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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Coaching Inns in Regency England

Stage Coach and Riders in the Yard of an Inn Preparing to Depart 1789-95

Inns for travelers existed for centuries before the Georgian era, but it was the Royal Mail’s development in the 17th century that necessitated the improved roads, faster coaches, and affordable fares that allowed more people to travel throughout Great Britain. Turnpike trusts, consistent coach schedules, and a proliferation of guidebooks made it easier for middle class and wealthy merchants tor travel for leisure and not just the aristocracy.

And those many travelers needed a place to stay and a place to change their horses.

A coaching inn’s primary purpose was to provide fresh horses—those would have to be changed every 7-10 miles—but coaching inns also hired out post chaises to outlying areas for local use. The inns were along the coaching routes from London and kept to schedules strict enough to be published and relied upon. These routes were well established by the mid 18th century, and by then there were hundreds of coaching inns. By 1819, there were 120 coaching inns in London alone.

Yard at the Bull and Mouth Inn, City of London 1817

Larger Georgian coaching inns had a similar layout. There was a yard around which were grouped a set of lodgings and then another yard for stabling, coaches, and wagons. The courtyard usually had an arched entry, and provided a safe place for passengers to alight and to change out the horses. There was a dining room for the coach passengers and private parlours on the ground floor, and a separate booking office for processing tickets. Sometimes there was also an assembly room. Lodging rooms were upstairs that could be accessed from a staircase inside the inn and also through an exterior hallway overlooking and surrounding the yard on three sides.

If the coach was timed to stop for half an hour to allow passengers to dine, waiters and the landlord were at the ready to make that happen. But ostlers could remove and hitch up a new team in about three minutes. Coaching inns stabled many horses, ready to replace tired teams with rested ones. These horses were contracted to stage lines or the Royal Mail, or were available to be hired by individuals.

Post chaise passengers would usually only stay long enough to hire and attach new horses. Hopefully, the passengers could eat in the dining room or rest in the parlour before the driver called, “All is ready!”

Those staying a night or two had less reason to rush. It was best to pick a bedchamber upstairs—farther from the smell of the horses. It might also be a good idea to travel with your own sheets to ensure they weren’t damp or bug ridden. Your room either faced the road or the stable yard, so it would have been loud either way, especially if the road or yard were cobbled. Keep a lot of sixpence with you for tips. Everyone is tipped form the moment you arrive: the ostler, the grooms, the maids, the waiters, the porters, the landlord. And nothing but the fares for the routes were posted, so who knew how much your food or candles cost until the landlord presented you with a bill.

Some inns were famous for their food and good service as well as their spacious and clean rooms. Others were known for taking advantage or dirty rooms.

The Stage Coach Breakfast 1824

In the painting by Edward Villiers Rippingille above, note the driver out the window ready to go, the woman hurrying the man with the trunk on the stairs, the awaiting passengers huddled in groups and crowding around the table, and the men warming themselves by the fire. These were bustling places.

At this time, private quarters were the norm, but sometimes strangers still had to share rooms. If you rented a room with two beds, another person could be put in with you. In general, you got what you paid for. It could cost a few pence for an awful room or a few shillings a night for a more comfortable experience—plus all the tips.

In Rising Courage, Darcy and Elizabeth hide out in the Bull and George Inn in Dartford after escaping their kidnappers. With little money on them, they worried about how to pay for everything when no landlord would take credit from travelers passing through.

This was a real inn; Jane Austen stayed here several times while visiting her brother in Canterbury. The Bull and George was along the London-Dover coaching route.

Jane even writes to Cassandra from the Bull and George in October 1798. This was the last stop on the first’s day’s journey home to Steventon from Godmersham, where Mr. and Mrs. Austen had been visiting their son Edward in his new home. (This letter is also the one that recounts the loss and recovery of Jane’s writing and dressing boxes, which had a narrow escape from a voyage to the West Indies.)

We have got apartments up two pair of stairs, as we could not be otherwise accommodated with a sitting-room and bed-chambers on the same floor, which we wished to be. We have one double-bedded and one single-bedded room; in the former my mother and I are to sleep. I shall leave you to guess who is to occupy the other. We sate down to dinner a little after five, and had some beefsteaks and a boiled fowl, but no oyster sauce.

No oyster sauce withstanding, the Austens typically stayed here and it seems to have been a satisfactory experience. The Bull and George closed in 1972 and was eventually demolished, but most coaching inns didn’t have such a long history. They flourished until the rise of the railroads in the mid 19th century when they became the main means of distance travel.

The English Inn, Past and Present; a Review of Its History and Social Life by Sir Albert Edward Richardson, Harold Donaldson Eberlein 1926

Jane Austen Letters no. 8 "Bull and George," Dartford Wednesday (October 24 1798)

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