Chequers, Maresfield. 18th-Century Coaching Inn.
The Ashdown Forest has always been a favourite Tourist area, but the new film Goodbye Christopher Robin has increased the numbers of visitors to the area.
Although we live nearby, we’d never been in the Chequers for a meal, so we decided to try it one evening recently as I didn’t feel like cooking.
The history of the Chequers is very interesting;
Post invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 and his implementation of the Doomsday Book* in 1086, networks of counting houses were developed all over England. Taxes due from landowners and businesses would be collected at these offices. The TAX officers used a piece of Chequered cloth on which the taxes would be counted. Hence the name given to the many TAX offices up and down the country was ‘The Chequers’.
Age of Chequers
The Chequers is confirmed to have origins in the village of Forest Row from 1452, this being confirmed by various references to the Chequers in a variety of old literature and architectural investigation. Given the name, The Chequers, it is thought that origins of the Chequers may date back to 1086 when William the Conqueror implemented the Doomsday Book*. However this remains unconfirmed as yet and we are working on verifying this information.
Coaching & Posting Inn
The Chequers has been through many phases in its life. In previous years the Chequers was used as a ‘Coaching Inn’ and a ‘Posting Inn’.
‘Coaching Inns’ were used during the era of horse drawn coaches, which ferried people all over England. The ‘Coaching Inn’ provided a place for the passenger to eat and rest, while the horses were changed and the coach made ready to continue on it’s journey.
‘Posting Inns’ were used to collect post from the surrounding area and passed on to the horse drawn mail coaches, which would take the mail up to London. The mail would then be sorted and sent on to its final destination.
Mail Coach Robbery
Smugglers used this Inn extensively and it was this inn that was associated with a famous mail coach robbery, which took place at the foot of Wall Hill on June 27th 1801. John Beatson and his adopted son William Whalley Beatson hid in a meadow at the bottom of Wall Hill, by the entrance to an old Roman road. The mail coach made its call at the Chequers Inn to collect the weekend’s mail and then proceeded up Wall Hill, where it was waylaid by these two thieves just after midnight. The Beatsons took between £4,000 and £5,000 of the approximately £14,000 total the mail coach was carrying that night. Captured and arrested some weeks later in Liverpool, they still had in their possession £3,500 from the robbery. Their trial took place on March 29th 1802, by Judge Baron Hotham with the jury finding both men guilty and sentencing them to death by hanging. Gallows were erected on the spot where the robbery took place on April 17th 1802; in the presence of 3,000 people, Beatson and his adopted son were hung until dead. This was to be one of the last public hangings to take place in England.
WW2 (Sep 1939 – Aug 1945)
During WW2 the Chequers was on loan. A plaque imbedded in an external wall of the Chequers reads.
“Through the generosity of the owner, this house was a service club W.V.S (Womens Voluntary Service) 1939 – 1945 (TOC-H)”.
Inglenook Fireplace & Bread Ovens
Inside the Chequers resides one of the largest known inglenook fireplaces in Sussex, which is also home to a spacious bread oven. A huge 3.7 meter long bressumer beam stretches the width of the fireplace held up by two sandstone pillars.
Knife Sharpening Stone
In the original section of the Chequers, next to the large inglenook fireplace in the Smuggler’s Bar sits, imbedded in one of the supporting sandstone pillars, an old knife sharpening stone. This was used during the centuries to sharpen knives. As you will see this stone has been well used over the years.
Over the years, a variety of visitors to the Chequers have reported sighting a ghost-like figure sitting peacefully by the fireside. Reputedly a gentleman sits in a rocking chair smoking a pipe, dressed in a white shirt with black breeches. It is curious that unrelated people have reported the same description over the different sightings and over the years.
Discovery Of The Well
In May 2005, during some building work taking place at the Chequers, a builder almost fell down an ancient well, as he was excavating the ground. Much to everyone’s surprise a well dating back to c1452, in perfect working order was discovered.
Originally Three Cottages
Architectural evidence suggests the Chequers, was originally built as three cottages used for private dwelling. The recent ‘Discovery Of The Well’ would support this, as the well would have been used to supply fresh water to the three cottages.
I must admit that, knowing the Chequers is now owned by the Greene King Brewery, and having seen the same menu outside all their pubs, I was a bit reluctant to eat there. I always go for original menus.
But, boy, was I wrong! The food was better than some so-called fresh local meals that I’ve tried!
We were greeted by Steve Taylor the Manager, aged 31, and his partner Sarah Hale, who waited on us.
They haven’t been there long. They transferred from another Greene King pub.
Sadly, British pubs are closing down every day. But I’m sure that if they all had excellent, caring Managers like Steve, they’d all still be open and thriving.
If I held up score cards I’d give him 10/10!
When the restaurant is closed, nobody is turned away. Steve and his staff will always sort them out a sandwich, and not many pubs or restaurants will do that!
I heard a tale that David Essex was performing in Eastbourne once, and after he’d finished, he rushed to a recommended restaurant for a meal.
The Manager said, Sorry sir, we’re closed.
Poor David Essex said, Don’t you know who I am? I’ve just finished work.
And the Manager, said, Yes Sir, but we’re closed.
How long does it take to make a sandwich?!
Two words; Customer Service.
To drink, John had an Elderflower, and I had a Californian Zinfandel Rose at £17.49.
For a starter, I had a Black Pudding & Bubble & Squeak Stack, £5.49.
Savoy cabbage & baked potato cake topped with black pudding, streaky bacon, a poached free-range egg & Hollandaise Sauce.
It was a really tasty dish, and the egg was poached perfectly. I love Bubble and Squeak!
It never ceases to amaze me how many so-called expert chefs can’t cook simple things like eggs and bacon!
John had Breaded Calamari Rings with a sweet & spicy chilli sauce, served with dressed mixed leaves, £5.49.
He said the calamaris were wonderful, and melted in the mouth.
I fancied a steak for my main dish and Sarah said that she had some rump steaks.
Are they fresh? I asked.
No, they’re frozen, she said.
But, my steak was juicy and perfectly-cooked. It was better than some expensive fresh local steaks that I’ve been presented with.
As I don’t like frozen chips because they can upset me, I had potatoes crisped up in the deep-fryer.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It cost £12.29, and was good value for money.
John had the game pie. Venison, pheasant, partridge, sweet potato, swede and carrots in a thyme and rosemary sauce, served with champ mash, roasted red onion and kale. £12.99.
He really loved it and said it was a lot lighter than he expected it to be.
After a short rest, I couldn’t resist a slice of Banoffee Pie with clotted cream ice cream, £5.29 and John had the Sticky Toffee Pudding with ice cream, £5.19.
There is also a Value Menu, with Mains from £4.99, including Lasagne and Fish and Chips.
You can add a Starter or Dessert for an extra £2.99.
We retired to the bar, where a welcoming fire was burning in the old fireplace.
On the way, we stared down the old well, which is lit up and protected by a grating. Halfway down you can see the Priest’s Hole, which goes right under the road to the church opposite.
I can think of better ways to commute to work!
Everyone welcomed us, and half of them were staff, who love the community spirit of the Chequers.
I sat next to Gerry Selway, who I was introduced to by Miranda, the Housekeeper.
‘Gerry lives across the road and comes in here once or twice a day, every day. He’s 92,’ she told me.
‘I’m not. I’m only 90! An indignant Gerry replied.
The Chequers has 13 bedrooms in the main building, and a separate annexe with four more rooms.
Visitors from everywhere, both from the UK and abroad stay there. It’s very popular with the Germans.
If you book a room, I recommend the annexe as the main rooms can be noisy when the bar’s open.
Would I recommend the Chequers? Very much so. It’s an old English Inn at its best!
Why not book in for a meal, a drink or two and a great friendly social evening? There’s a huge car park at the back, and the rooms are clean and nicely decorated.
But you might hear some unexplained noises after the pub has closed, or see the little girl in the white dress who is posing in an old photo. And don’t, whatever you do, wander down to the cellar, where a previous Manager shot himself!
The Chequers contact details are;
+44 (0) 1342 82 54 54
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