Grim warnings along the road

IN THE EIGHTEENTH century, travelling by road in England was not without its dangers, One of these was being robbed by highwaymen. Frequently, individual travellers and passengers in horse-drawn coaches were stopped by bandits, who were after money, jewellery, and other valuables.

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Even close to London, for example between Mayfair and Hammersmith, highwaymen plied their evil trade. As an example, the diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) recorded in his entry for the 19th of May 1669:

“Here news was first talked of Harry Killigrew’s being wounded in nine places last night by footmen in the highway, going from the park in a hackney coach toward Hammersmith to his house at Turnam greene [sic] …”

The punishment for highwaymen, who were captured, was often death by hanging. Many of those convicted of crimes in the countryside around London were hung at Tyburn, close to where London’s Marble Arch stands today. Ending a highwayman’s life at Tyburn was often not the end of the story as is shown in this extract from Select Trials, for Murders, Robberies, Rapes, Sodomy, Coining, Frauds, and Other Offences. At the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey. …, (published in 1742):

“The same day that Hawkins and Simpson were hanged, their bodies were carried to Hounslow Heath, and there hanged in irons on a gibbet erected for that purpose, not far from that on which Benjamin Child was hanged in the same manner…”

Hounslow Heath was a vast area in Middlesex, now covered mostly by west London and Heathrow Airport. It was crossed by several important roads from London to the west and south west. In between the small villages that were dotted about the Heath, there was no shortage of highwaymen and the potential for stealing much of value was great on these major arteries. The quote above mentioned that the bodies of the two fellows who were hung at Tyburn were taken to Hounslow Heath to be hung in irons. Back in those times, the bodies of executed highwaymen were hung from gibbets alongside the main roads in order to deter others from being tempted to rob travellers. How effective these grim warnings were in preventing highway robberies, I do not know.

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.