Eating afer 9 pm in a village in Essex

WHILE ELTON JOHN was performing in front of thousands in London’s Hyde Park in late June 2022,  a small ensemble was performing works by the baroque composers Pergolesi and Purcell in the large medieval gothic church in Thaxted (Essex). The superbly performed concert in Thaxted starring the Armonico Consort ended well after 9 pm.  This was not a problem for the many well-healed members of the audience in the church, who lived locally and were able to feed themselves in their own homes.

Thaxted, Essex

We could have eaten before the concert, which commenced at 7 pm, but were not hungry before that early hour. The pubs in Thaxted informed us that their kitchens stopped  taking orders for food before 845 or 9 pm.

At a pub called the Star, someone hearing us asking about food after 9 pm, recommended we should head for Farouk’s. The bar attendant and several bystander’s agreed with our informant. The bar attendant kindly said that we could bring food from Farouk  and she would save a table for us at which we could sit and eat after the concert.

Farouk is the owner of a caravan parked in a yard behind a petrol filling station in Thaxted. He and his colleagues,  all from Turkey,  prepare and sell Turkish food in the caravan. And, his eatery closes not at 845 or 9 pm, but at 11 pm.

After hearing superb renderings of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” and Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” (semi-staged), we headed for Farouk’s caravan and the Star pub.

While waiting for our food to be prepared at about 9.40 pm, Farouk explained he had come from Gaziantep. He said that in his part of Turkey, which is quite close to Cyprus, Turkish is spoken with an accent that is very similar to that spoken by Cypriot Turks. During the ten minutes it took to prepare our food, Farouk took many food orders over the phone, which goes to show that in Thaxted there is a healthy demand for food after 9 pm.

We enjoyed our food at the table reserved for us at the Star. This welcoming pub is popular with locals. I suspect that its lively clientele was a different segment of Thaxted’s population from that which attended the concert in the church.

A chiming pub in Cornwall

EGLOSHAYLE IS ACROSS the Camel river, facing the Cornish town of Wadebridge. The Earl of St Vincent pub is hidden away up a hill behind Egloshayle’s St Petroc church. It is housed in a building built in the 17th century as a boarding house for masons. Later, it became a pub. One of its many guests was Admiral Sir John Jervis (1735-1823).

The interior of the pub has timber roof beams and a delightful feeling of times long gone by. It is a great example of many people’s idealised vision of a typical ‘olde worlde English’ country pub. Soon after entering the dimly lit establishment, and your eyes adjust to the low light levels, it becomes evident that the pub is full of clocks, mostly differing in design. Most of them appear to be in working order, but not many of them show the same time. A great number of the clocks chime at least once an hour, but not all at the same time. This being the case, there is usually at least one clock chiming at any given moment. This produces a lovely background symphony of chimes.

I asked one of the pub’s staff why there were so many clocks in the pub. She replied:

“Some people like children. We like clocks”

Later, I asked the landlady about the clocks. She told me that when they took over the pub some years ago, there was no clock in it. She and her husband bought one clock for the pub, and this became the start of their collection. They could not stop buying timepieces. She told me that there are over 200 clocks in the pub and winding them up every day is quite a huge task.

Apart from the fascinating clocks, the pub can be recommended for the delicious, excellently prepared, unpretentious food that can be eaten there.

Richmond’s last night out was in a London pub…

IN “REGENCY BUCK” by the English novelist Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), we read in chapter II:

“Weighs something between thirteen and fourteen stone,” said Mr. Fitzjohn knowledgeably. “They say he loses his temper. You weren’t at the fight last year? No, of course you weren’t I was forgetting. Well, y’know it was bad, very bad. The crowd booed him. Don’t know why, for they don’t boo at Richmond and he’s a Black, too. I daresay it was just from everyone’s wanting Cribb to win. But it was not at all the thing, and made the Black think he had not been fairly treated, though that was all my eye and Betty Martin, of course. Cribb is the better man, best fighter I ever saw in my life.

This extract includes two names ‘Cribb’ and ‘Richmond’. Both were boxers of great renown: Tom Cribb (1781-1848) was an English world champion bare-knuckle boxer and Bill Richmond (1763-1829) was more than simply a boxer.

Richmond was an ex-slave born into slavery in Richmondtown on Staten Island, New York (USA). He was then a ‘possession’ of the Reverend Richard Charlton. Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland (1742-1817), an officer commanding British forces during the American War of Independence, saw Richmond involved in a fight with British soldiers in a tavern, and recognised the black man’s skill as a boxer. After arranging fights between young Richmond and other British soldiers, Percy bough Richmond his freedom and sent him to England, where he organised his education, and apprenticed him to a cabinet maker in Yorkshire. Richmond married in England and later moved to London, where, already in his forties, he began his largely successful and lucrative career in boxing.  He also owned a pub, The Horse and Dolphin, for a while. Today the Dutch pub in Soho, De Hems, stands on its site.

Soon Cribb was challenging and beating some of the best boxers of the time. However, in 1805, Richmond challenged Cribb, and lost. This led to bad relations between the two men, which lasted for years. Richmond met another former slave Tom Molineaux (1784-1818). Recognising his new acquaintance’s potential as a boxer, Richmond gave up boxing to train Molyneaux. After having narrowly lost two fights with Cribb, in 1810 and 1811, Molyneaux fired his trainer, Richmond.

After losing money on training and sponsoring Molyneaux, Richmond, by then aged 50, took to the boxing ring again. At this advanced age, he challenged and beat two younger champion boxers, Jack Davis and then Tom Shelton. After these two victories, he wanted to challenge Cribb again, but the latter had already retired. In 1820, Richmond founded a boxing academy for training amateur boxers. Amongst those he trained were two now famous literary figures: William Hazlitt and Lord Byron.

As he and Cribb aged, they became friends. It was in the pub that Cribb owned, The Union on Panton Street (near Leicester Square), that Richmond spent the last evening before his death. The Union still exists but is now named the Tom Cribb. A plaque on the outside of this hostelry commemorates Cribb’s achievements and another one records Richmond’s last night out, which was spent with his friend Tom Cribb.

A house where music has been played for many centuries

Burgh House, Hampstead, London

Burgh House stands high above the southwest end of Well Walk in north London’s historic village of Hampstead. Here is a little bit about it, an extract from my new book about Hampstead:

“… Burgh House is entered from a steep side street called New End Square. The house, built in 1704, is close to the Hampstead Well Spa (see below). According to Bohm and Norrie, the House is named after its 10th owner, The Reverend Allatson Burgh (1769-1856), who was the vicar of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Burgh, who was keener on music than looking after his parishioners, neglected both them and his house. Thomas Barratt wrote:

“Mr. Burgh was a rector in the city, and the composer of a work on church music, published by Longmans. Burgh House is depicted on five pieces of the Wedgwood service, made in 1774, for Catherine II., Empress of Russia.”

Between 1858 and 1884, Burgh House became the headquarters of the Royal East Middlesex Militia. After having been put to a variety of uses, the house became used as a cultural centre in 1979. It now contains a small art gallery, a café, a shop, and a Hampstead Museum. The Reverend Burgh would have been pleased to know that today his former home also hosts many fine concerts of classical music.

From the bottom of the garden of Burgh House, the ‘Wells Tavern’ pub can be seen dominating the view along the gently inclined Well Walk. Known as ‘The Green Man’ until 1850, when it was rebuilt and renamed the ‘Wells Tavern’, a pub has stood on his spot since at least 1762. The pub’s name reflects one of the reasons that Hampstead became popular in the 17th century.  Apart from enjoying clean air, people were attracted to the mineral water springs issuing chalybeate (iron-rich) water that were beginning to be exploited in Hampstead at that time…”

My book is called

“BENEATH A WIDE SKY: HAMPSTEAD AND ITS ENVIRONS”

YOU CAN BUY the paperback or ebook (Kindle) from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Eight bells and a bridge

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, busy Fulham in west London was a small country village in the early 19th century. Today, what was once the heart of the village, is the site of two bridges spanning the Thames. One carries the District Line railway tracks and pedestrians, and the other, an elegant stone bridge with five arches carries a road across the river. Known as Putney Bridge, the latter was completed in 1886 and designed by the prolific civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

Inside The Eight Bells in Fulham

Prior to the construction of the stone bridge, there was an earlier wooden bridge, known as ‘Fulham Bridge’. With roofed gatehouses at both ends and 26 arches (or openings), it was designed by Sir Jacob Acworth and completed in 1729. Its approach road was Fulham High Street. The bridge has long-since been demolished but a blind-ended, short inlet of the river, now named Swan Drawdock Nature Reserve runs right next to where the old bridge would have once begun.

The Eight Bells pub, which still serves customers, stands on Fulham High Street. Now housed in a Victorian building, it might have been first established as early as the 17th century. When the old bridge stood, it would have attracted much business from folk using the wooden crossing. Things changed when the new, current, bridge was constructed.

The approach to the new crossing, Putney Bridge, was not via Fulham High Street but by way of a new road, the present Putney Bridge Approach (the A 219), which does not pass the front of the Eight Bells. This led to a considerable loss of business for the pub, whose owners received £1000 in compensation: a great deal of money in the late 1880s.

The Eight Bells and its neighbour, a wonderful second-hand book shop, along with a few other shops near Putney Bridge station, although definitely not rural in appearance, retain a ‘villagey’ feel.

Where gold flowers grow

THE COUNTY OF ESSEX is immediately east of Greater London. Parts of it are heavily built-up and not particularly attractive. The rest of the county is both varied and delightful to explore. So near to London, many parts of it retain rural characteristics, which one might not believe existed so near to the huge city of London. Recently, we visited Goldhanger, a small village close to the River Blackwater’s estuary.

Sculpture by Horace Crawshay Frost in the parish church in Goldhanger, Essex

The village near Maldon (famous for its salt) has been known as ‘Goldanger’, ‘Goldangra’, and ‘Goldangre’. According to Maura Benham (1913-1994) in her history of Goldhanger, the place’s name has always had ‘gold’ as its first part. The gold probably referred to a yellow flower. The second part might either originate in the word ‘hanger’ meaning hill, or ‘anger’ meaning grassland. It is not known exactly when the settlement, which is at the head of a small creek, was first established but there is archaeological evidence suggesting it was already inhabited in the Iron Age around 500BC. One reason for the village’s existence might have been for making salt from seawater. The local saltworks came to an end in the early 19th century.

The heart of the small village is The Square, where Church, Fish, and Head Streets meet. We ate a hearty, tasty lunch in the Chequers Inn. This was listed as the only alehouse in the village in a document dated 1769. It might have been used by smugglers long ago. The building housing it has been used as a pub for at least 250 years. Prior to that it was built about 250 years earlier as a residence. Constructed in stages, the earliest part was probably built in 1500 (http://past.goldhanger.org.uk/Chequers.htm#:~:text=The%20Chequers%20has%20been%20an,landowner%20as%20his%20private%20ressidence.) Inside, the pub, built on several different levels, with an abundance of ageing timber beams, has an authentic ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere and appearance.

The pub is the southern neighbour of the attractive St Peter’s parish church. According to the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, the church originated in the 11th century and some evidence of this can still be observed. The south aisle was built in the 14th century and the west tower in the 15th. Pevsner makes special mention of a tomb chest with a black stone cover plate which has indentations where several brasses used to be. This stands in the South Chapel, which was built by the local Higham family, whose farm was in Goldhanger, in the early 1500s.  The chest tomb contains the remains of Thomas Heigham who died in 1531,

Although the church has many other interesting features to enjoy, I will mention only one of them. Located close to the Higham tomb, I noticed a curious wooden carving, a sculpture depicting two forearms with hands clutching or gripping something I could not identify. This was sculpted by Crawshay Frost. According to a short history of the church, this artwork was dated “1960s”. Whether that means it was placed in the church then, or created then, is not stated. I had not encountered the name Crawshay Frost before visiting Goldhanger. A fascinating web page (http://past.goldhanger.org.uk/Frost.htm) described a notable inhabitant of the village, Horace Crawshay Frost (1897-1964), who lived in Fish Street between 1926 and 1964.

Horace graduated in History at the University of Oxford. During WW1, in which he suffered injuries (both physical and psychological), he took many photographs, some of which are now kept in London’s Imperial War Museum. After leaving the army in the early 1920s, he taught at a school in Brentwood (Essex). Soon after that, he moved to Goldhanger, where he gave private tuition to the children of the curate. In Goldhanger:

“… he involved himself in local history, archaeology, art, sculpture, music, ornithology, horticulture, photography and writing, and also established a reputation as a local philanthropist of extreme intelligent. Whether it was because he was sufficiently wealthy, or because he was too ill, or both, it appears that for most of the time he lived in the village he did not engaged in any kind of full time employment, but rather he spent his time enthusiastically pursuing various hobbies and pastimes, and paid others to help him with them.”

On the basis of this information provided on the webpage, I feel that it was Horace, who produced the sculpture I saw in the church. Further evidence of his interest in wood carving comes from a book, “Celebration”, the autobiography of Graham David Smith. He recalled visiting Horace in Goldhanger in 1955, during the time of the so-called Mau-Mau Uprising in Kenya. Smith wrote:

“We had come to work and earn money. Mr Frost had a perfect job for us. Laid out in front of the open kitchen door were several mahogany beams ordered through local woodyards and a large satchel of finely honed steel chisels from Harrod’s. Mr Frost, deeply disturbed by any stories about war, had come by what he thought would be a perfect solution of that awful Mau-Mau business in Kenya: art to soothe the savage breast. To get the Africans started, he had sketched out the wood scenes and motifs he thought conducive to a peaceful and pastoral life.”

On our way from the church back to the car, I noticed three pumps on Head Street, near to the Chequers pub. Two of them, standing side by side, were old-fashioned petrol pups bearing the ‘Pratts’ logo. These well cared for objects were installed in about the 1930s, but maybe originally in Church Street. Opposite these and next to the village car park, there is another pump. This was installed to supply water.

The water pump is above a water well that was dug in the hot summer of 1921. According to a notice affixed to the hand operated pumping mechanism, the well is 70 feet deep “with a further 100 feet of artesian bore, making 170 feet in all.”  In 2012, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Goldhanger Parish Council restored both pump and well to working condition.

Once again, a brief outing to rural Essex, albeit a small part of it, has proved to be most interesting.

Breakfast with Samuel Pepys in Salisbury

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.

Seeing double at the pub

I DO NOT KNOW why there is a huge Albanian flag hanging outside The Cow pub in Notting Hill’s Westbourne Park Road. The large red flag decorated with a double-headed eagle has been fluttering outside the pub for several weeks, if not longer.

I walked into the colourfully decorated pub, for many years a local favourite both for drinkers and diners, and asked two members of staff if they knew anything about the flag. They did not have any real idea, but suggested that it might be because at least one long-serving member of the pub’s current staff is Albanian. A quick search of the internet revealed nothing.

The flag was put up long before the 28th of November, Albania’s Flag Day commemorating the founding of independent Albania in 1912, and is still flying. Maybe, one of you out there can tell me more about the reason that The Cow has an Albanian flag.

A perfect pub

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.

Inside the Pig and Abbot

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.