Lots of pubs have fascinating stories attached to them but it’s a shame so few of them seem to be true.
Take the Ostrich at Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, which features in many of those ‘old inns of England’ books with variations on this fantastic story, as told on its website:
As with most historic buildings, The Ostrich has seen it’s fair share of murders and they say that over 60 were committed here. Most famous of all were those committed in the 17th century by the landlord of the time, Jarman, who with his wife made a very profitable sideline by murdering their guests after they had retired for the night.
They had a trap door built into the floor of one of their bedrooms and when a suitably rich candidate arrived Jarman would inform his wife that a fat pig was available if she wanted one! She would reply by asking her husband to put him in the sty for till the morrow. The bedstead was hinged and they would tip the sleeping victim into a vat of boiling liquid immediately below, thus killing him.
Jarman and his wife’s activities came to an end when their greed got the better of them and they plotted to kill a well known clothier Thomas Cole. After persuading him to make his will before he retired, Jarman killed Cole. Unfortunately Cole’s horse was found wandering the streets nearby and caused a search for his owner who had been last seen entering The Ostrich! His body was found some time later in a nearby brook and some say that this Cole-in-the-brook is how Colnbrook got its name. It’s a nice story but whether it is true or not, who’s to say!
Who’s to say? Mike Dash, that’s who. That story, Mr Dash reveals, is actually from an early English novel, Thomas of Reading by Thomas Deloney, where it is told of a pub in ‘Colebrook’ called The Crane. There might be a kernel of truth in the yarn, but only, it seems, in the same way that the supernatural clown in Stephen King’s IT was inspired by real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
And there’s an awful lot of this about:
@BoakandBailey yeah Glasgow has three oldest "pubs" although they use slightly different definitions to justify
— ahaufstop (@ahaufstop) March 3, 2015
In more recent history, which should be easier to unpick, we never did find any firm evidence to suggest that Sir John Betjeman was actively involved in the campaign to save the Black Friar pub at Blackfriars — a claim made on a plaque at the pub and all over its website.
It would probably be too much to ask pubs to provide citations for their claims, perhaps on a series of smaller plaques underneath the big one, but at the very least writers should try to avoid unthinkingly parroting these tall tales.