PEOPLE: JAMES WILKINSON
He counts A-list celebrities Madonna and William Shatner among fans of his paintings, and now the publican and talented equine artist Stuart Knowles has been bestowed another great honour - as a Q&C featured countryman. He spoke to us from his beautiful pub in Dorset to reveal all.
OCCUPATION: Equine artist, landlord, farmer
LOCATION: Bourton, North Dorset
Q&C: Have you always lived in the countryside?
SK: I was born in a small pretty village called Hindon, only 9 miles away from where I live now. My family have been there for seven generations. I followed my passion for painting which took me to Bath where I did my art degree, I then remained in Bath in a tiny but beautiful Georgian flat. High ceilings, sash windows and marble fireplaces. People on the street would comment on how lovely it looked from the outside, but it was freezing in the winter, but I didn’t mind the cold. I think I might be part Viking. Then just like a salmon I returned to the same area of my birth when I brought the White Lion Inn. And even though Bath is such a beautiful city, there really is no place like home.
Q&C: Is there a man in your life?
SK: Sadly not, I'm not enjoying working this out but I’ve been single for nine years now. I have dated in that time and would really like to find a partner. I’m forever hopeful.
Q&C: Why Bourton?
SK: Bourton was where the White Lion is. In fact I set out to buy a house at first, after four attempts at buying as a cash buyer which you would think would be simple I kind of gave up. In my head I was thinking why am I buying a large country home to throw dinner parties, when the party would always come to an end and it would just be the dog and me. Like Mrs Dalloway, I’d always be giving parties to cover the silence.
Through a twist of fate I ended up with nowhere to live. My Friend very kindly offered me a room in the pub he was managing. After another failed house purchase, I thought why not buy a pub instead. It was run down and in danger of closing as the business was always making a loss. My friend William Smith and I decided to go into business together and buy the pub from the brewery and turn it into a free house and give the village back its pub.
Q&C: Tell us about The White Lion Inn.
SK: The White Lion Inn is a country pub on the old A303, not so much a grand coaching inn, more a pub where you would change your cart house and repair your wagon on your way to London from Cornwall. Today it is a much bigger property with low wooden beams, open fires due to not having central heating in any of the building, stone floors and just bags of character. It's used by the locals as a drinking hole. People say if you want a cheap divorce or grass cut then the White Lion is the place. There's lovely home cooked food including our own bread baked every day and a local range of drinks and a large garden with ducks and chickens.
Every Friday night we have live Music, including jazz and rock bands, opera nights where you're sung at while you eat dinner - no need to visit Covent Garden - and Shakespeare performed in the garden.
Q&C: What’s been your most memorable highlight being at The White Lion?
SK: As the pub has improved the old customers who left the pub due to its bad reputation have happily returned. I was told while running our fun dog show which happens every year that we have turned what was once called the Murky Lion back into the White Lion again - a pub the village can be proud of.
Q&C: What’s your favourite village past-time, any hobbies?
SK: My painting. A-listers Madonna, Guy Ritchie and William Shatner have all shown interest in my art work and have bought some pieces over the years. The former Star Trek actor has one of my paintings in his Los Angeles home which he shares with his wife who is involved in the rehabilitation of horses.
Meanwhile, Madonna and Guy Ritchie bought one together which I guess ended up in their former home near Salisbury, Ashcombe House, in Wiltshire - however I'm not sure who got it in the divorce. As for my art, I’ve been greatly inspired and influenced by the 18th Century artist George Stubbs who is known for his paintings of horses, as well as by the contemporary New Mexico-based artist Susan Rothenberg.
I’ve found my oil paintings of horses are a great escape from the publican life. I’m very lucky in that I’ve had shows around the world including New York, London and Paris, and now they hang on the walls of my pub's dining room visited daily by the public. Normally they are equine - I draw on my own experience as a horse man.
Q&C: Do you have any big plans for the summer ahead?
SK:I’m working hard on another passion of mine which is being part of the Hot Rock Carnival Club. I put my artistic talents to good use on the carnival cart (float). I love dancing and performing to thousands of people. It starts locally in September and ends up at Bridgewater, it’s a complete buzz, and like last year, I hope to be there half-naked and giving it all I’ve got to raise money for the many different charities this great West Country tradition aids. Carnival is such a positive hobby and such good fun I would recommend it to everyone.
Q&C: Any holidays planned?
SK: No holidays planned but I would love to visit Paris or the lakes of Italy, I just need to find the right man to take.
Q&C: What’s your favourite countryside hot-spot?
SK: Being only a mile away I just love Stourhead. I run there often, and I shoot on land owned by the estate. It’s beautiful and well worth a visit.
Q&C: What book are you reading at the moment?
SK: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie. Vikings, axes, blood - what isn’t to like?
Follow Stuart on instagram: @stuartknowles18
Anyone wanting to be a Q&C countryman can get in touch with us at: email@example.com