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Robbers' bare cheek
This painting of the Cherhill Gang, who stripped naked before waylaying unsuspecting travellers, hangs in The Black Horse.
The village pub and the town local have long been the centre of community life in Wiltshire and regularly feature in photographs since the science of photography was first invented.
So a new book, The Inns of Wiltshire in old photographs by Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott, is a volume to be welcomed and will undoubtedly appear in many Christmas stockings this year.
Even the knowledgeable among local residents will find surprises in its pages.
For example, people in Devizes knew that the Bear Hotel in the Market Place was a famous coaching inn, home to the young Thomas Lawrence, later to become a renowned 18th century painter.
But few will have known it was one of the most celebrated inns in the country.
The book states: “The first reference to it comes in 1559, when John Sawter was granted a licence.
“By the mid-17th century it had a bowling alley and was set in ornamental grounds. By 1770, it was one of the main coaching inns between Bath and London.”
The White Lion in Chippenham Market Place, now Leyker’s Coffee Central, is not quite so venerable but has its share of chequered history.
The Bath Chronicle of December 5 1799 contains a gruesome report about a man who lived at the White Lion. Finding a strange horse in his master’s field, he went into town to borrow an axe and cut the poor animal to death.
But for bands of bizarre criminals, the Black Horse at Cherhill takes some beating.
The Cherhill Gang was a group of highwaymen who stripped naked before waylaying unsuspecting travellers. Not only did this lend an added element of surprise to their activities, it also made subsequent identification difficult, possibly because their victims were not looking at their faces!
A painting of the gang still hangs in the pub.
Sadly, many of the hostelries pictured in the book are no longer serving customers. One of those is the Nag’s Head in Urchfont, near Devizes, which opened in the 19th century and was owned by the lord of the manor until 1909 when it was sold to Usher’s brewery.
It closed in 2001 and is now a private homes, the sad fate of so many pubs.
The Inns of Wiltshire, a wonderful chronicle of pubs past and present, is published by Akeman Press of Bath and is on sale for £10.
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