Above: Photograph recording some of the features of the inn shortly before it was to be demolished. Copyright image.
Consideration of Coaching Inns
The Oxford Arms in Warwick Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral, was one of the last surviving galleried coaching inns in the City of London, last built in the 17th century and demolished in 1876.
Today in London we get to know where railway stations are situated, along with bus stops and underground station entrances. We need that information committed to our memories so that when we have visited Central London, for whatever reason, we know where the nearest convenient mode of transport home is to be found. Similarly, a knowledge of where all the railway termini are to be found in Central London is only part of the vital information. You also have to know which part of England each terminus serves – for example, Paddington serves the West Country, Liverpool Street Station serves East Anglia.
Two hundred years ago, travellers to distant parts (like Rochester, Dover or Norwich) needed to know where to board a stage coach. The answer was almost always to find an inn. They were in groups, across London, and they acted as the ‘coaching termini’ of their day. Stage coaches bound for Norfolk left from inns to be found along Bishopsgate; west-bound coaching inns were to be found in the Strand and in Piccadilly; and so on.
Above: ‘Oxford Arms Inn’ shown on Greenwood’s map of 1830. Its layout was basically a large courtyard at the end of a long passageway running west off Warwick Lane. The western end of the inn’s property was the Roman Wall.
The Oxford Arms Inn
In the case of the Oxford Arms it acted as the London terminus for stage coaches travelling west via Uxbridge. Another coach operator (travelling between London and Oxford) was to be found at several London inns including the Oxford Arms, Warwick Lane, every day of the week.
If you had large luggage it could not be transported on a stage coach. There were operators called Carriers who picked up large items and transported them to many destinations. In the case of the Oxford Arms, one Oxford (as in the City of Oxford) carrier operated from the Oxford Arms, Warwick Lane, on Thursdays.
Whether the Oxford Arms, Warwick Lane, was so-named because it was a destination for transport plying between the City of Oxford and London is not known but its name does seem rather a coincidence. It is known that several inns called the White Horse were so-named because they were a stopping point on routes where the stage coach operators used only white horses. Name association has often been a device used by operators to enable travellers to easily remember a boarding point.
Another operator who styled himself as a ‘common carrier’ was John Whitcher. One of his adverts still survives stating ‘Waggons set out from the Oxford Arms Inn, Warwick Lane, London, every Wednesday morning, and arrive at the New Antelope Inn, Poole, every Monday morning; leave Poole every Monday, and arrive at the Goat Inn, Milford-street, Salisbury, every Wednesday; where they meet the Warminster, Bath, and Bristol Waggons; and return to Poole every Thursday; leave Poole every Thursday, and arrive at London every Tuesday. Careful study of the places and days of the week indicates that the cycle of places visited took place each week of the year.
Entry from the ‘Book of Days’
In 1869 the ‘Book of Days’ had an entry for the Oxford Arms stating that ‘The other galleried inn of Warwick-lane is the Oxford Arms, within a recess on the west side, and nearly adjoining to the residentiary houses of St Paul’s in Amen-corner. It is one of the best specimens of the old London inns remaining in the metropolis. As you advance you observe a red brick pedimented facade of the time of Charles II, beneath which you enter the inn-yard, which has, on three of its sides, two stories of balustraded wooden galleries, with exterior staircases leading to the chambers on each floor: the fourth side being occupied by stabling, built against part of old London Wall. The house was an inn with the sign of the Oxford Arms before the Great Fire, as appears by the following advertisement in the London Gazette for March, 1672-3, No. 762:
‘These are to give notice, that Edward Bartlett, Oxford carrier, hath removed his inn, in London, from the Swan, at Holborn-bridge, to the Oxford Arms, in Warwick-lane, where he did before the Fire: his coaches and wagons going forth on their usual days, — Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. He hath also a hearse, with all things convenient, to carry a corpse to any part of England.’
The Oxford Arms was not part of the Earl of Warwick’s property, but belonged to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s, who hold it to this day.’
The above reference to a hearse is quite rare in descriptions of inns.
Considering the Picture
So, what about the picture? Railway trains started running in London from 1836 and by the 1860s they had become the established mode of modern transport. Trains ran on railway lines and not over the rotten roads that stage coaches had to endure. Trains were pulled by engines that could maintain a higher speed than horses and engines could maintain that speed over a far greater distance than any stage coach.
Coaching inns lost all their customers within a few decades as the travelling public quickly switched to the railways. The inns were large, too large to make a profit when nearly all the regulars were going elsewhere. The inns closed down at an alarming rate and were sadly to be consigned to history. The photograph was taken just weeks before the Oxford Arms was to be demolished. Inns had been constructed around courtyards. The view is probably taken while standing in the first courtyard, when entered from Warwick Lane. The ‘galleried’ courtyards were built in this style because the galleries (with the balustrades) acted as corridors do today within a modern hotel. A young girl is to be seen on first floor level – probably watching the photographer setting up his large ‘plate’ camera. Two young boys are standing underneath an arch. They may have been the children of the landlord who was, at that time, facing the nightmare of being turned out of the large inn that he may have been running for quite a time.
Everything else in the view appears deserted. The camera shows the view into a second yard where wheeled vehicles lie idle after possibly after many years of use. Although it is a sad and deserted scene, it has its own charm. It shows a way of life that – after about two centuries – was suddenly meeting its end. The only remaining part of an inn looking anything like this picture is to be found at the George Inn, Borough High Street, where one side of a large courtyard can still be seen.