Monday 26 July 2021

From the Parish Magazine - Eton Wick History Group Meeting - The Original Christopher Inn

A report on the December 1997 meeting held at the Village Hall.

The 1998 programme of talks was issued at the Group's meeting on the 10th December, promising yet another year of interesting topics; the Committee never seems to run short of subjects, despite the fact that this meeting marked the end of the 7th year of the Eton Wick History Group. The 1998 programme appears separately in this magazine. Mary Gyngell has had her hip operation and is home - we wish her well. (Needless to say, she made the cakes again!). Congratulations to Vi Millis and her husband who celebrate their 60th Wedding Anniversary and Vi's 90th Birthday last month. A man in Canada had sent Frank Bond an 1897 map of Boveney New Town and one of Windsor and a £1 note! 

Tony Cullum then entertained the Group with a talk on the original 'Christopher" Inn, which was situated opposite College Chapel in Eton. Mr. Cullum used the opportunity to take us on a journey through history, commencing with the Inn at Bethlehem at which there was no room and easing us through time, touching on maps of the 6,000 miles of excellent Roman roads in Britain, Hadrians Wall and the other wall from the Clyde to the Forth. 

Soon we had left Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius behind and were into stage-wagons, drawn by six or eight horses; and then the spring suspension stage coach, high-perch phaetons, cabriolets and landaus - a trip from London to Bath would probably have been a three to four day journey - hence the need for coaching inns like the "Christopher". 

 And, did you know the difference between a tollgate and a turnpike gate? (A turnpike gate is sturdier and had spikes on the top!). 

There was talk of Thomas Telford and also of john Macadam - who found that the secret of a good, lasting road was to dig down to a depth of 12" , fill with granite chippings and leave it to the horses" hooves to grind it down into a solid base. And there were plenty of horses hooves pounding away, with over 1,000 vehicles leaving London every day in the early 1800s.

 Stagecoaches would leave Windsor at 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and, in good conditions, would take about 4 hours to get to London. There is mention of 'The Christopher' in 1511, when it was a shown as a large complex of buildings with land leased with it "contained within 1 acre and occupied by Ruth Cox". The Inn has held various landlords including in 1636 Francis Dickin, from 1753 to 1775 a George King and, when the Inn finally closed, the landlord was a Jack Knight. 

For some time it was the only ale house in Eton which could offer bedrooms. In September 1803 a Baldwin's Bridge Trust dinner was held there at a cost of £5.6s.6d. plus 10/- for extras.

In 1665 College boys were forbidden to go there, but it later became very popular with them and they would claim that they had to go there to meet friends coming from London, or to collect parcels from the mail. Eton's 'Pop' boys used to enjoy the food and ale there, particularly a drink (a bit like punch) called 'Bishop' at 12 shillings per barrel. 

Under the then Head Master, Dr. Hawtrey, the College obtained possession of the site in 1842 and it was used first as a French Pupil Room and then as a boarding house. Jack Knight, the former landlord, moved into 131 High Street and set up shop selling drinks to the boys; in 1871 his lease and goodwill were taken over by a Mrs. Emily Brown and in 1872 it was moved o the present Rowlands/Tap. The present 'Christopher' was opened in 1846 at 110 High Street and owes its existence to the closure of the old 'Christopher' - now called Hodgson House. 

Extract from John Denham's index of Eton Traders

For the remainder of the evening, the Group repaired to the Small Meeting Room to enjoy a splendid buffet meal and Christmas punch. 

The next meeting took place on 21st lanuary when the topic was the 'HISTORY OF SALTERS STEAMERS' and the speaker, Keith French. 

During the 1990's the Parish Magazine of Eton, Eton Wick and Boveney reported on the meetings of the Eton Wick History Group. A member of the audience took shorthand notes in the darkened hall. This article was published in the first edition of 1998.

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