The Inn at the Crossroad – Five – Mrs. Marsh’s Punch
“…Notwithstanding that the supper last night was unexceptionable –
that the punch was like the nectar of the gods – that the cigars were
veritable wafters away of care – that our cosy evening’s gossip was
not perhaps uninteresting – and that the bed was an irresistible
inviter of repose, ‘ the sheets smelling of lavender’…”
G.S. Pulman, The Book of the Axe
The quotation, expressing regrets on leaving the morning after a night at the George – an excellent example of Pulman’s pleasing, if rather allusively prolix and complicated prose style – is from the 1875 edition of his magnum opus, originally published in 1857. G.S. Pulman was a native of Crewkerne and having initially conducted a fishing tackle business went on to found Pulman’s Weekly News. He lived in the lane off Hermitage Street which is now named for him, and The Book of the Axe is not the only evidence that Pulman was more than tolerably familiar with the George during the third quarter of the nineteenth century.
Following John Slade’s death, ownership of the George passed to his son-in-law, the surgeon George Hilborne Jolliffe, who also inherited the principal share in the Ashlands brewery. By 1840 the name of the brewery had changed to Jolliffe & Norman; John Evomy Norman being G.H. Joliffe’s brother-in-law. The Somerset Record Office holds a maltster’s license issued to G.H. Jolliffe on 5th September 1839 – cost £4.10.0; and a brewer’s license dated 10th October 1840, permitting the brewing of at least 2,000 but no more than 3,000 barrels – cost £7.17.6. In those years Charles Waight is named as landlord of the George. By 1842 the tenancy had passed to William Marsh, who would remain until 1875: the longest recorded tenure of any George landlord.
William Marsh was born at Crewkerne in 1803. He was related to the Marshes who had held the mill originally on the site where the Ashlands brewery was built. His father, William Marsh the elder, at the time of his son’s birth was listed as a yeoman and miller of Hewish. In the same year he also appears in the brewery’s malt supply ledger as recipient of copious quantities of malt delivered to Crewkerne’s King’s Arms, then just twenty-one years old. The elder William Marsh’s mother’s maiden name was Wilce, and it seems likely that she was a relation of the William Wilce who was also taking deliveries of malt at the George, on the other side of Market Square.
The younger William Marsh became a lawyer’s clerk, and as a young man probably worked for a time in the Ashlands brewery. He was witness to John Slade’s will; the signature Wm. Marsh Jr. being very like that on an 1864 tenancy agreement in respect of the George. Rather curiously for a man who appears to have been exceedingly careful and conscientious in the arrangement of his affairs, John Slade’s will is dated the day before his death. The Marshes themselves seem to have had Slade connections – who in this history does not? Not only with the brewer/banker/butter-factor John Slade, but also with the John Slade born in 1808 who became an important local carrier, as well as being landlord of the Nag’s Head; and his father, the previously cited John Slade of Blackmoor Farm. It is possible that the latter, rather than the George consolidator, was Churchwarden at St. Bartholomew’s. Which of these was the John Slade who was witness at the 1791 wedding of Thomas Slade (who had a brother John) and Elizabeth Budd is also unclear. As is whether or not the new Mrs. Slade belonged to the same Budd family who for several generations were Crewkerne maltsters and life-long leaseholders of the town’s Swan Inn. At this point the reader will begin to appreciate the historian’s previously-mentioned difficulties in untangling this regiment of John Slades and their familial ramifications.
In 1833 Mr. Marsh married Susannah Hoskins (b.1808), and following periods as landlord of both the King’s Arms and Swan, Mr. Marsh, with his wife and young family, settled in at the George. As hostess of the George, Mrs. Marsh would eventually gain a national reputation for her punch (liquid variety!). The magazine Punch more than once issued the magisterial pronouncement that it was possible to obtain true, genuine punch at only two places in England: the periodical’s own offices in Fleet Street, and the George Hotel at Crewkerne. The recipe for this ’nectar of the gods’ was closely-guarded family secret and, sadly, seems to have passed with Mrs. Marsh. Susannah Marsh does not seem to have been a close relation of the banker William Hoskins – her father having been John Hoskins, named as a yeoman of Crewkerne – but a connection is possible.
The Marshes had seven children, at least one of whom died in infancy. A talent for concocting healing potions seems to have run in the family as two of Mrs. Marsh’s sons became pharmaceutical chemists and another a brewer. The eldest, John Hoskins Marsh, was for over forty-five years a member of the firm of Steel & Marsh, chemists at 6 Milsom Street, Bath. The second son, William, having been educated at Crewkerne Grammar School, where he was a prize-winning scholar, and after working in the City of London, emigrated in 1862 with two colleagues to Australia. With the exception of one return journey in 1874 – evidently prompted by his father’s failing health – he spent the rest of his life in his adopted country, becoming a prominently successful merchant.
The following is a letter written by Mrs. Marsh to her niece, Susan, daughter of her sister, Martha. The original, addressed from the George Hotel, Crewkerne, and dated 7th March 1864, covered ten sheets and I reproduce it in its entirety without apology or prior comment.
My Dear Susie Rhodes,
After such a long silence I am almost ashamed to write to you, my darling child, as I am such a poor scribe, I always dread to do so except to my own dear children, and why should I say so, of course, I look upon you almost as one of my own.
Do you, my darling Susie, apologize to your dear husband for my neglect to him in not answering his kind letter after my little namesake was born. Now I suppose there is another little stranger by this time. You are not forgotten, my darling child, by any of us. We very often think and talk about you and yours, wondering whether we shall ever see your dear faces again. I trust we shall, my dear, but what changes we meet with through life.
You will be surprised to hear that dear William left England last December twelve months, to go abroad with two others from Leaf House – they to Brisbane in Queensland. They took several letters to persons from this part and one of them was to Mr. Warry of Misterton. Perhaps you knew them; our boys went to school with them at Dr. Penny’s and perhaps you went to school with Miss Warry at Miss Dawe’s.
Mr. Warry received him and his two companions most cordially and after going 16,000 miles, to find a home immediately, it was most satisfactory to us, I assure you. Dear boy, he wrote a diary and sent it home. They had a very quick and good passage out, they completed in 75 days without one hour’s sickness and I am pleased to tell you his health is excellent; the climate suits him so well.
Well, my dear Sue, they purchased land and built stores and are now the leading men of Port Dennison. They are general storekeepers, wine and spirit merchants, chemists and druggists.
They have a schooner of their own that runs up the Burdekin River with passengers once a week and loads back with wool and they have stores built close to their other stores that will hold 300 bales of wool, so you see, my dear, they are getting on first rate and should he be spared a few years, say 5 or 7, we hope to see him return again to us.
I forgot to tell you they have another 200 miles further north and a Public House where one of the three live and manage with assistants and a good housekeeper. The hotel is called the Great Northern Hotel. Some months they take 1,900 pounds and there is a good profit out of that amount, you may guess. It was heart rending to part with the dear boy. Still, I considered it over and I knew he was safe as here. The Lord would watch over him.
Well, dear Susie, Edwin left home about three years since and has been learning the brewing business. The fact was his health was very bad. London and the confinement did not agree with him and as far as the drapery business, he thoroughly abhorred so was determined to get out of it. I am please to tell you he is brewer for our old brewery. We are delighted to have him amongst us again. He will be able to save all his salary and in a few years perhaps have a business of his own. The brewer’s profits are very good. They can get on where other businesses fail. His health is very good now and he gets quite stout. He will be quite a beau for his sisters. When the summer comes he will be able to drive them out. We have a nice little grey pony and a new latest harness and Mr. Standfield is building a carriage on purpose for them.
Dear Anne had a severe illness last June twelve month. Her life was despaired of for weeks or I may say for months. We first had advice for her, Dr. Crowley from Dorchester, Dr. Williams from London and Dr. Watson of Bath. However, after all the exertions of our medical men and God’s help, the dear little soul was restored to us but she is obliged to be very careful – even now she is not allowed out after sunset. She takes cod liver oil and still medicines and is not allowed to sing. It was an inflammation of the lungs with a continual haemorrhage. Dear Susie was with her night and day, dear soul. She was so attentive to her, such a good nurse. You know what a gentle, dear girl she is. They are so devoted to each other.
Miss Marsh [not apparently a relation] has not been down for more than four months from a bad leg and I doubt if she will ever do much again, in fact, I would rather have her room.
Your Uncle, I am pleased to say, is as hearty and well as ever. Dear John, his wife and children are quite well. They have only two – a pidgeon pair. They are such nice children. Susie and Annie always go to there in the spring and fall for two months. It is such a nice place for them to go and they have such a nice house to receive them and they have a good business.
I am pleased to say John was looking so well and he’s getting quite stout. Your Aunt Ryall, John, Tom and Susie are well, but I do not hear there is any chance of either getting married. The fact is, John admires all, but marries none.
Do you recall Mr. Marsh Templeman junior? He was married about a week since to Miss Hyde, a clergyman’s daughter of Donyatt – a very nice young lady, the eldest of twelve, but no money.
Perhaps you heard – old Mr. Templeman shot himself about five years since. It was a very sad affair. He died the same day Mr. Sherriff was buried. Poor Mrs. Sherriff was left with three children and in about four months after her husband died, she had a little boy, but the fact is I believe she is better off without him, although that is sad to say. He was a good kind heart – no one’s enemy but his own. Killed himself with drink but it was a great consolation to his dear wife he died very happy and quite resigned to the will of the Lord.
The Miss(es) are still unmarried – not even an admirer. I should think they almost despair of having a husband. Martha and Louisa begin to think themselves Old Maids. The Budges are well – not a single one there married. The Hodges the same. Plenty of Old Maids in Crewkerne, quite a remarkable place.
Well, my dear Susie, do you ever see or hear from Arthur or Mrs. Mc., your mother-in-law? We have never heard from her since the death of your dear father, nor have we heard from Arthur for years now. Still, I hope the dear boy is doing well and making a large fortune. He has been a kind and such a good brother to his family. I should be very glad to see him again. How fond he was of your dear little Annie – she was a little beauty. I suppose the dear little creature is grown a nice child. Next September she will be 4. How the time passes away; we always think of you and her on that day, being Crewkerne Fair Day.
Now my darling child, I must bring this epistle to a close. My dear husband, Susie, Annie, also Edwin and Aunt, all unite with me in most affectionate love to you, your dear husband and children, and the choicest blessings of Heaven descend and rest upon you and yours is the sincere wish of me, your ever affectionate and loving Aunt until death.
(signed) Susan Marsh
I shall be very glad to hear from you, my darling Sue. I look upon you as my own darling child, for your mother was indeed very dear to me.
Excuse all blunders and mistakes. I am a poor writer, but you know your dear Aunt – she loves you, my darling child. Adieu, God Bless you and all your dear family.”
For a man of his calling William Marsh appears to have been singularly blessed in a wife who combined a rare hand at mixing punch with a warmly affectionate nature and sufficient commonsense worldliness as would easily enable her to navigate her way to the end of the street and back again. If the ‘hearty’ Mr. Marsh’s own conversation had a commensurate masculine ability to mix informative narrative with pithy, news-full human interest he must have possessed at least one of the qualifications prerequisite in a successful innkeeper. His longevity as landlord seems to indicate that he had others.
George Hilborne Jolliffe died in 1861 and the George passed to his son, George Slade Jolliffe (b. 1810), also a surgeon. He was a life-long bachelor and lived in the family house next door to the hotel. Mr. Marsh’s 1864 tenancy agreement with his neighbour and landlord is couched in typical legalese and, as such, does not give any clues to the personal relationship between freeholder and lessee but – as it would have been merely the renewal of a longstanding arrangement – it may be assumed that both parties were content with one another. The lease confirms that the George was at the time a tied house. Mr. Marsh, in addition to his £200 annual rent (plus £20 for the use of adjacent land) was obliged to buy his beer from the Ashlands brewery. This, having been known for some years as Jolliffe, Norman & Templeman, was now generally called Crewkerne Old Brewery, to differentiate it from the Hermitage Street brewery of Budge, Standfield & Co., which had been founded in 1838.
The Marsh years would have seen come to pass many of the changes augured by the social and industrial dislocations of the earlier nineteenth century. Key among these was the advent of the railways. The London & South West Railway reached Crewkerne in 1860, representing another windfall for the Poulett family, who owned much of the adjacent land through which the tracks were laid, as well as having a financial interest in the company. The Great Western Railway had opened some years earlier with a line through Taunton. These developments first curtailed and then saw the abolition of the coaching system. The George under the Marshes seems to have taken the end of the coaching inn era in its stride without too much difficulty. In 1842, the last year prior to the railway’s coming for which records remain, the following coaches were advertised as arriving and departing from the George daily: The Royal Mail to London from Exeter called at 4:30pm, the same time as the Royal Mail coach from Taunton to Bridport; the Royal Mail to Exeter from London was scheduled for 11:30am; the Coronet to Shepton Mallet left at 7:00am; the Royal Mail from Bridport to Taunton, 8:00am; the Prince Albert from Weymouth to Taunton called at 1:00pm, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the same coach returning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 3:00pm. The Royal Mail coach service to the West Country ceased in 1846 and from that time coach traffic passing through Crewkerne was generally scheduled to connect with the railway at Taunton. There is a tradition that following the arrival of the railway in Crewkerne itself the landlord of the George and his counterpart at the Red Lion in Sheepmarket Street would play annually a ceremonial game of dominoes, the winner gaining for the following year the right of an exclusive franchise to operate the coach-omnibus service between the town and the railway station.
In addition to these varieties of traffic there was the general bustle of a thriving town; highlights being the weekly flax market and fortnightly ‘great’ flax market held in the Market Square. The George would not have the market trade entirely to itself: even then – as of late – the centre of Crewkerne is not a place where anyone, native or visitor, risked dying of thirst, but it is a safe guess than many a transaction was sealed with a bumper in Mr. Marsh’s bar parlour.
For the leisured pleasure-seeker the George in Victorian times offered a billiard and card room and a bowling green. In addition to Mr. Pulman’s encomiums there is other evidence testifying to the quality of the George’s hospitality; one observer calling it unequivocally, “…unrivalled in the West Country.” The Yeovil Times of 9th October 1849 gives the following report concerning the (350th) Anniversary of Crewkerne Grammar School – “At four o’clock a highly respectable party assembled at ‘The George’ hotel, where a dinner was provided by the host, Mr. Marsh, whose name is a sufficient guarantee for the excellence of the catering.”
Although the monthly Assembly Ball seems to have ceased, regular social functions still took place. The Sherborne, Dorchester & Taunton Journal of 8th January 1846 advertises “A Crewkerne Christmas Ball at the George Hotel, Friday 9th January. Steward – William Hoskins Esq. Dancing at 9:00pm.”
Taking the year 1871 at random one finds the following activities taking place at the George. In September Mrs. Marsh catered a picnic luncheon for an outing to Norton-sub-Hamdon of the Crewkerne Archaeological & Natural History Society. The following month Wyndham Slade Esq. presided over a “Court to Revise the List of Votes for Mid-Somerset”. In November an auction of Tolls was held at the George by the Crewkerne Turnpike Trust. (None of the Tolls were let.) On the 15th December the monthly “Winter Entertainments” commenced for the fifth consecutive year. These varied cultural evenings were presided over by our old friend G.S. Pulman.
Unusual among the George’s guests during that same pre-Christmas period of 1871 was William Turnour Thomas Poulett. A failed singer and unsuccessful music hall performer, this young man was born to the sixth Earl Poulett’s first wife seven months after their marriage, and at a time when it seemed extremely unlikely that he would ever succeed to the title. The husband vehemently denied paternity and the couple separated. On the occasion of his twenty-first birthday William came to Crewkerne, put up at the George and drove out in a hired pony-and-trap from the hotel to the Poulett family seat, Hinton House, Hinton St. George, intent on asserting what he was convinced was his rightful status as Earl Poulett’s son. The peer would not see the visitor but did convey to him the offer of an annuity of £800 per annum for life on condition that he renounce all claims to the Poulett title and estates. This the young man indignantly refused to countenance, and he was escorted from the premises. Upon leaving he was entertained at the George & Dragon Inn at the gates of Hinton House. When hearing of this hospitality to the unwelcome visitor Earl Poulett, as owner of the inn, terminated the tenancy of Mr. Templeman, the landlord, and had him more or less hounded out of the village. When the Earl died in 1899 William Turnour Thomas Poulett claimed the title. The Poulett Claimant – who by this time had become a street musician plying a piano organ in the Angel district of Islington, London – was a considerable nine-day’s wonder, but in 1903 the Privileges Committee of the House of Lords found against him and in favour of the counter-claimant; the late Earl’s son by his third wife. William Poulett died in Holborn Workhouse in 1908. It would be intriguing to know what William Marsh and his maternally-inclined wife made of their handsome, fair-haired young guest and his unusual local connection.
On 16th November 1863 a property auction was held at the George under the auspices of Palmer & Son. Lot 5 of the lands on offer comprised an orchard of one acre, five perches; a coach house and barton of 33 perches; and a garden of 21 perches, all adjacent to the George and totalling one acre, one rod and nineteen perches. These were owned by descendants of the Donne-Donisthorpe family and had belonged to the Manor of Hewish. They were acquired by George Slade Jolliffe at a price of £480. These lands were leased in 1874 for £20 per annum to Charles Frederick Flowerdew and partners of Bury St. Edmunds. In the same year the Marsh’s second son, William, arrived in England on the ship Leichardt. He returned to Australia in early 1875; a first and final visit from the son the Marshes had not seen for twelve years and would not see again. It seems probable that Mr. Marsh’s health was failing for in 1875 Mr. Flowerdew became tenant of the George, while Mr. and Mrs. Marsh removed to the Swan, where Mrs. Marsh is named a licensee for that year.
The following Death Notice appeared in Pulman’s Weekly of 23rd November 1876: “William Marsh, at the Swan, where this highly-respected Crewkerne personality died on 17th November.” Thinking it would be interesting to know what was inscribed on the grave of a man who had been so prominently at the centre of Crewkerne life for so many years I went one day to visit his plot in Crewkerne Cemetery, Mount Pleasant. I found his raised tomb – sited about twenty yards to the east of the cemetery chapel – to be completely overgrown with thick, impenetrable and tenacious vegetation. This has been subsequently removed but the barely decipherable lettering on the stone reveals only that William Marsh lies beneath, in company with Susannah Marsh, who died at Bath in 1889.
Anne Marsh, whom the evidence of her mother’s letter to Mrs. Rhodes indicates was consumptive, died in 1866, aged 22. It is probable that as a long-time invalid she may have looked somewhat younger than her years. Right up until the present day various guests and employees of the George have spoken of seeing the shade of a thin, pale adolescent girl in a white Victorian-looking shift. As one who has always been entirely unsuggestable to anything of a paranormal nature I have never experienced this visitation, and cannot say if this is the ghost of Annie Marsh. If I ever do encounter her, however, I will be sure to ask if she knows the recipe for Mrs. Marsh’s Punch.
END CHAPTER FIVE
TO FOLLOW: CHAPTER SIX – INTERREGNUM