A visit to the Castle Inn in 1754

CASTLE-INN

November 1754

George Woodward was parson of East Hendred in Berkshire, a relatively well endowed position, from 1744 to 1790. His grandfather George London had been queen Anne’s gardener, and his correspondence with his uncle, also named George London, is the source of this description, the only substantial glimpse we have of the Castle Inn, which was to house Marlborough College in its first years.

I returned safe and sound from my Expedition to the Devizes, which I mentioned in my last, and considering all things had a good pleasant journey: I got a Gentleman Farmer of the Parish to go along with me, who was acquainted with the Road all the way, and a good travelling companion he was: my Wife was in a Peck of Troubles about the Gentleman Collectors, for we had heard both from the Publick Papers and several People, that they were very busy upon Marlbro’ Forest, and part of the Road I was to go: but we had the good Luck not to meet with them. 

The day we set out was very windy, and inclined to wet, which made it not so pleasant; we dined at Marlbro’, which is 24 miles from hence; we came here between 11 and 12, and put up at the Famous Mount, which about 4 years ago was the Dwelling Place of the late Duke of Somerset; ’tis now let to an inn keeper, and I believe is the grandest Inn in Europe: there are 3 Ways from the Publick Road into a large Court Yard, thro’ which you pass in your way from London to Bath, it being so contriv’d by the present Landlord, in order to draw the Company to his House; and indeed by this and some other Contrivances, he has got almost all the Custom to himself, for you may now come to his House without going thro’ the Town, which is but ill paved and pretty steep in one part of it: This has drawn upon him the Curses of all the other Inns; but he seems to be a good Jolly Landlord, and not likely to lay This or any other thing else much to Heart. 

The House is a noble large brick Building, with two Wings, sash’d from Topp to bottom, at a Distance from the Hall Door in the Front of the House there is a large Pavement of broad flag stones, here the Coaches stop, from whence up to the Door there is a hansome Cover’d Way in the Chinese Taste, to secure the Company from Wett at their getting out and in of their Coaches: the Hall at which you enter is very much lessen’d by having the Bar and the Larder in it: the Kitchen and Offices are all under Ground: the apartments are very hansome, but have been contracted by Partitions, in order to make the more convenience for the present Business of the House; but they are all very elegantly furnish’d in the best Taste: the Furniture was all new, and (I was told) cost above £3,000. 

There’s a multitude of servants within and without, for the man has Vast Business: out of the Hall you go down a Flight of Steps into the Gardens, which are large, tho’ not in that elegant Order (you may imagine) as they were in the Duke’s time; for now they are filled with useful Things, and Sheep are the only mowers of the Bowling Green: there is a Greenhouse, large and sash’d, but has nothing in it but hampers and lumber, there’s a good Canal, that empties itself into the Kennet, and has Fish in; it formerly was ornamented with Rock Work, but That is all gone to decay; the Kennet runs close by the Garden: thro’ a hansome Grove of Trees, with a Temple in the middle of it, you come to the Foot of the Mount, at the bottom of w.ch, within an Iron Gate is a Grotto; from the Side of this Grotto you begin your Walk in a Winding Track of about 10 feet broad, bounded by a Quicksett Hedge, up the Mount; ’tis reckoned a Mile to the Top, but so easy that you hardly find you ascend, the Top is a broad Grass Plott with an Octagon Building Sash’d in the Middle of it, from whence you have a beautiful and extensive View of the Country all round: the Hill is supposed to be an old Roman Work, when they were in Possession of That Part of the Island.

After looking about us sometime we came down and mett the Waiter who came to call us in to dinner, the Air of this place and the Downs we had rode over before sharpened our Appetites, so after eating a hearty Dinner, and my Companion smoking a Solitary Pipe, we set out for the Devizes, which is fourteen miles by the Stones, most of it over wild Downs, and ten miles of it upon the Bath road; pretty Windy all the Way, but no halt. 

In the Room where we dined at Marlbro’ there was a pretty Device, which took my Fancy much: over the Chimney there was a Wind Dial; ’twas a large square Board painted with a Blew Ground, upon  which was described in Golden Characters a circle with the 32 points of the Wind, as it is in a Sailor’s Compass; there was in the middle of it a large Gold Hand, like that of a great Church Clock, which by a Mechanical Communication with the Weather Cock on the Top of the Chimney, showed you exactly where the Wind was, as you sat in the Room; and as it was a very Blustery Day, it was whimsical enough to observe the Flutter it was in, by shifting its Position so suddenly and so quick from South to West, and the several Points between. 

Transcribed from the original letter in Kent County Council Archives, Deeds of the Osborne family, U771/C7/39.