The stagecoach era was a relatively short period of time as they only actually ran between the 18th and 19th century. Before that time the highways were too shambolic to have an organised travel service and as time went into the middle of the 19th century the emergence of train travel took away the stagecoaches customers. A stagecoach can be up to three or four wagons that are pulled by a group of horses. The first major route to be commercially covered was the Manchester to London link that the “Flying Coach” company started to operate in 1754.
The journey would take four and a half days and along the route the horses, the travellers and the drivers would need establishments where they could be rested, fed and watered. This was ideal for the start of the stagecoach inn. As the stagecoach idea caught on and more route-ways opened more inns were required and this led to a great swell of numbers of these types of hostelries. By 1797 there were forty-two coach routes available, but it wasn’t long before the railways arrived slashing the transport time markedly.
The inns were often marked by an archway where the stage coaches would enter to drop off their customers and rest their animals. There were two types of coach the mail and the paying customers. The mail was regular, but the paying customers were far more popular with Inn keepers as they would be willing to spend their money on food, drink and lodging. Some of the more successful Inns turned the operation in into big business. The Saracens head in Snow Hill London was run by William Mountain and was lucky enough to get the contract for the Louth Mail using the inns own contract. The driving force behind the operation was William’s wife Sarah, who organised the building of the coaches. She was also responsible for keeping 2,000 horses for stagecoach use and with William taking care of the Inn and accommodation the inn did so well that it was featured in the Charles Dickens novel “Nicholas Nickleby”.
There were certain areas that had real extensive stagecoach routes and as a result there would be many inns supplying the necessary services. One town that had many stage coach routes was Blackburn in Lancashire. All of their routes would start from different inns. In order to travel to Skipton, the passengers would have to head to the Old Bull, to go to Preston the coach would leave from the Eagle and Child, and to go to Liverpool departure would be from the New Inn.
There was a period of around 30 years when these services boomed. Sadly, in time the popularity of the stagecoach dropped and now the majority of those Blackburn’s inns no longer exist. The same trend occurred in London with different inns supplying stagecoach services to different parts of the country. The Swan with Two Necks in Cheapside ran stagecoach services to the West Country with Southampton and Andover being the major destinations.
In contrast The White Horse in Fetter Lane sent its stagecoaches further north with its favourite destinations being Sunderland and Edinburgh. The role of the Stagecoach Inn at the start of the industrialised period was a big one, but sadly its role was then diminished by the new transport modes that in many ways it had helped to create.