Sunday, 30 August 2015

Beer In Essex: Four Coggeshall Pubs

Beer In Essex
Four Coggeshall Pubs

On a warm Saturday morning a few weeks ago we were stuck for an idea of what to do or where to go. It was one of those late Spring - early Summer mornings where you really feel that you'd have wasted the day if you didn't get out of the house and do something positive. Searching for inspiration, my wife turned to the internet and consulted one of those 'days out in...' guides that can easily be found. A National Trust property in Coggeshall, Paycockes House and Garden, caught her eye, and as I neither of us could recall ever having been there, or indeed having ever been to Coggeshall itself we duly set off pleased to have found a suitable destination.

My only recollection of Coggeshall prior to this was that the late eighties, early nineties television show Lovejoy was filmed in the area, and that the previous owners of our current house had moved there when we bought it from them.

Consulting the Good Beer Guide for a suitable lunch recommendation upon our arrival, we headed to The Chapel Inn, of which more later, for some very good food and a couple of very well kept pints from the local Red Fox Brewery. Paycockes House was just around the corner, and well worth a visit. Beautifully kept and respectfully restored it is a fine example a 15th century wool merchants house, and the children were particularly delighted to be able to play croquet in the garden, but it was the walk around the unspoilt town that provided me with the desire to find out more about it and this was subsequently the inspiration for this piece of writing.

The origins of Coggeshall itself, as well as its name, are lost in the mists of time and it has been referred to with many different spellings through the years. Growing up at the intersection of the River Blackwater and the Roman Road of Stane Street that linked Colchester to Ermine Street, the main Roman Road north, it is referred to in the Domesday Book as Cogheshal, a settlement of some sixty men, with ploughs, horses, oxen, sheep, and even a mill. It prospered from the mid-Fifteenth Century as the local monks were able to breed sheep with particularly high quality wool, from which the famous Coggeshall White cloth was made. It also had a regular Saturday market. With the decline of the wool trade, the economy was centred around silk and velvet, but by the late Nineteenth Century it had also become renowned for the quality of its brewing.

In Ian P. Peaty's excellent Brewery History Society Publication, Essex Brewers: The Malting & Hop Industries Of The County, a constant source of reference for me, eight pages are devoted to the breweries and mentions of brewing in the town, only Chelmsford and Colchester have more, such was its importance in the county.

As wool was such an important factor in the growth of the town it is natural that I should start with one of the pubs that takes its name from the trade itself.

The Woolpack (91 Church Street) dates from the 15th century, and is the oldest secular building in the town. Originally built as a home for a prosperous wool merchant, by the early 16th century it had become a hostelry catering to those in the same business, with wool auctions being held there regularly and there is a record of an Albert Emmings roasting a whole bullock there at a Shrove Tuesday party. Within the space of some fifty years however it had returned to its original use as private dwelling.

In 1665 it was purchased by Thomas Lowery, previously vicar of the church next door, St Peter ad-Vincula (which my Latin translator tells me is St Peter in chains), who had been ejected from the Church of England over his Puritanical views following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. He continued to preach despite this, and independent congregations would gather under his roof to hear his words, and this is commemorated by a blue plaque on the wall of the pub itself.

Speaking of the church I have found an anecdote in several books that concerns a group of men (the number varies from four upwards) who, having spent the evening in the inn next door, became convinced that they could move the church by pushing against it hard enough. Having tried in vain, and after removing there jackets, they came to the conclusion that the reason that they were unsuccessful was that they were pushing against the wind. After going round to the other side and pushing with all their might for a short while, they went back to see if they had made any impression at all. Finding their jackets gone they reasoned that they must have pushed the church right on top of them.

After the death of Thomas Lowery the building passed to his son, Jeremy, along with the vast sum in those days of £900, and upon his death it passed to his son Jeremiah Lowery. By 1708 Jeremiah had converted the Woolpack was back to an inn, who in turn sold it to a George Long and it was known as the Punchbowl for a short time.

Its half-timbered frame was covered in plaster in the early 19th century, but a refurbishment in the 1930s this was removed, the building restored to the state we see it in today, with a magnificent brick fireplace discovered behind a boarded-up wall during the same work. It has suffered from some subsidence during the years, indeed its floor sloped by eight inches from the centre to the walls at one point, so a false floor was laid in the 1950s and this remains.

Today it still retains plenty of character, a memory of a bygone era, it really is like stepping back in time. A row of four cottages once stood in what is now its car park, so there is no excuse not to spend a little time there should you happen to be passing by.

If you continue towards the town, almost facing you near the very end of Church Street you will find The Chapel Inn (4 Market Hill). As its name implies it is built on the site of an old chapel (although evidence of Roman drainage aqueducts can be found in the beer cellar), however I have found some conflicting evidence regarding its origins.

The pubs website states that the original chapel was erected in 1256, and there is reference to the home of one John Sewell Sheriff of Essex in the reign of Richard II, owning property there, which was either the chapel itself or certainly very close by. During the Peasants Revolt of 1381, his home  was looted by the rebels, although the current pub's assertion that he was decapitated on the premises at the time seem a little improbable as there are possible references to him as late as 1389.

The Will of Thomas Hall, a local resident, dated January 15th, 1499 has the following passage:

"I bequeath towards the edifying and making of a chapell within the said Towne of Cokesale (Coggeshall) XXS to be paide when the said chapell is werkying."

Whether this is a new chapel, or a modernisation of the earlier one is unclear, however construction certainly took place, and there are references to it as "an olde chaple" in 1549.

In 1588 the property was conveyed to the fullers and weavers of the town before being demolished in either 1787 or 1795 depending on which account you read.

The current property, which had been known as Ayworth's, Edgworth and Seals (Sewells) after previous owners is mentioned as being sold (along with The Woolpack above) in 1828 following the bankruptcy of the brewer of the Coggeshall Brewery at The White Hart (that we shall visit shortly),Mr. I. Brightwen, with two floor maltings being a feature of the yard at the rear.

At some point the building was a hotel as well as an inn, and featured a brewhouse being run by a Mr Walter Green, and in more recent times was owned by the Ind Coope brewery, which had its origins much nearer London though still in Essex, having been founded in Romford.

Today it is a friendly community pub and, as I noted earlier, boasts Coggeshalls only entry in the Good Beer Guide, and one in which you will find beer from the nearby Red Fox Brewery regularly on the bar. I can also recommend the food having eaten there on a recent visit so make sure it's on your itinerary, particularly if you're after some Essex brewed beer.

Turn right out of The Chapel Inn and down Market Hill for a few short paces and directly in front of you you cannot mistake the pale frontage of The White Hart Hotel (Market End).

Parts of the building date from the late 15th century, although it may have been built on the site of a much earlier building as it situated alongside the old Roman road. A former coaching inn, and one in which you may still stay the night, it was once the only staging post on the Colchester to Braintree route.

It is also known that the Coggeshall Brewery was situated at the rear of the building as in 1837 it was up for sale, being described thus:

"Coggeshall Brewery, including an excellent brewhouse: 3 floor malting house ... malt, barley and seed chambers ... the whole forming a frontage of 95 feet in Stoneham Street; at the back is an enclosed yard and an excellent garden. The property is supplied from an inexhaustible spring rising in a small garden a short distance from the brewery. The population of the town and neighbourhood (is such) that an intelligent merchant with moderate capital must succeed."

A company of gypsies stayed at the inn for a while in September 1842, although it appears that they were confined to the out-buildings as one of their number, Cassello Chilcott aged 28, is recorded as having died in the stables after suffering a long illness. She is buried in the churchyard of St Peter ad-Vincula, here gravestone being one of the first you see if you climb the path to the church itself.

Today the White Hart Hotel is run by Olde English Inns, the hotel arm of Greene King, and is said to be haunted by the unnamed ghost of a young woman, although this may not be that of Cassello Chilcott as there have been reported sightings even before she died there. Looking on the website it gets good reviews for the friendliness of the staff although the rooms themselves appear to be a little small and in need of some renovation. It would be a good base from which to explore the town and the surrounding area, so might be worthy of consideration should you wish to visit.

The fourth a final pub on my tour of Coggeshall is, I'm afraid, no longer an inn but a private house, but one that I feel is still worthy of attention.

The Fleece (27 West Street) is attached to Paycocke House, being purpose built some five years afterwards in 1503, for wool merchant Thomas Paycocke's son as an inn and stables.

Whilst not as grand as the White Hart Hotel it still gained a good trade from its location on the old Roman road, albeit a little out of the main town, with its rear being home to the Gravel Brewery, founded in 1870, before this moved opposite the Cricketers pub, like The Fleece no longer trading, somewhere between 1875 and 1897. The brewery itself was started as a sideline by the renowned seed growing company Kings Seeds, a business that is still in existence today.

The Fleece itself is described as having one bar with an enormous fire place in which log fires were kept constantly burning during the winter and must have provided some much welcome warmth for a weary traveller on a bitter evening.

In later years it was bought by Greene King, who in turn closed and sold it in 2013 although the sign still remains, as does much of the brewery branding on the exterior wall. It is a fine building and it is not difficult to imagine the sound of conversation and laughter coming from it in days gone by.

Visiting Coggeshall is like going back in time, to the days of Pepys or Dickens, when the coaches thundered along the main street of this once thriving town. It is places like this, that contrast almost completely with the hustle and bustle of my corner of Essex, that fill my heart with joy and truly make me believe that I live in the best county in the country.


Essex Brewers & The Malting & Hop Industries Of The County - Ian P Peaty, The Romance of Essex Inns - Glyn Morgan, Alka-Seltzer guide to the Pubs Of Essex, Titbits and Tales of Essex Inns - Mavis Sipple, A Pub Crawl Around Essex - Graham Dover, The Essex Chronicle, The Chelmsford Chronicle, Borrow's Gypsies Blog website, Olde English Inns website, The Chapel Inn website

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