“BUDDY” AND “GEORGE”,
Jack Straw’s Castle, Hampstead, N.W.3
After a stiff climb up the hill, Hampstead, made easier by the
thought that next time we shall be going down, we come to the
famous jack Straw’s Castle.
How did it come to have this romantic name? It seems to be
called aﬁer Jack Straw, who had the somewhat dangerous honour
of being second-in-command to Wat Tyler, and who had his
headquarters on the brow of Hampstead Heath, probably in a
hovel on the self-same site on which this famous inn stands.
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Jack Straw’s Castle
The origins of the inn seem to be enshrouded in mystery. All
we know is that there is evidence of its existence in the ‘eighteenth
century, although in all probability it is much older than that
date would suggest.
jack Straw Castle has weathered, many a storm and battle,
not the least important of which may be numbered World War II.
The tavem is lucky to have survived that war since a land mine
was dropped a hundred yards away. The land mine, as is the way
of land mines, didn’t do the inn any good.
Due to the bombing two pieces of history were unearthed.
They are now used as ornaments for the tap-room”omaments,
mind you. One is a blunderbuss and the other a pair of handcuffs.
It is unusual to ﬁnd (as one does here) old gas brackets very
much in evidence.
Great men of letters have been frequenters of jack Straw’:
Castle. Not far off John Keats, pushing anatomy aside, murmured:
“That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless
Singest of summer in ﬁill-throated ease.”
Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Coleridge knew this Heath. But it
is perhaps Dickens who knew it best. Dickens loved jack Straw’:
Castle, frequently staying there for considerable periods.
He used to like to sit in the oak-panelled dining-room, its long
window overlooking the Heath, with a view of Kent beyond the
capital, and a sight of St. Paul’s, which seemed so permanent, so indestructible.
The view, in a changing world, is still there—and you can see
Surrey to the south and Northamptonshire to the north.
Dickens’ love of the inn can be seen in a letter he wrote to John Forster, his friend and biographer:
You don’t feel disposed, do you, to muffle yourself up and start
with me for a good brisk walk over Hampstead Heath?
I know of a good house there where we can have a red-hot chop for dinner and a glass of good wine.
Dick Turpin is supposed to have favoured this inn. The spot behind the building where
Black Bess was tethered in concealment while her master imbibed has for many years been shown to visitors.
Black Bess must have been a tired mare—almost as tired as
I am counting the number of inns Dick is said to have favoured.
Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson and Wilkie Collins—
surely the most under-rated figure in Victorian literature—visited the Castle,
and doubtless found much to admire. American visitors never tire of seeing its many relics.
There are, of course, some less pleasant associations.
Buddy and George – Scottie Dogs
For example, it is one of the traditions of the house that the gibbet post upon
which the body of the murdered Jackson had swung was used as a
mantel-tree for the kitchen of Jack Straw. It was near the inn that John Sadleir,
Irish M.P. and fraudulent financier (the Mr. Meedle of Little Dorrit) committed suicide.
Probably our two Scotties have more fun than anyone on the Heath.
They look forward to the Bank Holiday, for ,jack Straw’s Castle is one of the
headquarters of the organizers, and so they have three days of horse and
Buddy and George, by the way, are females, despite their names.
This is how it happened: Buddy (now three) was given to the landlord and his wife by a
R.A.F. type who was known to all and sundry as Buddy. Thus, for sentimental reasons,
his gift took over the name. George (now six) was a later arrival.
Her real name is Georgian Heather, but as she soon proved to be a bit of a lad,
she was George from that time on.
George is very adept at the time-honoured game of hide and seek.
Let her smell a box of matches; she leaves the room. You deposit the box in a friend’s pocket.
George returns—and, sure enough, she finds it!
A Host of Celebrities
There was of course, Leigh Hunt, whose wife irritated Jane
Welsh by her habit of borrowing things. There was John Sterling,
to whom Carlyle was utterly devoted; there was Edward lrving,
the wayward divine whom Carlyle refused to desert even when
he had every reason to do so.
Lord ]effrey, the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, who recognized
his genius almost as much as he feared his radical views, was a.
welcome guest. Froude, of all men, was the most highly favoured,
and the storm which arose over his biography has hardly settled
down even yet.
For myself, I have always inclined to the view
that the portrait of the Sage (warts and all) is more likely to be
authentic than the adulation of writers who never even met him;
But that remains a matter of opinion. Charles Dickens was much
admired in this house, and was duly painted with Olympian
His was the cult of the hero a point of view that has long
since been out of date; but it would be a bold man who would
say that it will never return.
For good or ill, it was in this house that Carlyle wrote. And
that is enough of Carlyle, and apparently more than enough for
So we may resume an ancient custom which has never shown
any sign of ,ageing in this country-“the custom of drinking our
English beer. .