomb of some Knight Templar, I think; and here saw the tombstone whereon there were only two heads cut, which, the story goes, and credibly, were two sisters, called the Fair Maids of Foscott, that had two bodies upward and one belly, and there lie buried. Here is also a very fine ring of six bells, and they mighty tuneable. Having dined very well, 10s., we come before night to the Bath."
Pepys apart, the George is best remembered for the part it played in the Monmouth Rebellion. First providing the headquarters for the Duke and his men and, after their defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, acting as the court of retribution for Judge Jeffreys who hanged 12 men here at the crossroads.
Built of local brown stone with jetted timber-framed first and second floors, this is arguably Britain's oldest licensed premises, beginning life in 1230 as a guest house for Hinton Priory. It was purpose built to accommodate travelers and merchants coming to the annual wool fairs that were held in the village from the late 13th century until 1902. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 it became an inn.
By the later part of the 17th century the George had 35 beds and stabling for 90 horses. In the 18th century the prosperity of the village declined but the Coaching route to Bath ensured the inn continued to flourish. By the late 1990's large parts of the building were in need of extensive repair and the family owned brewery company Wadworth decided to undertake the huge and complex task of restoring this Grade 1 listed building to its former glory.

George - Norton St Philip - Somerset - Samuel Pepys


In 1913, the poet Edward Thomas undertook a cycling tour of North Somerset writing of his experience in ‘In Pursuit of Spring’ www.inpursuitofspring.co.uk/. He describes the people and landscapes of Southern England in the last months before the First World War. Journeying from Nettlebridge up the northern slope of the Mendips he recalls a former visit to Oakhill and its inn: “The ‘Oak Hill’ inn, a good inn, hangs out its name on a horizontal bar, ending in a gilded oak leaf and acorn. I had lunch there once of the best possible fat bacon and bread fried in the fat, for a shilling; and for nothing, the company of a citizen of Wells, a hearty, strong-voiced man, who read the Standard over a beef-steak, a pint of cider, and a good deal of cheese, and at intervals instructed me on the roads of the Mendips, the scenery, the celebrated places, and also praised his city and praised the stout of Oak Hill. Then he smacked his lips, pressed his bowler tight down on his head, and drove off towards Leigh upon Mendip”.
The solid stone-built Oakhill Inn stands on the corner of Bath Road and Fosse Road. The earliest deed relating to it is a release of 29th September 1773 by Mrs Mary James to Mesers Jordon and Perkins. The inn signage has been updated but the “horizontal bar, ending in a gilded oak leaf and acorn” is still there. In the centre of the village is the original Oakhill Brewery building (now flats) dating from 1769 and once famous for the stout - praised by the hearty man. An advertisement of the time promotes their ‘Double Stout Invalid Porter’.
The pub is undergoing a sympathetic refurbishment, retaining (and even reclaiming) as much of the original fabric as possible. It is a freehouse offering a minimum of 3 real ales which change regularly and there are plans to set up a local micro operation producing their own ales under the old Oakhill Brewery name. In Thomas’s day the interior was a series of small rooms. It has been opened up somewhat but still retains a friendly cosy atmosphere. There is an up-market range of food available and you can eat in the bar area or in the more spacious former skittle alley - but this is still very much a pub rather than a restaurant.



In 1799, Robert and Edith Southey set off from Bristol for a tour of the Exmoor coast, arranging to return via Nether Stowey to stay with Samuel Coleridge. Edith became ill at Minehead, suffering from "extreme debility, pain in back and bowels, lack of appetite" and other complaints. Southey stayed with her for a fortnight, exploring the surrounding area. On 8th August, Edith being better but not fit for walking, Southey set off alone. He was driven to Porlock by Coleridge's Nether Stowey friend and neighbour, John Cruickshank:
"Cruickshank took me in his chair to Porlock, six miles Porlock is called in the neighbourhood the End of the World. All beyond is inaccessible to carriage or even cart. A sort of sledge is used by the country people resting upon two poles like cart shafts." Later he wrote to his brother: "Tom, you have talked of Somersetshire and its beauties but you have never seen the finest part. The neighbourhood of Stowey, Minehead and Porlock exceed anything I have seen in England before. . . ."
That evening he stayed here at the Ship Inn in Porlock, where: "the bedroom reminded me of Spain, two long old dark tables with benches and an old chest composed its furniture: but there was an oval looking-glass, a decent pot de chambre and no fleas." The next day was chilly and wet and he stayed by the inn fire in a nook now known as Southey's Corner and composed his sonnet 'To Porlock' which includes the lines:

"Here by the summer rain confined;
But often shall hereafter call to mind
How here, a patient prisoner `twas my lot
To wear the lonely, lingering close of day,
Making my sonnet by the ale house fire,
Whilst Idleness and Solitude inspire
Dull rhymes to pass the duller hours away."

A week later this Dull rhyme brought him a guinea from the 'Morning Post'
The Ship Inn is one of the oldest inns on Exmoor, with roaring log fires in the winter and a large outdoor seating area and children's play area for the summer months. Home made food using local produce is served daily in the bar and restaurant. CAMRA recommended Real Ales and ciders are served in a genuine Exmoor bar. Though space is limited here, they have an excellent website which gives a full history of the inn.

Ship Inn - Porlock - Somerset - Robert Southey


In 1913, the poet Edward Thomas undertook a cycling tour of North Somerset and wrote of his experience in In Pursuit of Spring, describing the people and landscapes of Southern England in the last months before the First World War. After leaving Kilve (see separate entry), he bicycled out along the road from Williton to Taunton, passing a couple of pubs which he mentions by name, before turning off for West Bagborough:
"Rain threatened again, and I went into the inn to eat and see what would happen. Two old men sat in the small settle at the fireside talking of cold weather, for so they deemed it. Bent, grinning old men they were, using rustic, deliberate, grave speech, as they drank their beer and ate a few fancy biscuits. One of them was so old that never in his life had he done a stroke of gardening on a Good Friday; he knew a woman that did so once when he was a lad, and she perished shortly after in great pain."
The Rising Sun dates back to1573 and, was originally called The Shepherd's Crook but known to the villagers simply as Crook. It is still neatly thatched but the solid red-stone walls have been painted cream in contrast to the other village cottages. The same heavy oak front door that Thomas pushed against in 1913 now opens onto a very changed scene. In January 2002 a disastrous fire gutted the beautiful old pub, and in less than an hour, the comfortable familiarity of a five-hundred year old interior was reduced to charred remains. The present day pub could legitimately be named The Phoenix, because, within a year, it was refitted and open again for business. All that remains of the original interior are two heavy ceiling beams, too dense to burn quickly and the defiantly solid thick stone walls.
The expensive reincarnation is bold, craftsman-led and has been accomplished with great style; incorporating light oak in the beams, bar and wainscoting. A glass panelled partition separates the bar area from the main dining room and natural slate floors have been laid throughout. Arty wall lamps illuminate discrete modern framed prints but the end result feels more to me like a national trust gift shop than a 16th century village pub.

Rising Sun - West Bagborough - Somerset - Edward Thomas


R. D. Blackmore stayed at or called in to a number of inns around Exmoor whilst researching the background for Lorna Doone. In the Royal Oak here at Withypool there is a framed letter dated July 10th 1866 written from Blackmores London home at Teddington. It is addressed to Mr Warner, the landlord at the time and reads: "It will give me great pleasure to be with you (if possible) at the time you mention. But I am so terribly pressed this week that I cannot be certain of the pleasure"
Lorna Doone is the most famous and celebrated of R.D. Blackmore's historical romances. It is set in late 17th century Exmoor in Badgworthy Valley (now commonly known as 'Doone Valley') where many Blackmore landscapes can still be found. The story is one of romance where a family of outlaws, the Doones, begin to plague the land. Young John Ridd, the hero of the yarn, is only twelve when the book opens and grows up with the threat of the Doones who have begun to burn farms, attack men and carry off women.
John grows up to be a man of great stature and power and falls in love with Lorna who he must save from the Doones and from nature itself during a fierce blizzard. It is a near-tragic romance that includes certain historical and legendary figures, including Judge Jeffreys of Bloody Assizes infamy, Tom Fagus (a West Country Robin Hood) and the Doones themselves who are based on actual historical personages.
This is a lovely, welcoming cosy pub with two softly lit bars with lots of old pots hanging from the beamed ceilings. The lounge bar is the heart of the pub and dates back three hundred years. Here a vast wood fire fills the room with good cheer. Adjacent to this room lie further bars and a beautifully appointed restaurant of a similar antiquity. Withypool is a centuries old Exmoor centre for hunting both the fox and the red deer - consequently the walls of the bars are decorated with hunting prints and trophies. The Inn is a free house serving the very best local beers, Exmoor Ale and Exmoor Gold.

Royal Oak - Withypool - Somerset - R. D. Blackmore

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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