So I’m sitting and I’m knitting and I’m sipping, in front of a log fire. I hope you are too? Whilst we knit/hook, let me tell you a tale dark enough to be perfect for All Hallows’ Eve. May I please refill your glass whilst I talk?
It concerns an ancient pub. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about an old inn. (My post about the pub that was in our family for 300 years is here.) But today, we drove 50 miles just to lunch at a very particular pub that my dear father-in-law discovered on his travels some time ago. Its story intrigued us. Keep reading: there’s a truly hair-raising tale approaching, once I’ve set the scene. You won’t be disappointed.
Permit me to introduce… The Ostrich at Colnbrook. (Yes, weird name. Possibly a corruption of ‘hospice’, meaning travellers’ rest.)
Looks charming, yes? A typical British coaching inn? But before I acquaint you with its sinister past, allow me to tell you a little about the place. It lays claim to be the third oldest inn in England, originally dating from 1106, although the current building is a mere whippersnapper of a construction at ‘only’ 515 years old. Here’s a model of how it originally looked from the back, before the external gallery disappeared:-
Let me show you around. Inside, there are splendidly old rooms:-
(Aaaaaah, British pub carpets: gotta love ’em.)
Exactly how much would you like to know about the place, before I get on to its grizzly past? Let’s aim for a medium level of detail, OK?
Geographically, we’re located in Colnbrook, near Windsor Castle (one of the homes to our monarchy since 1066, WOAH that’s a long time ago), and just west of London. The near-Windsor thingy is significant, because in (many) centuries past, important folks intent on visiting the king/queen would stop off at our fair inn to change their apparel from something travelly to summat a little more audience-with-the-king-y. In our modern world, this place is by a grim outpost of Slough (yes, Slough the concrete doom-world for which John Betjeman wrote ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’. Slough can be un-lovely. I say that as someone who covered the patch as a forensic clinical psychologist in times past.)
But there’s more.
All was not always well at this hostelry. Are you sturdy of constitution? You’ll need to be, in order to stomach what comes next. For The Ostrich has a dark past, although the exact date of its darkness is uncertain. But at some point in the Middle Ages, a chap named Jarman was innkeeper. He and his wife were less goodly than their charming manner would suggest. Know-ye that people in those times often travelled with their worldly fortunes stowed about their person, ATMs and internet banking not yet being a ‘thing’. Jarman and his wife (Mrs Jarman? Ms Jarman? Ms Smith?) hatched a wild plan to separate man from fortune. Whenever a rich-looking chap travelling alone would land upon their inn, these evil folks would lodge him in the finest room in the house, which happened to be right above the kitchen. How charming, one might think. Except there was nothing charming in what took place next.
Are you quite certain that you’re ready for this?
For the bed in this fine room, though elegant and four-postered, formed part of a cunning device. When the traveller fell fast asleep after his weary miles, Jarman had only to release a couple of iron pins in the kitchen below to tilt the bed, hurling its somnambulant occupant head-first through a chute into a vat of boiling liquid below. They were dead before they even had time to grumble. Thus silenced, they could be safely robbed by Jarman, and the corpse tossed in the local stream. Anyone questioning the man’s absence at breakfast would be told that he had taken a horse from the stable and rode off early that day. Yikes. Here’s a model of the bed in question:-
When Jarman was eventually arrested, he confessed to sixty such murders. Whether he was really so prolific or whether the knowledge that he was inevitably to hang loosened his tongue is uncertain, but there is undoubtedly an air of darkness about this place (however delicious the food). Visit at your peril, and above all remain awake…
Perhaps I’ll stick to knitting: it’s much safer.