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.)
So we came, and we settled ourselves in anticipation of lunch. (In case you’re local, the food was excellent. I can’t fault a place that offers samphire.)
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.
Textiles on the move says
That is one helluva tale! … and might I add a very well written one to boot!
The Twisted Yarn says
Awww, thank you!
Mary Megarry says
Brilliant and so well told, perfect for late night reading tonight. Interesting to note, by coincidence, Colnbrook was also home for many years to Mars Confectionery…..
Best Hallowe’en story this year!
Goodness. You never know what people will get up to. There’s that one in Sherlock Holmes where the canopy top comes down and smothers people, too. Hmm. Makes you scared to stay in an inn…
Lovely tale…reminds me a bit of “Sweeny Todd…”
That’s so cool- that plot device is used in Jonathon Creek at some point too 🙂
I love the Middle Ages. They were so creative.
“Sitting” is the total sum of items on that list that I am currently doing Ms Twisted. I have sipped my first cuppa for the day (back at 3am when I first staggered out of bed) and can’t have another one till after we walk the dogs at 6.30 as otherwise I have to hop on one leg all of the way home. You can keep the log fire. Even though it has been somewhat cool thanks to the onset of a delicious bit of precipitative weather, it’s not cold enough for Brunhilda to make a reappearance. I will NOT be lured into firing her up as I know that would bring on some serious heat. The weather providers around here are bolshie at the best of times. Tempt them and they can turn it on like a volcano.
“Crikey that’s old!” to coin a Steve Irwin phrase. We Aussies think that 200 years is old but that humble inn goes back to time immemorial! I am guessing that dinosaurs roamed when that lovely fireplace was built (at least that’s what you can tell the toddler twinage to stop them from twitching at having to sit still the next time you visit. You could also tell them that there are rumours that a wandering stegosaurus can still be seen in the hallway if you sit VERY still and watch very carefully and don’t make any noise so as to scare it. I got an “A” on distractive parenting 101)
Don’t dis the carpet. Its better than the carpet we have at college (burnt orange with extra crispy bits from cigarette burns). “SEE! I TOLD you that there were dinosaurs.” Dragons being entirely modern dinosaurs of course. Great Halloween tale Ms Twisted and entirely fitting with the eccentric, eclectic style of what we have come to expect from this stellar blog. Keep them coming. I will need distracting over the coming weeks. Could you see your way clear to penning about 5 posts a day please. That should keep me sufficiently distracted from my studies.
“Forensic Psychologist?” Now THAT is a most interesting and fitting job for Halloween tales. I have now put you in the same league as Kathy Reichs. Unlike Ms Reichs, I am still reading your blog posts so surely that means that you must be a better author than her? Hopefully this is translating into royalties…
Well at least they didn’t do a Sweeney Todd! Suitable tale for Halloween.
So glad I read this tale here is early morning light rather than last night when it was a tad stormy – one of those amazing Spring storms full of lightning and lashing rain, just to make the most of the humidity and warm temperatures. So definitely NO fire here. Hope you enjoyed your All Hallows’ Eve.
Jenny - thegeekyknit (@riley_jl) says
that’s a great tale to read – very spooky, crazy crazy people 🙂 I’ll stick to knitting too 🙂 jenny xx
There’s a few stories here in the US that are in a similar vein though not nearly quite so old. One gentleman in the midwest designed an entire hotel to kill customers in the 19th century.
I do like how you told the story though! Very entertaining. 🙂
Up to this point, Hugo’s Thenardier was the nastiest innkeeper I knew! Your Jarman trumps him by far! Well-told Hallowe’en tale, my friend!
Postcard from Gibraltar says
What a great tale & fab photos 🙂