Author: Jane Hurst
Publication date: 2004
ISBN: 978 0 9557038 1 2
Cost: £3.00 (+p&p if ordering by post)
Where to buy: Curtis Museum or by post - see How to Order page.
Alton had four inns - the White Hart, the George, the Swan and the Pelican (later renamed the Crown). All started business in the late medieval period which was a time of prosperity in the town. After a general introduction, the book looks at the history of each of the inns in turn.
The premises of the White Hart seem to have been the medieval manor house of the Manor of Truncheaunt which had become redundant as a dwelling. It was refurbished in the 1500s and an oak arched doorway from the building can be seen in the Curtis Museum in Alton. An inventory of 1633 gives a good idea of the rooms and their contents at the time when John Taylor, the Water Poet, visited in 1648. In the mid-1700s, the White Hart was the starting point for the Alton Machine - an immense vehicle with a basket behind for half-price passengers. Shortly after this, the White Hart closed and became a private dwelling.
The George is another inn that has ceased trading. Situated next door to the White Hart, it was already doing business in 1499 and one of its lodging ranges, tree-ring dated to 1501, can still be seen alongside the River Wey. Assessed for 14 hearths in the 1665 Hearth Tax, the George seems to have been the largest inn in Alton at that time. This seems to have been the high point of the inn’s history with a later owner being a prisoner for debt in the Fleet Prison. The business was acquired by John Hawkins, the brewer, in 1762 and sold to Henry Hall in 1841. Not long after this, it closed.
The Swan was listed in a manorial rental of 1499. Then it only occupied a third of the present site. Gradually the properties on either side were incorporated into the inn, making it the largest inn in the town by 1700. At this time, the Swan was owned by the Hawkins family who went on to acquire other inns and beer houses in Alton. An insurance of 1807 shows that the premises were well furnished and it would have been to this inn that Jane Austen would have come in order to take the coach to London. In 1903, the Swan was sold, together with the brewery behind it, to Courage & Co.Ltd.
The Pelican was probably built by the lords of the Manor of Alton Eastbrook, Hyde Abbey, and carved beams dating to the early 1500s can still be seen in the main bar. At the Dissolution, it was decided to change the name to the Crown. The smallest of Alton’s inns, it was assessed for 7 hearths in 1665 when the owner was Jonathan Sly. His widow, Joan, was one of the early Quakers in the town and spent time in Winchester Prison. 100 years later, outbuildings behind the inn were used to house French prisoners of war, some of whom escaped.