THE BOSTON TEA Party in Salisbury’s High Street serves great coffee and tasty breakfast dishes. It is housed in the premises of what used to be The Old George Inn. This hostelry is in a building, whose construction is said to have begun in the 14th century. Most of the older part of the former tavern straddles a pedestrian footway leading from the High Street to a modern shopping mall and its associated multi-storied car park.
The entrance to The Boston Tea Party is via a shop beneath a building that looks newer than the older looking half-timbered edifice straddling the passageway mentioned above. A staircase leads to a dining area above the shop, which is where we enjoyed breakfast one morning in March 2022. This room has a decoratively patterned plaster ceiling and the remains of an old inscription in gothic script. As we were leaving, I saw a notice that advised customers that if the section, where we ate, was closed, customers should proceed up to the ‘Great Hall’. I was intrigued.
The Great Hall is one of the historical marvels of the city of Salisbury. Its ceiling is supported by beams cut from old ships’ timbers. The Inn has been rebuilt several times. However, the beams that exist today include wood from trees that were felled in the mid-15th century (www.buildingconservation.com/articles/george/inn_conservation.htm). Some of the walls are covered with wood panelling decorated with carvings and there are at least two elaborately carved wooden fireplace surrounds. Other decorative features include plasterwork covered with intricate bas-relief designs, and a lovely bow window overlooking the High Street. The hall is overlooked by a gallery with a balustrade. There is also a window with stained glass that includes a depiction of a royal coat-of-arms and the name of a king, probably Edward VI, who reigned from 1547 until 1553. According to the historicengland.org.uk website:
“On lst floor the south room has early C17 plaster work friezes on beams and carved wood overmantel. Projecting to east on north side open hall through 2 storeys. C15 hammerbeam roof, arched braces to collars. Heavy scissor bracing visible on 2nd floor lath decorated wall plates and spandrels. 2 rooms with tie beams and kingposts with 4-way struts.”
Over the centuries, The Old George Inn has had many visitors including William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, and Charles Dickens. It is believed that Shakespeare and his players, whilst on their way to Wilton, rehearsed “As You Like It” in the garden of the inn. Samuel Pepys spent one night at the inn but moved to another after having argued with the innkeeper over his bill.
Once upon a time, the Great Hall of the Old George Inn would have been filled with guests enjoying tankards of beer and ale and hearty meals. Today, in its reincarnation as The Boston Tea Party, the place is bustling with customers drinking cappuccinos and chai lattes as the consume trendy delicacies such as poached eggs on smashed avocado and ‘The Vegan Boss’. Whether or not you are thirsty or hungry, a visit to the Great Hall is a ‘must’ before or after you have viewed the cathedral.
IT MIGHT BE OBVIOUS to many that the village pub is, along with the local parish church, often the social hub of small settlements all over England. Since the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic, we have not made our usual annual long trip to India. Instead, when public health regulations have permitted, we have been taking the opportunity better our knowledge of the country where we live, England, by making frequent trips to different parts of the land. On all these excursions, we have stopped for food and drink at pubs in many small places. Some of these pubs have become more like restaurants than traditional village social centres, but many still act as communal living rooms where local people gather to drink and chat together.
In Cavendish, a small village in Suffolk, there are two pubs. One is more of a restaurant than a traditional pub. By the way, it serves very excellent food. The other pub serves no food except packets of potato crisps. When we visited it, we were told that it only offers drinks. This pub was full of locals talking to each other quite animatedly. One, whom we overheard, claimed to be having a fantastic sexual relationship with a French lesbian, in whose house he had done some plumbing work.
One pub, which we have visited more than half a dozen times since early 2020, is in south Cambridgeshire. The Pig and Abbot at Abingdon Piggots, a village with about 60 households not far from Royston, successfully combines being a meeting place for locals with being a place where very well prepared, tasty food may be enjoyed, either in a small restaurant area or at tables near the centrally located bar.
The current owners, Mick and Pat, have owned the pub for almost 20 years. Pat is a superb cook and warm hostess, and Mick is a knowledgeable and charming host. He told us that the early 18th century building in which his pub is located used to be the local dower house, in which the wife of the lord of the manor lived after she was widowed. Back in those days, women usually outlived their husbands. The dower house was far from being a peaceful retirement home for widows of lords of the manor. It was a hive of activity. It was in the dower house at Abingdon Piggots that bread was baked, and other food prepared, not only for the manor house, but also for all the local families that worked for the lord of the manor. The manor, which had been in the Piggott family, many of whom have memorials in the local church, ended up in the hands of the De Courcy-Ireland family. In the early 20th century, a descendant of the Piggott family, who had inherited the manor married the Reverend Magens De Courcy-Ireland (died 1955). Mick told us that the dower house became a pub during the second half of the 19th century.
While we were enjoying a superb lunch during a recent visit to the Pig and Abbot, we asked Nick how many of the local villagers used the pub regularly. He told us that of the 60 households, 10 were regulars. We wondered whether we were amongst his customers who lived furthest away from the village. He said that we are, but his furthest customer, a former resident in the village, a biologist, now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. However, whenever he is in England, he makes a point of visiting the Pig and Abbot. Despite this outlier and us, most of the regulars do not come from afar, and I noticed that Nick seems to know most of his customers by their first names.
Of the many pubs that we have visited during our extensive roaming around the English countryside, the Pig and Abbot has become our favourite. From its warm welcoming staff, to its great food and drink, to its range of well-chosen decorations, and to its lovely wood burning fireplaces, it ticks all the boxes, making it a perfect pub. Visiting the Pig and Abbot gives one a wonderful idea of what has made the English country pub such a successful institution over many centuries.
ONCE LONDON’S HAMPSTEAD had two pubs or taverns named ‘The Flask’. This should not come as a great surprise as Flask used to be a common name given to pubs. One of them, The Upper Flask, used to be located at the top (northern) end of East Heath Road and the other, The Lower Flask’ was (and still is) on Flask Walk, a street leading off Hampstead High Street.
The Upper Flask used to be a remarkable establishment. Once called ‘The Upper Bowling Green House’ because of its good bowling green, it was a meeting place favoured by fashionable and ‘cultured’ men (mainly) and women during the 18th century. It was a summer meeting place for The Kit Kat Club, which thrived in the early 18th century and whose members included literary figures and political personalities, who supported the Whig Party. The Upper Flask figures several times in “Clarissa”, a lengthy novel by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), first published in 1747. The place ceased operating as a hospitality business in the 1750s, when it became a private residence (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp81-91). In 1921, it was demolished to clear the site for building the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital (https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/queenmaryhampstead.html), which has since become the site of a luxury housing complex.
The Lower Flask (in Flask Walk) is also mentioned in “Clarissa”, but unflatteringly as:
“… a place where second-rate persons are to be found often in a swinish condition,” (quoted from “Old and New London”, by Edward Walford, about 1880).
Unlike the lost Upper Flask, the formerly named Lower Flask is still in business, but much has changed since Richardson published his novel.
Located at the eastern end of the pedestrianised stretch of Flask Walk, the former Lower Flask, renamed The Flask, was rebuilt in 1874 (and extended in 1990; https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1322190). Formerly, it had been a thatched building and was a place where mineral water from Hampstead’s chalybeate springs was sold. It and Keith Fawkes’ second-hand bookshop are the only things in Flask Walk, which were in existence when I used to visit Hampstead regularly in the 1960s and 1970s. In those, now far-off, days, I remember that there used to be another second-hand bookshop and a butcher, both on the south side of the passageway. Before the 20th century, there used to be a fair held for a few days in August on the triangular open space a few yards downhill from The Flask pub. Close to The Flask, also on Flask Walk, miscreants could be found languishing in the parish stocks. Both the stocks and the fair are now but long distant memories recorded only in books published many decades ago.
Oddly, despite visiting Hampstead literally thousands of times during the last more than 65 years, it was only on Halloween 2021 that I first set foot in the Flask pub, and I am pleased that I did. The front rooms of the pub retain much of their Victorian charm and the rear rooms are spacious. Although we only stopped for a drink, I could see that the Sunday lunches being served to customers around us looked delicious. We hope to return there soon.
DUNCHURCH IN WARWICKSHIRE is located where the old road between Oxford and Leicester crosses that between London and Holyhead. This charming village was a place where, in its heyday, up to forty carriages a day stopped to change their horses for a fresh team. This was done at the various coaching inns in the village. One of these hostelries, which is still in business today, is The Dun Cow, where we ate a good English breakfast. Some of this inn’s previous guests included the engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son, another engineer, Robert (1803-1859), who dined at the hotel on the 23rd of December 1837. Their dinner was to celebrate the completion of the Kilsby Tunnel on the Birmingham to London Railway, a project supervised by Robert.
While we were wandering around the graveyard of Dunchurch’s St Peters Church, which dates back to the 12th century, we asked a gardener working there about where one of Dunchurch’s former famous characters had once stayed. He told us that he had no idea. Half-jokingly but with some earnestness, he added: “…we could do with another one like him.”
The man about whom we were asking had associates, who were staying at the village’s former inn, The Lion Inn, in the early 17th century, the year 1605 to be exact. It was in early November of that year that those waiting at The Lion in Dunchurch were wondering about their colleague who was 79 miles away in London.
The fellows at The Lion were waiting to hear whether their co-conspirator Guy (Guido) Fawkes (1570-1606) had been successful in blowing up the House of Lords in London. He was not, and the conspirators waiting in Dunchurch were arrested. Had the plot to blow up Parliament and along with it the Protestant King James I succeeded, the men at The Lion were to have travelled to nearby Combe Abbey to seize Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662), who became Queen of Bohemia. As an informative website (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/rugby-school-science-teaching-around-1900-2) explains:
“In 1605 the monarch was James I; the Princess Elizabeth was his eldest daughter and sister to the future Charles I. In 1605 she was nine and being educated by Lord Harington at Coombe Abbey. She wasn’t a Catholic, but the conspirators planned to convert her and use her as their figurehead … Her main importance with regard to British history is that one of her grandsons (the son of her youngest daughter Sophia of Hanover) became King George I.”
The man about whom we were chatting with the gardener was neither of the Stephensons, who dined at The Dun Cow, nor the Duke of Wellington, who also stayed in the village, nor Lord John Douglas-Montagu-Scott (1809 – 1860), whose statue stands facing The Dun Cow. He was referring to Guy Fawkes, but this time a Guy Fawkes who completes the job before being arrested!
The former inn, a lovely half-timbered edifice is now a private house, named ‘Guy Fawkes House’, even though the famous man never lived there. The rest of the village contains several old thatched cottages, a thatched bus shelter, and the old village stocks. Close to the town of Rugby, this village is well worth a visit.
EVERY SCHOOLDAY MORNING between 1965 and 1970, I boarded a single-decker, route 210 bus at Golders Green Station. First, we travelled up North End Road southwards to Jack Straws Castle, near Whitestone Pond. Then rounding the Hampstead war memorial, our direction changed from south to north-east as the bus travelled along the straight Spaniards Road, just a few yards more than half a mile in length. Invariably, the bus slowed down near the Spaniards Inn, where the road narrows because of the presence of a disused, historic tollhouse directly across the road from the inn. During my five years of travelling this route, I never wondered about the history of the Spaniards Inn, the tollhouse, and the area around them. Now, many years after leaving Highgate School, to which I was heading every morning on the 210, my interest in historical matters has been fired up, as has my desire to share that with anyone who has time to read what I write.
Spaniards Road and its eastern continuation beyond the tollhouse, Hampstead Lane, have long comprised an important route connecting Highgate and Hampstead. Spaniards Road, unlike Hampstead Lane, runs level without inclines or declivities. It runs along a ridge between the south and north facing slopes of Hampstead Heath. At its western end near the former Jack Straws Castle pub, it reaches the highest point in Hampstead, about 440 feet above sea level. At its eastern end by the Spaniards Inn, it is three feet lower. East of the inn, Hampstead Lane descends considerably and only begins to rise again within about three hundred yards of the centre of Highgate Village.
The tollhouse, the cause of an almost continuous traffic bottleneck, narrows the road width considerably so that it is only broad enough to admit one vehicle at a time. The tollhouse was built in the 18th century to collect tolls from those passing through the western entrance to the Estates of the Bishops of London, which they owned for almost 1400 years. Because of its tendency to slow the traffic, the idea of demolishing it or moving it a few yards from the road was mooted in the last century. The debate about shifting the tollhouse even reached the House of Lords, where on the 2nd of February 1966, Lord Lindgren (George Lindgren: 1900-1971) suggested:
“My Lords, to move this building two yards would, I think, be a tremendous waste of time, effort and labour. In actual fact, the lorries going by day by day remove the brick, and if we leave it long enough it will not be there.”
Luckily, the small building remains intact and although not particularly attractive, it adds to the charm of the area.
The Spaniards Inn, across the narrow stretch of road from the tollhouse, is believed to have been established in about 1585. It stands on the old boundary between Finchley and Hendon. Today, the Inn is in the Borough of Barnet and the tollhouse is in that of Camden. In former days, the inn marked the entrance to the Estates of the Bishops of London. The building that houses the inn is 17th century brickwork with some wooden weatherboarding, which is best viewed from the pub’s carpark. It is according to the historicengland.org.uk website:
“An altered building, but one that still has great character.”
The origin of the pub’s name is not known for certain. One suggestion is that the building was once owned by a family connected with the Spanish Embassy. Another is that at some stage, the house was taken by a Spaniard and converted to a house of entertainment. Edward Walford, writing in the 1880s, relates that whilst the Spanish Ambassador to King James I (ruler of England from 1603 to 1625) was residing there, he complained:
“…that he and his suite had not seen very much of the sun in England.”
The Spaniards Inn was the scene of an event during the Gordon Riots in mid-1780. The causes of the riots were several, but they included anti-Catholic sentiments following the passing of an act of Parliament passed in 1778, which ‘emancipated’ the Roman Catholics. At that time, Kenwood House, which is just east of the Spaniards Inn was one of the homes of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793), an important lawyer, reformer (his reforms included objections to slavery), and politician. He was Lord Chief Justice when the act was passed and just prior to the outbreak of rioting, he had treated a Catholic priest leniently in a court of justice. A group of rioters attacked and burned Mansfield’s home in Bloomsbury Square:
“The furniture, his fine library of books, invaluable manuscripts, containing his lordship’s notes on every important law case for near forty years past … were by the hands of these Goths committed to the flames; Lord and Lady Mansfield with difficulty eluded their rage, by making their escape through a back door … So great was the vengeance with which they menaced him, that, if report may be credited, they had brought a rope with them to have executed him: and his preservation may be properly termed providential.”
Not happy with burning down Mansfield’s London home and its owner’s escape from their clutches, rioters set off towards Kenwood where they planned to destroy his rural retreat. They made their way to the Spaniards Inn, which was then kept by a publican called Giles Thomas. This shrewd fellow was quick to assess the reason for the rabble’s arrival and being a man of quick thinking, he opened his house and his cellars to the mob, offering them unlimited refreshment before they continued to undertake their planned work of devastating Kenwood House. As soon as they began enjoying Thomas’s generous hospitality, the canny publican sent a messenger to a local barracks to raise a detachment of the Horse Guards. At the same time, he arranged for other rabble-rousers to be supplied with liberal amounts of strong ale from the cellars of Kenwood House. A Mr William Wetherell, who was on the spot, encouraged the rioters to adjourn to the Spaniards Inn. By the time that the military arrived, the rioters were in no fit state to either resist the soldiers or to carry out their planned attack on Mansfield’s residence, which was a good thing not only for Mansfield but also for posterity because by 1780, the house had already been worked on by the architect Robert Adam, who had made improvements of great artistic value.
The Spaniards Inn stands amongst a cluster of historic buildings. Its next-door neighbour is a plain building, Erskine House (also once known as ‘Evergreen Hill’). This stands on the site of an earlier house of the same name built in about 1788. It was the home of the lawyer and Whig politician Thomas Erskine (1750-1823), Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain between 1806 and 1807. By all accounts, he was a brilliant man. He was involved in many important trials. One of these that attracted me because of my interest in Indian history was during the impeachment proceedings (in 1785) against Warren Hastings after his time as Governor General of Bengal. Mr Stockdale, a publisher in Piccadilly, issued a pamphlet by John Logan which defended Hastings, and following that was tried for libel expressed against the chief opponents of Hastings, Charles Fox and Edmund Burke. Stockdale was defended successfully by Erskine in a case that helped to pave the way to the passing of the Libel Act 1792, which:
In addition to being involved in many other important cases, Erskine was an animal lover as well as a great wit. For example, when he saw a man on Hampstead Heath hitting his miserable-looking sickly horse violently, so Edward Walford recorded, he admonished the cruel fellow. The latter replied:
“Why, it’s my own; mayn’t I use it as I please?”
Hearing this, Erskine began beating the miscreant with his own stick. When the victim remonstrated and asked him to stop using his stick, Erskine, who could not suppress making a witty remark, said:
“Why, it’s my own; mayn’t I use it as I please?”
Erskine’s former home was located between the Spaniards Inn and a house, which still stands today, Heath End House, which was occupied by Sir William Parry (1790-1855), the Arctic explorer. The sign on its outer gate reads ‘Evergreen Hill’. Later, it was a home of Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936) and her husband Canon Samuel Barnett (1844-1913). Both were deeply involved with the creation of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Although I lived in the ‘highly desirable’ Suburb, I would have much preferred to have lived in the Barnett’s lovely house by the Spaniards Inn. Had I lived there in amongst that historic cluster of houses, maybe I would have walked to school instead of boarding the 210 bus in Golders Green.
YOU CAN NO LONGER ENJOY a tankard of ale at the Sun Inn in the Essex town of Saffron Walden. However, you can still enjoy the fine pargetting (moulded sculptured plasterwork) that adorns it.
The building that housed the former Sun Inn was built in the 15th century. Late in the 16th or early in the 17th century, an upper floor was added. Indeed, one of the gables with fine pargetting bears the date 1676. This might have been the date when the present pargetting was created or when the upper floor was added, or even both. The former inn has an opening that allowed wagons and other traffic to enter the yard behind it.
The pargetting is described well in a website (www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/essex/vol1/pp228-260) as follows: “… in the middle bay are two late 17th-century panels in plaster, one with a design of foliage and birds, and the other with a stocking; in the S.W. gable is a design of the same date in plaster, which consists of a circular panel divided into twelve segments; on each side is the figure of a man in a long coat, knee-breeches and high-heeled shoes; one figure holds a sword and buckler, the other a long club.”
Today (late 2020), the group of beautifully decorated houses that includes the former Sun Inn is empty. The ground floor of part of the building bears a shop sign ‘Lankester Antiques & Books’. Run by Paul Lankester of Thaxted in Essex, the shop closed after 48 years of business in July 2015. Another sign near it reads ‘The 14th century Old Sun Inn. Oliver Cromwell’s Headquarters 1647’. In 1647, when Cromwell’s New Model Army had won the first civil war for the Parliamentarians, they gathered in Saffron Walden. For various reasons the war weary army was becoming dissatisfied. Cromwell and his officers arrived in Saffron Walden on the 2nd of May 1647 to try to satisfy the troops’ various demands and to deal with their grievances (www.saffronwaldenreporter.co.uk/news/a-lasting-place-in-history-1-377880). He was unable to do so and returned to London after staying in the town for 19 days.
Although the town has many other attractions, seeing this old building with its exquisite external decorations is on its own an excellent reason to pay a visit to Saffron Walden.
LOVINGTON BAKERY AND CAFÉ in Wincanton (Somerset) provides a superb range of breakfast items, all prepared beautifully. No effort was spared to ensure that we had a most enjoyable breakfast. The café, which is housed on the Market Place close to the Town Hall, is almost opposite a former coaching inn, once called ‘The Greyhound’.
The elegant three-storey building that used to be the Greyhound has a centrally located archway that has a cobbled driveway passing beneath it. There is a bas-relief depicting a royal coat of arms above the archway. A cast-iron inn sign showing a greyhound with its broad neck collar remains suspended over the pavement above the archway. An oval panel above the archway but at the level of the roof has a faded painting of a greyhound.
The Greyhound was built in the 18th century, probably by the local builder Nathaniel Ireson (1685-1769), whose impressive funerary monument, which includes a handsome statue and carvings of builder’s tools, can be seen in the graveyard that surrounds the town’s large church of St Peter and St Paul. The building was first mentioned in parish records in 1743 and advertised as being “new” in 1760 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1238740). The greyhound is the armorial symbol of the Churchey Family of Tout Hill.
In 1825, when the future Queen Victoria was a child aged about six years, she visited Wincanton and stayed for one night at The Greyhound. This visit is recorded on a plaque attached to the building. Where she was going, I have not yet been able to ascertain, but she was not the only royal visitor to be associated with Wincanton. In 1688, William of Orange (reigned 1698-1702) not only visited the town but also his Dutch troops fought and won a battle against troops loyal to the deposed King James II in the town. After his victory, he spent a night in Wincanton A plaque attached to a picturesque old building not far from the former Greyhound inn commemorates the Battle of Wincanton (20th of November 1688).
The Greyhound is one of many pubs (former and still working) that line the main road through Wincanton. In the olden days before motor transport superseded horse-drawn transport, these inns served as staging posts for travellers, places for being fed and for resting overnight. The Greyhound no longer serves the traveller but houses a gallery and has also become part of a housing unit. We spent the night in a modern hotel not far from the modern highway (the A303), which takes traffic past Wincanton rather than through its winding hilly streets. From our bedroom window, we can see a concrete factory and a tall sign advertising a KFC food outlet. Had Victoria been staying here, I am certain that she might have said or thought “We are not amused”.