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Pangbourne: Where Led Zeppelin was conceived and home to Wind in the Willows' Kenneth Grahame

Find out more at West Berkshire Museum exhibition

The Swan pub sign, on display in the Focus on Pangbourne exhibition NEBYM:2015.6.274
The Swan pub sign, on display in the Focus on Pangbourne exhibition NEBYM:2015.6.274

PANGBOURNE, which is the current focus of West Berkshire Museum’s series of exhibitions looking at the parishes in the region, has been home for several well-known people, including the author of The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame lived in Church Cottage and met there with E H Shepard, who was probably inspired by the Pangbourne countryside to create the illustrations he drew for the
re-print of the classic novel.

In 1967, Jimmy Page, a session guitarist, bought The Boathouse in Pangbourne, for the sum of £6,000 and later met the singer Robert Plant there, the two of them making plans to form the band that became Led Zeppelin.

Pangbourne clearly encourages creativity, as one of the residents in the early years of the 20th century was a renowned artist, Cecil Aldin. On display in the exhibition is a book of poems, Berkshire Vale, written by Wilfrid Howe-Nurse and illustrated by Cecil Aldin. The book was published in 1927 and contains poems about specific and general places in Berkshire, with illustrations, mainly monochrome pen and ink, pencil or pastel sketches, but with some gentle additions of colour, such as the coat of a yeoman or the flames of a bonfire. Aldin was known for his paintings and illustrations of the English
countryside, but was also an illustrator for editions of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Rudyard Kipling’s The Second Jungle Book.

Cecil Charles Windsor Aldin was born in Slough in 1870 and in 1904 moved with his wife, son and
daughter first to Henley on Thames, then to Upper Bowram Farm, Pangbourne, and later to
Sulhamstead. They were living there when the First World War started and Aldin became an Army Remount Purchasing Officer, the Major in charge of the remount depot near Pangbourne, purchasing and training horses for use by the army. He developed many local Remount Depots, including the first Ladies’ Army Remount Unit, staffed entirely by women.

The Imperial War Museum purchased his pastel painting of the women employed at the Remount Unit at The Kennels, Pangbourne, and also wanted to purchase his painting of a land girl. Aldin felt this was not of high enough quality and the museum, which was formed in 1919, sent a member of the Women’s Land Army to his Pangbourne studio as a model for a new oil painting, based on his original. The painting is seen as an iconic image of the Women’s Land Army in the First World War. Aldin retired to live in the Balearic Islands, where he continued to paint until his death in 1935.

Another famous name with links to Pangbourne was Jerome K Jerome, whose travellers in his book Three Men in a Boat ended their journey at The Swan Hotel. This riverfront pub possibly dates from 1642 and originally catered to river traffic. Part of the building was even used as a grain store. Although the inn has Grade II listing, this was allocated before 1984, and it seems that the inspector only looked at the outside of the building to date it to the 18th century. Timbers inside, however, suggest it is from an earlier period of history.

In the Focus on Pangbourne exhibition, visitors can have a close look at one of the old signs from The Swan. This is a very recent acquisition, received after residents of Pangbourne heard about the requests for items to display in the exhibition. They generously offered the sign as a donation, rather than a loan. It is the only pub sign in the museum’s collection, and is a colourful painting of a swan with a crown on a chain around its neck. So far, no information has been found to date when it was in use, apart from one photograph of it with cars dating from the early 2000s parked outside the pub. If anyone knows more about the sign, the staff at the museum would be very interested in adding to the records. Visitors can see the book, the sign and other items relating to Pangbourne during museum opening hours, currently Wednesday-Saturday10am-4pm.

Researched and written by Dawn Sellick, heritage access assistant at West Berkshire Museum

Book, Berkshire Vale, illustrated by Cecil Aldin
Picture courtesy of West Berkshire Museum

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