Above: Looking across the reeds surrounding Carshalton Pond at the ancient inn.
The purpose of writing these blogs is to explain the history of the City of London and the 12 Inner London boroughs that surround it. Occasionally a blog is written relating to a location in one of the 20 Outer London boroughs – which surround the Inner London boroughs. The title of this blog refers to a hotel which was originally called the ‘Greyhound Inn’ – situated in Carshalton, in the London Borough of Sutton.
Until the first part of the 19th century coaching inns were as common as public houses and wine bars are today. With the advent of the railways nearly all the coaching inns went out of business between the 1840s and the 1880s for the simple reason that there were no more stage coaches calling at the inns and therefore very few customers.
This led to the systematic demolition of all the coaching inns in what is now Inner London. Hardly any of the coaching inns remain. The George Inn, in Borough High Street, is the only inn remaining in use in Inner London. It has just one side of one courtyard remaining, lined with part of a galleried inn. There are also one or two street-fronts of coaching inns remaining in Inner London but they are no longer being used for their original purpose. If you ask ‘How far do you have to travel from London Bridge before you find an old coaching inn which is still being used as a tavern or a hotel?’ then one answer would be to quote the Greyhound Hotel at Carshalton.
Having explained the background to this blog, we will set out a few historical facts about the Greyhound. In 1755 the road through Carshalton was a turnpike – a form of privatisation which was commonly used to improve roads at the time. It was handed over to trustees who improved the road in return for being allowed to charge a toll on traffic passing along it. The turnpike was part of the main coaching route between London and Brighton (then a rising seaside resort). Stagecoach horses tired quickly and had to be changed at regular intervals along the route. Travelling passengers also needed food and drink so coaching inns developed to meet the need. Some coaching inns were newly built for the purpose, others were older inns that became coaching ‘stages’ – as they were called. At Carshalton the inns had sporting names, which no doubt reflects the other side of their business – horses, horse-racing and hunting. The Downs to the south of Sutton and Epsom had been a favourite place for horse racing and other sports since at least the 17th century. So, as a name, the Greyhound Inn was an obvious choice.
In the 1700s the Greyhound public house was advertised in London newspapers as a venue for cock fights so it is evident the pub has been associated with several other sports as well as its connections with horses and hunting.
When the Greyhound Inn was first built is not known but it is unlikely that it was in existence before the 16th century. Parts of today’s building date from at least 1700. It is now also a listed building. There is a local heritage plaque which states: ‘This public house was known as the Greyhound as early as 1700. It was a sporting centre and the venue where racehorses were inspected prior to competing on Banstead Downs. The old inn was rebuilt about 1840 and a separate existing building called ‘The Two Rooms’ was incorporated.’
Today the building is in use as a hotel with 21 rooms. During 2015 it was completely renovated and reopened in 2016. The original wood panels have now been covered in pastel paint. It is situated beside the High Street (A232), overlooking Carshalton Pond, which is a 6-minute walk from Carshalton Station.
The Swan Bar is part of the original 18th Century coaching inn with many antique artifacts including documentation showing the first mention in the ‘London Journal’ in 1723 of the Greyhound Inn. The entrance to the Swan Bar has a mosaic of a greyhound set into the floor which was uncovered during renovation in 1969. It is thought to be the work of Italian craftsmen over 200 years ago.
Carshalton was on the road that led from London to Brighton so the route was quite busy with stage coaches travelling to and from the South Coast. We tend to forget how 18th century passengers viewed places like Carshalton because today it has been bypassed by the march of time. Any Londoner wanting to travel to Brighton will either take a train from Victoria or London Bridge stations or, if travelling by car, then the M23 is the preferred route. There are several mentions of the Greyhound Inn to be found in 19th century books on stage coach routes, of which three are listed below:
(1) The Greyhound Inn is mentioned in ‘Cary’s New Itinerary’, written by John Cary and published in 1817. The book lists stage coach routes in England. The guide was intended to inform a would-be traveller as to where stage coaches went and the routes that they took. It also included ‘recommended’ inns that stage coaches passed where the passenger might get refreshment in the form of food and drink. One route, from Lewisham to Guildford, passed through: South End; Beckenham; Elmer’s End; Croydon; Waddon; Beddington; Carshalton – where the Greyhound Inn is listed; Sutton; Cheam; Ewell; Epsom; Leatherhead; and Guildford.
(2) A long description of the Greyhound Inn also appears in ‘Paterson’s Roads’ written by Edward Mogg and published in 1822. Under one entry for Croydon is written: ‘Near this town, at Carshalton, is the Greyhound Inn, one of the most pleasant and extensive in Surrey; and as the neighbourhood is celebrated for every sport and pastime, it affords suitable accommodations for the assembled sportsmen: here are stabling for 40 hunters, besides excellent beds, spacious sitting rooms, and a very large garden behind, where the company usually regale themselves after dinner. A weeky report is sent to this house, where and when the different packs of hounds throw off, of which there are as follow:– Lord Derby’s stag hounds, at the Oaks at Woodmanstern, 4 miles from Carshalton; the Surrey subscription fox-hounds, late Mr Maberly’s, at Cold Harbour; My Joliffe’s fox-hounds at Merstham, about 6 miles off; Mrs Gee’s harriers, Beddington Park, one mile; and the Banstead and Sanderstead harriers.’
(3) The Greyhound Inn is also mentioned in ‘Leigh’s Road Book of England & Wales’, published in 1833 (just a few years before railways started to be laid across England). One entry says: ‘At Carshalton, near Croydon, is the Greyhound Inn, a celebrated place of rendezvous for the sportsmen of the vicinity, which is admirably adapted for the pleasures of the chase.’
Today’s building is of great interest – having once been a coaching inn – which has re-invented itself as a hotel, with a bar and a restaurant. It also stands in a charming setting, surrounded by other buildings in the old village and overlooking the large pond fed by the River Wandle. It is hard to believe that such a charming spot is relatively so close to the centre of London.