The Inn at the Crossroad – Three – The Manor of Easthams
The least documented period in the history of the George Inn lies between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries. At some time in the late 1600s title to the freehold of the George passed from the Hutchins family and became part of the property appertaining to the Manor of Easthams. Ownership of the Manor was acquired in 1694 from the Freke family by John Poole. The date of this transaction, coinciding as it does with the date mistakenly attributed as that of the founding of the inn, gives rise to the theory that the present George was built at about this time; taking the old name of the house in East Street, which, having been called the White Hart, subsequently became more popularly known as the Gun. The new ownership may well have brought an infusion of fresh capital used in building a larger, modern inn, better able to cater for the general growth of land transport and carriage traffic.
A secondary source reference exists in official records to a long lease for the George Inn dating from 1725, when the inn was valued at £550, but no individuals are named.
By 1736 ownership of the Manor of Easthams had passed to John Poole’s widow, Mary’s, son-in-law, Caleb King. It is not clear whether this use of the term son-in-law is meant to convey it modern meaning, or to indicate what would now be called step-son.
Caleb King is described in documents of the period as a ‘grocer’. It is difficult to reconcile lordship of an important local Manor with the eighteenth century equivalent of a corner shopkeeper selling milk, bread and baked beans, so it is to be assumed that Mr. King operated on a somewhat more ambitious scale than that. It is also unclear to what extent the description – at a period when people carried on multi-faceted businesses – refers directly to Mr. King’s ownership of the George, or of the other Crewkerne inns in which he appears to have had an interest.
It is from the time of Caleb King’s death in 1759 that ownership of the George begins to become a very tangled affair indeed. King had been twice married and he left his property in equal portions to John Genest, husband of his daughter, Anne and to his other daughters, Margaret and Christina. Responsibility for much of the property seems to have fallen to Hugh Yeatman, who is named in contemporary records as ratepayer in respect of the George, as well as several other Crewkerne inns, notably the Antelope. Yeatman was the husband of King’s daughter, Margaret. Their Articles of Marriage provided for her father to put up a sum of £450, and Yeatman £250; the total to be held in trust (John Genest is named as trustee) to provide for Margaret and/or their children in the event of Yeatman predeceasing her or them. As events transpired the couple’s only offspring died in early childhood.
Hugh Yeatman was Crewkerne’s leading surgeon of the period. He is recorded as having founded ‘…a small-pox inoculation clinic’ at Easthams Farm in 1768. This is intriguing as the technique of inoculation against smallpox is not generally supposed to have been invented until its introduction by Edward Jenner in 1796. However, it is true that various individuals – particularly in the West Country – had been experimenting with prevention of the disease through the inoculation of cowpox. I have not seen it but I am told that a portrait of Hugh Yeatman and a memorial to his pioneering work is (or was) displayed at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, London.
In 1779 Hugh Yeatman acquired half of the interest in the George held by John Genest’s son, Peter. Despite being listed as ‘surgeon’ in Bailey’s Directory of 1784, Yeatman died, aged 54, in 1783. He is buried at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Crewkerne, where a tablet to his memory is located in the South Transept, behind the present organ.
In 1785 the ratepayer in respect of the George is listed in parochial records as Nathaniel Dalton. In 1786 the ratepayer was William Corfield, with Dalton named again in that capacity from 1787 through 1802. Nathaniel Dalton was the husband of Mary Slade Yeatman. She was the daughter of Hugh Yeatman’s brother, the Rev. Robert Yeatman, and his wife, whose father was a Christopher Slade of Wiltshire. She inherited the share of Caleb King’s property left by her uncle and aunt-by-marriage. William Corfield had married Caleb King’s third daughter, Christina. Ownership of the inn was further complicated when Mrs. Corfield’s one-third share of the George, and the other Manor of Easthams property, was divided equally between her seven children.
It is improbable, despite their responsibility for the freehold of the George, that any of these individuals were involved in the day-to-day operation of the inn during the second half of the eighteenth century. In 1761 the leaseholders of the George were listed as William Budden, three-quarter share at £50 per annum; and Earl Poulett, one-quarter share at a fifteen year purchase estimated at £250. This seems, on the face of it, a rather curious partnership. As Mrs. Mary Budden is named as landlady of the George in 1794 it is to be assumed that the Budden family were the effective management of the inn throughout the mid-to-late eighteenth century. John Earl Poulett of Hinton St. George, on the other hand, was the area’s principal landed proprietor at the time. In 1761 he was also Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, 53 years of age and in poor health: he died in 1764. It is difficult to picture him tapping ale casks and supervising mail coaches and hospitality. However, the Poulett family’s historically attested propensity for managing to get a finger into almost every profitable pie going is a matter of public record. It seems likely that for Earl Poulett it was a straightforward business investment, the case conceivably being that the 2nd Earl provided William Budden with some capital at a strategic moment in return for a quarter of the profits. Coincidentally, in the last decade of the seventeenth century (the Hobbs-Bale/Beal period in Crewkerne) the postmastership of Ringwood, Hants, was held by a Robert Budden. Another innkeeping/postmastering dynasty?
Despite the dynamic economic changes being wrought by the Industrial Revolution, and the unprecedented social volatility coming in its wake, this remained a period of stark and intense class distinctions. That notwithstanding, it was also a more intimate society at every level than those existing later. And being both rural and considerably less populous it was one where people were not only acutely aware of their own stations in life, but were also likely to be closely acquainted on a personal basis with both those perceived as being above or below them. Traditionally, the respectable – and sometimes not so respectable – innkeeper has presided over those establishments where the various castes of a community are likeliest to encounter one another and mingle socially. Along with their duties of hospitality and semi-official responsibilities as a posting/coaching stage, the Buddens and their predecessors would have hosted much of Crewkerne’s public sociability; including the previously mentioned monthly Assembly Balls. One need not be Jane Austen (who, as frequent traveller between Lyme Regis, Bath and London, would almost certainly have known the George) to imagine that these gatherings of the local bon ton saw a good deal of business ‘networking’, to say nothing of beginnings and developments which would lead eventually to some of the eligible marriages that united and consolidated the families and fortunes of the town’s rising commercial and professional bourgeoisie.
Among the most prominent members of this inter-related, intra-connecting middle-class would have been John Slade.