“Old London Coaching Inns” is obviously intended for adult readers, and one senses at times that Groom is a little out of his comfort zone. But why was the LMS railway publishing a book on this topic anyway? The Great Western published books on the architecture of historic buildings in the area that it served, by notable writers including M.R. James, sometime Provost of Eton, and author of “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary”. At first sight this might seem to be an economy version of the same type of book by the LMS, but this is misleading… All the Coaching Inns described in this book were part of the “pre-history” of the company, via its constituent, the LNWR. In pre railway days, the Royal Mail only carried letters, and single copies of newspapers.
Parcels had to go via stagecoach, or carrier’s wagon, and could be handed in at, or collected from the relevant Inn served by the stage coach or carrier’s wagon on a particular route. In the early days , railways did not operate their own collection and delivery services for parcels and small goods items, but sub-contracted the work to cartage firms like Pickfords, who collected and delivered items between the railway termini and the the existing offices at the various inns located throughout the City and Southwark. The principle stage coach operators, and coaching inn proprietors, Chaplin and Horne, sold out their interests to railway companies as the coaches stopped running. (Chaplin invested heavily in the London and Southampton Railway with the proceeds, becoming chairman of the board). Pickfords and other companies were either absorbed by railway companies, or controlled by them with majority shareholdings. In a horse drawn age, it made sense to have receiving offices conveniently located throughout London. Traders could take goods there for dispatch, or collect items sent for them, while local carters could serve the district with goods for which delivery was paid. The railway companies’ own horse drawn vehicles could collect the accumulated items for despatch in bulk, and take them on the longer haul to the railway terminii.
The stage coach and carriers “booking offices” became “receiving offices” for particular railway companies, and in due course, also began to sell passenger train tickets. Many of these premises were very old, dating back to the 17thc or even earlier, and their function of serving stage coaches and their passengers having gone, they were demolished and rebuilt for other uses, although the old booking office was often retained for a while (the last of these to survive into the 1860s seems to have been The Catherine Wheel in Borough High Street). Even when a new building was erected, a receiving office was incorporated into the building, which might even retain the name of the inn which it had replaced, although the use of the new building was completely different. Thus it was that a 20thc railway company, the LMS, found itself with offices scattered throughout central London, while the horse still played a significant role in the urban transport of small goods and parcels, with romantic names like The George and Blue Boar, The Spread Eagle and The Golden Cross. Names which would have been familiar to Mr. Pickwick – whose very surname Dickens borrowed from a well-known stage coach proprietor. This book is a fascinating insight into an almost forgotten aspect of railway history.
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.