Sussex - Pubs and Inns with a Literary Connection

Ashurst


Hilaire Belloc, was a prolific and versatile writer of poetry, essays, biography, travel, literary criticism and novels. Although born in France he lived for much of his life in Sussex, the county he came to love. He loved Sussex beer and Sussex pubs and, in his estimation, The Fountain at Ashurst was second only to his ’most revered’ Spread Eagle at Midhurst.
‘ Next we would send to the Fountain for drink. For the inn of Ashurst is called the ’ Fount of Gold’ of which it is written – ‘This is that water from the Fount of Gold – Water of youth and washer out of cares.‘ The Fountain of Ashurst runs, by God’s grace, with better stuff than water. Nor is it that other fountain which is called ’Fountain of years and water of things done. For there are honorable years round the Fountain of Ashurst, yet most certainly there are no regrets. It is not done for yet. Binge! Fountain binge!‘
This is from a story title’The Four Men’, based on a journey that Belloc made in 1902. It follows the adventures of Grizzlebeard, the sailor, the poet and’ Myself’ during a four day, ninety mile trek across East and West Sussex from Robertsbridge to South Harting. The four characters of varying ages and experience are in fact facets of Belloc’s own personality revealed at different stages of his life. The book combines all the best elements of Belloc‘s style in a work that is both thought provoking and highly entertaining. There is plenty of eating and drinking and singing along the way at an assortment of excellent Sussex inns – almost all of which can still be visited.
The Fountain started life as a group of 16th century timber-framed, partly tile-hung farmhouses which explains the variety of small cosy bar areas with flagstone floors, wooden beams and inglenook fireplace. In the early 19th century it was extended with an extra wing and the façade was altered from its original timber-framed appearance to the Georgian style.
In 1979, this quintessential free-house was used to film the video for ‘ Wonderful Christmastime‘, Paul McCartney’s Christmas song with his band Wings. Harvey’s Sussex bitter is of course on-tap here and complimented by other great brews including Fullers and Shepherd Neame. A bonus is the fact that the pub is set in beautiful grounds. During the late summer afternoon when I called ducks drowsed on an island in the pond - a delightful feature of the very attractive gardens; among the best pub gardens I have seen.

Ashurst - Fountain Inn - Hilaire Belloc

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)      Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On the first day of this literary pub crawl of a novel the four companions journeyed the 19 miles from Robertsbridge to Uckfield. On this leg, Belloc and Copper featured four inns: The George at Robertsbridge, The Three Cups Inn at Three Cups Corner, The Blackboys Inn at Blackboys and Ye Maiden’s Head Inn at Uckfield. When the quartet reached Heathfield they found themselves in a dilemma and discussed the direction they should take to outflank the urban sprawl of "The Awful Towns". They determined on a scenic route that took them north of Haywards Heath.
"Then Grizzlebeard and I discussed how the thing should be done, and we decided that there was nothing for it but to go by the little lanes to Irkfield, (Uckfield) particularly remembering ’The Black Boy’where these little lanes began, and then, not sleeping at Irkfield, to go on through the darkness to Fletching, and so by more little lanes to Ardingly. In this way we who knew the county could be rid of the invaders and creep round them to the north until we found ourselves in the forest".
Having decided on the route they bought some cold meat from the Blackboy Inn before setting out along that road in silence. Inside this pleasant 14th century weather-boarded inn the bustling locals’ bar has a chatty, pubby atmosphere and there is a string of old-fashioned and unpretentious little restaurant rooms with dark oak beams, bare boards or parquet, antique prints and copious curios. As you would expect, Harvey's ales are on tap and there is an extensive menu and wine list. The garden is a particular feature with plenty of rustic tables overlooking the pond with more under the chestnut trees.
Of his 1990 visit Bob Copper says: "Bearing in mind that Belloc wished The Blackboys particularly to be remembered, I bowed to his decree and mounted the steps into the public bar as an act of loyalty. It was five o’clock and, as at Robertsbridge, a group of young men were relaxing after a day’s work. Their work-stained lorries, vans and tractors stood in the car park outside, contrasting sharply with the gleaming cars that convey a leisured clientele to visit the saloon bar and restaurant at lunchtimes, for this is a well known and recommended eatery".

Blackboys – Blackboys Inn  – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper

Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)      Robert Goddard (1954 -)

"I met my Aunt Augusta for the first time in more than half a century at my mother’s funeral". So relates recently retired bank teller Henry Pulling, in the opening line of Graham Greene’s novel ’Travels with My Aunt’. Henry’s settled lifestyle is about to change dramatically at the hands of his eccentric and flamboyant relative.
Aunt Augusta, introduces Henry to a different world when she takes him on a fantastic journey which includes a money-smuggling trip to Istanbul on the Orient Express. And a trip to South America to rescue the love of Augusta’s life, Mr. Visconti, who has got himself into trouble with his criminal activities. But the journey begins gently enough here in Brighton when Henry takes rooms at The Royal Albion Hotel before going out to dine:
"We had dinner that night at the Cricketers’, a small public house nearly opposite a second-hand bookseller where I saw a complete set of Thackeray for sale at a very reasonable price…When I wrote that we had dinner at The Cricketers’, it would have been more correct to say we ate a substantial snack. There were baskets of warm sausages on the bar, and we helped ourselves and washed the sausages down with draught Guinness. I was surprised how many glasses my aunt could put down and feared a little for her blood pressure".
Robert Goddard’s 2004 absorbing thriller ’Play to the End’ also opens in Brighton with actor ’Tony Flood’ arriving in town for the final week of the production of a Joe Orton play. That night he is visited by his estranged wife Jenny, who is worried she is being stalked by a strange man. She asks Toby, for old times’ sake, to follow the man and get to the bottom of things:
"I ambled off to a pub I generally end up in at some point during Brighton runs the Cricketers in Black Lion Street, allegedly Graham Greene’s favourite and downed a reflective pint".
This cheerful down-to-earth pub, which dates back to 1547, has a charm all of its own. The low lit main bar is a plush example of Victorian splendour - thick carpets, masses of pictures on the walls and ceilings and a comfy, homely atmosphere. Upstairs is the celebrated ’Greene Room’ bar with two big rooms leading off. There is a distinct rustic feel to the ex-stables courtyard, with its bright and airy bar and lots of pine tables and colourful window boxes.

Brighton – Cricketers – Graham Greene – Robbert Goddard

Fanny Burney (1752 - 1840)      Charles Dickens 1812 - 1870)      William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 - 1863)      Harrison Ainsworth 1805 - 1882)

Established in Ship Street 450 years ago, The Old Ship Inn has since spread in every direction by incorporating adjacent buildings and adding new extensions. It now has a massive sea frontage and 153 ensuite bedrooms. The oldest remaining part of the hotel is the Georgian Assembly Rooms, originally known as Hick’s and now splendidly restored. Fanny Burney came here with her friends in the 1770s and danced with Mrs Thrale while Mr. Thrale played cards.
The initial expansion phase in 1794 provided the first sea-view rooms when two adjoining sea-front houses were incorporated. During Queen Victoria’s Reign, The Old Ship became the town’s best known hotel and thrived with the coming of the railway. In ’Vanity Fair’, published in 1848 (but set in 1815) William Thackeray points out that the town which was once seven hours distant by stage coach from London, "is now only a hundred minutes off". His picture of the Old Ship in the novel still glows with vitality.
"…that beautiful prospect of bow windows on one side and blue sea on the other… the ocean… smiling with countless dimples… with a hundred bathing machines kissing the skirt of his blue garment… Brighton, a clean Naples with genteel lazzaroni… Brighton, that always looks brisk, gay and gaudy, like a harlequin’s jacket…"
Charles Dickens loved Brighton. He stayed here at the Old Ship in 1837 whilst working on ’Oliver Twist’ and again in 1841 whilst working on ’Barnaby Rudge’. In 1847 he wrote ’Dombey & Son’ , setting parts of the story in the town. Dickens’s friend Harrison Ainsworth has the main characters in his novel ’Old Court’ (1867) stay here:
"At last, to Mainwaring’s infinite delight, they reached the ’Old Ship. ’Some amends was made the old gentleman for the toil and troubles of the day by a capital dinner oyster soup, a Dublin Bay haddock, a loin of Southdown mutton, and a blackcock. Mr. Bacon was as good as his word, and gave him an admirable bottle of ’34 port. It was pleasant to witness the old gourmet's satisfaction as he held up his glass to the light, and noted the ruby glow of the wine, pleasanter still, to witness his extraordinary enjoyment as he slowly sipped it. We regret to add, however, that, failing to engage his companion in converse, he fell asleep in his armchair near the fire, and when he awoke, Sir Hugh had retired. So he betook himself to bed".

Brighton – The Old Ship – Fanny Burney – Charles Dickens – William Makepeace Thackeray – Harrison Ainsworth

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)      Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On day 6 (the last day) of this literary pub crawl of a novel, the four companions journeyed the 13 miles from Duncton to South Harting. On this leg, Belloc and Copper between them featured four inns: The Cricketers’ Arms at Duncton, The Forester’s Arms at Graffham, The Greyhound at Cocking Causeway and The Three Horseshoes Inn at Elsted. In the vicinity of Cocking, Belloc describes an old inn where the Four Men feasted and spent the night:
"…we found ourselves out- side a large inn standing to the north of the road, behind a sort of green recess or common. Here were several carts standing out in the open, and a man stood with a wagon and a landaulette or two, and dogcarts as well, drawn up in the great courtyard… The lower rooms of this old inn were brilliantly lighted… we heard the songs of men within ; for there had been some sort of sale, I think, which had drawn to this place many of the farmers from around, and some of the dealers and other smaller men... There was a pleasant bar, and opening out of it a large room in which some fifteen or twenty men, all hearty, some of them old, were assembled, and all these were drinking and singing” "
On every other occasion throughout the story Belloc only featured actual inns, therefore it hardly seems credible that he would introduce a fictional one at this point. However, he is prone to make the occasional minor slip-up with his directions, distances and references and I believe this is just such an occasion. Bob Copper, following the misdirection, was unable to find the "old inn" and consequently declared:
"I did not on either of the two walks ever find anything that remotely resembles the inn where the Four Men feasted and in which they spent the last night of their journey". My own contention is - because of Belloc’s slight misdirection - Copper was looking in the wrong place. Less than a mile to the north of Cocking village is The Greyhound inn at Cocking Causeway which matches Belloc’s detailed description.
This pretty tile-hung pub has a cosy and welcoming olde worlde beamed bar with large fireplaces and which, if I’m right, is where Belloc’s Four Men spent the night. Today, fresh flowers are a nice addition to the decoration which includes table lamps, old prints, pewter pots and woodworking tools. Outside there is a dovecote in the side courtyard area and picnic sets on the large lawn. Children are made welcome with a play area and avairy.

Cocking Causeway – Greyhound Inn – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper


Conan Doyle was a doctor before he became a writer and in 1880 he served as a ship's surgeon on a whaling vessel. On the voyage he took along a set of boxing gloves and Jack Lamb, the ship's steward, challenged him to a bout. Afterwards Lamb said: "So help me, he's the best surgeon we've had! He's blackened my e'e! " The "manly art" of boxing plays a strong part in a number of Doyles’s short stories and his Gothic mystery Rodney Stone (1896) is a boxing novel. The story interweaves Rodney's coming-of-age with that of his friend Boy Jim's boxing endeavors. It deals in large part with the world of the famous bare-knuckle bruisers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century when the George at Crawley was closely associated with prize-fighting. Much of the action takes place at the George and on the nearby Crawley Down and Copthorne Common which were the scene of numerous real life marathon bouts.
Rodney, the narrator tells us that his friend: "Boy Jim went down to the George, at Crawley, under the charge of Jim Belcher and Champion Harrison, to train for his great fight with Crab Wilson, of Gloucester… I had twice been down to Crawley to see Jim in his training quarters, where I found him undergoing the severe regimen which was usual… He was so confident of success that my own misgivings vanished as I watched his gallant bearing…"
There a blue plaque on the George commemorating another writer; long time Crawley resident Mark Lemon - the first editor of the satirical magazine Punch. Lemon was also a prolific writer for the stage and for journals like Dickens' Household Words. Crawley was then a village and Lemon became so caught up in the whirl of local activities on some days the Punch staff came to him and they held editorial meetings at The George.
This busy coaching inn was a half-way house on the London to Brighton road with up to fifty coaches a day changing horses here every 24 hours. An extension to the inn was built on an island site in the middle of the main road and the famous gallows sign was erected to link the two parts. You can see a facsimile of it in the photograph. The original building was a private house which became an inn in 1615. This is the date on a massive stone fireplace to be seen in the hall.


Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)      Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)      John Wisden (1826 – 1884)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On day 6 (the final day) of this literary pub crawl of a novel, the four companions journeyed the 13 miles from Duncton to South Harting. On this leg, Belloc and Copper between them featured four inns: The Cricketers’ Arms at Duncton, The Forester’s Arms at Graffham, The Greyhound at Cocking Causway and the Three Horseshoes at Elsted.
Approaching Duncton, Belloc (as ’Myself’) says to his companions: "…let us go into the Cricketers' Arms, where Mr. Justice Honeybubble went when I was a boy, and there delivered his famous Opinion: his Considered Opinion, his Opinion of permanent value, his Opinion which is the glory of the law",
In a very funny scene, Honeybubble harangues the men of Duncton before addressing the problem of two pigs, the change of a sovereign and Chichester market. His summation left the disputants more bewildered about the complexities of the law than they had been about the dispute in the first place. When he left the pub, after replenishing glasses all round: "…he went through the darkness smiling to himself all the way and humming a little tune",
Bob Copper recounts that on his first walk he arrived here at: "The Cricketers’ Arms with its brave sign of the redoubtable Dr. W. G. Grace at the wicket. In 1950 on Thursday the 16th of February I stayed overnight. I had arrived at teatime, having walked from Storrington that day, and sat in a back room with Mr Phillips, the landlord, his wife and family and had a meal of two boiled eggs – an unheard of luxury at that time – bread and jam and homemade cake",
The stone flagged floor which, after closing time, Bob helped to scrub with a bass broom is now boarded over and covered with a fitted carpet. But the Tudor inglenook fireplace, on which Mr Phillips burned cordwood logs up to four feet long, is still a feature.
This 16th century cottage has served as an inn since the 1640s. It was formerly known as The Swan until 1867 when it was purchased by John Wisden, renowned Kent, Middlesex, Sussex and England cricketer, who launched the eponymous Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac - often referred to simply as Wisden or colloquially as ’the Bible of Cricket’. Practically all the great cricket writers have written for Wisden, along with many great cricketers. It is considered the world’s most famous sports reference book.
Today, as you might imagine, the walls of this pretty little white country pub - which has been associated with cricket since it was invented - are decorated with related memorabilia, including cricket bats and rare old prints of famous wielders of the willow. Country chairs are arranged around scrubbed wooden tables in the split-level interior and outside; there are picnic-sets in the charming garden with its creeper covered bower.

Duncton – Cricketers  – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper – John Wisden

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)      Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, please see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On day 6 (the final day) of this literary pub crawl of a novel the four companions journeyed the 13 miles from Duncton to South Harting. On this leg, Belloc and Copper between them featured four inns: The Cricketers’ Arms at Duncton, The Forester’s Arms at Graffham, The Greyhound at Cocking Causeway and the Three Horseshoes at Elsted. Elsted is almost the end of the journey for the four companions and they are in somber mood:
"When we had come to Treyford, Grizzlebeard, who was by dumb assent at this moment our leader, or at any rate certainly mine, took the lane northward which turns through Redlands and up the hill of Elsted and its inn. Then for the first time he spoke and said: ’here we will break a loaf, and pledge each other for the last time. ’ Which we did, all sitting quite silent, and then again we took the road, and went forward as we had gone before, until we came to Harting",
On the road between Petersfield and Midhurst this is a must visit for anyone exploring this unspoilt region of southern England. The Three Horseshoes is a wonderfully preserved 16th-century Weald and Downland pub complete with cosy nooks and crannies, antique furnishings and log fires in winter. The ancient building consists of four small rooms, with low beams, wood panelling, real fires and a real rustic atmosphere. It’s most popular feature however is the vast garden that commands superb views across the South Downs, providing the perfect place to sit on summer days. Bob Copper endorses this: "The garden of the inn was an excellent vantage point from which to look back over the lovely country I had walked through during the day, with the long chain of hills behind".
Copper also gives us a real feeling for the interior: "I went into a small room to the left of the main bar, which itself was not large, and ordered a pint of locally brewed Sussex bitter through the hatch. Immediately I felt an overwhelming conviction that this was the room in which the Four men unceremoniously broke a loaf of bread and pledged each other for the last time. It was in surroundings like these that Belloc found himself most at home and in tune with life. No one could have been more in love with the countryside inns of England. The room remains unchanged: the friendly fireplace, the simple seating around the walls; plain servicable and hospitable. Here they sat in pregnant silence knowing that they were soon to part for ever".

Elsted – Three Horseshoes – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)     Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On day 6 (the final day) of this literary pub crawl of a novel the four companions journeyed the 13 miles from Duncton to South Harting. On this leg, Belloc and Copper between them featured four inns: The Cricketers’ Arms at Duncton, The Forester’s Arms at Graffham, The Greyhound at Cocking Causeway and the Three Horseshoes at Elsted. In 1833 Cardinal Manning became rector of Lavington-with-Graffham parish and had a significant role in the conversion to Catholicism of Belloc’s mother Elizabeth and was a profound influence Belloc’s own thinking. Hilaire Belloc became a devout Roman Catholic and a fierce argumentative defender of the faith. This is reflected in the heated debates the Four Men have among themselves and others they meet on their Sussex journey - and none more so than here in a room at the Forester’s Arms. Bob Copper explains: "When Belloc and his company left the Cricketers’ Arms at Duncton they had strung out along the road… They had all agreed to meet at the “next inn whatever it might be". Belloc tells us they: "turned into that little house as in duty bound", because: "drinking good ale is a more renowned and glorious act than any other to which man can lend himself". The fair size Foresters is described in the story as ’small’ because, as Bob Copper points out, at that time, only two rooms in the listed timber-framed medieval house were used for the inn. In one of these rooms Grizzlebeard was having a "hammer and tongs" argument "…with a Stranger who, maugre Heaven, was drinking tea". The Sailor suggested the others should: "drink in the bar with common men, for the Devil will very soon come in by the window and fly away with these philosophers". However, the argument was only finally settled when the Sailor anointed the stranger with the contents of a full tankard of beer and the four men legged it up the road. This neat and friendly 16th century pub has an attractive rear garden. The present interior comprises of three connected rooms with heavy beams and joists and the main bar area has a big log fire in the huge brick fireplace. The pub’s history is described in a framed notice in the entrance. It was formerly known as the Star & Garter, and had an attached brew house, bakery and shop. The name was changed by George Albery, a respected landlord here in the late 1800s who was a Chief Ranger in the Ancient Order of Foresters whose monthly meetings were held in the large room upstairs.

Photograph and additional notes courtesy of Simon Ward.
Graffham – Foresters Arms – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper
Houghton

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)     Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

To understand the background for the inclusion of this pub, see the entry for ’Weald & Downland – The Four Men’. On day 5 of this literary pub crawl of a novel the four companions journeyed the 12 miles from: Storrington to Duncton. On this leg, Belloc and Copper between them featured four inns: The Sportsman and The Black Horse both near Amberley, plus The Bridge Inn and The George & Dragon both near Houghton. Belloc as "Myself" the narrator tells us:
"We came at last past the great chalk pit to the railway, and to the Bridge Inn which lies just on this side of the crossing of the Arun. When we had all four come into Mr. Duke’s parlour at the Bridge Inn, and ordered beer and had begun to dry ourselves at the fire, the Sailor said: ’Come, Grizzlebeard, we promised to tell the stories of our first loves when we came to Arun; and as you are much the oldest of us do you begin’".
Bob Copper, following Grizzlebeard’s command: "Let us press forward over Arun, and pursue our westward way betneath the hills", did just that:"On the sturdy, stone bridge I paused to watch the dark waters glide smoothly below me, eddying round the cut-waters and carrying clumps of grass and river weed along the current. The meadows at the side were grazed down close, leaving only small patches of yellow ragwort here and there. I walked along the causeway and felt a strange satisfaction in seeing the speeding motor cars brought to a standstill by a herd of cows coming in from the field".
Set in the stunning Arun Valley, in the South Downs National Park, The Bridge Inn with its lovely beer garden is a delightful traditional English Pub, serving well kept real ales and delicious, locally sourced, home cooked food. Belloc stopped here in 1902. The Post Office Directory of 1890 and 1905 show that the Mr. Duke, who he makes reference to, was Walter Duke the landlord here during that time. The census of 1901 lists other residents of the house as Esther, his wife, plus sons Clarence and Frederick and three daughters Eva, Maria and Mabel.

Houghton – The Bridge Inn  – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper

H. G. Wells (1866 – 1946)

In his autobiography, H.G. Wells wrote: "Midhurst has always been a happy place for me. I suppose it rained there at times, but all my memories of Midhurst are in sunshine. …I had taken to Midhurst from the outset. It had been the home of my grandparents, and that gave me a sense of belonging there".
Wells attended the Grammar School in North Street where he later became a pupil-teacher. Whilst assisting at the school he lodged in an upstairs room in Mrs. Walton’s: ‘little tea, toy, and tobacco shop‘ across the road (now Ye Olde Tea Shoppe). He recalled his meals at Midhurst being: "…the first in my life that I remember with pleasure. Her stews were marvelously honest and she was great at junket, custard and whortleberry and blackberry jam".
Wells celebrated his affection for this pretty Sussex town in one of his earliest novels ‘The Wheels of Chance‘ (1895); a delightful ‘bicycling‘ comedy written in the familiar picaresque genre where the hero takes to the road looking for adventures. For a few precious days of his summer holiday, Mr. Hoopdriver, escapes from his deadly dull job in the Drapery Emporium in Putney High Street and, pursues an unsteady course along the once quiet roads of Surrey, Sussex and Dorset.
Along the way he perceives a damsel in distress (the naive Miss Jessie Milton) and determines to rescue her from (Bechamel) the caddish ‘man in brown‘ - who he thinks is set on leading her astray. There are numerous stops at inns along the way in a story that remains one of the few literary memorials to the brief period when the bicycle ruled the road. In chapter seventeen we read about: ‘The Encounter at Midhurst‘:
"…coming to Midhurst from the north, the Angel‘s entrance lies yawning to engulf your highly respectable cyclists… Bechamel, tightening his chain in the Angel yard after dinner, was the first to be aware of their reunion. He saw Hoopdriver walk slowly across the gateway, his head enhaloed in cigarette smoke, and pass out of sight up the street. Incontinently a mass of cloudy uneasiness, that had been partly dispelled during the day, reappeared and concentrated rapidly into definite suspicion. He put his screw hammer into his pocket and walked through the archway into the street, to settle the business forthwith, for he prided himself on his decision. Hoopdriver was merely promenading, and they met face to face".

Midhurst - Angel Hotel - H. G. Wells


In the chapter entitled ‘Inns of the World’ from his great Sussex celebration ‘The Four Men‘, Belloc referred to the Spread Eagle in Midhurst as: ‘that oldest and most revered of all the prime inns of this world‘. In turn the Spread Eagle has acknowledged a mutual appreciation by naming one of their suits after him.
You will see from the photograph that the present day Spread Eagle consists of two buildings of different dates. The older part is half-timbered with a jettied first floor and lattice windows. The newer half is built of brick and stone. The original half of this beautifully kept, extensive and rambling old building dates back to 1430 when it was rebuilt in part to replace a hunting lodge belonging to the Bohuns; medieval Lords of the manor of Coudreye (Cowdray) since 1190.
The name Midhurst means ‘in the middle of woodlands‘ and, judging by the amount of massive beams and floor timbers on show it looks as though they might have felled a forest to build the lodge. The Spread Eagle seems to be that rare exception; an English inn with a genuine claim to have provided hospitality to Queen Elizabeth 1. She is said to have spent time here during her visit to Cowdray Park in 1591 and was entertained ‘marvelously, nay excessively‘.
In its earliest days, a row of shops occupied the West Street frontage and, in the 16th Century the building became both an inn and a tavern. During the mid 17th century the accommodation and stables were greatly extended to provide for travelers passing through the once busy junction where the London-Chichester road crosses the east-west Winchester route. The Spread Eagle remained one of England‘s last functioning coaching inns as the railway did not reach Midhurst until the 1880s.
High spending patrons were drawn here over the years because of its proximity to Goodwood racecourse. An ailing King Edward VII stayed in 1909 but two of the most unlikely names in the guest register are Hermann Göring and Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop. The two top Nazis came here in 1939, ostensibly to enjoy the racing. It would be nice to think their choice of accommodation had been influenced by Belloc‘s praises. The truth is they had a hidden agenda to visit Leonardslee estate at Horsham which Göring fancied as a post-invasion country seat.

Midhurst - Spread Eagle - Hilaire Belloc


The novelist and science fiction writer H.G Wells spent a great deal of his childhood in Sussex at Uppark, (now a National Trust property) where his mother was housekeeper. In 1881 he was apprenticed to a Midhurst chemist in Church Hill a few doors along from the Swan. Wimblehurst , as he called the little town, inspired several of his short stories including ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles‘, and it provided settings for novels such as ‘Tono-Bungay‘ and ‘The Invisible Man’.
‘The Invisible Man‘ begins on a wintry day in February when a mysterious, oddly dressed stranger arrives in the town of Iping and heads for the ‘Coach & Horses‘ where much of the action takes place. Wells took the name of Iping from a small village to the west of Midhurst but the description fits the old Church Hill area of the town and The Swan, matches Wells’s fictional Coach & Horses in almost every respect - including the right number of steps (right of centre in the photograph) leading up to the pub door.
Jack Griffin is an albino scientific genius who renders himself invisible by removing all coloration from his flesh and bones. When he arrives at the pub his entire body is covered, even his face is swathed in a muffler, and his eyes are hidden behind dark glasses:
"He turned the corner by the church, and directed his way to the Coach and Horses… He stopped at the foot of the Coach and Horses steps, and, according to Mr. Huxter, appeared to undergo a severe internal struggle before he could induce himself to enter the house. Finally he marched up the steps, and was seen by Mr. Huxter to turn to the left and open the door of the parlour. Mr. Huxter heard voices from within the room and from the bar apprising the man of his error. ‘That room‘s private! ‘ said Hall (the landlord), and the stranger shut the door clumsily and went into the bar. "
The beautiful old Swan is a Harvey‘s pub which sits prominently on an island site in the middle of Midhurst. The traditional ‘top‘ bar has a warm country feel, with original oak beams running throughout and is a popular area for diners and regulars alike. The lower bar has a more modern ‘town pub‘ feel with darts board, fruit machine and jukebox and two large Plasma screens showing all major sporting events.

Midhurst - Swan - Hilaire Belloc

F. Benson (1867 – 1940)      Shelia Kaye-Smith (1887 – 1956)

E. F. Benson’s works are very wide ranging including comedies, social commentary, outstanding biographies and superb supernatural tales etc. Today he is best known for his delightful series of Mapp and Lucia books set in Rye (which he calls ’Tilling’) and portraying the rivalries and melodramas of small town life. The books are rich in descriptions of settings immediately recognisable to anyone who has walked the streets of this captivating ancient Cinque Port. The George, Rye’s principal inn, appears as ’The Kings Arms’ and the ’Hope Anchor’ in Watchball Street becomes ’The Traders’. Benson’s own famous literary residence, Lamb House appears as ’Mallards’.
The neo-classical front of the George with its imposing portico masks a Tudor building as the exposed beams inside testify. Its premier status dates to the 18th century, when it established the well-known ’Diligence’ coach service to London and added the Long Room (now called the Benson room) where annual Mayoral banquets are still held. Benson actually served three terms as Mayor in the 1930s and took delight in the work. There is a photograph of him partaking in the ancient tradition of ’scrambling’ hot pennies from the balcony of the George to the delight of the children in the crowds below.
The work of prolific writer Sheila Kaye-Smith also embraces more than one genre. Her earliest novels fit into the ’earthy’ rural category, and her descriptions of the Kent/Sussex border country with its coast and marsh are still regarded as some of the finest. Rye, and its premier inn feature as the centre of the election of 1865, which is so very well described in her novel Sussex Gorse. In Joanna Godden, it was the favourite haunt of the heroine on market-days. And in the short story; Good Wits Jump, Rosie goes to the George Inn, where she finds an itinerant peddler whom she persuades to post a letter for her: "from some big town away from here. It’s to Emma Brown, but I don't want her to know it’s from me . . . "
The George was added to up until the Regency period, and now comprises a series of interconnecting buildings all surrounding a central courtyard. It still retains many of its original features including the fireplace in the Tap. And down the hall, a Gill Parliamentary clock dating from the 1700s still ticks away the passing of time, while a cupboard resembling a dumb waiter is actually an 18th century wig store.

Rye – The George –  E.F.Benson – Shelia Kaye-Smith
Rye


The Dr Syn novels of Russell Thorndike are mostly set on Romney Marsh. Russell took the fiercely independent character of the marsh men, mixed it with a strong dash of more or less accurate smuggling history and created the Kent born Christopher Syn. In the beginning Syn is a Doctor of Divinity and a vicar but as the story unfolds his beautiful young wife runs away with his best friend, forcing the parson to turn pirate to find her again.
Returning from adventures in the Americas Syn is shipwrecked in Dymchurch Bay and ingeniously re-establishes himself as the Vicar of Dymchurch. But by night he becomes the devil-may-care Scarecrow, an ace duelist and smuggler who rides his fierce black stallion, Gehenna, across the moonlit marshes. Russell killed off Dr Syn in 1915 in the first book of the seven-novel sequence so when he resurrected the idea the rest of the novels had to pre-date the original.
The saga really took off in 1935 when the second title appeared; 'Dr Syn Returns'. The whole of chapter 11 titled 'The Red-Bearded Bridegroom' is set here in the Mermaid Inn: "In spite of the dryness of his erudite sermons, Dr. Syn, in his capacity of Dean of the Peculiars, which gave him the privilege of periodically preaching in the magnificent parish church of Rye in the adjacent county of Sussex, had gained a considerable popularity in that town. Whenever he took the short journey across the Kentish ditch into Sussex, he would put up at the 'Mermaid', and amidst the bustle of that great old inn he was ever a welcome guest, taking a lively interest in all, from the very exalted "mine host" down to the humblest kitchen wench.
In 1913 the Mermaid was run as a club by the mother of novelist and poet Richard Aldington. Rupert Brooke was among the literati who visited during this period. In E. F. Benson's novels Rye appears as 'Tilling'. Benson did not feature the Mermaid in his stories but sometimes gave large dinner parties here for his friends who included many of the prominent writers of the 1930s. Re-built in 1420 after being burnt down during a raid by the French, the Mermaid is one of the oldest and finest inns in England. It caters for those who appreciate tradition and charm, coupled with the modern facilities.

Mermaid Inn - Rye - Sussex - Russel Thorndike, Richard Aldington, E. F. Benson
Ship Inn

H. G. Wells (1866 -1946)      Nevil Shute (1899 – 1960)

’The Research Magnificent’ , was H. G. Wells’s 26th novel. It is the story of William Porphyry Benham, who set out to analyse the Nobility of humankind, and to discover a Noble Society. It is divided into six parts and, in the third part titled Amanda, the hero arrives at South Harting – a mile from Wells’s childhood home at Uppark:
"…Both the Ship and the Coach and Horses were excellent inns, and over the Downs there would be nothing for miles and miles… In his bed in the Ship that night he thought of nothing but her before he went to sleep, and when next morning he walked on his way over the South Downs to Chichester his mind was full of her image and of a hundred pleasant things about her".
. There is also a very affecting love scene set in The Ship in Nevil Shute’s World War II novel ‘Landfall’. We know Shute had a personal connection with this pub from a reference he made to it in a letter of 1925 – and it is one of the only pubs he mentions by name in any of his novels. The main characters in the story are Jerry Chambers, a coastal patrol pilot and Mona Stevens, a barmaid at the hotel where Jerry hangs out. The couple fall in love and all looks fine until Jerry is accused of making a terrible mistake in combat, and only Mona may be able to rescue his career.
Chambers is offered a chance to redeem himself by testing a new marine attack system. In addition to being a supreme novelist, Shute was also a very successful aeronautical engineer and, as a result, the flying sequences are authentic and exciting. Before he embarks on the dangerous mission Chambers makes a will leaving everything to Mona. After a day walking in the South Downs the tired couple call in at the pub where, in a private room, Jerry offers a proposal of marriage - should he survive.
"At the Ship in South Harting they demanded tea, and were shown into a large upstairs sitting-room that overlooked the village street. A bright fire made it cheerful. They washed in an adjoining bathroom; presently they sat down to their boiled eggs and tea and cake, refreshed and pleasantly tired".
This unpretentious and informal 17th century inn has it all. Nice setting in a pretty downland village. A dimly lit main bar with a fine log fire and old photographs. A helpful landlord and friendly staff dispensing well kept ales. Plain wooden settles and friendly dogs in the locals’ bar. And as many oak beams, large fireplaces and similar links with a bygone age as you could wish for.

South Harting – Ship Inn – Nevil Shute
The Four Men

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)       Bob Copper (1915 – 2004)

Despite being born in France of a French father and an English mother, there has never been a greater champion of Sussex pubs or Sussex ale than Joseph-Pierre Hilaire Belloc. That is why I have made an exception with this entry. ’The Four Men’ is not a pub; it is a ’farrago’ full of pubs. Sixty years before CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) was founded, Hilaire Belloc was raising the alarm for the demise of the pub: "When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England." Belloc lived more than half his life in Sussex, at King’s Land in Shipley; a rambling house with five acres and a windmill. He was a very versatile writer who penned poetry, essays, children's fiction and historical works. His novel ’The Four Men’ stands in a class of its own, not only among his own works but arguably as a minor classic of 20th century fiction. It has the hallmarks of a medieval allegory set in modern prose.
The story is based on a journey he made in 1902 and follows the adventures of Grizzlebeard, the Sailor, the Poet and "Myself" during a four day, ninety mile trek across Sussex from Robertsbridge on the Kent border to the village of South Harting on the Hampshire side. The four characters, of varying ages and experience, are in fact, facets of Belloc’s own personality shown at different stages of his life. On the surface the story is a boisterous and whimsical pub crawl with plenty of eating, drinking and singing along the way at an assortment of excellent Sussex inns – almost all of which can still be visited. Underlying the exuberance is an autumnal tone to match the chill fall days that herald the onset of winter and thoughts of the transience of life.
Bob Copper was a member of the famous Sussex family who for generations, have been a fount for the county’s lore and folk songs. Copper shared Belloc’s philosophy and was completely taken under the spell of The Four Men, to the extent that he was drawn to retrace Belloc’s steps. In his own book, ’Across Sussex with Belloc’, Copper recounts the journeys the made in the 1950s and again in 1990s. He makes comparisons with Belloc’s original whilst adding affecting references of his own experiences. Not only does he visit the same pubs along the way but he also introduces a few favourites of his own. Bob Copper died in 2004, a few days after receiving an MBE.

Across Sussex with Belloc in the footsteps of ’The Four Men’
The featured inns along the route.

Day 1: Robertsbridge to Uckfield (19 miles).
The George (Robertsbridge), Three Cups Inn (Three Cups Corner),
Blackboys Inn (Blackboys), Ye Maiden’s Head Inn (Uckfield)

Day 2: Uckfield to Pease Pottage (20 miles).
Rose & Crown (Fletching) Sheffield Coach House (Fletching),
Black Swan (Pease Pottage)

Day 3: Pease Pottage to Ashurst. (17 miles)
Crabtree Inn (Crabtree) Countryman Inn ((Shipley),
The George Inn (Henfield), Fountain Inn (Ashurst)

Day 4: Ashurst to Storrington. (10 miles)
Chequer Inn (Steyning), Frankland Arms (Washington)
White Horse (Storrington)

Day 5: Storrington to Duncton (12 miles)
Sportsman Inn (Amberley), Black Horse (Amberley),
Houghton Bridge Inn (Amberley), George & Dragon (Houghton)

Day 6: Duncton to South Harting (13 miles)
Cricketers’Arms (Duncton), Forrester’s Arms (Graffham),
Greyhound (Cocking Causway), Three Horseshoes Inn (Elsted)

Weald & Downland – The Four Men – Hilaire Belloc – Bob Copper

Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the review.

Home Page