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The Horse, The Railway And The Bicycle.

It seems a while since I last tapped away at a keyboard producing this nonsense. Life seems to have been rather full since my pedal through Milford, past the short-lived Durham Ox. A couple of GP visits, a trip to Sweden, a comforting, or perhaps a less than comforting, chat with a consultant at hospital and a dentist delving into my dentition all seem to have to eaten up time that could otherwise have been available for bygone boozer blogging. Now another trip down the M5 to visit the Outlaws beckons. It doesn't seem that long since the last time we were in Somerset when Mrs. Bygone Boozer and I dropped the pair of them off in Wells for their dance, leaving us with a couple of hours to kill wandering around the city.

A visit to the cathedral occupied some of the time and consumption of a coffee and almond tart purchased in the Cathedral's café, and paid for with cash as their electronic payment system had stopped working, occupied the bulk of it.

Our route from the car park to the cathedral was rather circuitous and took us past Sherston House, just a little way along from where Southway meets Priory Road.

Until pretty recently Sherston House used to be a boozer, the Sherston Inn...

White Horse Railway Sherston Wells
The Sherston Inn in June 2008. © Google 2022

...but it wasn't always so-named.

Originally the White Horse, it was operating as a coaching inn from at least 1791, when it was in the hands of William Gillard, providing accommodation and refreshment to those travelling to and from the south-west.

Extract form the 1791 Universal British Directory.

It was in the latter part of the eighteenth century that the pub acquired a long-term permanent resident.

It is told that the lover of a local highwayman lived at the inn. Each night the tobyman would visit his inamorata and in time members of the local militia became aware of these assignations. They entered the inn and tied the woman to the end of the bed whilst they waited for her suiter to arrive. The young woman grabbed one of the men's musket and shot herself through the heart. Her lover, on hearing the shot whilst approaching the inn, turned and escaped. Later, after hearing that his love had died, he returned hoping to avenge her loss but was shot dead outside the inn. The ghost of the young lady has been seen ascending and descending the stairs in the Sherston. Or, as I said, so it is told.

Haunted or not, it was still known as the White Horse in 1830 when it was listed in Pigot's directory immediately beneath the previously featured pair of the Mermaid and the Sun.

Extract from Pigot's 1830 directory

However, at some point in the 1830s it changed its name from the White Horse to the Sherston Arms, presumably named after the local family residing in the big house up the hill towards Bristol.

Its name wasn't the only thing to have changed in the 1830s, as its address did too. It now seems to be found on Exeter Road, even though Southover had always been the way out of Wells if you were heading for Exeter, continuing along the line of what is today the A39 towards Glastonbury. No Exeter Road exists in today's Wells, to my knowledge. I wonder if it really did back then.

Extract from Robson's 1839 directory.

A few years later and the Sherston has acquired yet another address. It's now to be found on Priory Road. This change makes a bit more sense though.

Extract from Pigot's 1844 directory.

Priory Road was newly constructed. This old Ordnance Survey map extract shows the location of the Sherston, marked as a hotel, with Southover disappearing to the northeast on the right-hand side and the new Priory Road off the top edge.

The inn was faced about so that its frontage was now presented to the new Priory Road, which had become the main thoroughfare in and out of the city when travelling to or from the south-west.

When the Somerset Central Railway arrived in Wells in 1859 its station stood across the road, just a matter of yards away from The Sherston. It's probably no surprise to hear that the arrival of the railway brought with it another new name for the place. It became the Railway Hotel.

John Buck is landlord of the Railway Hotel at the time of the 1861 census.

Its incarnation as the Railway lasted quite a while. It still went by that name in 1939 when Kelly's directory gives Alfred Tew as the proprietor. Both the Railway Tavern and the Red Lion, which follow its listing, are also bygones and may well feature later.

Extract from Kelly's 1939 directory.

Prior to taking on the Railway, Alf Tew had had – and here's the first connection with bikes – a job as a cycle liner.

Alf, the cycle liner, living in Small Heath, Birmingham, in 1911.

"What's a cycle liner?" I hear you all cry out in unison. Well, before the days of moulded carbon fibre bike frames or welded aluminium ones, both of which seem to be made mainly in China or Taiwan these days, bikes were built by brazing cylindrical steel tubes into lugs which connected them all together. On higher quality machines these would often be outlined in a contrasting coloured paint, as seen on my currently rather neglected, custom built, Mercian.

Lug lining.

Alf went on to become an entertainer as part of the Music Hall comedy duo Tew and Lea. Alf is the taller of the two in this image which can be seen by clicking here.

After leaving the stage he became a publican at a number of houses, including the Dun Cow in Stretton-on-Dunsmore (a bygone), before ending up in the Railway.

In the 1950s the pub's name had returned to the Sherston and it remained so until it closed, which was a couple of years ago. Time for another bike reference. In 2017, friend Richard stayed a night in it whilst cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats. It just happened that Mrs Bygone Boozer and I were in Somerset, staying with the Outlaws, that evening so we joined him for a pint. Sadly it wasn't in the Sherston as Richard wanted feeding and the proprietors 'weren't doing food' that night. We had to cross the road to the Quarter Jack, a 'Spoon's establishment, which wasn't shy about producing pie and chips and a couple of pints.

Whether or not you believe the story about the haunting further up the page, the Sherston is a ghost of a pub now. In October 2021 planning permission was applied for to turn the place into a boutique guest house which would involve demolishing the skittle alley and replacing it with a gym and swimming pool. The former skittle alley was still standing last month but Sherston certainly wasn't still serving.

White Horse Railway Sherston Wells
Sherston House in November 2022.

The Ordnance Survey map extract is copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under this licence.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.

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Cheers, very interesting read! Currently staying with my “Outlaws” in Arizona…

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