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Welwyn Garden City

Inns of Sport

Author: (not credited)

Published: 1949 by Whitbread & Co. Ltd.

Format: Hardback 9½" by 6¼" with 54 pages


This book is about inns in Britain associated with sport - shooting, fishing, rowing, racing etc. The connection with Welwyn Garden City is twofold. At the front of the book is a colour reproduction of an oil painting of 1948 by Bernard Venables the subject of which is the bowling green at the Cherry Tree pub. Later in the book are a couple of pages of tales from pubs in or near Welwyn Garden City - namely The Cherry Tree, The Waggoners, The White Hart (at Welwyn), and The Red Lion (at Ayot Green).

The bowling green at The Cherry Tree, Welwyn Garden City
Frontispiece Oil painting by Bernard Venables, 1948



The passage below is from the book (pages 41 to 43)

The Cherry Tree at Welwyn Garden City has its own bowling green of fine Cumberland turf. And a bowling green is indeed a fit and pleasant appanage to any inn. There are a number in London which have their own fair plot of short green grass including the Six Bells in King's Road, Chelsea.

A country inn with a different sort of sporting tradition is The Waggoners at Welwyn where a visitor can hear a very good story about two customers who were famous local poachers. They were twins and as alike as two peas. Whenever one of them was summoned to appear at the local police court, the other twin would turn up to prove quite conclusively that he was nowhere in the neighbourhood when the offence was committed. However, this ingenious method of defence did not prevent the two brothers from amassing the very respectable total of something like two hundred convictions between them !

The great days of The White Hart, Welwyn, from the sporting point of view, were in Lord Melbourne's time when, at Brocket Hall near by, he used to hold a private race meeting to which half London and all Hertfordshire flocked.

An interesting sidelight is thrown on this period in that excellent book, "Good Friends and Many," which tells the life-story of one John Carrington, a famous Hertfordshire character in Napoleonic times.

Carrington (his unusual spelling and punctuation are reproduced as they stand) says:

"Went to Brocket Hall on poney, Ld Milbrims races, three days, the prince of Wales and Duke of Bedford their a Vas Number of Gentry etc. their one of the Gentm that rode fell from his Horse much hert, his name was Butler Danvers." His biographer, Mr. W. Branch Johnson, writing of this period, says: "The Prince of Wales, afterwards Prince Regent and then George IV, was a regular visitor to Brocket on these occasions, bringing with him the cream of London society. John's usual route from Bramfield was by Money Hole, the natural bowl which forms the lower part of the Welwyn Garden City golf course, and back by The Red Lion, Ayot Green - kept in his day by the Widow Tatts.

"Once, Randall, of West End Farm, inspired no doubt by what he had just seen, determined on a race of his own - 'with Randall as by appointment to Runn his poney with Harrington but they did not Runn.'

"Another year, John went with Nephew Thomas Beck, and Beck lost his greatcoat. The following day, therefore, had to be spent in looking for it.

" 'Not to Church but went to Brickwall, the Angell, one Barkers, to enquire after a great cote wh Nephew T. Beck left at Ld Millburnes Races yesterday spent their 6d from thence to Battens The White hart Wellwin no news of it spent their Is Nevy Beck, Thos. Sheath and Son, John & myself.'

"Though the greatcoat had apparently gone for ever, one-and-six spent on refreshment was indubitably the best possible compensation.

"Of the Angel, Brickwall, there survives today nothing but some irregularity in the ground, the remains of a well and a gap in the roadside hedge.

"It stood about a hundred yards to the south of the Waggoners, Ayot Green, and its site is marked by a clump of poplars, but in John's time it was a large house and did a thriving coaching trade - also did the White Hart at Welwyn, which in later years was said to have effected upwards of eighty changes of coach teams daily.

"Batten, the landlord, came of a well-known Welwyn family of farmers and auctioneers. His father, Abraham Batten (there seems to have been an Abraham in each generation), who died in 1804, was, John tells me, the Welwyn barber.

"Not all amusement was homemade. There were times when it was imported from without - and what times ! No doubt the periodical fairs which enlivened the countryside had, as they were originally intended to have, a commercial as well as an entertainment value, but it was probably the side shows that attracted the bigger crowds and even Carrington, his business over, was by no means averse from patronising them.

"Regularly throughout the diary we see him taking cattle, sheep, or horses to the five annual fairs in Hertford - Lent Fair in March, May Fair, Midsummer Fair, Bush Fair in September, and Wachard Fair in November. When he does good trading he notes the fact with evident pleasure, hut he is not always lucky.

" 'Went to Hartford fair on poney to try to sell a Cow but did not siller I should a took the first bidding 13 Guineas but I could reach but 12 after so not sold.'

"Or again:

" 'To market on Dunn up at the Bull being the far I had 2 old Cows their in good plight I offered them both for 10£ but could not sell so brought them Home againe.' "

It is a homely, pleasant tale, this record of a yeoman's junketings, sportings and bargainings in the days when men wore pig-tailed wigs, cut-away coats, drab breeches and sky-blue or bright scarlet waistcoats - a picture that is part of the long tale of English country life and sport, a tale which centres in every county about the village inn, the heart and the head of the Englishman's freest form of social life.




There are 7 colour illustrations in the book and 26 in black and white. Some of these are below.

Belvidere Gardens, fives court
  Mid-nineteenth-century engraving
Stephen Hemsted, sporting doctor of West Ilsley
  Mezzotint by William Ward after John-Raphael Smith, 1752-1812
Two huntsmen outside a country inn, with dogs
  Water colour by Seffrien Alken
The gamekeeper talking to one of his assistants at The Crest and Gun, Eridge
A match at Hambledon, 1777, "The Cradle of Cricket"
  After an oil painting by an unknown artist
A ski-ing party outside the Bridge of Lochay Hotel prepares for
the day's sport on the slopes of Ben Lavers, Perthshire


Contents, list of illustrations, index