Hales Bar, Harrogate
Fresh teams of horses were kept in readiness so the exhausted team that had just run the previous stage of the journey could be rested. These teams could be contracted out to stage lines or to the Royal Mail.
How comfortable were the inns? Inns were generally built around a central cobbled courtyard that gave protection from the weather and made it easy to watch for coaches coming in. Even today, the old coaching inns have a very large entrance, from the open road outside, into the courtyard inside. However the convenience was offset by the difficulty in sleeping in a place where servants and passengers constantly moved, horns were blown to announce coaches, and teams of horses clattered on the cobblestones. Travel guides advised coach passengers who were spending the night to stay at a city inn rather than the coaching inn.
The Dolphin in Southampton had been a famous coaching inn since the C17th. But it was only during Southampton's Spa-town period, from 1750 on, that it also became a fashionable social centre for travellers taking the waters. This was the same time that the Dolphin was largely rebuilt with its handsome Georgian front, coaching entrance and magnificent bow windows. It might have been just a coaching inn, but it was a classy one.
Hales Bar in Harrogate had a similar history. It started off life as a coaching inn when the spa town of Harrogate was becoming very attractive as a mid 1700s destination. It continued as an inn in the C19th when it was renovated and named The Promenade Inn, after the opening of the fashionable Promenade Room nearby.
The Old Crown Coaching Inn in the market town of Faringdon, Oxfordshire is a former coaching inn that dates back to the C16th. It has retained its original features, including a cobbled courtyard and fountain. A heritage plaque on the front wall notes that this inn provided quarters for Royalist cavalry during the Civil War (1644-6).
Old Crown Coaching Inn, Faringdon Oxfordshire
What of the development of coaching inns in Australia, given that our distances were much longer, our weather harsher and our population much smaller than in Britain? They existed in substantial numbers but they looked less elegant, less urban and smaller than their British counterparts.
Old Buangor Cobb and Co changing station, Victoria
But the coaching inn business in Australia really only got going in a large way once Cobb and Co established itself on the main communication routes in the mid C19th. At the end of the Gold Rush in California, the very entrepreneurial Freemen Cobb joined three other gold seekers in Australia, creating a new partnership in the transportation business, Cobb & Co.
Australian changing stations could only be as far apart as a horse could sensibly travel in one trip, about 25 ks. Changing stations were where the team of horses was replaced.
The Victoria changing station, Penshurst, Victoria
But as we saw in the British examples, coaching inns became important for the passengers as well, since they provided a site for food and rest. Many changing stations in Australia adapted and became full blown coaching inns or pubs. An example that I discussed in an earlier post was perfect. The American Hotel in Creswick (rural Victoria) was described as a 2-storey timber structure. During the gold rush period of the 1850s, the hotel operated as a Cobb and Co station, gaining prominence as one of the leading establishments in the colony. And providing drinks to thirsty travellers!
Nymboida Coaching Station Inn in NSW still has its original hand-sawn cedar and red mahogany beams, parallel walls and open log fires. It has maintained its historical atmosphere from the time when Cobb & Co. stage coaches, bullock teams, timber cutters, graziers and other pioneers stopped here, on the woolpack road from Armidale to Grafton. The adjoining museum displays the giant Leviathan stage coach, the largest horse-drawn Cobb and Co Coach ever built!
Nymboida Coaching Station Inn, NSW
In Britain, the coming of the railroad ended the era of the coach by 1840, except in far-flung regions of the country that reached beyond the railway lines. Presumably by 1840 the coaching inns had developed other essential services; just because the coaches no longer arrived, there was no need for the inns to close.
When did the coaching inns end in Australia? If Carrington Hotel in Bungendore NSW is correct, it was originally built in 1885 as a clay brick coaching inn on the Cobb & Co route to rural Canberra. This suggests that coaching inns were still being built in Australia into the late Victorian era.
Arms of Australia Inn, Emu Plains NSW
At the recommendation of Parnassus, I want to add just one of many coaching inns in the USA. Joseph Rider opened Rider's Inn in Painesville Ohio in 1812. Over the years, the tavern expanded, providing fine accommodations and food for travellers in northeastern Ohio, travelling to the West. Situated on the rough-and-tumble stagecoach route from Buffalo New York to Cleveland Ohio, Rider's soon became an oasis of hospitality in the Western Reserve. Later the Inn became a stop on the underground railroad and a retreat for returned Civil War soldiers. The Rider Family operated the hostelry until 1902 when it fell on hard times.
I would be very interested to know which other coaching inns were built in the USA and what features they had in common.