Coaching Inns

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Inns were a vital part of the coaching tradition. They not only feed travellers, changed horses and provided beds, they linked the coaching system throughout Britain. They hired post chaises, or other vehicles, to finish journeys and sometimes inn owners in vital locations took the plunge and became coach operators themselves.

Mrs Mountain of the Saracen's Head, Snow Hill in Holborn (above) was one of the most powerful. She had a coachbuilder's workshop on her premises. She also ran the Louth Mail as well as several stage-coaches in partnership with others who rented her coaches.

The old coaching Inns of London were generally large galleried buildings built around a central courtyard smilar to the picture of the Bull and Mouth (Picture above). Another famous inn of London was the Belle Sauvage (below) which does not have the galleries, - but still all windows look out into a central courtyard.

The problem with mails in the middle of the night is that inn-keepers did not make much profit from just getting up to change the horses. There were few passengers and no time to stop. These inn-keepers often had to be dragged from their beds to provide a change of horse, and even then in the uncertain darkness they often managed to palm off their less than reliable stock, keeping the good horses for daylight and the stage. Or they might indulge in delaying tactics to keep the stage longer and draw the passengers from the coach to spend their money at the bar.

On nearing an inn the guard blew his horn to warn the inn-keeper of their arrival. This was supposed to ensure that there was food on the table for when the travellers arrived. A half-crown standard fee to eat at the inn was paid and all diners would be directed into a dining room. The realily was that there was usually a delay in providing a meal for travellers at these inns which, when barely ten minutes was provided for breakfast and 20 minutes for dinner, this proved barely adequate for them to be served and to get more than a few mouthfuls. Some unscrupulous inn-keepers also employed other various tactics to delay serving and prevent guests eating. This allowed them to serve the same joint up to 3 or more coach-loads. Methods included bribing the guard to get the company out before the time was up, and placing the joints before ladies who were said to be slower carvers.

The dinners at inns were of mixed fare - and while later writers such as Disraeli and Hughes give glowing accounts of coach dinners there are many contemporary accounts that are fair less flattering. Jorrocks in New Sporting Magazine says; "Our travellers had been driven through the passage into a little, dark, dingy room at the back of the house, with a dirty, rain bespattered window looking against a whitewashed blank wall. The table was covered with a thrice-used cloth, was set out with lumps of bread, knives, and two and three pronged forks laid alternately, Altogether it was anything but inviting, but coach passengers are very complacent; and on the Dover road it matters little if they are not. Coats No1, No 2, and No 3, are taken off in succession, for some people wear top-coats to keep out the heat; chins are released from their silken jeopardy, hats are hid in corners. Inside passengers eye outside ones with suspicion...Presently the two dishes of pork, a couple of ducks, and a lump of half-raw, sadly mangled cold roast beef, with waxy potatoes and overgrown cabbages were scattered along the table. "What a beastly dinner!" exclaims an inside dandy in a sable-collared frock; "The whole place reeks with onions and vulgarity." ..."Now harkee, waitee, there's the guard blowing his horn, and we have scarcely had a bite apiece," cries Mr Jorrocks, as that functionary sounded his instrument most energetically in the passage, "blow me tight if I stir."

Lord William Lennox describes the great contrast he had on the road between the dinners when travelling in his own carriage to that when travelling coach. The coach dinners he describes as scalding soup (stained warm water), tough steaks, Sctoch collops, underdone boiled leg of mutton, potatoes hot without and hard within; and no time in which to eat it even it if were eatable.

Not all coaching routes were so terrible, the Brighton, that pinnacle of coaching elite, had many fine inns along it and off the busy roads where time did not matter a great deal, 2 hours might be allowed for dinner at cosy inn along the way. The Shrewsbury Highflyer left Shrewsbury at 8 in the morning arriving at its destination, Chester at 8 in the evening. This journey of some 40 miles taking a leisurely 12 hours. The coach proceded in a stately, unhurried manner. In season it would stop at a local farm-house renowned for the quality of its pork pies, dinner would be taken at Wrexham for 2 hours or as long as the passengers required. The coach would even stop to allow people to make visits to friends along the way.

It was necessary to have good stables - for many fashionable routes needed one horse per double mile Mrs Mountain of the Saracen's Head kept some 2,000 horses in her stables for the routes she served. Lord William Lennox sometime later estimated that it took some 2 pounds per week to keep coach horses. It is also estimated that the life of a coach horse was some three years. After that they were sold for they still had significant working life left. It was the nature of coaching with the strain of pulling a coach weighing more than 2 tons for an average of 10 miles at a speed of some 12 miles per hour 2 days out of 3. Farm work seemed easy by comparison.

Coach Prints
I thought this might be of interest to people - these two prints were done by Rowlandson, the First is entitled "The Belle Sauvage Yard, and the second The Departing Brighton Coach. On inspection both are in fact almost morror images apart from a few odd features added (or is it subtracted?). I don't know which was drawn first, but I have put them in here for curiosity value.

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