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

Either side of the doors to C1 there are grills that cover the entrance to the extensive cellars. Occasionally boys made their way into these brick-vaulted chambers and got up to no good, but today these damp and dark spaces are securely locked up. The cellars were very important for stocking the mansion and the Castle Inn with provisions, and in the days of the latter in particular generous storage for a great deal of food and drink would have been required. In 1767, Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder was returning to London from Bath where he had been treated for gout, but a new and severe bout enforced a stay at the Castle Inn for two weeks. According to Horace Walpole he was ‘surrounded by a crowd of domestics that occupied the whole inn and wore the appearance of a little court’. Stanley J Weyman’s The Castle Inn, published in 1892, is a romantic novel which depicts life in this grand coaching inn during George III’s reign with stirring scenes, treachery and, of course, highwaymen.

28. The Smoking Room Chimneypiece

The Smoking Room in C House overlooking Court is, of course, no longer a place for smoking. In this gracious room there is a reset Jacobean chimneypiece with a strapwork surround containing a representation of Moses striking the rock. The art historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the flanking figures as ‘full of braggadocio’, or arrogant pretention. Like the staircase at the eastern end of the C1, this predates the building. It is not known where it came from, although perhaps it was salvaged from Mildenhall Woodlands, a substantial house nearby that was demolished some time before 1792. The portico to C1 was salvaged from this building, once the home of Henry Nourse, the late 17th century Lord Mildenhall.

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

30. Old Gym Gaol Windows

The Old Gym, which now houses a state-of-the-art gym, a dance studio and a spinning room, is situated in Bridewell Street. A bridewell is a mid-16th century term for an offender’s prison, named after St Bride’s Well in the City of London, which was near such a building. The Marlborough bridewell on the site of the Old Gym dates back to the 18th century. It was enlarged in 1723 and rebuilt in 1787. In 1825 it was used mainly for confining prisoners before trial, and agricultural rioters were held there in 1830. In 1836 there were 12 cells for men and three for women. It ceased to be a prison in 1854 and until 1898 it was a police station. The site was then acquired by the College and the distinguished local architect Charles Ponting built the current structure. Into this he incorporated windows from the old building to acknowledge the site’s history.