The Inn at the Crossroad – Seven – The New Century
In 1900 George Hilborne Jolliffe and Henry J. Coston concluded an agreement granting Mr. Coston a twenty-one year tenancy of the George Hotel. As far as I am able to ascertain Henry John Coston was born in 1863 at King’s Lynn, Norfolk. All the evidence suggests that he was an energetic and thrustingly entrepreneurial proprietor. Mr. Coston consistently applied this term to himself in the hotel’s promotional material, and one gets the impression that he was a man who believed in high profile, hands-on management. A typical advertisement of his time reads: – “Family, Commercial & Posting in all its branches. Good airy rooms and accommodation for tourists and commercial gentlemen. Headquarters of the Auto-mobile and C.T.C. (Free Hotel) Clubs.”
Perhaps a measure of how less ravaging the ravages of inflation were in those palmy pre-1914 days is the fact that at £35.13.6 per quarter, Mr. Coston’s rental for the George was nearly £30 less per annum than had been that of William Marsh forty and fifty years previously.
Another auction took place at the George on 14th July 1903. Conducted by James Wheatley & Co., the object of the sale was the disposal of 250 shares and 25 debentures in Crewkerne United Breweries. These had been part of the estate of George Hilborne Jolliffe’s mother, who had died the previous year, leaving Mr. Jolliffe as the estate’s executor. It is unclear if these shares had been left to Mr. Jolliffe and he merely wished to realize their cash worth, or if the late Mrs. Jolliffe’s will stipulated the sale for some other purpose. In any case, a letter was sent by the Crewkerne law firm of Sparks & Blake – who were the estate’s solicitors – to the directors of C.U.B. asking if they had any proposals to make regarding the disposal of the shares. A brief note signed by W.T. Isaacs (who had also received £20 under George Slade Jolliffe’s will, and was C.U.B. company secretary) informed Sparks & Blake that the directors – pointedly not taking the hint – had no proposals to make at this time. At the auction the shares were sold at an average price of £12.10.0 each. Mr. Coston acquired one share himself, apparently on behalf of a lady living in East Street. Another single share was bought by Mr. Frederick Stoodley who was professionally attached to Sparks & Blake, and whose researches into the history of Crewkerne’s old inns would form the basis of Willis Watson’s later sketches. On the day of the sale Mr. Jolliffe paid a bar bill of £6.1.4. Thirsty work auctions.
Mr. Stoodley’s correspondence with G.H. Jolliffe is informative. The former brewery director and owner of the George had retired to Weymouth, where he lived until September 1897 in another Kingsdon House, located in Grosvenor Road, then moving to St. John’s, Dorchester Road. He appears to have been a martyr to arthritis; in some of his later letters one can see the pain in his handwriting. He still remained in touch with his old home town: in one letter he asks Mr. Stoodley to enquire of Mr. Barrett, the butcher, if he has any partridges as yet, and if so he kindly put two brace aside for him. It is difficult to make out the exact state of his marriage. Family legend appears to indicate that his relationship with his wife was rocky, possibly including a separation. On the other hand, Clara Jolliffe addressed (business) correspondence from the same abodes as her husband; the tone of the letters from his sisters in America seem to assume an unruffled domesticity; and in one letter to Mr. Stoodley, Mr. Jolliffe states that his wife has helped nurse him through a particularly bad bout of the arthritis.
The second George Hilborne Jolliffe died on 26th October 1905, being the same comparatively young age – 54 – at which another of the George figures, Hugh Yeatman, had passed in 1783.
The George was insured in 1907 for £5,770, at an annual premium of £4.19.3, and business at this period seems to have been booming. In answer to a query about the state of trade, Mr. Coston sent in evidence a letter from a Scottish whisky wholesaler returning the George’s cheque and regretting that pressure of demand was such that the firm would be unable to fulfil their esteemed order in the foreseeable future.
Whether or not the George maintained a monopoly on the service, the hotel still operated a regular omnibus service meeting trains. A photo from the Coston period shows the George’s conveyance parked in front of the hotel. Two other photos, taken from rather than of the George, give a picture of the town in the period of the Great War. One, shot from a second floor room of the hotel, shows a festive gathering in the Market Square; buildings being decked with flags and bunting. It is not altogether clear whether this throng was celebrating the end of the War, or (more likely) if it is an earlier demonstration of loyalty to the new King George V. Another photo, dating from 1919, probably taken from the George’s entrance arch, shows gathered in front of the Victoria Hall all the Crewkerne men who had served in the War and come home. Some are still in uniform.
In that same year, after two centuries, ownership of the George passed from the continuously traceable blood/marriage line of the King, Yeatman, Slade and Jolliffe families. I am unaware of G.H. Jolliffe’s exact testamentary arrangements: an account book for the years 1905-’11, kept by Sparks & Blake as his estate’s executor, shows regular payments being made to Clara Jolliffe, and to his sons, George Hilborne Jolliffe (the third b.1886) and John Slade Hare Jolliffe (b.1887). In 1909 both sons left England for Ceylon, and in 1919 J.S.H. Jolliffe – who appears to have conducted business relating to the George – was living at Madola Agalawatte, where he was superintendant of the Hewagam Rubber Company. At some point Henry Coston was apparently approached by a Mr. Fowkes who inquired whether the George’s absentee owner(s) would consider selling the hotel. Mr. Fowkes lived at Sherborne, and he seems to have in the business of buying pubs, free houses especially.
It is perhaps comforting to reflect on the fact that property transactions at that period were just as fraught with frustrations and delays as they are today, if not more so. The negotiations for the sale of the George dragged on for over six months of correspondence between Sparks & Blake, and another firm of solicitors with offices in the London legal centre of Bedford Row, who were acting for the Yeovil brewers, Joseph Brutton & Co.. Mr. Fowkes would appear to have been Brutton’s agent in the matter. Offers were made, accepted and withdrawn. There were arguments about the valuation of the Tenant’s Fixtures. There was a dispute about the legality of the Power of Attorney given by Mr. Jolliffe to Sparks & Blake. All of this necessitated a regular flow of letters, draft contracts, documents and telegrams, some of them to and from a Vendor living in Ceylon long before the introduction of air mail. However, the deal was finally closed and the property changed hands for £3,900. A condition of the sale was that the Purchaser honour Mr. Coston’s tenancy agreement. It would appear that Henry Coston did finish his twenty-one years at the George, but by 1923 he was resident in Church Street and – energy apparently undiminished – serving as Vice-chairman of Crewkerne Urban District Council. The new tenant of the George was Mrs. A.L. Browne, who remained until at least 1927, two years after H.J. Coston’s death.
END CHAPTER SEVEN
TO FOLLOW: CHAPTER EIGHT – IN LIVING MEMORY