Tag Archives: Coaching Inn

Hunting for Coaching Inns: Finding more details

The former coaching inn The Queen's Head

The former coaching inn The Queen’s Head

Our continued quest to find out about North East coaching inns led us this week to Alderman’s Fenwick’s House on Pilgrim Street in Newcastle. As part of our Remaking Beamish project we are planning to recreate a lost coaching inn (learn more about the project here). While we always use lots of archival research when recreating a building that has both been demolished and disappeared from memory, we are often left with gaps and have to make informed guesses (click here to find out more about that process). To help fill in these blanks we’ve been visiting local buildings.

The oldest parts of Alderman’s Fenwick’s house are medieval, but the majority of house as it stands today was largely developed during the 1700s. It became prominent locally as the home of the merchant family, the Fenwicks, including Alderman Nicholas Fenwick who lived there between 1747 and 1750. By 1782 the house had been bought by Charles Turner, a local innkeeper, who began converting the building into a hotel. In 1783, Turner publicly advertised that the inn was now ‘fitted in a genteel manner’ and that it had been considerably enlarged to accommodate a dinning room, stables and coach house. Many of the features in the building date from this period of refurbishment. The inn became famous as the most fashionable in the city, holding balls and exclusive auctions and won a contract to become a posting house. Amongst its many illustrious guests was Charles Dickens.

Cassie and John standing on the grand 17th century staircase.

Cassie and John standing on the impressive 17th century staircase.

The grand principle chamber

The grand principle chamber

By far the grandest room in the house is on the buildings first floor, now used as a board room, it would have been the main reception space when the building was a house and probably acted as the lounge or parlour for the hotel. It has under gone many alterations, which illustrate the history of the building. The beautiful decorative plaster ceiling, dates from the mid-17th century and is of a style that is typical to the Newcastle area (similar examples can be found in the Parlour of the Guildhall on Sandhill and at Bessie Surteess House). The bolectian moulded panelling was probably added towards the end of the 17th century or early 18th century. The shutters on windows and the two round top doors either side of these are late 18th century in style and were probably part of Turner’s refurbishments. However, while this principle chamber is beautiful, its grandeur would have not of been typical of most coaching inns. The things that we were interested in seeing were the everyday and functional features of the inn. In the cellar remains the shelves that were used to store barrels on, made from stone slabs and supported by handmade-brick piers. Many of the former bedroom doors still retain their original locks and hinges, and the fireplaces their Georgian hob grates. Hidden away in what was a servant’s bedroom are the remains of hand-printed early 19th century wallpaper, which has been restored and replicated by the Tyne and Wear Buildings Preservation Trust who look after the building. All of these small details will help us when making design decision about what our recreated coaching inn  should authentically looked like.

The hand printed early 19th century wallpaper in a former servant's room.

The hand printed early 19th century wallpaper in a former servant’s room at The Queen’s Head. 

While we were in the city, we also visited the Old George, the oldest still operating pub in Newcastle and another former coaching inn. It’s small yard still provides clues as to its former use, blocked up arches are visible in what must have been the coach house and stables. Inside the pub, there is a large recess supported by a huge stone surround, where the kitchen range and oven once stood.

The inside of the Old George Inn, which must have once had a large kitchen range and oven.

The inside of the Old George Inn, which must have once had a large kitchen range and oven.

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Hunting for Coaching Inns: Finding the details

Cassie standing outside of Allington House on the North Bailey in Durham.

Cassie standing outside of Allington House on the North Bailey in Durham.

As part of our Remaking Beamish project we are planning to recreate a lost coaching inn (look out for an announcement about exactly which inn it will be). While we always use lots of archival research when recreating a building that has both been demolished and disappeared from memory, we are often left with gaps and have to make informed guess. Often, it is the smaller architectural details that are unrecorded, such as window glazing bars and door surrounds, which may seem unimportant but can make all the difference in making a building feel authentic. Sometimes, there are larger chunks missing, such as the rear of a building, which may be out of shot of a photograph. Here it could be an entire facade that we have to make a well founded inference about.

The former Georgian front door of Allington House.

The former Georgian front door of Allington House.

Yesterday Clara and our newest member of the team, Cassie, went in search of some local examples to help fill a few of the blanks that are missing on our design for our coaching inn. We headed to Durham to visit Allington House on the North Bailey, former home of the architect Ingnatious Bonomi, which has been gradually developed and expanded from the 1700s right up to the 1950s. Here we found a hidden Georgian front door with a beautiful classically carved hood canopy, lopsided sliding sashes, 17th century roof trusses and plenty of wonky corridors.

A typical Palladian style Venetian window on a Georgian building in Durham.

A typical Palladian style Venetian window on a Georgian building in Durham.

The city of Durham itself provided some useful inspiration with all its moulded doorways and Georgian windows with typically distorted glass.

One of the many Neoclassical carved doorway of Durham.

One of the many Neoclassical carved doorway of Durham.

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Anchovy sauce, moulded puddings and potted char…. food at a Georgian Coaching Inn

Image taken from A.E. Richardson and H.D. Eberlein's 'The English Inn, Past and Present' (London: Fleetway Press, 1925)

Image taken from A.E. Richardson and H.D. Eberlein’s ‘The English Inn, Past and Present’ (London: Fleetway Press, 1925)

As part of our ongoing research into the region’s coaching inns, we’ve been investigating what kinds of food Georgian travellers would have expected to have been available at these roadside establishments. Knowing what people ate will help us when we come to design the eating and dining spaces of the coaching inn that we are hoping to build at the museum, as part of our Remaking Beamish Project.

A rural coaching inn on the Great North Road could expect the arrival at least two coaches a day, carrying roughly ten passengers each, plus the driver and a guard. Not all of these coaches would have stayed the night; some would have only stopped to change horses or waited long enough for their passengers to have a quick meal. Independent travellers would have also arrived throughout the day. Therefore, during the day, a coaching inn of the scale that we’re planning would be expected to provide catering to unknown quantity of guests, often within the time it took to collect mail and harness a fresh team of horses.

The solution to this need for fast food was for inns to deliver a round-the-clock service. Speed was of the essence, as an innkeeper who could not provide a ready meal would lose trade from rushing coach passengers and in an industry reliant on sticking to timetables, would gain a reputation for lethargy. Numerous contemporary accounts tell of the efficiency of English inns, including one from the Italian exile Count Peechi who in 1827 wrote that ‘At every inn breakfast, dinner or supper is always ready; a fire is burning in every room and water always boiling for tea or coffee’.

The necessity for quick provision meant that the food served was usually very simple. Common victuals on offer would have included ham and eggs, bread, cheese, cold potatoes, preserved fruit and pickles. Steaks would have also have been quickly fried on a pan over the fire and a kettle would have been constantly on the boil. Along with preserved and salted meat, fish would have been readily available. Arthur Young, in his A Sixth Month Tour of the North of England of 1771 describes how anchovies were used in sauces and other dishes to add flavour. Oysters were then considered to be a cheap and plentiful food, which could be pack in barrels of salt water and sent across the country. Potted fish was again very common, as it could be sealed using clarified butter into clay pots, preserving it and making it easily transportable. Interestingly, potted char (similar to a large salmon) was conveyed from the Lake District (where the fish was caught) via the coaching system. Less elaborate food, prepared for poorer travellers, such as the drovers, would include a good amount of oatmeal, onions and cheese.

Dr Syntax Reading his tour in the Dun Cow Thomas Rowlandson c.1815

The cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson’s Dr Syntax in a coaching inn kitchen, c.1815. Image taken from ‘Inn Crafts and Furnishings’ (London: Whitbread & Co., 1950).

Along with the constant supply of hot and cold fast food during the day, a more substantial evening meal would have been provided for overnight guests. Georgian innkeepers faced the same problems that a modern hotelier faces today; that of not knowing how many guests they may have to feed, having a sufficient supply of ingredients and wanting to limit wastage. Concerns over supply and waste were compounded by the lack of refrigeration, reliance on preserved food and the seasonality of local produce. To get around this problem coaching inns offered to the everyday traveller a set menu, known as the ‘ordinary’. More well off guests or independent travellers could request their meals to be brought to their rooms. However, many guests would book a place for the ‘ordinary’, which was at a set time. Up until the mid-19th century, formal meals were served in the ‘French style’, meaning that all of the dishes were presented at once. Guests would gather together to eat at a large table which would have previously been laid with food (all course would have been served in one go). Each dish would be well presented and may have included: steaks; hung meat; preserved fish; cheese, pickles and bread; pies; potted salmon and other fish; roasted fish and meat; beans; game cutlets; cabbage; peas; potatoes; various sauces; oat cakes; fruit and cream; moulded jelly puddings and steamed puddings. Diners would serve themselves from these central platters and pass dishes across the table to one another.

Drink would have been just as important as food at a Georgian coaching inn. Kettle of tea would have been constantly on the boil on the inn’s hearths, ready to warm up weather beaten travellers and coffee or hot chocolate may have been served in a special coffee room or parlour. Beer would be available in the less refined tap rooms. Normally this beer was a simple ale brewed in the inn’s own brew house.   Along with beer, wine and strong spirits would have been heavily drunk. Previously popular French Burgundy and brandy were in short supply due to the disruption to imports caused by the Napoleonic Wars, but Jamaican rum and Rhenish wine would have been a welcome alternative.

Look out for a further post on the unusual equipment used in Georgian kitchens.

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The hunt for an Inn continues…

Clara studying a plan at the Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle's Discovery Museum.

Clara studying a plan at the Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

We’ve been continuing with our search for lost Coaching Inns throughout the North East, and last week Clara and John visited several Archives looking for more information and some plans. Unfortunately, while we did find a number of great plans, most of them were of Inns that are still in business – which is great news for the buildings, but a shame for us!

None of the ones that are lost had plans that are complete enough for us to copy, so the search continues! We did come across a fantastic story from an Inn though. A newspaper from 12th Feb 1790 tells of an duel that took place in a Coaching Inn in Morpeth – thankfully it ended happily – without anyone being injured!

On the evening of Friday night a misunderstanding took place at Morpeth between a Mr B. and a Mr L. in consequence of which they met attended by their seconds in a room of the Phoenix Inn. They took their ground at six yards distance and agreed to fire together. But after poising and looking and looking and poising and chameleon-like alternating and changing colours it was discovered that the pistols would not go off. The seconds then interfered assuring their parties that they had sufficiently proved themselves men of honour which it was said they were highly pleased to hear and the matter was finally adjusted without blood-shed.

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Hunting for lost Coaching Inns

The still standing Angel Inn at Corbridge.

The still standing Angel Inn at Corbridge.

As part of our Remaking Beamish project, we are planning to build a recreation of a lost North East coaching inn, which people will not only be able to enjoy as part of their visit to Beamish, but also be able to stay in over night as guests. From the 17th century onwards, coaching inns were an important part of British (and indeed European) infrastructure; as they stabled fresh horses for the  mail and stagecoaches that carried post and people across the country. These inns jostled for the business brought in by the coaches, and flourished by feeding and accommodating passengers. Individual travellers were also catered for, and those as far apart in time as Celia Fiennes, in the earlier 1700s, and Charles Harper at the turn of the last century, published popular accounts of their journeys. The coaches that ran between the various stages were scheduled, so that people could catch them like buses from the various inns that acted as stages or stops on the roads. Beamish has in its collection several directories that give the times and locations of the various coaches, including ones that dates from 1802 and 1810 respectively. We have been using these to help us locate former inns.

Pages from the Newcastle, Durham, Northumberland Gazetteer listing local coaches.

Pages from the Newcastle, Durham, Northumberland Gazetteer listing local coaches.

The specific story that Beamish is planning to tell is of the Great North Road, which ran from London to Edinburgh, as well as the other routes that ran across the region, going to industrial centres such as Carlisle and Hartlepool. To do this, Jim, John and Clara have been trawling through OS maps, directories, photographic archives and local records to identify a lost coaching inn that we can use as the basis for our recreation. So far our search has lead us to gleaning ideas from the still standing and rather grand Georgian buildings of the Ancient Unicorn in Bowes, County Durham. We’ve also investigated lost city centre inns, such as the Three Tuns in Darlington and the Black House in Newcastle. The challenge we face is to find an inn that has the right scale and feel for the rural setting of our 1820s area.

A sketch made in 1830 of the White Horse in Hexham before it was demolished and rebuilt.

A sketch made in 1830 of the White Horse in Hexham before it was demolished and rebuilt.

This Tuesday, John and Clara went to Hexham to seek out three former inns; the .White Horse, the White Hart and the Grey Bull. They discovered that all that remains of the White Horse, a lovely half timbered building located next to the Moot Hall and dating from the 1600s, are the remnants of its yard and a gate post that was could have been part of its 19th century rebuild. Equally, the late Georgian building of the White Hart has now been replaced by a department store. However, it’s rear arch into the stable yard appears to be still in place. Interestingly, the arch that was formerly at the front of  the White Hart, seems, due to its width to have only been used for human access to the rear yard. The grandness of the arch, with its segmental pediment, meant that it was rescued when the rest of the building was demolished and moved to the grounds of Hexham Abbey to be used as a war memorial. Again all that appears to be left of the Grey Bull is the rough outline of its former rear yard, along with what could have possibly been a stable or outbuildings wall.

The former front archway of the White Hart in Hexham, now located in the Abbey gardens.

The former front archway of the White Hart in Hexham, now located in the Abbey gardens.

Our hunt for a lost inn continues, please let us know if you have any leads for us to chase up!

John standing next to what might have once been a gate post for the yard of the White Horse in Hexham.

John standing next to what might have once been a gate post for the yard of the White Horse in Hexham.

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