Worcestershire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection



Arthur Benson gave up Alpine climbing following an accident in 1896 and devoted his future vacations to discovering his own country by bicycle. From 1897 to 1925 he kept a diary, amounting to five million words and extracts have been published as Edwardian Excursions. His Cotswold’s holiday in 1904 began happily: "Being warmly welcomed at the Lygon Arms, Broadway, by a nice landlord, a gentlemanly young man interested in antiques – anxious to restore his house".
"We have got a perfectly enchanting panelled room, full of china, to sit in. Out of this opens my bedroom, about thirty feet long, with a huge white dome in the ceiling, painted with orange stars: a piano etc… The Cromwell room has a fine stone fireplace and a plaster ceiling. He slept here before or after some battle". (Cromwell spent the eve of the battle of Worcester here. By dinner-time next day the civil war was over).
Edward Frederic Benson, Arthur’s younger brother, also visited Broadway. In his 1920 novel Queen Lucia, Broadway appears as the peaceful Elizabethan village of ‘Riseholme’ and the Lygon Arms as ‘The Ambermere Arms’. In this story he introduced Mrs. Emmeline (Lucia) Lucas, Queen of Riseholme high society. And in 1922 in ‘Miss Mapp’, Benson gave us another great social leader, Elizabeth Mapp in the town of ‘Tilling’ (based on Rye in Sussex). He finally brought these two great ladies together in ‘Mapp and Lucia’ (1931), when the widowed Lucia makes an extended visit (that turns permanent) to Tilling.
Most summers from 1781 to 1794, the hyper critical John Byng left his London home and became a tourist travelling through England, putting up at local inns and alehouses. His notebooks were published in the 1930s as the Torrington Diaries and give us a fascinating view of many aspects of Georgian England. At that time the Lygon Arms was known as The Whyte Harte. Byng mentions visiting on four separate occasions, each time favourably. "There cannot be a cleaner, civiller inn than this". However, by the end of the 19th century the Lygon Arms had been reduced to the status of a village beerhouse.
The gentlemanly young landlord Arthur Benson refers to was Sidney Bolton Russell, who rescued the old building from decades of dereliction. He ripped out former Victorian vandalism, re-fitted mullion windows and original fireplaces and filled the ancient shell with carefully collected antiques to create the beautiful inn you see today.

Lygon Arms - Broadway - Worcestershire

C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)      J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973)

Literary Dons C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien famously used to meet with other members of the ’Inklings’ group or writers in various Oxford hostelries – particularly The Eagle & Child where they would read and discuss various material, including their unfinished manuscripts. Less known is the fact that Lewis (a fomer pupil of Malvern College), Tolkien and other writers also used to meet here in The Unicorn, Malvern’s oldest pub. A plaque placed on the front of the inn by the Malvern Civic Society reads: "At this inn C. S. LEWIS - Scholar and author of THE NARNIA CHRONICLES met frequently with literary and hill-walking friends".
Among these friends was George Sayer, an inspirational teacher who became Head of English at Malvern College. Sayer had formerly been a student of Lewis and eventually became his biographer. Lewis introduced Tolkien to Malvern and to his friends who would walk the Malvern Hills together, returning at the end of the day for refreshment at The Unicorn.
Excerpts from Tolkien’s ’The Hobbit’ and ’The Lord of the Rings’ were recorded in George Sayer’s Malvern home in 1952. The recordings were later issued on long-playing gramophone records. In the sleeve notes for “J.R.R Tolkien Reads and Sings his The Hobbit & The Fellowship of the Rings", George Sayer wrote that Tolkien would relive the book as they walked and compared parts of the Malvern Hills to the White Mountains of Gondor.
Persistant tradition has it that, when the friends were walking home one winter evening, having had a pint or two at The Unicorn, it started to snow. They saw a lamp post shining out through the snow and Lewis turned to Tolkien and said "that would make a very nice opening line to a book". It may not have been the opening line, but Lewis did use the image in ’The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, as the characters in the story enter the realm of Narnia.
The Unicorn dates to 1659 and was originally a timber framed construction. The present rendered exterior is the result of a later ’fashionable’ face lift, but the majority of the internal timbers, in the open-plan L-shaped bar, are the originals. The Unicorn Inn was traditionally a coaching house and the large car parking area at the rear was once the coaching yard with stables for up to 50 horses.

Malvern – Unicorn Inn – C.S.Lewis – J.R.R.Tolkien
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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