The George Hotel on the Bridge was acquired by the Corporation in 1927 and demolished in 1934. In 1935 the new George Hotel opened, and stayed in business until the early 1970s. The following brief history of the hotel is from the official luncheon menu for the reopening on Tuesday 12th November, 1935.

 

The George Hotel. From an old postcard.

Notes on the History of the George Hotel, Walsall

By Herbert Lee, Town Clerk of Walsall

The old George Hotel, on the site of which, together with other land, the new George Hotel has been built, was one of the famous Hostelries of the old Coaching days.

The local historians differ as to the year when the original George Hotel was built.

Willmore states that the Hotel was built by Mr. Thomas Fletcher in 1721, but the late Mr. W. H. Duignan gives the date as 1781, and C. G. Harper in his book ‘The Old Inns of Old England’ also gives the later date.

Mr. R. Yates, the great-grandson of the founder (to whom I am greatly indebted for his help and suggestions in the preparation of these notes), points out, however, that Mr. Thomas Fletcher died in 1811, and that if he had built the George Hotel in 1721 at so early an age as 25, he would have been 115 years old at his death, and over 80 when his children were being born. This seems conclusive against the earlier date.

In his history of Walsall, Willmore says:

In 1721, Mr. Thomas Fletcher gave up the "Dragon" in High Street, which at that time shared with the "Bull's Head" in Upper Rushall Street the distinction of being the best inn in the town, and built the "George Hotel", which originally opened into Digbeth.

In 1798 the Assembly Rooms were added to the Hotel:

In 1823 the front of the hotel was re-modelled. . . the large pillars being purchased in 1822 from the Marquis of Donegal, whose stately mansion at Fisherwick Park they had formerly adorned. . .. The late Earl of Derby was a great patron of the house on his way between Knowsley and London, and also Lord Hatherton, who presided at the Colonnade dinner in August, 1823.

In 1826 the Hotel was greatly enlarged, and it was recorded at the time that "This Inn, without any exception, ranks the first in the county, and reflects the highest credit on the proprietor, Mr. R. M. Fletcher."

The following is an extract from the Staffordshire Advertiser of June 30th (or July 7th), 1888, recounting the festivities in Walsall on the occasion of the Coronation of Queen Victoria:

Mr. Fletcher, the spirited proprietor of the George Hotel, seemed determined to outvie all competitors. The magnificent pillars which adorn the front of his house were covered with laurels and ribbons, and festoons were carried from one to another. The dinner was served up in his spacious ballroom, which was decorated with appropriate devices for the occasion, and was attended by about 80 gentlemen of the greatest respectability. Lieut. Heely was Chairman and Mr. S. Perks vice-chairman on the occasion. Every coach, carriage, horse, and servant about his extensive establishment was liberally supplied with ribbons, and the whole arrangement was such as to reflect great credit on the worthy landlord.

Perhaps the greatest service for which Walsall is indebted to Thomas Fletcher and his successors is the obtaining of a series of Road Improvement Acts between 1784 and 1831, under which the main road approaches to Walsall were improved and straightened. Under the first Act, that of 1784, the present road from Walsall to Stafford was made, and the old Birmingham Road was widened and straightened as far as Hamstead Bridge. Under an Act of the following year, 1785, the roads to Sutton Coldfield and Wolverhampton (described as "ruinous and much out of repair, and in many places narrow and incommodious") were dealt with. In 1793, an Act was obtained to turnpike and improve the road between Churchbridge and Stafford. Willmore says of this last improvement:

By this alteration the road from Birmingham to Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, and the North, through Walsall, was made four miles shorter, and thus the importance of the latter town as a thoroughfare was largely increased. The old routes were deserted, and the whole of the Birmingham traffic began to flow through the town.

In 1831, an Act was obtained for making a new turnpike road from Snail's Green, near the Scott Arms, through Perry Barr to Birmingham. The following are extracts from a Petition to the House of Commons in support of the Bill, signed by "the Coach Proprietors, Postmasters, and Waggon Proprietors on the Road between Birmingham. . . and Walsall . . ." the list of signatures being headed by that of R. M. Fletcher:

That there is but one turnpike road between those towns which passes through Handsworth in the said County of Stafford and that there are many and very long and steep hills upon such road, and in particular two hills called Hamstead Hill and Wren's Hill between Handsworth aforesaid and a house called the Quarry House in the occupation of Christopher Wren in the township or liberty of Perry Barr in the said County of Stafford;

That the length and steepness of such hills causes the labour of the horses of your petitioners in drawing their coaches, carriages, and waggons along the said turnpike road to be unusually great and wearisome and the travelling of the public to be slow and tedious. . . .

That in the opinion of your petitioners the proposed new turnpike road not having any hill upon it of a wearisome or objectionable length or acclivity and it being nearer than the present road through Handsworth will be decidedly advantageous and beneficial to the public at large.

 

Another view of the George Hotel. From an old postcard.
 

An advert from 1899.
 

The following notes of the successive ownership of the freehold of the George Hotel have been kindly supplied by Mr. J. R. Yates:

1781 to 1811 Mr. Thomas Fletcher, the founder.
1811 to 1865 Mr. Richard Moore Fletcher, his Son (b. 1777, d. unmarried 1865).
1865 to 1895 Mr. Francis Henry Yates, grandson of the founder.
1895 to 1920 Messrs. F. H. Yates Jr. and J. R. Yates, great grandsons of the founder.
1920 to 1927 Messrs. Headley & Jordison.
1927 Walsall Corporation.

Mr. Yates writes as follows:

The property in the land extended in the Fletchers' time across The Bridge nearly to the line of the Mill Fleam, and on one day in every year they enclosed that space with ropes and stakes so as to preserve their freehold. Later it was yielded up as a public highway.

In 1854 Mr. R. M. Fletcher conveyed to the Walsall Corporation his right and interest in certain market and fair tolls payable in respect of the use of part of The Bridge.

Whereas the said Richard Moore Fletcher is or claims to be entitled to a proportion of the market fair and other tolls arising from the use and occupation of a certain portion of the land or ground in front of the George Hotel in Walsall aforesaid upon which some buildings (long ago pulled down) formerly stood which portion of land or ground has for many years past formed part of the open space called The Bridge dedicated to the public and in all other respects one of the streets highways or public places of the Borough aforesaid and whereas the said Mayor Aldermen and Burgesses have contracted and agreed with the said Richard Moore Fletcher for the purchase of his said interest or alleged interest in the said tolls at the sum of one hundred and twenty five pounds.

The romance of the house, its influence on the fortunes of the town through the energy and enterprise of those who founded it, and the enterprise of the Fletchers in obtaining Acts of Parliament for making and improving main roads approaching the town, have been recorded in a vivid article by the late Mr. W. H. Duignan, published in the Walsall Observer in 1878, a reprint of which is appended to these notes.

In 1927 the Hotel was purchased by the Walsall Corporation, and in 1934 the old Hotel was demolished and the erection of a modern hotel commenced by the Corporation on a site comprising the site of the old George Hotel, together with the site of the original "my lorde's mylle," and of the old Blue Coat School.

The "Lord's Mill" was an appurtenance of the Manor of Walsall, and the burgesses were obliged to grind all their corn at that mill and no other, an obligation which, judging by the old records, seems to have been honoured in the breach rather than the observance. Until the erection of the "New Mills" at the Pleck in the 18th century, the mill stood on the site (afterwards occupied by the Walsall Observer offices) between the George Hotel and the old Blue Coat School.

The old Blue Coat School (afterwards converted into a branch of the Midland Bank) stood at the corner of Bridge Street and The Bridge Square, until the new Blue Coat Schools were erected in St. Paul's Street. These in their turn have now disappeared, and been replaced by the new Schools recently erected in Springhill Road, their site being now occupied by the new Central Omnibus Station.

The new hotel was leased by the Corporation to Mr. T. C. Gordon, of London and Glasgow, who opened it for the reception of guests in May, 1935. The Architect is Mr. James Taylor, A.R.I.B.A., and the builders Messrs W. Bryant & Sons Ltd., of Birmingham. The Borough Surveyor (Mr. John Taylor, M.Inst.C.E.) has been associated with the Architect throughout in the erection of the hotel.

Important shops are included in the building, and have been leased by the Corporation to well-known firms. The present members of the Property Committee, which has been responsible for the building and leasing of the new George Hotel and shops, are as follows:

Alderman  W. J. Pearman Smith (Chairman)  
Alderman  E. H. Ingram (Vice-Chairman)
Alderman  E. Evans
Alderman  W. D. Forsyth
Alderman  A. J. Llewellen
Councillor  W. H. Baker
Councillor  S. E. Edge
Councillor  W. Kendrick
Councillor  E. B. Stammers
Councillor  J. Whiston

 

Another view of the George Hotel. From an old postcard.
 

Another postcard view of the George Hotel.
 

The new George Hotel which opened in 1935. From an old postcard.
 

The Old George
By the late Mr. W. H. Duignan, in an Observer article, 1878

The George Hotel is so much of a public institution, and is associated with so many memories, as to be worthy of a little record before those memories get dim or have passed away. How many of us have learned to dance there, what jolly balls we have had; how we have fallen in love there, and fallen out again; what good dinners we have eaten; what journeys we have made thence on the old coaches and in post-chaises; what election fights we have seen without it and what scenes within it, when it was party headquarters, and bribery treating and bottling voters were considered a necessary part of political strife.

The house, too, has exercised an important influence on the prosperity and progress of the town. The founder of the house and his successors were men of remarkable energy and enterprise. Prior to 1784 Walsall lay out of the line of traffic. The coaches from London to Chester (then the starting point for Ireland) passed through Stonnall and Brownhills, the wagons through Aldridge, and by Shire Oak Tree; the Liverpool, Manchester and North-west traffic through Coleshill, Lichfield and Stone, or Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The road to Birmingham was narrow and circuitous, and that to Stafford passed by winding ways up Green Lane, through Cannock and Penkridge, or through Pelsall and Hednesford. Roads are the pioneers of railways, and those who made the one attracted the other.

From Dragon to George.

In 1781, Mr. Thomas Fletcher, one of a family even then old and highly respected, gave up the Dragon in High Street, which he had previously kept, and built the George Hotel. The Bull's Head, in Upper Rushall Street, was previously the head inn. Mr. Fletcher, in 1784, obtained an Act of Parliament to make the present road from Walsall to Stafford. He caused the Birmingham road to be straightened and widened, and gradually brought the coaching and posting through Walsall.

The two great inns at Stonnall; the Welsh Harp, now the residence of Mr. Edward Overton; and the Swan, where Mr. George Wright lives, began to decay, and Mr. Penn, the owner of the later house, brought his Chester coach through Birmingham and Walsall, changing horses at the Bull's Head, and coming down High Street, the guard firing off his blunderbuss as he passed the George in token of defiance.

Mr. Fletcher and his successors (Messrs. Fletcher and Sharratt) promoted the improvement of the roads on all sides down to 1831, when an Act was obtained for making a new road from Snail's Green, near the Scott Arms, through Perry Barr to Birmingham, the old one passing by Hamstead and Handsworth church. The rapid increase of Birmingham attracted the coaching and the north-west road, through Walsall, being four miles shorter than that by Wolverhampton, the town gradually became a great thoroughfare, and no proprietor on the London road paid greater attention to the excellence of his horses than the owners of the George.

 

Another view of the new George Hotel from the official luncheon menu for the reopening.
 

A final view of the old George Hotel from the official luncheon menu for the reopening.
  

Fame as Coaching House

In 1823 the front of the house was remodelled, the pillars coming from Fisherwick Hall (the residence of the Marquis of Donegal) which had been demolished. Lord Hatherton was a great patron of the house, and presided at the Colonnade Dinner in August, 1823. The late Lord Derby also frequented it on his numerous journeys between Knowsley and London, and usually stayed the night, occupying the whole house.

One incident should make the place dear to every conservative heart. In the autumn of 1833, whilst posting with his family from town, the old Lord stayed as usual at the George, and the present Earl, then only seven years of age, was taken alarmingly ill, and had to remain there for some weeks. Nothing could exceed the kindness of the hosts or of the Misses Fletcher, or the gratitude of the Countess for the attentions the young invalid received. A handsome brooch and a grateful letter from the Countess to Miss Fletcher were subsequently left by the Duke of Richmond at the George, and are still proudly appreciated. Hamblin, who lived where Dr. Mclachlan lives now, was the medical man engaged and subsequently received through Lord Derby an appointment as governor, I think of the Falkland Islands.

The fame of the George as a great coaching and posting house is, of course, a thing of the past. We see no more the smart post-boys; the well-fed, well groomed thoroughbreds no longer stand before the door, with the expectant ostlers, and little groups waiting for the latest news; we hear no more the guard's horn; we have lost the glitter and the dash of the fast mail. Those were the grand days of the house. They had 106 coach and posting horses in the stables at Walsall, 18 at the Crown at Cannock, 11 at Huntington, and six at Pillaton, and every commercial traveller then had his horse and gig.

The Red Rover:

At various times the following coaches passed through Walsall daily: The Red Rover and the Railway from London to Manchester; The Albion from London to Chester; The Crown Prince, the Aurora and the Magnet, from London to Liverpool; The Times and the Mail from Birmingham to Sheffield; The Standard Pearl, and the Rapid, to Derby; The York House from Bristol to Liverpool; The Mail from Manchester to Bath; and the Lazy Liverpool; besides coaches to Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton, and Lichfield.

The Red Rover was especially well-appointed and very fast; the guards wore red hats and it is said that their situations were worth £15 a week. On the first of the month when it carried the magazines it had six horses. It required ten horses to work it between Walsall and Cannock. The guard and coachman were fined 2s. 6d. a minute if behind time, and at nine o'clock in the morning, punctually with the Aurora and the Albion, it turned the corner of The Bridge.

The Albion:

The Albion ran by the four Crosses on Watling Street and had four splendid bays and four chestnuts to work the eight miles. On one occasion when bringing a load of convicts from Chester on their way to Portland, the impatient chestnuts got the better of the coachman at Pratt's Bridge, and ran away. Near the top of Park Street, the coach came into collision with the carriage of old Mr. Perks, the Sheriff's Officer, of Spring Hill, and upset. Austin, the coachman, was killed, as also was Mr. Illidge, the deputy Governor of Chester Gaol; the near wheeler was also killed. Mrs. Thomas Adams, of Walsall, escaped unhurt. The rest of the passengers were all convicts, and were sent on as soon as possible; but during their stay in Walsall they managed to get a file, and between Coventry and Dunchurch released themselves, overpowered the warders, cut the traces, and escaped. Two got clear away but the rest were recaptured.

Pearl and Rapid:

The Standard Pearl and the Rapid were opposition coaches driven by Capt. Baring and Capt. Douglas, and travelled at a reckless pace, on one occasion coming from Birmingham to Walsall in 28 minutes. The Standard changed at the George, the Rapid at the Bradford Arms, but came on to The Bridge to start fair on the race to Derby.

On one occasion while coming down the hill at the top of Ablewell Street, the cock-eye on the pole of the Rapid broke, letting the splinter bars fall on the leaders' hocks and throwing everything into wild disorder. Capt. Douglas, however, was equal to the occasion; he managed to turn his kicking leaders up Bank Street, unhooked their traces, left them, and galloped on with his wheelers. The racing of these coaches immensely interested the schoolboys, who were divided into Standard and Rapid factions.

The mill fleam which runs under the clock was formerly an open stream and the horses and carriages belonging to the George were washed in it. Part of it was arched over opposite Mr. Kirby's (now Dunn's) shop, and on one occasion the brickwork gave way under the Manchester Mail, and one of the horses fell through, breaking his legs. This mail was unfortunate in the way of bridges, for it afterwards, on a dark night, drove into the Trent, north of Stafford, the bridge carrying the road having been washed away. The inside passengers were drowned. One of them, named Newman, was a draper in High Street.

"Lazy Liverpool":

The" Lazy Liverpool" was so called because it was a slow, heavy coach carrying the luggage of the fast coaches and passengers at cheap fares; it was consequently crowded with sailors and Irish pig-dealers. Some wag christened it the "Lousy Liverpool," and it was known by that name for many years. It did not change between Walsall and Stafford, and was allowed three hours for the stage. It was due on the down journey at midnight, and on one occasion, starting in the dark, one of the leaders' reins got twisted round the wheelers' territs, which sent the team all awry, and the leaders against the balustrates of the old bridge, knocking them into the brook and carrying the horses after them, but not the coach. The leaders hung by their traces, which had to be cut, and were got out again without injury.

The Amity ran from Wolverhampton to Sheffield, and was due in Walsall at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Draycott, the horse-keeper, had a little dog, whose soul was in the coach and horses. As soon as he saw his master begin to harness the change horses he knew the coach was due, and trotted off to meet it, going to Park Street if morning, and into Lichfield Street if afternoon, returning with uproarious delight under the noses of the leaders. Poor little fellow, he made a false step at last and was trampled to death by his friends, leaving his master inconsolable.

The day coach to Birmingham was driven by Bob Howson, and on one occasion, when coming up the hill by Lyon's Den, the foot-board came off dropping the coachman among the horses, the fore wheel cut off a portion of his ear, the horses came safely on to the George, but did not pull up well, and the leaders mounted the steps, breaking the pole against the pillars, but with no further mischief. In the good old days, voting for the council members took place at Stafford only, and the free and independent electors were taken down in post-chaises (which only held two) and were nobly entertained at Stafford and on the way and back by their generous and patriotic candidates.

At these jolly times the post-boys frequently rode the stage from Walsall to .

Stafford twice in the day, making seventy miles of it. I think we have only two of the old links left, Mr. Stephen Howse, who drove the Gloucester Mail, the Tantivy, and sometimes the great Holyhead, and was wise enough to make money and keep it; and poor old Bob Newman, once the smartest of post-boys, now a poor afflicted man of eighty five. Poor Bob! We shall never see him again on the Bridge in spotless boots and breeches, looking out for carriages, or hear him bawl up the yard, "Four on, first and second turns out." Bob once drove the Queen, when Princess Victoria, and afterwards her mother, the Duchess of Kent, from Wolverhampton to Shifnal. The Princess's servants paid the post-boys 6/6 each, but the Duchess's paid 8/-, a difference which is lovingly remembered by Bob to this day.


   
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