A POTTED history of The George Hotel after news that the hotel has gone into administration.

THE George Hotel isn’t really in Piercebridge: it is on the Yorkshire side of the River Tees and so is in Cliffe.

IT was originally known as The Bridge Inn, because it is beside the ancient road bridge over the Tees and close to the Roman crossing of the river.

PARTS of the current building closest to the river date certainly from the 17th Century, if not a little earlier, and it established itself as a coaching inn.

LEGENDARY highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have stayed there.

ITS prosperity really started in the 1740s when the road from Boroughbridge to Catterick to Piercebridge and on to Kirk Merrington and Tudhoe was turnpiked – it was taken over by a private consortium of businessmen who charged people to use its improved surface.

THIS prosperous period probably coincided with its name change to The George. Its sign shows King George III, who reigned from 1760 until 1820, although he was mad for the latter part of his time on the throne.

BECAUSE coaches needed to leave on time, one of The George’s most important possessions was an accurate timepiece. There is a sundial on the outside of the hotel, and in its lobby is a longcase clock made by James Thompson, of High Row, Darlington, who died in 1825. It was noted for its good timekeeping.

IN mid-Victorian times, The George was run by the Jenkins brothers. The clock may have come into the family’s possession on the day the elder brother was born. Immediately after he died, it was noted how the longcase clock lost its accuracy. The second brother continued winding the clock at precisely 11.05am each day, and on the day he died, the clock stopped, never to go again. Some versions of the story say that it stopped at precisely 11.05; others that it was forever pointing at a few minutes to six.

IN 1874, Henry Clay Work, a popular American songwriter from Connecticut, heard the story and wrote a version of it from the clockowner’s grandson’s perspective into a song which he released in 1876. It began:

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,

So it stood ninety years on the floor…

But it stopped short — never to go again —

When the old man died.

Some versions of this story suggest that Work actually stayed at The George in 1874, although none of his biographies suggest that he ever left the US. Anyway, the song became a global hit and its popularity ensured that to this day, longcase clocks are known as grandfather clocks.

ROBERT LANCASTER was landlord of The George for nearly 30 years until his death in 1917, aged 85. He was a unique dresser in large check suits, he was a keen huntsman, and The George became the focal point of hunting circles. Members of the royal family stayed at The George when attending Zetland Hunt meets, including Prince Albert Victor, who was Queen Victoria’s eldest grandson who was expected to become king one day, until in 1892, at the age of 28, he died of influenza.

THE George has several ghosts, most notably a lovelorn young lady who died of a broken heart in bedroom 11. She appears, dressed in white in the spring, but only if a young man is staying in that room. Voices are heard coming from an empty bar – either farmers arguing over cattle prices or the Jenkins brothers bickering over who should wind the damned clock.

THE Crosse and Blackwell Beano Tour stayed at The George for a week in 1963 and toured south Durham promoting baked beans. The ensemble included two U.S.-style covered wagons and two teams of four horses: one team grey, the other team bay. And there was an assorted collection of fake cowboys.

BEFORE the Barnard Castle railway closed in 1965, 14 passenger trains a day stopped at Piercebridge. The last train back to Darlington was the 10.30pm, and it was usually crowded with party-goers returning from dances at The George.

BEING in Yorkshire, The George had different, and longer, licensed hours than were available to pubs over the river in County Durham. Therefore, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were often mad dashes in motor cars across the bridge to The George so that drinkers could get a last beer before closing.

FROM 1970 to 1995, the Henry Walton Easter Monday Handicap Trophy was competed for at The George. It was named after regular Harry Walton who, after closing, would scrabble up the steep floodbank opposite to visit his friend, Richard Wilson, is Cliffe Hall. The trophy was awarded to the fastest drinker to ascend the hill and return safely to the pub, with the last drop onto the cobbles of the road being the most dangerous element, particularly because the handicap was the amount of beer that had been consumed. For eight consecutive years from 1987, the trophy was won by farmer William Snaith, of High Coniscliffe, who retains it as the competition was abandoned in 1995 due to road safety fears.