Stagecoach passengers arriving at The Talbot Inn during The Golden Age of Stagecoaches, essentially Georgian times, would have felt immense relief as this was also the Golden Age of Highwaymen. Their robberies were often more brutal than their supposed catchphrase of “Stand and deliver” suggests. The flinty, rutted roads were dangerous too. Stagecoach travel was so precarious that passengers often made their Wills before risking a journey.
Two arched gates, high enough for the tallest of stagecoaches, are set in the middle of the ivy-draped Talbot Inn. Passengers, often very cold, disembarked onto the cobbles of the central courtyard. They headed in for much-needed pints of ale and a hearty meal whilst the horses were changed for the next leg of around a dozen miles.
A well-preserved Hosteler’s Bell recalls those arrivals and the low timber beams of the bar, where pints of Hogs Back are pulled, create a sense of history. As Ripley sits a mere mile beyond the traffic-congested M25, the Talbot Inn remains a cosy sanctuary for today’s travellers.
Emma’s Room, by reception, pays tribute to one of the Inn’s most famous guests. Today the room is used for afternoon tea and drinks. A plaque in a hidden away nook, by the fireplace, records where Lord Horatio Nelson sat when he met his lover, Lady Emma Hamilton. The spot was not as secluded as they hoped. Society was outraged. Lady Hamilton was married to the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples and Nelson was married too. Moreover, they went on to have a daughter, Horatia.
Nelson was just one of the maritime clientele. Ripley was on the Great Portsmouth Road and nautical men were frequent visitors as they travelled south to the port. From 1453 when the Talbot Inn opened, men were travelling to embark from Portsmouth for the tail end of the Hundred Years War, Ripley had pubs called The Anchor and The Jovial Sailor, even though it was 50 miles from the coast. Throughout the Talbot Inn, there are oils of naval ships and naval battles as well as portraits of Lady Emma and Lord Nelson.
Up the creaking stairs from reception, four poster rooms in the original inn are steeped in the building’s past. The dark wood of the beams matches the four-poster wood. Prints recall the grand architecture of the Georgian area but there are modern touches with the coffeemaker and double-glazing.
A daisy wheel is carved into the bannister of the stairs leading to the second floor. Superstition hoped that it would ward off bad luck and evil spirits. But it didn’t work for the lovers. Nelson was killed at Trafalgar and, contrary to the wishes detailed in his Will, the nation did not care for Emma. She died in poverty in France.
At the front of the inn, the exposed brick and copper ceiling of the restaurant alludes to the centuries of history that the Talbot has hosted, whilst bookshelves laden with Dickensian volumes complete the old-world ambience. Moving towards the gardens, the restaurant transitions to light, airy and contemporary. A glass wall illuminates the light wood of the tables as well as the comfortable aubergine, mustard, sage, and russet chairs.
Menus have changed since the days of hearty coaching inn fare. Amongst the starters are lighter shichimi squid, ham hock fritters and duck pate. Small or large portions of salads such as Caesar, Niçoise and pear with Stilton give options for either starters or mains. Some guests take the variety of small plate offerings to put together a tapas-style meal.
Or sticking to a traditional three-course format, guests can opt for a classic main course: chicken supreme, fillet of beef, and grilled sea bass on a compote of tomato, fennel and capers, are just some of the attractions.
Times have changed. Nowadays, it is the Talbot Inn’s location for exploring Surrey’s attractions that pulls in guests. It is a mere five minutes drive to the spectacular gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley and only eight miles to the National Trust property at Polesden Lacey. Also nearby is Painshill, a landscaped garden of dramatic follies, acknowledged as one of the foremost examples of the 18th-century English Landscape Movement.
Of course, the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign were the last hurrah for the stagecoaches as people headed to their new railway stations rather than coaching inns. Yet, as The Talbot heads towards its 600th birthday, it continues to evolve whilst lovingly preserving its history.
The Talbot Inn at Ripley fact file
For more information about the hotel and tarrifs see The Talbot at Ripley.
If you enjoyed this review, you’ll find more ideas for UK getaways and short breaks on our Travel channel.Tags: Michael Edwards, Ripley, The Talbot Inn Last modified: July 25, 2023