Old inns and taverns of Brentford and Isleworth
These watercolour paintings are by the Victorian artist J.T.Wilson. They show sixteen local inns and pubs as they looked in the 1860s or 1870s. Only a few of the buildings remain.
Joseph Thomas Wilson was born in 1807 in London. Between 1833 and 1866 he exhibited 30 portraits and landscapes at the Royal Academy, but he did not become well-known. However, he was commissioned by Dodshon Foster (the brother of a more famous artist Myles Birket Foster, with whom Wilson worked) to paint hundreds of inns and taverns in London and the suburbs. The majority appear to have been painted between 1865 and 1870. We do not know whether he did much more work between Foster’s death in 1876 and his own death in Hastings in 1882.
Dodshon Foster (1816-1876) was a wealthy merchant in the brewing industry, and a prolific collector of prints and paintings. After his death, his collection was sold off, and the Wilson watercolours were bought by at least two different collectors and then passed through various hands - one set is now in Harvard University Library. Another batch of 399 paintings came up for auction in 1900, and twenty views of Brentford, Isleworth and Kew hostelries were bought by Andrew Pears, JP.
Andrew Pears (1846-1909), manager of the Pears Soap factory at Isleworth, and owner of Spring Grove House, was a Middlesex County Magistrate from 1893 until his death. The magistrates heard criminal cases at the Petty Sessions in Brentford and were also responsible for licensing public houses. The paintings were presented to his fellow Justices in 1900 and hung in Brentford Magistrates Court until it closed in December 2011.
The paintings are now in the care of Hounslow Libraries Local Studies at Chiswick Library. With funding from the John and Ruth Howard Charitable Trust, they were digitally scanned, re-framed and displayed in an exhibition at Gunnersbury Park Museum in 2013.
As well as the watercolours, we have some black and white photographs of the paintings, taken by Brentford Librarian Fred Turner in the early 1900s. Some of these show clearer detail, indicating some fading of the original. For more about Fred Turner and the World War One photography of his son Edgar Turner click here.
The Angel Inn, Brentford End
This earlier painting by James Pollard, c1840, shows a horse-bus in front of The Angel.
James Pollard (1792-1867)
‘Kidd’s Omnibus to Turnham Green at the Angel Inn’
The Angel Inn was an old coaching inn near Syon Park, on what is now London Road, Isleworth. This was the main road between London and the West Country, and part of the tollgate can be seen to the right of the inn, which must date this painting to 1872 or earlier.
The inn’s name is painted on the oriel, where passengers could watch from the overhanging windows for the arrival of their coach. The old pub was demolished in 1935. The Angel is a sign used since the Middle Ages, often denoting a travellers’ hostel – there is possibly a link with the Hospital of the Virgin Mary and the Nine Orders of Holy Angels, which adjoined Syon Abbey from 1446 until Tudor times.
Castle Hotel, 208 High Street, Brentford
Known as The Harrow in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was one of the town’s principal coaching inns. By 1768 it was named The Castle Inn, and was damaged during riots at the Middlesex elections. In the 1866 Post Office Directory, at about the time of this painting, it was the only Brentford inn mentioned as posting house and the place to catch an omnibus (horse-drawn) to London or Hounslow.
Wilson’s painting shows part of the large yard and stable area behind the inn, which extended north from the High Street to The Butts.
Later, renamed the Castle Hotel and rebuilt about 1887, it incorporated a dance hall and billiard room. There was also a theatre where from 1898 to 1907 the proprietor was an actor-manager, Fred W. Bird. He put on variety shows, pantomimes, farces and melodramas chosen to ‘give the maximum sensation for the minimum of cost’, and generous free shows for children. The hotel closed in 1936 and was later demolished.
Castle Hotel. 1900s advertisement (Hounslow Libraries Local Collection)
Castle Inn, London Road, Smallberry Green, Isleworth
This was another old inn on the road from London to the West Country, between Brentford and Hounslow, and said to date from 1598. In Andrew Pears’ day it was very close to the Pears Soap factory.
The Castle was a common inn sign – as well as this one and the Castle Hotel in Brentford, there is another Castle Inn in Upper Square, Isleworth.
The sign on the wall advertises the inn’s ‘good stabling’, in both the painting and the later photograph.
Castle Inn. Photograph c.1900 (Hounslow Libraries Local Collection)
Its famous patrons included Henry Irving, Marie Lloyd and Charles Dickens - these and other distinguished names were listed on the wall while Charles Plastow was landlord from about 1880 to 1912.
The Castle Inn closed in 1924, when it was still “quaintly arranged, and furnished with cosy nooks and corners”. Next it was used by a firm of dyers and cleaners, and it was demolished in 1961.
Chequers Inn, 181Twickenham Road, Isleworth
We know that this inn was in existence by 1826. The publican at the time of the painting was John Swait, aged 70 in 1861, assisted by his much younger wife and their daughters, and an ostler to manage the stabling. The hoardings advertise a tea garden and Farnell’s ales from the Isleworth brewery.
J.T. Wilson’s signature (which is faint or non-existent in the other paintings) can be seen at the bottom of the fence on the left.
Chequers Inn. 1907 photo (Hounslow Libraries Local Collection)
In 1907, at the time of the photo, the licensee was Mrs Elizabeth Harsum, a widow who had taken over as landlady after her husband died.
The inn was demolished and replaced by a new pub in 1933, and has changed its name several times. It is now Cinnamon Lounge, an Indian restaurant.
Coach and Horses, London Road, Brentford End/Isleworth
The Coach and Horses dates from the 17th century. It was bought by Young & Co. from the Percy family (Dukes of Northumberland) in the early 19th century. From 1839 until 1871 the landlord and omnibus proprietor was William Blackwell, an ex-coachman. The inn also acted as a post office.
It was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ 'Oliver Twist' (1838), as the place where a Hounslow-bound cart put down Bill Sikes and Oliver on their way to commit burglary in Chertsey. The c.1922 drawing by C.G.Harper should really picture the man and boy beyond the inn, walking towards the turning at Busch Corner.
For more on Dickens’ links with our area click here.
Bill Sikes and Oliver Twist. Drawing by C.G. Harper from ‘Dickensian inns and taverns’ by B.W. Matz,1922
This and The London Apprentice are the only pubs in this set of paintings that are still in operation and still look much the same as in the mid 19th century.
Coach and Horses, 2013
(Photograph by Mary Marshall)
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