“He died by the visitation of God.”

Here is a curious report from Northampton Mercury Saturday 19th May 1792.
The Coach and Horses, now a dental clinic at 124 High Street, was an old inn and has probably witnessed many bizarre incidents before this one. I assume that the man died of a heart attack, but 200 years ago they were content to describe it as a “visitation of God.”

On Saturday last, another inquisition was taken at Stony Stratford before the same Coroner, on view the body of William Pearson, a traveller, who died suddenly as he was sitting in the chimney-corner at the coach-and-horses public house in that town. – Verdict, That he died by the visitation of God.

More accidents from the age of horse and carriage

Road travel was still a risky business in the 18th century, as I have noted in other posts.

The Northampton Mercury  of December 8th 1783 reported on this Coroner’s inquest:

On Monday 24th November, an Inquisition was taken at Sony Stratford, Bucks, before James Burham, Gent. His Majesty’s Coroner for the said County. On view the body of James Connelly, a Sailor, one of the Passengers in the Basket of the Liverpool Stage Coach, who, being intoxicated with Liquor, fell out of the Basket, of which Fall he languished about 20 Minutes, and then died. The Jury brought in their Verdict, Accidental Death.

As I remarked in an earlier post, the term “dropping off to sleep” actually originates in such accidents, where a drowsy slumber might catch the seated occupant unawares with a headlong plunge to injury or death.

This report from the Northampton Mercury of Saturday April 19th 1788, describes another, less fateful accident.

On Sunday morning last, about Three o’clock, Banks, the driver of one of the Chester coaches, by a sudden Jolt of the Carriage, was thrown from the Box, near Stony Stratford, by which Accident both his legs were broke. The Horses went on with the Coach through Stony-Stratford and brought it safe to Old-Stratford, notwithstanding they passed a Waggon on the Road, without the Passengers knowing Any Thing of the Accident.

I don’t know when the crash helmet was invented, but in 1790 we were a long way off from such an invention. Deaths from falling off or being tossed off a horse were almost commonplace. This is not the only example.

From the Northampton Mercury 30th October 1790

On Wednesday the 20th instant an Inquisition was taken before James Burham, Gent, his Majesty’s Coroner for the said County, on view the Body of one John Adams, who, as he was retiring home from Stony Stratford visitation, fell from his horse and fractured his skull, of which fracture he languished about two days and then died. Verdict. Accidental Death.

Last seen alive at Stony Stratford

On Thursday 5th December 1822 William Cooke got into the coach at Stony Stratford to continue his journey south. He didn’t get ut by himself. By the time they arrived at Dunstable he was found dead.
At the coroner’s inquest a few days later it was learned that he looked very ill when he got into the coach at Stony Stratford and needed assistance to climb in. The surgeon who gave evidence was of the opinion that he had been ill for some time. the verdict was that he died of natural causes.
William Cooke was described as a poor man and apparently at death had only one shilling in his pocket and a few papers. No information was given of his origin or family.

The Coaching Inns on the Wolverton side

The Watling Street is an ancient trackway, taking a line from Dover to London and then north west from London to Chester, and travellers to the north west had been passing between the Wolverton and Calverton manors for many centuries before Stony Stratford emerged as a place at the end of the 12th Century. It’s fair to assume that there were roadside hostelries there from an early date, although we don’t know their names, and it is quite possible that the presence of a baron at Wolverton, with a small retinue of armed men, may have provided the security for this trade to grow at Stony Stratford.

And this last point might offer a clue as to why the larger inns developed on the Wolverton side; the presence of a resident baron may have created the circumstances for more secure dealings than with a steward representing the interests of a non-resident lord, such as was the case on the Calverton side. growth on the west side (which did include inns) was more connected to the development of markets and fairs, this part of history surviving in Horse fair, Cow Fair and the Market Square.

The east side development was purely linear, with frontages on the street and acreages stretching to the east at least as far as the footpath bordering late19th century Stony Stratford. The larger inns had extensive acreages behind them , and more besides, as we can see from 18th century records.

Evidence of a number of inns at Stony Stratford in medieval times must be taken from the stopovers of the royal court. The early Plantagenet kings conducted government on the hoof, as it were, and were travelling almost constantly over their vast territories to maintain control and minister their government. This necessitated the movement of all court officials and the sells and administrative paraphernalia of government, including the treasury, which King John famously lost with his baggage in The Wash in 1217. It is to King John’s reign that we have a detailed record of a king’s movement as his entire reign is covered by the records of various charters and deeds being approved. From this we know that John moved from his royal manor of Brill, through Stony Stratford and Silverstone was to Northampton between February 19th to March 5th 1215.  Along the way he signed a deed, dated February 20th at Stony Stratford. Those details need not concern us, but the point is to be made that Stony Stratford in 1215 was large enough to accommodate the royal court. A similar observation could be made about the progress of Queen Eleanor’s cortege in 1286. It moved from Northampton to Stony Stratford and from there to Woburn, Dunstable and St Albans, each time staying in places that could accommodate the royal entourage.

The earliest documented reference to any sort of inn is to Grik’s Herber in a deed dated. The Herber might be loosely translated as an orchard and by the 18th century this field was known as Gregg’s Arbour. This record does allow us to identify Grik’s Herber with the site latterly occupied by the Barley Mow. It is of course on the Calverton side, but there does appear to have been some exchange of land on both sides over the centuries and the fact that this deed appears in the Wolverton deeds might suggest that this too was under the control of the Lord of Wolverton at one time.

It has been suggested that Grik may have been a Greek and this is how he got his name. This is entirely possible, but we know little other than these references.

The major inns on the east side were the Cock, the Bull, The Swan, The Red Lyon and The Horseshoe
 Previously he had stayed at The Cock and The Bull, both now hotels, are great survivors of the days of the coaching trade. The Cock is probably older (as discussed in this post) but by the 18th century the Bull equalled it in importance. The phrase “Cock and Bull story” is said to have originated in Stony Stratford as a result of the rivalry between these two comparable establishments. Believe that or not as you will. I have discussed it here.

The Bull inn makes its first appearance in the Parish Registers in 1671. Since it rented land from the radcliffe Trust we can get a clearer idea of the scale of the enterprise from the recorded rents it was paying, first to Sir Edward Longueville and then to the Radcliffe Trust.
this document shows us that The Bull was renting about 50 acres from the Trust, and while nowhere near as big as the larger farms on the manor, which varied from 200 to 300 acres, this appears to be a sizeable small holding and suggests a scale of production that would be needed to satisfy their guests. Unfortunately we do not have equivalent figures of the Cock for comparison and it appears that the Cock had owned its own land for some centuries. The fields, parts of West Rylands and East Rylands and The Leys were all to be found between Stony Stratford and the later Wolverton House. In addition the Bull has a close (that is an enclosed field) of four acres at the back of the Inn. For this they paid the Trust £94 per annum. It was a large sum and compares with the three main farmers who were paying £270, £210 and £225 respectively.

It is possible to make comparison with three other inns of comparable importance from the same document. The Horseshoe has a lease for 74 acres in total for an annual rent of £107: The Red Lyon, 42 acres for £55 2s; and the Three Swans 36 acres for £67 14s.

Certainly we could conclude from this that there were five large inns on Stony Stratford’s east side, each of them with a small farm attached.

It would be nice to have more detail. Was The Bull an older establishment? Had it been re-named, as some of the others undoubtedly were? What we can know is that it was there as a late 17th century establishment and that it was obviously prosperous in the 18th century when the Turnpike Act of 1702 led to improved roads. The stage coaching days of the early 19th century must have been heady days for the Stony Stratford Inns and tradesmen. All this came to an abrupt halt in the 1840s after the railways had made stagecoach travel outmoded.

All of the inns went into decline and the Bull, like the others, must have suffered from this loss of trade. The Cock appears to have weathered the downturn rather better.

The 1841 Census shows The Cock kept by John Battams and his wife, with five staff. The 1851 Census, which is a bit more specific, shows it in the hands of the widow Mary Chapman. Her staff include a barmaid, House Maid, Waitress, Kitchen Maid, Post Boy, Porter and an Ostler. She also had five guests staying there that evening. Yet next door, John Reeve the Grocer (who also had a branch at Wolverton) was also employing six live-in staff, and the detailed line says that he was employing 3 men and 1 boy indoors and 11 men and boys outdoors. In 1851 the grocery was a bigger business than the coaching inn.

The Bull appears to be on hard times. In 1851 it records Henry Wilmin as the victualler with only two servants. In 1841 it was kept by Samuel and Sarah Rich. They had four daughters, aged between 14 and 3 living there. There is no hint of staff or guests.

One can only guess that it was so much different in the 18th century. The landholdings of all the inns would suggest that they had a large number of mouths to feed and they must also have maintained a large complement of staff to serve their guests and maintain the household and farm.