26–30: Before the College Started
Before the school started, the mansion house that is now the home of C1 House was one of the most important hostelries in the country. Its spacious rooms would have been far grander than the bedrooms of most other establishments and this no doubt helped to attract many well-heeled travellers.
It is unfortunate that so little documentation has survived because the life of the inn would have been busy and dramatic. With coach journeys between the great spa town of Bath and London taking three days, the Castle Inn was the ideal place to spend the night before arriving at Bath or first night on the return journey to London. A guestbook would have made fascinating reading. We know that the Duke of Wellington stayed, and one other guest is mentioned below. In addition to the Castle Inn-related objects selected, there is a reminder of another educational venture within the grounds of the College and architectural relics of a grim aspect of life in the town.
26. Blowhorn Street Sign
In the 18th century the main road from London approached Marlborough through Ramsbury. At the eastern end of town there is Blowhorn Street, and one explanation for this name is that it was at this point that the coaches would start to blow their horns to give the inns of the town notice that visitors were about to arrive and that the horses would need attention. At the Castle Inn the horses were catered for in the stables that now form New Court.
It was the arrival of the trains on the Great Western Railway that brought the busy days of coach travel to an end. Brunel’s route through Swindon was chosen to avoid the hills on the Great Western Road. By January 1843, the last tenant had left the Castle Inn and the town faced a depressing future with so much less traffic passing through, but by 23rd August that year the building had become a school.
27. Grills by C1 Entrance
28. The Smoking Room Chimneypiece
29 The Marlborough White Horse
The Marlborough white horse on Granham Hill overlooking Preshute is presumed to have been cut in 1804 by boys at Mr Greasley’s Academy, which occupied the building that is now the home of Ivy House. The horse was designed and marked out on the hill by a boy called William Canning, whose family owned the Manor House at Ogbourne St George. It was ‘scoured’ every year, with this becoming a tradition at the school marked by revelry. The horse may have been inspired by the nearby Cherhill white horse, which itself was probably created in imitation of the first such Wiltshire horse at Westbury, remodelled in the 1770s.
Greasley died about 1830 and the school was closed, leading to the horse being neglected for some years, but by 1860 it was back in good condition and it can be seen in a photograph taken that year at a cricket match. In 1873 a Captain Reed, an old boy of Greasley’s Academy who had taken part in the horse’s creation, saw to a new scouring.
The horse, 62 feet long by 47 high, has grown thinner since the early 20th century. It was restored again in September 2001, when it was re-chalked. The changing form of the horse was illustrated by Mick Hutton (C3 1942–46) who, as one of a group of Upper Fifth boys, cleaned the horse on VE Day in 1945 breaking bounds in an unofficial celebratory gesture. A recent GPS survey has provided a benchmark to ensure that its form does not evolve too drastically in the future. The tradition of looking after the horse is being taken up by the girls of Ivy House, the ‘descendants’ of Mr Greasley’s Academy.
A verse of the Marlborough College Leavers’ Song, written by J Bain in 1912 with music by the distinguished composer Sir George Dyson, then Director of Music, refers to the horse:
And when to Marlborough old and worn we shall creep back like ghosts,
And see youngsters yet unborn run in between the posts,
Ah, then we’ll cry, thank God, my lads, the Kennet’s running still,
And see, the old White Horse still pads up there on Granham Hill