Surrey - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Jane Austen (1745 – 1817)

On the 18th April 1814 Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry at his London home in Sloane Street. In a letter written to her sister Cassandra she says: "I have proposed to the latter (her friend Mary Cooke) that she should go to Chawton with me, on the supposition of me travelling the Guildford Road" On the 24th August, Jane described a journey by stagecoach from her Chawton home to London. Having boarded the coach at The Swan in Alton, (see separate entry) it stopped just beyond Bentley, here at The Bull to pick up more passengers.
"I had a very good Journey, not crowded, two of the three at Bentley being Children, the others of a reasonable size; & they were all very quiet and civil. – We were late in London, from being a great Load & from changing Coaches at Farnham, it was nearly 4 I believe when we reached Sloane St; Henry himself met me, & as soon as my Trunk and Basket could be routed out from all the other Trunks & Baskets in the World, we were on our way to Hans Place".
Mary Eggar’s ’History of Bentley’ refers to Jane Austen undertaking a journey from Chawton to London with her brother Henry and taking with her the manuscript for ’Mansfield Park’ to read to him during the long journey. The present-day A31 trunk road loops round Bentley. A mile beyond the village it regains the route of the Old London Road before reaching the 15th century Bull Inn. Technically, this traditional old hostelry with its heavily beamed bars stands on the Hampshire side of the county boundary, but its address is actually given as Bentley, Farnham, Surrey.
Jane died in 1817 but this village and its coaching inn continued to play a part in the lives of the Austen family. In 1822 Henry was "licensed to the Cure of Farnham" and, two years later, he was appointed Perpetual Curate at the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Bentley. From 1823 to 1827 Henry also served as Master of the Free Grammar School in Farnham. While at Bentley he was only six miles from his mother and sister, Cassandra, at Chawton and he either lived with them, or made frequent, long visits, until Mrs. Austen's death in 1827.

Bull Inn, Bentley

John Keats (1795-1821)     George Meredith (1828-1909)

If the criteria for establishing England’s most Literary Inn were the number of eminent writers who had visited and stayed there, then Burford Bridge Hotel, nestling at the foot of beautiful Box Hill would surely be pre-eminent. While parts of the structure date back to the 1500’s, the first recorded hostelry was founded in the mid-thirteenth century. The present prestigious 57 bedroom hotel was once an old coaching inn known as The Fox and Hounds. Many of the original beams can still be seen, providing an historic ambience and unique character.
John Keats epic poem Endymion is widely regarded as one of English literature’s finest. However, about a year after beginning it, progress on the projected four books went slowly. On November 21st, 1817 the twenty-two-year-old Londoner sat writing to his friend Benjamin Bailey: "At present I am just arrived at Dorking to change the Scene – change the Air and give me a spur to wind up my Poem, of which there are wanting 500 lines. " Keats needed to get away to complete the poem which he had begun with the immortal lines: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever". Luckily for us he found the perfect quiet retreat, a mere twenty miles from London. Keats stayed in a small back room overlooking the stable yard. The bedroom window gives a view of lawn with fine old trees, a beech and a cedar. He must have been excited by the fact that his room was next to the one that had been occupied a decade earlier by his boyhood hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, who stayed here when he took his last farewell of Lady Hamilton before the Battle of Trafalgar.
George Meredith is a writer little known or read these days but that was far from the case in the late 1800s. In 1867 Meredith came to live in Flint Cottage, a stones-throw from Burford Bridge. Here, with painful slowness he wrote and rewrote the novels that finally won him recognition. A succession of distinguished writers came to visit him, many staying at the hotel. Meredith’s guests, too many to list in full, included R. L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, J. M. Barrie, Robert Bridges, G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edith Wharton.
The zigzag road up from the inn passes Flint Cottage on its way to the summit of Box Hill which is still a popular place for walks and picnics – as it was for Jane Austen, who selected it as the setting for an excursion in Emma, which ended so disastrously when the heroine was so unkind to Miss Bates.

Dorking - Burford Bridge Hotel - John Keats - George Meredith

Jane Austen (1745 – 1817)    William Cobbett    Edna Lyall    William Makepeace Thackeray

Jane Austen was well acquainted with this inn as she used the Guildford Road, passing through Farnham, on her visits to her brother Henry in London. William Cobbett who was born in Farnham (see separate entry ’William Cobbett’ pub) tells how, in later life he viewed the area behind his birthplace from here at the Bush Inn: "The post-boy going down hill, and not a bad road, whisked me in a few minutes to the Bush Inn, from the garden of which I could see the prodigious sand-hill where I had begun my gardening works".
Edna Lyall wrote 18 novels and in ’We Two’ ’The Bush Inn’ becomes ’The Shrub’ with Farnham featuring as ’Firdale’: "Firdale wound its long street of red-roofed houses along a sheltered valley in between fir-crowned heights; beyond the town lay rich, fertile-looking meadows, and a winding river bordered by pollard willows. " William Gladstone thought sufficiently highly of the Lyall’s second novel (’Donovan’ 1882) to write to its author to commend it as "a very delicate and refined work of art". It was followed by a sequel ’We two’ (1884), which tells of a politician who refuses to swear on oath in order to take up his seat at the House of Commons.
During the Victorian era, William Makepeace Thackeray was ranked second only to Charles Dickens, but he is now much less read and is known almost exclusively for Vanity Fair. In that novel he was able to satirise whole swaths of humanity while retaining a light touch. It also features his most memorable character, the engagingly roguish Becky Sharp.
Thakeray features ’The Bush&rsquo’ in chapter twenty and chapter fifty-eight of ’Vanity Fair&rsquo, when the obese and self important Jos Sedley (who is attracted to Becky Sharp), calls here on his journey from Southampton to London: "At Farnham he stopped to view the Bishop’s Castle and to partake of a light dinner of stewed eels, veal cutlets, and French beans, with a bottle of claret. …when he drove into town (London) he was as full of wine, beer, meat, pickles, cherry-brandy, and tobacco as the steward's cabin of a steam-packet". The Bush was obviously well known to Thakeray, and he features it again in chapter twenty of the Virginians when: "The landlord goes back to his friends at the club, to tell how the great folks are going to sleep at The Bush, at Farnham, to-night".

Farnham, Bush Hotel

William Cobbett was born on March 9th 1763 in Farnham, Surrey at his father’s small farm near the River Wey, in what is now Bridge Square - not far from the Farnham Maltings. The 17th century farmhouse later became a pub called The Jolly Farmer which was renamed the Willam Cobbett in the 1970s in honour of this greatest of Englishmen.
Cobbett was born into a comparatively humble family, and as a small boy began his working life scaring the birds in the fields. He had little formal education but eventually became Member of Parliament. Between these two occupations he was at various times, a professional soldier, farmer, publisher, author, journalist, pamphleteer, business man and one of the greatest of all political agitators.
Generally remembered for his Rural Rides and as the founder of Hansard, Cobbett, as a political journalist, was a thorn in the flesh of successive governments and for nearly forty years occupied a unique position of power using his brilliant pen to support the labouring poor by exposing corruption and dishonesty, earning himself the name 'The Poor Man's Friend'. No ordinary individual before or since has had such a dominating influence in public affairs on both sides of the Atlantic. He lies buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's in Farnham. His funeral was attended by an estimated 8,000 people.
One of the great assets of this real ale pub is the rich cross section of people it attracts. There are a lot of students at times, so it can get rather packed, but there is always somewhere to sit (or at least to stand). There is a bust of William Cobbett in the saloon bar and in the public there is a jukebox, fruit machines, pinball, plus a pool room upstairs with 3 tables and table football.
The small sloping beer garden behind the inn (where the tables tend to fall over) is described by Cobbett: "From my very infancy from the age of six years, when I climbed up the side of a steep sand rock, and there scooped me out a plot of four feet square to make me a garden and the soil for which I carried up in the bosom of my little blue smock frock, I have never lost one particle of my passion for these healthy and rational, and heart-warming pursuits."
William Cobbett - Farnham - Surrey - William Cobbett

Jane Austen (1745 – 1817)

On journeys from her Hampshire home to visit her brother Henry in London, Jane Austen’s route took her through the town of Guildford in Surrey; 20 miles from Chawton. On the left, in the lower part of the High Street, stands the Angel Inn, the only remaining coaching inn, with records dating back to the 16th century.
The Angel was the premier inn during Jane’s lifetime and today they claim she stayed there. This is unlikely as the total 48 mile journey to the capital could have been covered in around six and a half hours. However, whether travelling in her brother’s curricle, or by stagecoach, it is safe to say Jane would have used the facilities at the inn and the horses would have needed their livery services.
In a letter written at Henry’s house in Sloane Street on the 18th April 1811 to her sister Cassandra, Jane says: "I have proposed to the latter (her companion Mary Cooke) that she should go to Chawton with me, on the supposition of me travelling the Guildford Road…"
The Angel was originally a monastic foundation and it still has a vaulted crypt. In the nineteenth century wall frescoes could be seen in the crypt, one showing the flight into Egypt and the other the Crucifixion. From about 1345 the ’Fyshe Crosse’ stood in the High Street near the front of the building. The cross was surmounted by a flying angel carved in stone, from which it may be assumed the inn derived its name. The cross had been erected by the White Friars but by 1595 it had been removed to ease the movement of traffic.
Jane Austen would have known The Angel as an old timber-framed building. The stucco facade you see in the photograph was applied around 1819 and the signs added: POSTING HOUSE to indicate that fresh horses could be hired here, and LIVERY STABLES to show that customer’s horses could be cared for in their absence. Another reminder of this period is the hoist from the hayloft at the right of the inn yard.
By the eighteenth century The Angel had become a noted coaching house on the Portsmouth Road and coaches left here for London as late as 1840. In 1989 the inn was sold to property developers, who wished to convert it into shops, but after a great public outcry planning permission was refused and the hotel was saved. In 1990 it was sold again, but this time to professional hoteliers who took great care in refurbishing the building, retaining much of the original structure and atmosphere of this important centre of hospitality that has served so many generations.

Angel Inn, Guildford, Jane Austen

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834 –1924)

The wonderfully named; Sabine Barring-Gould, who lived to be ninety, was an archetypal Victorian squarson, a folklorist, biographer, novelist, topographer and hymn writer - and that list does not include his pastoral and theological writings. He was also a collector of country songs which he learned from local singers by visiting pubs and inns (mostly in and around Dartmoor), and published in his book ’Song of the West’. Today he is remembered particularly as a writer of hymns, the best-known being "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Now the Day is Over".
Baring Gould’s private life is quite varied in as much as he is said to have travelled to Yorkshire where he met a ‘mill girl’ who he considered marrying. He is reputed to have sent her to a ’finishing school’ so that she could obtain the necessary graces to fit the task. He joined the Fabian Society, met George Bernard Shaw, corresponded with Conan Doyle and once wrote a book about Weir Wolves.
Baring Gould’s novel ’The Broomsquire’ begins with an actual event. In September 1786, a lone sailor was murdered on Hindhead Common by three men. Baring Gould imagines that the sailor was not alone but was carrying a baby daughter who survived the ambush. From this point, he develops a story of the orphan girl. She is found in the large natural amphitheatre and local beauty spot called the Devil’s Punch Bowl by one of the Broomsquires who lived there at the time. Eighteen years later, the finder and the foundling marry. But the circumstances and results of this union lead to a clash of wills - and more.
In the dramatisation of his celebrated novel, scenes four and twenty are set here in the Olde Ship Inn and they feature the landlord, Simon Verstage, his wife Susanna and their son Iver. The Olde Ship Inn is located in the centre of St Catherine's Village, just one mile south of Guildford on the A3100, Portsmouth Road. St. Catherine’s is also on the North Downs Way and minutes from the River Wey. This historic pub has a traditional, attractive interior which immediately presents a welcoming atmosphere. Today you will find three cosy candle-lit areas around a central bar with ancient beams and a flagstone floor. There is a comfortable mix of furniture and, in the winter months a good log fire burns brightly in the big fireplace.

Olde Ship Inn, Guildford, Sabine Baring-Gould

John Skelton (c1460-1529)

This piece concerns a work by John Sklelton entitled ’The Tunning of Elinor Rumming’. However, when reading it you need to consider that Tudor and Elizabethan spelling was very erratic by twentieth-century standards. Indeed, there are six surviving examples of William Shakespeare's signature and none of them are spelled the same way
John Skelton was laureate to the Court of Henry VIII. Whilst staying at the near Leatherhead at the Royal Palace of Nonsuch it is said that he supped at this inn and was inspired to write his most famous and notorious poem ’The Tunnynge of Elynoare Rummynge’. The poem is a realistic description of the drunken women who flocked to this well-known ale-house to drink Elynour Rummynge’s "noppy ale". The work uses Skelton's signature humor to explore physical and spiritual deformity. Skelton tells us that the grey-haired Elynoar was one of the most frightful of her sex, being: "ugly of cheer… Her face all bowsey… Wonderously wrinkled… Her een bleared. " The portrait of Eleanor on the frontispiece of an original edition of the poem will satisfy you that the description is no exaggeration.
John Skelton occupies an uneasy place in the history of English literature. He has been called "the greatest English poet to have been born in the fifteenth century", as well as dismissed as a coarse entertainer whose work lacks the depth and complexity of other pre-Renaissance poets. Elizabeth Barrett Browning defended Skelton's place as a poet of significance and praised his power, forcefulness, and innovative use of language. By the middle of the twentieth century, critics including W. H. Auden and E. M. Forster, were noting the complexity of Skelton's poetry as well as his interesting use of language, rhyme, and rhythm. But it is his portrait of Elynour Rummyng, the grisly dame of leatherhead which has been reprinted more frequently than any of his other serious works
Built on the bank of the River Mole in the 15th century - on land belonging to the church - The Running Horse was originally known as Rummings House. A copy of the poem can be found on the wall in the bar. A plaque on the exterior of the pub informs us that Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, spent a night at the Inn due to floods making the river impossible to cross. The Running Horse, one of the oldest buildings in Leatherhead, has recently celebrated 600 years of providing hospitality. It is today a traditional cosy pub with low ceilings, exposed beams and a real fire. In the summer months you can enjoy the large garden at the rear of the pub or the patio courtyard at the front.

The Running Horse, Leatherhead, John Skelton

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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