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.
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.
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.