Wiltshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Green Dragon

Early in 'Martin Chuzzlewit', Dickens introduces a little Wiltshire village within easy journey of the fair old town of Salisbury. It lies a short a distance off the main coaching road to London and has a snug alehouse, which he calls the Blue Dragon where much of the action takes place. Nearby is a church with a tapering spire, a forge, a sparkling stream and a three storey house where the architect Mr Pecksniff lives
Two Wiltshire pubs claim to be the original for the Blue Dragon, this one and the George at Amesbury, but the latter has little evidence to support its claim. To complicate matters, Dickensian scholar Robert Allbut - working on the coach-route clue - has suggested a third possibility; the Red Lion at Winterslow. He suggests All Saints as the church where Tom Pinch played the organ, and that Clarendon Park, between Winterslow and Salisbury then less a park than a wood was the scene of Jonas Chuzzlewit's murder of Montague Tigg
The charming 15th-century Green Dragon is generally accepted as Dickens's model and it does have a lot going for it. Dickens's pub had an unusually large upstairs room for a village alehouse which required a couple of steps down to enter. Look at the photograph and you will see the floor level of the big gable end room is slightly lower. There is also an adjacent forge which is still working today
On the down side, Alderbury is not enroute to London. It lies South East of Salisbury and is directly on the old coaching road to Southampton. The village sits on a hill with views to the Cathedral spire. There is a stream but it is down in the valley and the church is half-a-mile mile away.


The A4 was once the main road linking Bristol and London and the journey by horseback or stagecoach would take two days, crossing the coldest stretch the Marlborough Downs at Beckhampton - at around the halfway point. On severe winter nights The Wagon and Horses was a most welcome sight and potential stop-over for many a weary traveller including seasoned ones like Charles Dickens. Dickens had a technique of inserting little stories into the narrative of his novels and in 'Pickwick Papers' he gives us the very amusing story of Tom Smart the Bagman and his strange encounter here with a haunted chair. The extract includes a detailed description of the exterior and interior of this most picturesque 16th century inn.
"Tom cast a hasty glance at the upper part of the house as he threw the reins to the hostler, and stuck the whip in the box It was a comfortable-looking place there was a strong cheerful light in the bar-window, which shed a bright ray across the road, and even lighted up the hedge on the other side; and there was a red flickering light in the opposite window, one moment but faintly discernible, and the next gleaming strongly through the drawn curtains, which intimated that a rousing fire was blazing within. Marking these little evidences with the eye of an experienced traveller, Tom dismounted with as much agility as his half-frozen limbs would permit, and entered the house"
Today this handsome old pub is renowned for serving a good value honest lunch. The relaxing open plan bar has beams in the shiny ceiling where walls have been knocked through. Everything about the interior is welcoming including the mustard coloured décor and nice mix of comfortable furniture of different periods



This attractive old stone building with its tiled roof sits in the middle of the charming village of Hindon and dates back to the 12th century. It is known to have been an inn in the 16th-century and by 1870 it was already well established as a coaching house, supplying 300 post horses for the London and the West Country route.
W.H.Hudson, novelist and masterly writer on the natural world stayed here for several weeks in the spring and summer of 1909 when researching his most famous book 'A Shepherd's Life', in which he describes how he watched the birds around the inn and particularly those that nested under his window:
three pairs of birds - throstle, pied wagtail and flycatcher - breeding in the ivy covering the wall facing the village street. There were at least twenty other pairs - sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds, dunnocks, wrens, starlings and swallows. Yet the inn was in the very centre of the village, and being an inn the most frequented and noisiest spot.”
Nearly a century has passed since Hudson wrote those notes but the Lamb has changed little. It is a different story for the village. The road below Hudson's window was then the main A30 artery from Salisbury to Exeter. Today's travellers to and from the West Country speed along the A303 a mile or so to the north of this now tranquil spot.
The building retains plenty of its original character and features including inglenook fireplaces, flag stone floors and heavy wooden beams. The long bar is split into several areas and at the lower end there is a window seat with a view of the church. There is a big waxed circular table, spindle backed chairs with tapestry cushions, a high-backed settle, brass jugs on the mantelpiece above the small fireplace and a big kitchen clock.

On 6th October 1651 a party of riders, including a tall dark stranger, stopped at the George Inn for refreshment. The disguised stranger was Charles Stuart, the future King of England, on the run after his army’s defeat at the battle of Worcester. The Victorian novelist Harrison Ainsworth dramatised this event in his novel ‘Boscobel or, the Royal Oak’ which tells the story of Charles’s flight. The whole of chapter 22 is set in the inn and is entitled " How they dined at the George at Mere, and how the host related his dream".
"On arriving at Mere, they alighted at the George, which turned out quite as comfortable as it had been represented. Dick Cheverel, the host, a stout, good-humoured personage, sat at the head of the table, chatting with them very cheerfully… During a pause, Colonel Wyndham inquired of Cheverel if he had any news?... ‘Little that I care to relate,’ replied Dick. ‘Since the disaster at Worcester, I have heard nothing that gives me satisfaction… But I am told that the men of Westminster are in great perplexity, for they cannot conceive what has become of the king.’"
Then landlord told them of his dream: "At the very moment we are now talking of him, I am persuaded he is at the great palace of the Louvre, seated between his mother, Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, and his royal brother the Duke of York." In fact Cheveral had secretly recognised the stranger and encouraged all present to raise their glasses in an enthusiastic toast to King Charles’s health: "… If his majesty is not on the other side of the water, and safe from his enemies, let us hope he soon will be!" As the party left he whispered to the king: "Forgive me, sire, if I have presumed too much. I knew you from the first, and could not repress my feelings. May my dream soon become a reality! "
This friendly, family run Inn was built in 1580. It was re-named The Talbot through the 19th century until recently from the crest of the Grove family who owned it. In a dining room adjacent to the main bar, is a portrait of Charles II together with a framed text detailing the Kings’s visit. It seems likely that Ainsworth visited Mere whilst researching the book as he includes these observations: "While riding out of Mere, they gazed at the fine old church with its lofty tower, at the ancient market-house, and at the lofty mound on which were some vestiges of a castle, built in the reign of Henry III. When they had quitted the little town, the most striking object was a precipitous hill, about two miles distant, known as Whitesheet Camp".


Dorothy Leigh Sayers spent much of her childhood in Cambridgeshire, where her father was a Rector. She was sent from there in 1909 as a boarder to The Godolphin School in Salisbury where she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford.
She eventually became a London based advertising copywriter and in the early 1920s started work on her first novel, Whose Body? which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey. With his signature monocle and somewhat foppish air, Wimsey appeared in eleven novels and several short stories. His character would gain more noticeable depth in the later novels but even in the first book it becomes clear that his apparent foppishness is largely an act to disarm others..
In what is perhaps her most famous novel 'The Nine Tailors' Wimsey leaves London to investigate matters in the Cambridgeshire fenland. But in 'Whose Body?' we find him having lunch in the Minster Hotel, Salisbury, and quizzing the waiter about a local solicitor whom he suspects of murder..
This scene actually takes place the Cathedral Hotel which today is much run down. Even in 1924 it would not have been the first choice for a Lord to dine - given the fact that the splendid Red Lion stands immediately opposite. Sayers tells us that It was the proximity to Milford Hill (the suspect's place of business) that induced Lord Peter to lunch at the Minster Hotel rather than the White Hart or some other more picturesquely situated hostel. The truth is that, although Dorothy Sayers thought her readers wanted to know about the aristocracy it was not a world she was familiar with. Many of her characters are scholarly but financially pinched middle class professionals like her, who would have been more comfortable dining here at the Cathedral Hotel.


In Thomas Hardy's story The Hand of Ethelberta the characters disperse to two 'Melchester' hotels, which exist today in Salisbury. The old and jealous Lord Mountclere, anxious to test the fidelity of his fiancée - the young and captivating Ethelberta Petherwin - follows her into the town: "as far as the Red Lion Hotel, she turned towards it with her companion, and being shown to a room, the two sisters shut themselves in. Lord Mountclere paused and entered the White Hart, the rival hotel to the Red Lion, which stood in an adjoining street".
It was here also here that Phillotson in 'Jude the Obscure' stayed before his marriage, and nearly a century and a half earlier, that the 'First Countess of Wessex' (in Hardy's short story collection 'A Group of Noble Dames') had secret appointments with her own husband.
The Red Lion, famous for its creeper clad courtyard shown in the photograph, was built over seven hundred and fifty years ago to house the draughtsmen working on the design of nearby Salisbury Cathedral. It is believed to be the oldest purpose built hotel in Britain and evidence to support this came to light recently when a medieval fireplace was exposed during the refurbishment of one of the bedrooms in the original wing of the hotel. It is believed to date from around 1220, when work started on the Cathedral.
By the 1700's the Red Lion had become a flourishing coaching Inn and was a main terminus for regular mail coach services, linking London and the West Country. There are fine examples of wattle and daub and painted plaster walls dating from the 13th and 14th centuries and there is a fine collection of antiques including a China Violin and the unique Skeleton Organ Clock.


The White Hart which dominates St John Street was built on the site of an earlier inn dating from the time of Henry VII.
Whilst lodging nearby; faking the symptoms of leprosy and publicly refusing food, Sir Walter Raleigh secretly obtained a leg of mutton and some loaves from the White Hart. The deception was a ploy to buy him some time while he worked on his 'Apology for the Voyage to Guiana' which Raleigh hoped would placate King James Ist following the failure of the expedition.
Much of Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit is set in and around Salisbury. It was here in the White Hart that Martin and Tom Pinch were entertained to a sumptuous dinner by John Westlock who ordered everything they had ever dreamed of. Dickens begins his wonderful description of the hostelry and the meal with these words: "A Famous Inn! The hall a very grove of dead game and dangling joints of mutton"
In Thomas Hardy's Wessex stories Salisbury features as Melchester. In The Hand of Ethelberta we read that Lord Mountclere followed Ethellberta from the station and saw her and her companion turn in to the Red Lion. 'He paused and entered the White Hart, the rival hotel, which stood in an adjoining street. In 'A Committee-Man of the "Terror"' Madam V had left the coach here.
The present building of three storeys was erected c1800. As you can see from the photograph the frontage is most impressive. The portico which projects across the pavement was added in 1820. Above this a balcony with four massive Ionic pillars supports a pediment on which an effigy of a large white hart proudly stands with its neck encircled by a gold band of tradition.

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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