Yorkshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Acaster Malbis

Barbara Whitehead

The River Ouse and this extended 17th-century waterside pub (just over 4 miles south west of York) provide the location for some of the most crucial scenes in Barbara Whitehead's 1990 detective thriller 'The Girl with Red Suspenders'.
The story begins with D.I. Dave Smart of York CID coming off duty two hours late and contemplating a deliciously idle Sunday. But, on his walk home along the river bank, he sees what turns out to be a corpse of a young woman. "A huddle of black tossed down on the stones, like a rag doll thrown away by a child, her red suspenders brighter than arterial blood". It transpires that The Ship Inn was the last place the stunningly beautiful and sophisticated young woman had been seen alive:
"It was an attractive pub. There was a restaurant but Dave turned into the bar which was long and low. At the end, a step up from the rest of it, were tables where people were sitting ready to eat evening meals. In the centre was the bar itself. On the left was an area with the original stone-flagged floor and a coal fire blazing away in an efficient though antiquated grate, low down in a kind of inglenook".
Boat trips from the City of York stop here for meals; which in the summer include barbecues on the terrace. Just inside the entrance is the brightly painted red brick inglenook incorporating the original kitchen ovens. In the early days there was a serving hatch here for bargees who were relegated to taking their refreshment outside the pub. The second level of the bar is divided into separate booths by wood panels topped with etched glass partitions. A short wide staircase leads through to the light airy dining extension.

Acaster Malbis, Yorkshire - Ship Inn

James Herriot (pseudonym of Alf Wight)

A wall plaque on the Wheatsheaf in Carperby informs us that this is where Alfred Wight and his new wife, Helen, spent their honeymoon in 1941. Alf went on to write a series of books about life in the Dales under the pen name of James Herriot: In his 1979 book 'James Herriot's Yorkshire', he explained that because money was tight and tuberculin testing was overdue, the couple had a working honeymoon as vet and assistant.
They were married on a cold sunny November day in Thirsk Church, followed by a trip to the cinema in Richmond and then a drive over the moors to Carperby. They hadn't expected anything to eat at that hour but the owner Mrs Kilburn and her niece Gladys produced a delicious hot meal: "Those two good ladies fed us like royalty during our stay there, piling the dining table with Yorkshire fare. Enormous breakfasts of home-cured ham and fresh eggs, massive dinners of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings and apple pies drowned in cream. And always, on the table, a foot-high Wensleydale cheese the old kind of wet Wenslydale cheese which was exquisite to eat".
"Our bedroom, with its brass bedstead, looked out over the old roofs of the village across the Ure to the hills beyond, and I still feel that wherever Helen and I may have spent our honeymoon, we could not have found greater beauty."
Carperby is a classic linear Dales village, stretching itself out along the quiet main street. Even though the Wheatsheaf is in the middle of the village you can leave the pub, cross the street, step through a gate and be in fields. The hotel with its friendly bar is a core part of community life and is well supported and appreciated by both visitors and local regulars.

This famous public house lies on the "Lanshaw Lad" moorland track from Shipley Glen to Ilkley. The pub, which was originally called The Fleece, was named Dick Hudson's after some long gone landlord. Here generations of Yorkshire folk have stopped for refreshments during brief opportunities of escape from the harshness of life in the industrial mill towns of the West Riding. Towns which provided settings for several of J. B. Priestly's tales and appear as his interchangeable Ramsfield and Bruddersford. Towns which: "dwindle into a vague smoulder and a sheen of glass roofs in the valleys" as viewed from this isolated inn.
In a nostalgic essay, Priestly has described a walk on the moors "after years of Southern exile" and his reunion with the pub: "The moors are there, miles and miles of countryside that has not changed for centuries, and you only have to squeeze through the little hole in the wall, just beyond Dick Hudson's, to take your fill of them".
"I began by having two pints at Dick's. And I was mightily glad it was still there, the same old grey building, the same cool interior, still smelling of good beer and fried ham; for at any moment now, they may begin monkeying with the old place, turning it into an ice-cream parlour or some such horror."
The moors are unchanged and the little access gap in the dry-stone wall is still there. However, Dick Hudson's has been monkeyed with and is now a modern carvery. Today the whole of the ground floor of the pub is open plan with bar and eating areas for hungry families - who indeed often enjoy ice cream for dessert. These happy, smiling post-industrial families drive up here in shiny cars and walk no further than the few steps from the car park to the pub - while a bewhiskered cartoon Dick Hudson puts a brave face on it as he grins down at them from the sign.

Dick Hudson's - Eldwick - Yorkshire - J.B. Priestley
Gilling East

Gilling East is a quiet attractive village but it was formerly the principal town in this part of the North Riding. The castle, which stands on an eminence behind the pub, is hidden now by a dense mass of trees. It was built soon after the conquest and passed into the hands of the Fairfax family in 1492 and remained in their possession for three hundred years. The Fairfax Arms is featured as 'The Hopbind' in 'Elsinby' in the Constable novels of Nicholas Rhea (pseudonym of Peter Walker). As the former policeman turned author explains:
"In my time as Oswaldkirk's village bobby, Gilling East with its Fairfax Arms was on my patch and the pub then had a hop growing around the porch. One of the characters in an early Constable book was based on a cobbler who worked in Gilling. In Yorkshire dialect, a shoemaker's awl was called an Elsin. And so we get Elsinby (this name is now used for the village in which the TV Heartbeat spin-off, The Royal, is set).
"In 'Constable goes to Market' we are introduced to 'Twelve-pint Pete', a man who drank a dozen pints of beer every night in the Hopbind Inn at Elsinby and was never drunk or incapable. However, his fifteen minutes of fame is threatened the night he is challenged to drink a Yard of Ale without spilling a drop.
"The Fairfax is a comfortable, beautifully presented pub where the attention to detail is impressive - even the toilets should win an award. There are picnic sets under cocktail parasols in the stream-side garden and sumptuous leather chairs in the bar area. An extensive menu is served in the restaurant or bar and the food, prepared daily is all homemade using only the very best local produce.

Gilling East, Yorkshire - Fairfax Arms
Black Bull

Haworth, the home of the Bronte family, is almost as famous as Stratford-upon-Avon as a place for literary pilgrimage. The Revd Patrick Bronte brought his family to live in the parsonage at Haworth in 1820 and it is now kept as a museum. At the top of the steep and cobbled main street is the Black Bull, with its gritstone walls blackened by years of smoke pollution from the former tall chimneys of the local woollen mills. Branwell Bronte, the artistically frustrated brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne spent many hours drinking at the Black Bull and eventually, in 1845, his consumption of alcohol and opium killed him. Emily caught a chill at his funeral and died just 10 days later, not living to receive the acclaim to her novel 'Wuthering Heights'.
Today the Black Bull inside is a touristy open-plan pub with the focus on good value food but in Branwell's day it would have been divided into a series of small dark rooms. According to Mrs Gaskell, Branwell's great conversational talents: "procured him the undesirable distinction of having his company recommended by the landlord of the Black Bull to any chance traveller who might happen to feel solitary or dull over his liquor". Across the Main street is the Apothecary. It was the house of the pharmacist at the time of the Brontes, where Branwell Bronte bought laudanum, an opium derived drug.

Haworth, Yorkshire - Black Bull

William Wordsworth &  Dorothy Wordsworth

In the summer of 1802, William and Dorothy Wordsworth journeyed across northern England from their home in Grasmere to the village of Hackness near Scarborough to visit Mary Hutchinson who was Dorothy's best friend and William's future bride.
One of their enroute stops was at the Three Tuns in Thirsk where, in an excess of enthusiasm they dismissed their chaise (earning the contempt of their landlady) and, on a very hot day in July set off on foot across the Hambleton Hills via Scawton to Helmsley ending their day at an inn which has been identified as the Black Swan.
They found such comfort and hospitality they stayed again on their return journey. Dorothy recorded in her journal that: my heart danced at the sight of its cleanly outside, bright yellow walls, casements overshadowed with jasmine, and its low, double gable ended-front.
Tourism ensured the survival of Helmsley's former coaching inns and the expansion of the Black Swan which today comprises a terrace of three houses of different periods and styles. The black and white Tudor house on the left and the Georgian house in the middle being comparatively recent additions 1947 and 1954 respectively.
The older building on the right dates to the 16th century but, by the time the Wordsworths stayed here the standard classical frontage had been added. I can only think, when referring to bright yellow walls, Dorothy was describing the colour of the sandstone in full sunlight in the same way Jane Austen writes of the glare of new stone buildings in Bath. To further dignify the hotel Jacobean panelling was imported from the church in 1860, and a Tudor doorway was rescued from the ruins of Helmsley Castle and installed at the top of the cellar steps.

Royal Oak

Helmsley is a pretty Ryedale market town situated on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. It appears as 'Ashfordly' in Nicholas Rhea's Constable Novels and has four excellent inns fronting the square where the Friday market is held. During his time as a local Bobby, Peter Walker knew all these pubs, the landlords and a number of the regulars as he explains:
"One of my police duties was to visit pubs during licensing hours to ensure there was no law-breaking or trouble, a task which was welcomed by most landlords, especially towards the end of a busy market-day. During each market-day, therefore, every bobby who patrolled Ashfordly made a point of popping in to the bar of the King's Head..."
"The renowned Black Swan (see separate entry) occupies one side of the square and around the remaining sides are the Royal Oak, the Feathers Hotel and the Crown. Rhea says his 'King's Head', which features in 'Constable goes to Market', could be any one of the latter three. In the story a white rabbit escapes from a market stall and is chased panic-stricken into the pub by Claude Greengrass's dog Alfred. We are given a tour (and a description of the interior) as the pair hurtle through the rooms, down the corridors and up the staircase.
"The Royal Oak has three attractively refurbished and comfortable rooms, good value simple substantial food and serves Camerons Bitter and Bank's seasonal beer. But, for the sake of research you really ought to check out the handsome, stone built, heavily beamed Feathers with its massive inglenook and Black Sheep bitter and, while you're at it, why not try one of the homemade scones with your afternoon tea in the friendly atmosphere of the Crown.


J. B. Priestley's favourite pub

Hubberholme is little more than the church, the bridge and the George, forming the smallest conservation area in Yorkshire. Hubberholme's admirers have ranged from Hubba the Berserker, King of the Vikings - who gave it its name - to J(ohn) B(oynton) Priestley, king of the Yorkshire writers, who called it: 'one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world', and asked for his ashes to be buried in the churchyard.
Priestley's output was so vast and varied it is hard to single out his unique qualities. He consciously cultivated various poses of grumbling patriot, cosmopolitan Yorkshire man, professional amateur, cultured Philistine, reactionary Radical etc but he is probably best remembered today for his stage play 'An Inspector calls' which was made into a film starring Alastair Simm.
This 18th Century Yorkshire Dales inn is still as Priestley knew it. It nestles in a steep valley beside the river Wharfe, and is home to the 'Hubberholme Parliament,' an ancient land-letting tradition, the inn's bar becoming a court, where an auction takes place for grazing rights.
The white-painted stone building looks a little austere from the outside but the interior is warm and inviting. There are two rooms at different levels with low, blackened ceilings (one of them held up by a couple of tree trunks) copper-topped tables, an open kitchen range.
The George serves simple bar food from sandwiches to steak and local lamb. It has well kept Black Sheep bitter and a special guest ale. During the ceremony, when J.B's ashes were being buried in the churchyard, his son Tom said of this remote hamlet: "Here there is space and beauty. The elements seem to be balanced, the earth seems to touch the sky."

Hubberholme, Yorkshire - The George

Branwell Bronte (Frequented by)

Branwell Bronte frequented this pub when he was working as a clerk on the Leeds and Manchester Railway in charge of Luddenden Foot Station. Having abandoned art as a career Branwell turned to something more practical. Charlotte sarcastically announced: 'A distant relation of mine, one Patrick Boanerges, has set off to seek his fortune in the wild, wandering, adventurous, romantic, knight-errant-like capacity of clerk on the Leeds and Manchester Railroad.
Unfortunately he was soon dismissed. The notebook in which he was supposed to keep the station records became his personal journal and comprises a miscellany of rough sketches, draughts of poems and the occasional note on railway affairs. He also missed the fact that his under-clerk was stealing railway funds. During this period he was writing some of his best poetry and mixing with an important circle of Halifax writers, artists and poets who encouraged him to publish some of his poems in The Halifax Guardian.
The 1634 datestone over the door of the pub recalls its origin as a private house. It did not become an alehouse until the middle of the 18th century when it was called the White Swan. In 1776 one of the district's first libraries was set up in the pub which was an added attraction to local literary regulars including poet William Dearden and the knight-errant Branwell.
The Lord Nelson today is an excellent, comfortable village local. With lots of small individual rooms. The front bar has exposed stone walls and stone mullioned windows. Hanging in the bar is a floodlit photograph of the pub with a caption which reads: "I would rather give my right hand than undergo again the malignant yet cold debauchery which too often marked my conduct there". Branwell Bronte. A stylised statue of Branwell stands nearby in Old Station Road.

Luddenden, Yorkshire - Lord Nelson

In one of Nicholas Rhea's latest Constable books 'Constable around the Park'; we are introduced to the Royal Oak at Crampton and the author confides that "I wouldn't be surprised if the Royal Oak at Nunnington is very similar".
In this installment there is the prospect of change for Constable Nick. He has qualified for promotion but must patiently await a vacancy. Meanwhile his rural duties deep within the North York Moors start to pose some baffling questions: Why would a man dump financial magazines in a moorland stream or a businessman throw sackfuls of rubbish into private woodland? What were the fearsome creatures which trapped tourists in a moorland village? Why would anyone abandon a wedding cake?
The bar of this very popular, attractive and neatly kept little pub has high black beams strung with earthenware flagons, copper jugs and lots of antique keys. One of the walls is stripped back to the bare stone to display a fine collection of antique farm tools. There are open fires and, arranged around the sturdy tables, with kitchen and country dining chairs and a long pew - all standing on the Turkish carpet. There is even a lectern in one corner.
So what about the 'Park'? Well, the Royal Oak is very handy for a visit to the National Trust property of Nunnington Hall. This beautiful honey coloured Yorkshire manor house with organic garden was once home to the doctor of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth. It has an unusual collection of miniature rooms with tiny furnishings and musical instruments. The totally organic walled-garden, retaining a lovely 17th-century character has a collection of 50 different types of clematis.


American crime writer Martha Grimes explains: I'm not English, but nothing quickens my imagination more than a fog-bound moor, windy heath, river mist in an old fishing village, and the names of British pubs. All of my books are named after pubs and, yes, the pubs are for real. The Yorkshire moors have always seemed cradled in silence; when I passed a pub called 'The Old Silent' out in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter, I was smitten ". The first chapter of 'The Old Silent' (the 10th book in the Richard Jury series) is almost wholly description of the pub until the end when the silence is shattered by a gunshot.
The bleak Haworth moors of the Brontes completely surround this inn, which was originally known as the Eagle, its change of name resulting from an incident involving Bonnie prince Charlie. In the mid-eighteenth-century, while the Young pretender was on the run he stayed at the inn for several weeks, depending on the silence of the locals for his safety and freedom, hence the inn's new name. And, on the subject of names; American members of the Martha Grimes fan club are known as the 'Old Peculiars' after the famous local Theakstons beer.
The antiques mentioned in the book's description of the pub's interior were a private collection and left with a previous landlord. The pub has also suffered a severe fire since Martha Grimes wrote the book. But the interior has been faithfully reconstructed using old materials. This neatly rebuilt dining pub has interconnecting rooms including a restaurant and conservatory, beams, stone floors, mullioned windows and open fireplaces./p>


James Herriot     William Wordsworth     Dorothy Wordsworth

James Herriot, alias real life vet Alf Wight, lived and worked in the market town of Thirsk for more than 50 years and it was from this quiet corner of North Yorkshire that he drew inspiration for his tales of veterinary life. His house and surgery - just off the market square - are preserved as they were in the 1940's, and now open as the James Herriot Centre. This excellent museum and exhibition is well worth a visit for the social history aspect alone.
Thirsk appears as Darrowby in Herriot's books, and the Golden Fleece (far right in the photograph) is his Drovers Arms. An inn since Tudor times, it was built up as a Coaching House by George Blythe who purchased the property in 1791. Blythe bought the adjoining taller property with the three storey bay windows and incorporated it into the Inn. In the heyday of the road, the Hotel kept fifty or sixty horses in its stables to work the coaches alone.
The large white building on the far left of the photograph is the Three Tuns Hotel which was Alf Wight's favourite watering hole. Writing in 'James Herriot's Yorkshire' he explains:
"The Three Tuns was originally built as a dower house for the family of Bell and is an 18th-century building with a fine staircase rising from the centre of the hall. The Golden Fleece is early 18th-century and in the old days was the most notable coaching house between York and Darlington."
The two inns competed for the growing volume of coaching traffic that passed through the town but it was the Three Tuns which William and Dorothy Wordsworth chose to stay in 1802 on their journey to see William's bride to be. (see also the entry for the Black Swan in Helmsley)


This timber-framed inn is where Charles Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Brown stayed on their trip to investigate and denounce the cruel Yorkshire boarding schools. These were places where unwanted, often illegitimate, boys were sent and which provided the background for Dickens's novel 'Nicholas Nickleby'.
During his stay, the author sent this letter (dated Black Swan Hotel, York, Saturday evening 3rd February 1838) via the Editor of The Durham Advertiser to a Mrs Henry Belcome: "Mr. Charles Dickens presents his compliments to Miss Belcombe, and (having just arrived in York) begs to forward her the accompanying letter from Mrs. Bartley". Dickens also attended a service at York Minster, and made its Five Sisters window the subject of a traveller's tale in the novel.
Built in the 14th century, the Black Swan spent its first 300 years as smart town house owned by a succession of wealthy and influential merchants including one Martin Bowes, who became Lord Mayor of London and Court Jeweller to Queen Elizabeth 1st. In 1683 the house came into the possession of the family of General Wolfe of Quebec and around 1715 it became a very superior inn whose pride is a panelled upstairs room, probably the original family dining room, which has a Delft tiled fireplace and faint traces of medieval paintings which once covered the walls.
In 1839 a rail line was built to link Leeds and York and in 1854 this merged with several others to form the North Eastern Railway. Standing slightly outside the centre of the city, the old coaching inn lost out and began to decline. Its ultimate ramshackle condition can be seen in an engraving hanging in the entrance hall. Tourism finally helped revive the Black Swan's fortunes, and in 1930 it was restored to the smart pub you see today.

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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