Sun, 14 Oct 2018
THATCHAM’S first blue plaque – marking a nationally-significant event – was unveiled at the weekend.
The plaque, outside the Kings Head pub in the Broadway, marks where Britain’s first mail coach changed horses at the old coaching inn between Bristol and London on August 3, 1784.
Kings Head landlady Yvette Fyffe said: “It’s great – great for the town and good for the pub.”
‘Tootlers’ dressed in red and gold heralded people to the pub for the unveiling on Saturday morning, launching the start of the 2018 Thatcham Festival.
Guests heard about the golden age of coaching, ushered in by John Palmer, a theatre owner in Bristol and Bath frustrated by the amount of time it took for post to travel to London.
Explaining the history, Colin Pawson, from Shelton Farm Carriages in Tidmarsh, said that letters had been carried by post boys on horseback or in wagons, but the system was inefficient and letters were easy to steal.
It took two to three days for post to travel from Bristol to London, but the stage coach system proposed by Mr Palmer cut this down to just over 16 hours.
The route was divided into stages, where fresh horses would be switched in and the landlord of the Kings Head at the time, Edward Fromont, was contracted to provide horses.
Mr Pawson took guests on an imaginary coach ride from the Kings Head, which had stabling for 100 horses, to the George and Pelican in Newbury and its 300-horse stable.
Mr Pawson, a nationally-recognised hornblower, who won best performance at this year’s Royal County of Berkshire Show, played a series of tunes that would have been heard on the route, accompanied by Peter Alder, a member of the Worshipful Company of Master Coachmakers.
But Britain’s golden coaching age came under threat with the spread of the railway across the nation, with the Great Western line speeding up mail between Bristol and London.
The Kings Head’s then owner, Charlotte Fromont, Edward’s daughter, sold off part of the inn, which became a blacksmiths and a house for a vicar.
The large coaching inn and its stabling and coach repair facilities, which would have covered most of the Waitrose car park today, was downsized to the modern-day pub.
Charlotte owned a large farm in south Thatcham and, being business-savvy and realising that the railway would compete with the postal carriages, insisted that the railway went through her land; resulting in Thatcham station being where it is.
Dr Nick Young, of Thatcham Historical Society, said that the Kings Head wouldn’t have survived if Charlotte had not sold parts of it off.
Speaking about the blue plaque unveiling, Dr Young said: “It’s a nationally-important event.
“Make sure you tell everyone about it.”
He said that he hoped the plaque would be the first of many and was selected as it was “slightly different” and would be more visible in the Broadway.
“I’m hoping this will be the kick-start to get people interested,” Dr Young said.