Friday, 15 December 2017

Cheers, Sir Walter (1)

The Sir Walter Raleigh pub, East Budleigh

I’m writing on a more refreshing note after the last rather scholarly post.

This time my search for Sir Walter and his legacy has taken me on a pub crawl. And what better place to start than the pub named after him in his home village of East Budleigh.

Thanks to the Otter Valley Association’s research I learnt that the building started life as an early 16th century cob and thatch farmhouse.

So young Walter may well have known the place, but not until the 1830s did it open as a pub under the new Beerhouse Acts. And only in 1967 was it named after East Budleigh’s most famous resident. Previously it was known as the King William IV, shortened to The King’s Arms. The innkeeper at that time was a Thomas Williams who built barrel organs on the premises as well as running the pub.

A later 19th century licensee, John Brock, also had a second trade; he ran a posting house with a fly, or horse-drawn delivery wagon or coach for hire. By 1897 you could hire a hansom cab there.  More information about the local area is at

The Sir Walter Raleigh is noted, among other things, for the fine pub sign showing our hero doing his royal duty over that 'Greenwich' puddle

The Sir Walter Raleigh is run by Sally Miller. Serving food and a wide range of drinks including local beers and ciders it would certainly meet with Sir Walter’s approval. ‘A  thriving and welcoming local hostelry’ was one of the many online comments about it. 

But, fired with enthusiasm for toasting Sir Walter’s health in every pub in the land named after him, I was disappointed to discover that Britain has only two which qualify, including East Budleigh’s.


Image credit: Rept0n1x

The other Sir Walter Raleigh at 144, Boaler Street in Liverpool, pictured above, seems to have closed. Maybe John Lennon contributed to its decline.  From Wikipedia I learn that he’d dismissed Raleigh as ‘a stupid git’ for popularising tobacco in the song ‘I’m so tired’ from a 1968 Beatles album.

By contrast there seems to be a pub in honour of Admiral Nelson in just about every town, like this one in Topsham, on the River Exe, not far from East Budleigh

The Lord Nelson pub in Sutton, Surrey
Image credit:  A P Monblat

This just makes East Budleigh’s pub all the more special.  Perhaps that 1830 Beerhouse Act had something to do with it. The hero of Trafalgar would still have been fresh in people’s memory.

Henstridge's parish church of St Nicholas
Image credit: Trish Steel

Just as I thought my pub crawl had come to a dead end Google led me to Henstridge, a village near Sherborne, in Dorset, where of course Raleigh built his Castle in 1594. Henstridge is just over the border in Somerset.

It’s an ancient village as I learnt from the amazing British History Online, and includes many interesting old buildings including the Church of St Nicholas which dates from the 12th century, though it was largely rebuilt in 1872–3.

Republic of Guyana, 100 Dollar Gold Coin 1976. Commemorating the book Discovery of Guiana 1596, and 10 Years of Independence from British Rule.
Image credit: Berlin-George

But what caught my eye was the fact that a 17th century Henstridge vicar, Richard Eburne, had published in 1624, shortly after Raleigh’s death, a work called A Plaine Pathway to Plantations. This was no gardening book but rather propaganda on lines similar to those used by Raleigh in his 1596 publication The Discoverie of the Large Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guiana.

Raleigh’s aim had been to persuade wealthy Elizabethans to invest in his overseas expeditions. Eburne’s was to encourage ‘the Plantation of our English people in other Countries’; his book was written ‘For the perswading and stirring up of the people of this Land, chiefly the poorer and common sort to affect and effect these Attempts better then yet they doe’. 

Specifically he advocated the establishment of ‘a present Plantation in New-found land above the rest’. But, significantly, he used Ireland as an example of how successful plantation had been, referring to ‘our next Neighbour-Countrey Iland, whither of late yeeres many haue out of England, to their and and our good remoued’.

An engraving of Castle Cahir Estate in SE Ireland, 1599. Detail of a military encampment
© The British Library Board

Raleigh of course was well known for the 40,000 acres of his Munster Plantation in Ireland and may even have boasted to his Sherborne neighbours about his Irish enterprise. He had encouraged timber harvesting and established the country’s first blast furnaces. Within a period of three years he had exported approximately 340,000 barrel staves produced from his Munster forests by 200 imported English labourers.

I can’t begin to think how many pints of beer would have been transported as a result.

So had the good reverend read Raleigh’s Discoverie of Guiana? Had he perhaps met his near neighbour, even though Raleigh spent relatively little time at Sherborne Castle?

In A Plaine Pathway to Plantations he was certainly borrowing another idea from Sir Walter with his attack on Spanish colonisers in South America.  Eburne acknowledged that ‘the Spaniard hath reasonably civilised’ Indians, but he also observed that they might have been even more successful had they ‘not so much tyrannized’ native peoples. This was a theme in the Discoverie of Guiana, where Raleigh claimed that the Spaniards kidnapped Indian women ‘and used them for the satisfying of their own lusts’.
And so, from the church in Henstridge to the pub!

Image credit: Roger Cornfoot

It’s called The Virginia Ash, pictured above, and having read about the Rev Eburne’s obvious debt to Sir Walter the pub’s unusual name is beginning to make sense.

Raleigh's First Pipe in England - an illustration included in Frederick William Fairholt's book Tobacco, its history and associations, published in 1859

The story behind it, told by the owners, is based on events in the 1590s. Sir Walter Raleigh had been given Sherborne Castle by Queen Elizabeth, following his attempts to colonise Roanoke in North Carolina.

To please Elizabeth – known as the Virgin Queen – he had named the area Virginia. Whilst at a local inn – which must surely have been The Virginia Ash – Sir Walter was relaxing with a pipe of the best Virginia tobacco. Understandably, the horrified landlord saw the smoke, believed he was on fire and emptied a jug of water over his distinguished guest to put out the flames.

And that, the locals say, is the explanation of the pub’s name. Some of them hold that the place is haunted, but the new owners, Kate and Viv, reassure me that the ghost is 100% friendly. They’ve been looking into the history of the pub and would love to mark Sir Walter’s 400th at The Virginia Ash in a way that would please his ghost. 

The Exeter Inn and the 2012 Raleigh mural
Image credit: Johnie Stickland

The final stop on my pub crawl in England, at Ashburton, back in Devon, is less happy. That’s only because the town’s Exeter Inn is supposedly where Raleigh was arrested in 1603 following the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of the new King, James I.

The pub is one of Ashburton’s most ancient buildings, dating back to medieval times and full of atmosphere. Its link with Raleigh has made it a celebrated landmark in Ashburton. His story is printed on the pub’s menus.

In 2012, John Clipson, the owner of the house next door commissioned artist Emily Smith to paint a  trompe l'oeil depiction of Sir Walter on the wall of his house. 

It’s a striking piece of work, but inaccurate in one respect: Raleigh is shown smoking a cigarette. Tobacco in Sir Walter’s time was smoked in pipes. The Wallace Collection in London has his tobacco pouch with a selection of his favourites, in wood, bone and bamboo.

Sir Walter Raleigh and his son Walt in 1602, the year before his arrest. A copy in Fairlynch Museum of the original in the National Portrait Gallery, London

By 1603 Raleigh’s enemies had successfully conspired to taint his reputation, and he was charged with plotting against the King. At his trial which began that year on 3 November in the Great Hall at Winchester he conducted his own defence, arguing that the evidence against him was hearsay. But he was found guilty and spent 13 years imprisoned in the Tower of London.     

My pub crawl in search of Sir Walter Raleigh will continue across the water.

Continued at


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