Waterside Inns of the Basingstoke Canal[Published 1971, 3rd ed. 1976]
The 'Water Witch, formerly the 'New Inn', at Colt Hill Bridge, Odiham. The pub was re-named in 1976 after a narrowboat of that name which traded on the canal in the 1890s.
'The Swan' at Heathvale Bridge, Ash Vale, just off the busy A321, is one of the few pubs situated on the banks of the canal.
WATERSIDE INNS OF THE BASINGSTOKE CANAL
By Jon Talbot
The boatmen of old were fond of a pint. How welcome was the sight of the friendly waterside pub after a day of handling a stubborn, unwieldy barge propelled, perhaps, by an equally stubborn horse.
Outside, the smoke from the cabin fires drifted slowly upwards on the evening air while the dogs stood guard in the cabin doorways, awaiting the return of their masters. Inside the inn an open fire crackled, pipe smoke filled the air and the room rang with the sounds of a melodeon as the round tones of a dozen counties joined in with familiar music hall refrains.
Not only did the canalside inn provide the boatman with relaxation and entertainment, but it offered accommodation also, for some canal craft were built as 'day' boats and were not, therefore registered as dwellings. Stabling was provided for the horses and mules which towed the boats; in the summer the animals could crop the grass on the towpath and sleep under hedges, but the rigours of their work demanded shelter in winter time with a diet of good quality hay and beans.
The practice of using horses, mules and donkeys for canal towage has declined only very gradually (even now one horse remains, towing day boats in Birmingham). However, steam power had been widely adopted by 1870. There was little or no improvement in speed (indeed, there was arguably a loss of manoeuvrability) but the new engines did not tire and the boatman's working day became longer. Competition from the railways necessitated 12-14 hours work per day and a 7 day week. There was less and less time for jollification at the pub. The advent of the diesel engine, which could be fitted into existing horse boats, accelerated these changes.
Fifty years ago every canalside village possessed its 'Row Barge', 'Navigation Inn' or 'Junction Arms'. The future of commercial carrying on our major waterways now seems bright, but on the older smaller routes trading craft are very few in number. The fortunes of the canal pub have changed in consequence. Some famous old houses are no more, their shattered windows gazing out over the water which has not seen a working boat in ten years. Others have changed their character in order to welcome trade from roads which have been built, fortuitously, to their doors, while yet others are ports of call for the pleasure craft which have filled the void left by the decline of commercial carrying.
However, the waterside pub still welcomes the few remaining boatmen. In winter, when the dark waters of the cut are undisturbed for hours on end and the pleasure boaters sit in their centrally-heated 'semi's', the long black shapes of the narrow boats lie at night alongside the 'Grand Junction Arms' at Bulbourne, the 'Admiral Nelson' at Braunston, and the 'Cow Roast' at Tring.
It is now over twenty-five years since trading craft last travelled the Basingstoke Canal and so it is not surprising that the link between the waterway and nearby public houses has become somewhat tenuous. If the possibility of a return of trading barges is remote, the likelihood of this attractive route remaining off the cruising map is much less so. In five years, the houses described in this booklet could well be welcoming regular pleasure traffic. Meanwhile, it is hoped that the publication will help to encourage interest in the canal and its environs and will serve to suggest some new places for an "evening out".
Those who would study the subject in more detail should read 'Waterside Pubs' by Ronald Russell, which is published by David and Charles of Newton Abbott.
My thanks go to Miss June Sparey for contributing most of the material on inns at Basingstoke and also to many other people, whose names appear in the text, for recalling little incidents that have helped to put meat on the bones of this booklet.
Map references are for the Seventh Series, One Inch Ordnance Survey Map, Sheet 169 "Aldershot" and the First Series 1:50000 Map, Sheet 186 "Aldershot and Guildford".
Jon Talbot, October 1976
Few pubs are approached via a garden gate and a path lined by carefully tended rose trees and so, when I first visited the Row Barge, I found myself in a moment of idiocy wondering whether "they" would be "in".
When viewed from the nearby car park, this Friary Meux house looks like a private dwelling which has been modernised, its steel window frames and tile-hung facade contrasting strangely with the mellow brick which reveals that parts of the building, at any rate are of great age.
Two Tudor cottages once stood on this site and one of these was a bakery. An alcove which once accommodated an oven is now used for storage purposes behind the bar in the lounge. A wooden door, set high in an outside wall, doubtless leads to a spacious loft which would have been used for flour storage.
The Row Barge was once a popular haunt of canal boatmen, who moored their craft on the outside bank (i.e. the non-towpath side) below Goldsworth Top Lock and approached the inn on foot via a narrow lane. This portion of the Basingstoke Canal is now little more than a grassy depression. The pub has forsaken the disused waterway and now has a close association with the local cricket team instead.
A varied selection of table wines, a speciality of the house, is offered in addition to the customary range of ales and spirits. The Row Barge is particularly recommended for good, quick hot lunches at reasonable prices - and I can vouch for the excellence of the home-made steak and kidney pie!
HOW TO GET THERE: To reach the Row Barge by road, proceed westwards out of Woking on A.324 for two and a quarter miles. The Row Barge is set back on the right hand side of the road, shortly before the road crosses a canal bridge between two bends. Map reference: 980580.
The King's Head is not a true canal pub. There was probably an inn already on the site when the Basingstoke Canal was built, and the opening of a trading waterway provided a welcome boost to business.
This inn is situated near to the aqueduct which carries the canal over the London-Basingstoke railway line. A house alongside the aqueduct on the same side of the water as the King's Head, was formerly a boathouse which was managed by the landlord and offered small craft for hire. An interesting painting in the lounge shows the boathouse in its original role and also the small cottage opposite, which is reputed to have been at one time a "good pull up" for boatmen.
A member of the ubiquitous Harmsworth family, (the canal itself was in Harmsworth hands from 1923 to 1949) a Mr. William Harmsworth, was licensee from 1936 to 1949, but nowadays the King's Head is well known to its faithful army of regulars.
5-star Courage catering is offered with a variety of snacks at the bar and a great attraction is Directors' Bitter.
A spacious lounge has been extended and redecorated and is well filled at weekends. It contains a pleasant mixture of furniture including some chunky high-backed seats. The "Public" provides a quick service for those who arrive at the door gasping and it is usually possible to enjoy a game of darts without fighting for elbow room.
Tables and chairs are laid out in the garden in summer time. A climbing frame and swings are thoughtfully provided for the children who can also watch the trains thundering past in the cutting and beneath the canal aqueduct.
HOW TO GET THERE: The King's Head is on the Guildford Road. After leaving Frimley Green and travelling on B.3012 in the direction of Guildford and Brookwood, the inn may be seen on the left-hand side of the road between hump back bridges over the railway and canal. Map reference: 891565.
From the towing path of the Basingstoke Canal, only a corner of The Swan is visible, most of this large and imposing house being hidden by trees. Historically, The Swan has served an essentially local trade, but its fortunes have improved in recent years as motor cars have increased in numbers.
Since the house was first taken under the capacious wing of Courage a lot of money has been spent in an effort to attract more trade.
Meals and snacks ranging from an extensive a la carte menu to egg and chips at the bar are offered at the Swan.
HOW TO GET THERE: Proceeding southwards on A.321 a hoarding on the right bears a sign pointing the way to The Swan. This is about three-quarters of a mile beyond Ash Vale Station and railway bridge. Map reference: 895527.
This is a very old house, which was once a coaching inn on the London-Portsmouth road. The garage and outhouse adjoining were converted from stables. Although a number of structural alterations have been made over the years the external appearance has seen few fundamental changes.
The interior of the inn was very extensively modernised in 1973-74 and now boasts an attractive modern decor which includes a stone feature fireplace. In cold weather a cheerful log fire burns in the hearth. A good range of snacks and light meals is provided at the bar and (a most unusual service) cooked food on Sunday evenings. They also stock nearly 100 varieties of whisky. There is a room available for use by groups (The Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society has used this many times) and it is possible to arrange a private bar.
The car park is on the site of a grocery shop which adjoined this Watney house and was run by a former landlord, one Charles Bookham.
The Bridge House has an off-licence and offers snacks and light meals also. There is a bar-billiards table in the Public Bar. This pub faces the old Ash Wharf, which has been built upon, and is at the eastern end of the long embankment that carries the Basingstoke Canal at rooftop level across the Blackwater valley.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Standard of England is next-door-but-one to the Bridge House in Ash Hill Road (A.321), half a mile north of the Dover Arms, Ash (which is at the junction of A.321, A.323). Map reference: 894516.
The Fox and Hounds was built as a true canal pub, and its "front door" faces the towpath rather than the road. The adjoining stables have now been demolished, but the house's association with its waterway is perpetuated in the names of the "Canal Lounge" and "Towpath Bar".
A wide range of Courage ales and draught Harp lager are stocked, and hot steak and kidney pies are offered at the bar. At the front (i.e. the canal side) of the inn is a beer garden where, in summer months, a wide range of hot and cold snacks can be served.
The Fox and Hounds has long been a popular stop for those who have cruised the canal for pleasure. The Fleet Monthly Advertiser in February 1888, carried an advertisement for ale and porter at prices between 1/- and 1/6d a gallon. The licensee at that time was one H.H. Ulyate, who invited enquiries from private parties and mentioned his "Branch Offices: New York and London"! He also offered "the following A.1 watertight Varnished Boats on hire during the season - Iolanthe, Kyshan, Nell, Tyetya, Gijima, Sakubona. Boating, Fishing and Picnic Parties accommodated".
In the October 1887 edition of the same journal, "Musicus", a visitor from "The Metropolis" described a day trip in Gijima and was appreciative of the scenic attractions of our waterway.
"Leaving Winchfield Workhouse on (the) right and discovering fresh beauties at every turn", she considered that it bore "favourable comparison with many parts of the noble Thames". The passage mentioned that the voyagers "got as far as North Warnborough, then were obliged to turn back, as we were informed it was impossible to row any further on account of the weeds".
In the same year. Sheldrake's Aldershot and Sandhurst Military Gazette reported on a weekend camping cruise undertaken by some anonymous gentlemen who refreshed themselves at "this snug and pretty hostelry", although their boat was hired from Aldershot Boathouse, which was sited a few yards to the west of Wharf Bridge, Farnborough Road.
The canal has since experienced sadder days, but when it is reopened, Boating, Fishing and Picnic Parties will be accommodated in the style of the predecessor - but is unlikely to offer ales at such attractive prices!
HOW TO GET THERE: The Fox and Hounds is located 1/4 mile south-west of the junction of Fleet Road and Reading Road on the way from the traffic lights at Fleet to Crookham Village. Map reference: 804535.
The Chequers is a good example of that rare phenomenon, the Free House. Parts of the building are of great age and the inn existed at the time of the canal's construction or was built immediately afterwards. Its position may well have influenced the original canal company in its choice of a site for a wharf and a flash in which boats could be moored overnight.
During the 18th century and well into the 19th, the boat crews would have seen few signs of human habitation after leaving Ash. The development of agriculture came very late in this corner of England, and much of their route lay through barren heathland. They saw a glimpse, perhaps, of a cottage at Coxheath, Grove Farm and the Malthouse across the fields. Perhaps there was a bark of welcome or warning from a dog in the garden of a cottage which once stood at the water's edge near Malthouse Bridge. The only signs of industry would have been a brickyard at Zephon Common, near the swing bridge, and a coal pen at Malthouse Bridge.
Doutbless the Chequers was a welcome sight to these crews - an ideal overnight stop before pressing on westwards to Odiham and Basingstoke.
The licence has been in the family of the present holder, Mrs. Ida Hale, since 1810 or 1820, a happy fragment of stability in these days of change. The succession has been in the female line of Cowley-lvil-Hale and during the time of Mrs. Male's grandfather, Mr. George Cowley, and probably well before his time, a contract existed with the canal company for the boarding of boatmen and their horses. The innkeeper received fivepence (2p) a night per man, and for this sum a straw bed in the stable loft was provided, together with a clay pipe and some tobacco. Stabling and Fodder for the horses cost the company ninepence a night, but this fee included the Horse's food also. In the stable is an old barge tiller upon which the boaters' harness was hung.
The Chequers was not alone in the canal trade at Crookham, for a cottage called The Chestnuts opposite the garage was once the Jolly Waterman. Its name and character was probably derived from the habit of boatmen of taking their horses along the road when they had no barges to pull, thus avoiding the excursions of the towpath as the canal followed the natural contour of the land. A saving of about four miles accrued if the horse left the towpath at Chatter Alley, Pilcot, and joined it again at Malthouse Bridge.
That doughty resident of Crookham, Mr. Stanley Knight, who has kindly provided most of the material for this passage, says that his father recalled that it was a common sight to see a blue-jerseyed waterman, complete with cloth cap, muffler and red spotted handkerchief, riding a harnessed horse side-saddle through the village street.
It has been suggested that this practice might well have extended to a crosscountry journey via Crookham Cross Roads and Windy Gap, thus avoiding further deviations of the towpath. This would have been very dependent upon the weather, however. For much of the year the country lanes, few enough in number, would have been miry or even impassable. Even the muddy lane as we know it was regarded as a good road a century ago, and the metalled highway is a recent innovation.
The Chequers is, as far as is known, the only waterside inn that is haunted. The ghost is that of a man who died as the result of a shotgun accident at the inn.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Chequers is a few hundred yards north of Chequers Bridge, on the road between Bowling Alley and Crookham Village. By road, proceed westwards on A.287 from Aldershot past a number of roads signposted "Ewshot". Turn right at crossroads signposted "Crookham Village". After 1-1/2 miles cross the canal bridge. The Chequers is two to three hundred yards further ahead on the right hand side. Map reference 792519.
The Barley Mow stands at a junction on the road between Dogmersfield and Winchfield. The licensee of this Courage inn keeps a friendly house that is lively and well patronised.
The "public" is frequented by several local inhabitants who have good stories to tell, a refreshing change from the tap room bores who can so easily mar a pleasant evening out. The bar is dominated by Sam, a characteristically docile and inquisitive Old English Sheepdog. A log fire burns in the grate, the decoration is simple but pleasant and the window panes incorporate some unusual hand-made glass. This is also an important centre of the dart-sticking industry.
The lounge is very attractive, a homely and pleasant room.
The Barley Mow is more of a landmark than it at first appears, to my mind. It marks the limit beyond which the tentacles of London do not reach. It is the end of commuter country, the end of the ill-planned and downright haphazard developments which have ruined much of south-east England, and the pub is set in the open, chalky fields which are a true measure of the country which is Hampshire.
The Basingstoke Canal is nearby. It passes beneath a bridge over which runs a lane leading to a farm and to a rhododendron-lined driveway which is flanked by two halves of what was once a gatehouse at the entrance of Dogmersfield Park.
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow the road which leads north-westwards out of Crookham Village via Dogmersfield, and bear right at the inn in Dogmersfield Village. The Barley Mow stands about three quarters of a mile beyond the hamlet known as Chatter Alley, at a crossroads. Winchfield Hospital, a useful landmark, is half a mile northeast of the Barley Mow. Map reference 778538.
The facade of this inn has changed little in the last half century. Old photographs show a flagstaff before the front entrances and a prominent sign: "Teas", a generation's growth of ivy now beards the windows where no ivy grew before, but no other significant changes have taken place.
The late Mr Roy Vass spent virtually all of his life in this corner of Hampshire and well recalled the atmosphere of those bygone days, since at one time he lived in the Water Witch when it was known as the New Inn and was owned by Crowleys, an Alton brewing firm. The inn was a popular haunt for men from the Thorneycroft factory at Basingstoke, who came to Odiham for the fishing, and it was not unusual to serve 60-100 teas on a Sunday afternoon.
The labour of inn management in those days, included such tasks as cleaning out and blackleading the spittoons and replenishing the sawdust which was placed in them.
These were the days of beer at 2d (1p) a pint, Woodbine cigarettes at five for a penny. Players at 2-1/2d (1p) a packet and whisky at 2-1/2d a nip. The cheapest whisky was sold at 2s 4d (11-1/2p) a bottle and the high grade variety cost 4s 6d (22-1/2p)!
Just after the first World War, an inspector visited the inn incognito and ordered a Guiness at 2d. a bottle plus an extra 1/2d. for service in the Private Bar. However, while the drink was being obtained he walked through into the Public Bar but was charged the Private Bar price. This cost the Licensee, a Mr Frome, a £5 fine. Although several other publicans in the district were caught out in the same manner at the same time, the said Mr Frome was so disgusted by the action that he gave in his notice.
Apart from the universally and enduringly popular game of darts, it was customary also to play bagatelle (not the modern, mechanised variety) and a pub guessing game called "Tippit". Card games were banned under the licensing laws of the time.
Mr Vass lived in a cottage called "Devonia" which until about 1909 was itself a public house, The Cricketers, also owned by Crowleys. At the foot of the garden was the Little Wharf where pleasure craft were offered for hire. The upper windows of the Cricketers are visible above a continuation of the bridge parapet and adjoining sheds in the old pictures of Odiham Great Wharf. There is still a Crowleys advertisement at one end of the building; this was restored by the wellknown Fleet signwriter, Vic Charman, whose untimely death has robbed many local associations (including S.H.C.S.) of a keen supporter.
My first visit was around 1964 when I had been exploring the canal tunnel at Greywell in company with four friends. We had been caught in a summer thunderstorm and had struggled from Greywell, soaked to the skin, towing and rowing our 14ft boat through weed and mud. The New Inn was a welcome sight indeed and we enjoyed a snack and a beer before departing for our respective homes, leaving damp patches on the landlord's chairs and puddles on his carpet.
In 1976 some structural alterations were carried out and the present waterways decor was introduced. While the builders were at work on the saloon bar a 30ft deep well was discovered. This has been pumped out and is retained as a feature. At the same time the name the Water Witch was adopted as a result of a competition. The name comes from a narrow boat of the same name which regularly traded on the canal years ago.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Water Witch is at Colt Hill, on the left hand side of the road just before the canal bridge is reached when leaving Odiham on the B.3016 road, heading north towards Winchfield. Map reference: 746516.
A speciality of the swan is the catering and an extensive menu is offered. The dining room is spacious and attractive. Those who call for a drink only are not neglected, for the lounge, with its oak beams and log fire, has a welcoming atmosphere.
In common with many waterside inns, a significant proportion of the trade of The Swan once stemmed from its being located next to the Basingstoke Canal.
Mr Jack Barton is the North Warnborough historian, but it is Mrs Barton who has a particular "feel" for The Swan and its past. She once lived within its walls and clearly recalls boatmen staying overnight under the terms of a contract with the canal company.
Boatmen slept in a room called The Barge Room ("the best room was kept for barge men"). This was a back bedroom which was reached via a special staircase which did not require passage through the main building.
Amongst a wealth of other fascinating memories, Mrs Barton recalls outings organised by the Wesleyan Chapel in a barge which had temporary seating and was drawn by a horse. An outing to Dogmersfield Park by water and a picnic to follow was one of the events of the year which was eagerly anticipated in this quiet Hampshire Village. In Winter, the journey was undertaken once more, a party of villagers skating along the canal to the Tundry Pond and back.
A member of the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society also recalls those outings by barge - for she was one of the Sunday School children who took part in them. "I recall one such outing over 60 years ago in a barge lent by Mr Harmsworth snr. We had a wonderful day, but on the way back home we had a terrifying experience when our barge became caught in one of the locks. I well remember the screaming children, although the teachers and others did all they could to pacify us. We eventually arrived back at the canal bridge at midnight, where our mothers and fathers were waiting for us in pitch darkness".
On at least one other occasion, village life was enlivened by a party of customers of The Swan, who, having taken their fill of ale, decided to commandeer a loaded barge for their journey home and bow-hauled their way along the cut, hotly pursued by the local lengthsman, a Mr Bird.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Swan is about one and a quarter miles beyond Odiham when travelling in a northerly direction on A.32. There is a sharp right-hand bend at a small roundabout in North Warnborough village and The Swan is on the left hand side, a few yards beyond the canal bridge. Map reference: 733518.
The Fox and Goose at Greywell is another house which has changed little with the passing years. A postcard dated 1880 and bearing a picture of the inn shows that detail changes have taken place in the layout of the window frames and that wisteria once wound its way across the face of the building.
This is positively the cleanest inn that I have visited. The floors are polished to perfection and it is difficult to find a trace of dust or dirt anywhere!
In addition to the customary range of beers, wines and spirits the Fox and Goose is able to offer good hot and cold snacks at the bar.
The present landlord knows little of the history of the Fox and Goose, but there is no doubt that it once had a strong association with the Basingstoke Canal. The eastern portal of the Greywell Tunnel is only a matter of yards away and a house beyond this entrance was once a smithy where the iron shoes were fitted to the hooves of the Canal Horses. It is still possible to locate nearby the path by means of which the horses passed over the tunnel roof to the western entrance while the boats were "legged" through by their crews.
Most of the water for the canal comes from calcerous springs rising both inside the tunnel and immediately outside the entrance. The canal has not frozen here in over 40 years.
The tennis courts above the tunnel entrance are on the site of a timber yard which was run by the Moulford family. There were formerly sawpits on both sides of the waterway, where round timber was sawn into planks by hand. This to the by-stander, is an interesting and skilled craft which now appears to be completely dead, having left us only with the expression "top sawyer" as an indication of one-upmanship (The bottom sawyer worked in the pit and wore a peaked cap to keep the sawdust out of his eyes). However, it was undoubtedly one of the toughest of jobs on the land and probably the most monotonous. Those who have first-hand knowledge of the craft thoroughly approve of its passage.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Fox and Goose is near the centre of Greywell village on the by-road from Hook to Up Nately which passes south of Greywell Hill House and its grounds. Map reference: 718514.
Basingstoke was the end of the line for the canal. Here, at Basingstoke Wharf, westbound cargo would be unloaded from the barges on to carts to complete its journey to Andover, Newbury, Southampton and Exeter - a few of the towns which received goods borne by the canal. Manufactured goods, ashes, coal, bricks all went to Basingstoke. The barges brought back fresh produce from the Hampshire countryside.
Here, too, the boatmen would have a rest between unloading and waiting for a new load to take back along the cut. For them, the Barge Inn and the Railway Inn were their homes from home.
The canal brought new importance to Basingstoke, then a bustling little market town. Today it is transformed. Across the gentle hills march the housing estates for overspill London families, giant machinery has gouged out the town centre and replaced it with traffic-free shopping precincts and multi-storey edifices for the motor car.
Where the barges unloaded at the canal basin is now a terminus of a different kind - a bus station. The Railway Inn and the Barge Inn have vanished beneath the concrete.
One might think that the smart, glossy new Basingstoke had forever forgotten its link with the canal that bears its name. Thanks to the Englishman's appetite for beer and company, that is not so.
In April, 1970, a new pub was opened by Mrs David Mitchell, wife of the town's Member of Parliament. The Goat and Barge, as its compound name suggests, replaced two Courage houses which made way for town centre redevelopment.
Courages, to their credit, searched for a theme around which to build their new house, and discovered the canal. The Goat and Barge may not be a true canal pub - but its decor certainly brings the canal back into Basingstoke once again.
Its exterior is daunting - barely recognisable as a pub. Inside the designers have gone to great lengths to give the house its own particular atmosphere - something usually built up after years of steady patronage.
There are two bars, the Canal Bar and the Butty. In the former, the bar is in the shape of half a narrow boat, complete with the traditional roses, castles and geometric patterns beloved by the boatmen. On the walls are old prints and reproductions of documents relating to the canal.
Up a short flight of steps is the Butty, guarding the entrance to this is a lock gate complete with paddle gear - all made out of wood but most effective. The concealed lighting on the ceiling is shielded by a facsimile of the Basingstoke Canal token - the coinage with which John Pinkerton paid the navvies who built the canal.
The boatman may be replaced by the bus driver, but anything which reminds the town of the old canal, which can be seen not too far away, is welcome in these days of rapid change and "progress". It's a useful place for a meal, offering snacks and grills at the bar at very reasonable prices.
Two waterside pubs in Basingstoke that have disappeared are The Barge Inn and The Railway Inn. I had heard that one of these two houses contained a photo of Basingstoke Wharf in trading days and paid a visit in the hope of seeing it. The landlord of the Railway said that he wished he had such a picture, while a lady serving at The Barge said that she had seen one around but was unable to locate it. The lounge of The Barge had a mural of a canal boat on the move.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Goat and Barge is situated in Wesley Walk, Basingstoke. Follow the signs for the town centre and park in the multi-storey car park. Walk down the spiral staircase and the Goat and Barge can be seen occupying a corner site.
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Last updated March 2006