New entrance to the town: By 1740 road traffic was increasing further, and there were
complaints of poor access to the town via the ford through the River Dun. This ford requires a little explanation. The island on which the War Memorial and Bridge Street now stand had been the site
of the old Hospital Priory of St John. This ancient priory was first mentioned in 1232, and was eventually to be dissolved by Henry VIII, although buildings remained on 'the island' until the
The main access to the town was along a route running diagonally from
Charnham Street in front of Riverside to the John of Gaunt Inn, crossing the River Dun by means of a ford through the southern arm of the river. In 1740 a note in the accounts mentions '£27. 3s.
3d for building a cart bridge next to Charnham Street', and at the same time land was bought from the Bear Inn so that the new Bridge Street might be built in a more direct route across the
Priory island, in its present position.
Bath Road Turnpike: Bath, the famous Roman spa town of Aquae Sulis, was responsible for many of the improvements to the Great
West Road. Although visited by Queen Elizabeth I as early as 1574, the town did not really become fashionable until Georgian times. Turnpike Acts of 1707-56, although unpopular with most people, did
encourage the Trustees to repair the roads and lay a permanent route, which became known as the Great Road to Bath, and became the quickest way to reach Bristol.
In 1744 an Act for repairing the turnpike road from Newbury to Marlborough was passed, and in 1746 the road through Froxfield and Savernake to Marlborough was upgraded to
^ top ^
John Rocque's map of Berkshire 1761 gives considerable detail of the
Hungerford area. The Bath Road in Eddington no longer ran through Oxford Street and the village itself, but the new road nearer the river was in use in the present position by Norman's Garage.
However, the Salisbury Road was still a mere track, the main route to the south clearly being along the present-day Priory Place, and Priory Road to Sanham Green, and thence along the 'back
road' to join what is now the Salisbury Road just south of Hornhill. It was probably at about this time the more direct route up the hill towards Beacon Farm became increasingly used.
Coaching Period begins: In 1752 an enterprising Newbury firm, John Clark & Co.,
started a Flying Coach service to Bath. It proposed travelling at 4-5 mph, and undertook to perform the whole journey in 12 hours. In the same year, the London to Bath Post Coach took two days for
its journey, the average coach weighing over a ton. By 1782 things were only a little better - the London to Bath trip now took 38 hours, and a letter posted on Monday would not be delivered until
late on Wednesday, and the reply could not be received until Saturday at the earliest.
Besides the many other hazards of travelling in the late eighteenth century, daylight robberies had become so frequent that the Post Office was driven to the humiliating
resort of officially advising the public to cut bank notes in half before sending them in the post, and awaiting confirmation of their safe arrival before dispatching the second half!
The flying coaches were the forerunners of the new mail coaches. The first of these ran in 1784, and perhaps this date more than any other signifies the start of the great
'coaching era'. Hungerford was beginning to bustle now as trade increased in leaps and bounds. Many of the High Street properties were 'modernised' by the addition of new facades, and
a new Town Hall was built in 1786 in the Market Place, just north of the older 1607 building. A further boost to trade came with the opening of the Western Canal to Hungerford in 1798. For more on
the canal, click here.
^ top ^
The Hey-day of Coaching: The hey-day of coaching was to last nearly 60 years, and there is no doubt that these 60 years were
some of Hungerford's best. Perhaps the greatest years of all were 1830-40, and dictionaries and almanacs abound with information on coaches and coaching inns.
A directory records that
"The road to Bath is through Charnham Street, which is in Wiltshire; this is in the parish of
Hungerford, but not in the town. In Charnham Street is the well-accustomed inn known by the sign of the Black Bear (where gentlemen of the neighbourhood have a subscription monthly club and
assembly); and two small ones, the White Hart and the Red Lion.
The mail coaches go through Charnham Street, it being on the high road to Bath and Bristol and Exeter. They leave their bags at
Hungerford from London, Maidenhead, reading and Newbury about half past four in the morning and take the Calne, Marlborough, Chippenham Bath and Bristol bags. On the return....
The postage for
London from Hungerford is 4d, to Newbury 2d, Reading 3d.
The Bath and Bristol mail coaches change horses at Hungerford, as do two or three coaches, there being 8 to 10 daily through the town
The fare from Hungerford to London is 18s, to Bath and Bristol 13s, but no place can be taken unless the whole fare is paid.
There are many wagons passing through the
town every day of the week.
- 90 traders
- 9 innholders and victuallers
- John Toe carrier."
Coaching in Hungerford in 1836: The following detailed information relates to the year 1836:-
Of the many large and well-known companies, there were five who operated the Bath Road through
Hungerford. There was enormous competition between them, each company priding itself, and advertising its claim, in offering greater comfort, greater punctuality, or above all, greater speed. The
race was on- a journey from London to Bath was 108 miles, and to Bristol was 123 miles, and this was a very considerable test of anyone's stamina! At best it took about 13 hours, and at night
nearer 18 hours.
The coaches were all named, and these names conjure up a little of the sense of adventure that accompanied travelling in those days: The Emerald, The Age, and The Monarch.
Some took their names from their destination
The White Hart, and The York House, whilst another was called the Regulator, presumably promising to run especially punctually! More were
utilitarian in their title, maybe resting on their companies good name for advertisement - The General Stage Company's Night (or Day) Coach, or Cooper's Company Night (or Day)
All the ten mentioned above travelled the Bath Road every day through Hungerford, usually starting at 6-7 a.m. and arriving at their destination by the early evening, whilst the night
coaches left at 3.30-5 p.m. and arrived the next morning. A local 'Coach and Carriers Guide' states that there were 200 coaches per week on the Bath Road.
The most spectacular of all,
however, were the Royal Mail Coaches, which were operated on this route by W. Chaplin & Co. They managed the journey to Bath in 11½ hours, and to Bristol in 12¼ hours. These were overnight trips, taking mail from one town in the evening for delivery in the other next morning, and their speed is quite remarkable when compared with the usual night trip of 18 hours.
There were, of course, many other services besides these long distance ones. London to Marlborough, Reading to Bath, several on the Oxford to Salisbury route, all ran through Hungerford, in addition to many local ones, such as Palmer's single return journey from Hungerford to Newbury on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday each week.
Hungerford is just about halfway between London and Bath; indeed, Halfway hamlet is said to have derived its name thereby. Both Speenhamland and Marlborough were certainly
more important as stopping places, but changes of horses were often made every 8-10 miles, and Hungerford must have been quite busy enough, as is confirmed by the large number of inns along Charnham
Street and High Street.
In 1836, there were 10 coach services running daily on the Bath Road through Hungerford. The departure and arrival times are given in a separate paper. The main companies
operating through Hungerford included:
- William James Chaplin (106 coaches)
- Benjamin Horne (92 coaches)
- Edward Sherman (77 coaches)
- Robert Gray (29 coaches)
- Sarah Ann Mountain
In all 342 coaches left and arrived in London every day! 30 operated from the Bull and Mouth, St Martins-le-Grand, and 29 from the Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill.
Of the coaches on the Bath Road, they would have been in Hungerford at approximately the following times:
- 11.15am going east
- 11.45am going east
- 1.00pm going
- 1.30pm going east
- 1.45 going west
- 2.00 going west
- 2.15pm going east
- 2.45pm going west
- 2.45pm going west
- 7.30pm going east
- 9.00pm going east
- 10.30pm going east
- 11.15 going west
- 11.45pm going east
- 11.47pm going east
- 00.00 going east
- 00.10am going east
- 00.15 going west
- 00.45am going
- 02.15am going west
- 02.31am going west
- 02.43am going west
These data show just how busy Hungerford was at certain times of day - especially 11.15am - 2.45pm and also between 10.25pm and 02.43am. Charnham Street would have been a
noisy and bustling place!
Hungerford is about 7¾ hours from London, 4¾ from Bath, and 6½ from Bristol. The average speed including stops was 8½ mph.
The two Royal Mail coaches (operated at the time by W Chaplin & Co) left the "Swan with Two Necks" in London at 7.30pm, and passed through Hungerford at about 2.30am
and 2.40am – arriving at Bath at 7.00am and Bristol at 7.45am. They left Bristol at 7.00pm, passing through Hungerford at 00.10am, and left Bath at 7.30pm passing through Hungerford at 11.47pm.
W Lane & Co operated one return journey Bath to Reading on Mondays to Saturdays.
R Palmer operated a return service between Newbury and Hungerford on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Pigots Directory of 1840 names 12 coaches making 35 runs weekly from the following eight inns: The Bear, The Three Swans, The Red Lion, The Stag's Head, The Lamb, The
Sun, and The Craven Arms. Old Moore's Almanac of 1836 also mentions The Stag (not Stag's Head), The Swan, The Green Dragon, The White Bear, The Three Horseshoes, and The Queen and
Constitution. Others can be found in other directories, and on the 1819 Enclosure Award Map.
^ top ^
most famous of all Hungerford's inns is The Bear. It may have originated as early as 1297, but there is a definite record in
1494, and many references from 1537 onwards. In 1537 the landlord Robert Brayborn is recorded as giving evidence against three highwaymen who had stopped at the inn, and who were accused of robbing a
merchant between Bagshot and Windsor. During the reign of Henry VIII The Bear, along with the manor of Chilton Foliat of which it was part, was settled on five of his six wives, Ann Boleyn being the
exception. Shortly after, in 1545 the manor of Chilton Foliat passed to the Darrell family, and in 1607 to Sir John Popham. It is the arms of the Leybourne-Pophams which are incorporated in the
handsome sign over the main door in Charnham Street. Its name probably derives from 'The Bear and Ragged Staff, which was the badge of the Earls of Warwick, who were owners of the estate in
The 1796 edition of Pigot's Directory calls The Black Bear a 'well accustomed inn', and mentions that 'gentlemen of the neighbourhood have a monthly
subscription club and assembly there. The Black Bear finally dropped its 'Black' at the end of the nineteenth century.
There were many other inns along Charnham Street. The Crown (now Undy's Farm) stood at the corner of the Bath Road with the Chilton Foliat road. This corner is referred to as Crown Corner on the 1819 map. The Sun survives to the present day, but further along were The Swan, possibly the present day newsagents and confectioners, and The Stag (or Stag's Head). Charnham Close was The Green Dragon (as well as having been the work-house at a slightly later period before the new building in Park Street was built). The White Hart was built in about 1686 on the site of the present day cafe and squash club ground. In 1868 it was sold with the surrounding land for the purpose of building the Wesleyan Chapel, which was erected in 1870. Next door was The Red Lion, and opposite was The Lamb, both of which are still trading,
as well as The White Bear in Faulknor Square.
^ top ^
In Eddington was The Three Horseshoes, which was demolished in the nineteenth century to make way for the Eddington Engineering Works.
Further along Oxford Street near Linden Cottage was The Queen and Constitution, presumably renamed during
the nineteenth century.
Back in the main town of Hungerford is the John of Gaunt Inn in Bridge Street, which is owned by the Town and Manor Charity. It dates from the early nineteenth century, and was probably the old workhouse before this. Further up the High Street stands The Three Swans, and standing as it does in the very heart of the old town overlooking the market place, it must have been a very
popular hostelry. In addition to these, many other inns have come and gone at various periods in the history of the town.
The Coaching Age collapses: The coaching hey-day of the 1830's gave way to a complete collapse in the 1840's and
1850's. The early success of the Rocket in 1830 soon led to a rapidly increasing network of railways over the next decade or two. Brunel's Western Railway through Swindon opened in 1841 and
as early as 1842 Pigot's Directory shows only two services on the Bath road, but it does advertise conveyance on the railway, the nearest station to Hungerford being Faringdon Road, 14 miles
away! There was no regular transport to that station, however, although there were fairly regular coaches to the station at Reading.
It was not long before Hungerford itself was served by the railway. In 1847 a line from Newbury extended the
"Berks and Hants Railway" to a terminus station at Hungerford. As far as coaching was concerned the bubble had burst. In 1847 the same two services ran as in 1842, but by 1869 the local directories
advertised 'Fly's from The Bear and The Three Swans to meet every train', with no mention now of any coach service.
^ top ^
So the end of an era. The popularity of Bath had brought great prosperity to Hungerford, but no doubt the working men and women had worked hard
for any gain. It was going to prove equally tough to adjust to the end of the era, but Hungerford was more fortunate than some country towns.
In 1984 a special re-run of the 1784 Bristol to London mail coach run was arranged by the Post office, supported by Norwich Union Insurance. The driver John Parker set two
world records during the run - the longest continuous single-handed coach drive (130 miles) and the fastest change of horses (41 seconds). Crowds estimated to be 3,000 were at The Bear Hotel at 10pm
to see the spectacle. See "Thousands at historic run of Mailcoach",
NWN 7 Aug 1984.
- Longer article on Coaching
- Details of Stage Coaches and Mail Coaches passing through Hungerford, 1836
- Various notes and abstracts about coaching, Bath Road, inns, carriers, etc
- The Great Road from London to Bath and Bristol c1800?
- The Canal in Hungerford
- Inns & Alehouses
- Turnpike Trusts
- Postal History of Hungerford - much linked to the Coaching History
- The Price family (including Obituary of Mr Enos Price), who ran a coaching business to
Hungerford in the mid 19th century
- "Thousands at historic run of Mailcoach", NWN 7 Aug 1984.
Back to Top