The Leather Bottle, Cobham, Kent
Ernest William Haslehust (1866-1949), RI, RWA
Water colour painting
16.5 x 11 cm framed
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The "ancient hall" of Cobham consists of two Tudor wings, with a central block designed by Inigo Jones. It has a splendid collection of Old Masters, and a music room which the Prince Regent pronounced to be the finest room in England. In the terrace flower garden at the back of the Hall, it may be mentioned again here, is the Swiss chalet from Gadshill Place, which served Dickens for a study in the summer months. The circuit of Cobham Park is about seven miles, and it is crossed by the "Long Avenue," leading to Rochester, and the "Grand Avenue," which, sloping down from the tenantless Mausoleum, opens into Cobham village. The inn to which Mr. Tupman retired, in disgust with life, still retains the title of the "Leather Bottle," but has mounted for its sign a coloured portrait of Mr. Pickwick addressing the Club in characteristic attitude. It was in Cobham village that Mr. Pickwick made his notable discovery of the stone with the mysterious inscription — an inscription which the envious Blotton maintained was nothing more than BIL STUMPS HIS MARK. Local tradition suggests that Dickens intended the episode for a skit upon archaeological theories about the dolmens known as Kit's Coty House, and that a Strood antiquary keenly resented the satire. However that may be, Kit's Coty House is not at Cobham, but some miles away, near Aylesford. In Cobham church there is perhaps the finest and most complete series of monumental brasses in this country, most of them commemorating the Lords of Cobham. [Nicklin, 25-26]
Today, the Leather Bottle Inn at Cobham specializes in pub lunches and Dickens memorabilia. However, one may still be disturbed in the consumption of one's pint as Dickens himself was in the period 1860-1870 by the clamour of the bells from across the adjacent churchyard. Located near Gravesend and Shorne Woods, the 17th c. half-timbered building exudes what Household Words contributor and novelist Elizabeth Gaskell would have termed "Dickensey" charm. Built in 1629, during the reign of Charles I, the tranquil public house was once a forum for royalist views and a gathering place for anti-Cromwellian forces during the English civil war. The inn acquired the name "The Leather Bottle" when, about 1720, a leather-bound bottle containing gold sovereigns was found on the premises.
. . . having been directed to the Leather Bottle, a clean and commodious village alehouse, the three travelers entered, and at once inquired for a gentleman of the name of Tupman.
"Show the gentlemen into the parlour, Tom," said the landlady.
A stout country lad opened a door at the end of the passage, and the three friends entered a long, low-roofed room, furnished with a large number of high-backed, leather-cushioned chairs, of fantastic shapes, and embellished with a great variety of old portraits and roughly-coloured prints of some antiquity. At the upper end of the room was a table, with a white cloth upon it, well covered with a roast fowl, bacon, ale, and et ceteras. . . .
Thus, in Chapter 11 of The Pickwick Papers, Mr. Pickwick and his companions Winkle and Snodgrass enter the parlour to find Tracy Tupman (as his note left for them at Manor Farm had led them to expect) at dinner after his rejection by Rachel Wardle. However, with such a feast spread before him in such congenial surroundings, Tupman looks nothing like a melancholy lover — "looking as unlike a man who had taken his leave of the world as possible." Shortly afterward, as the two walk out, Pickwick discovers the famous Sarcen Stone: "the little stone" with "some very old inscription, existing perhaps long before the ancient almshouses in this place." Thus begins Dickens's satire of antiquarian "science."
- God bless me, what's the matter?
- Rochester and Chatham in the Early Nineteenth Century: The Real "Dickensland"
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. Il. Phiz. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.
Lynch, Tony. Dickens England: An A to Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.
Nicklin, J. A. Dickens-land. Il. E. W. Haslehust. Beautiful England series. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son, 1911.
Paroissien, David. The Companion to Great Expectations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
Last modified 3 March 2014