Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Coaching Puzzle

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Corse Lawn House Hotel, between Ledbury and Gloucester. (Beautiful location, good food and atmosphere, so worth a visit if you’re passing that way.)

On its website the hotel says this about the house itself:

“Corse Lawn House is an elegant Queen Anne Grade II Listed building set back from the village green and fronted by an unusual ornamental pond (originally built as a coach wash into which you could drive and turn a stage and four horses).”

Now that’s a fascinating statement, isn’t it?

I went to have a look at this coach wash. Sure enough, there is a ramp leading down into the pond. It’s paved with granite setts and looks old. If you peer at the photograph, you may just be able to make it out under that huge willow tree.

There is certainly room for a stage and four to be driven round inside the pond. So there would have been room to wash both the stage and the horses. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before, but it sounds practical enough to be true.

However, there’s a puzzle.

Bang in the middle of the ramp, there’s quite a large and solid stone block, about half a metre high and 25 cms across. By the look of it, the block is about the same age as the rest of the ramp. What on earth was it for?

Judging by the prints of coaches that I have, the block would have caught the axles of most stage coaches or mail coaches. Look at this one here, in a mail coach print from 1827. The axles, particularly the front one, are quite low to the ground.

When I got back home, I started to research my puzzle. And I got nowhere.

The hotel was originally the manor house of Corse Lawn. Neither the hotel, nor even the village, is mentioned in my 1806 copy of Cary’s New Itinerary. According to Cary, the principal road from Gloucester to Ledbury went through Staunton, which is the next village to Corse Lawn and which had an inn called The Swan. That suggests that the coaching road went through the village of Corse Lawn but that the Corse Lawn Hotel was not a coaching inn at that period. So why would it have a stagecoach wash? The website definitely refers to “stage” and not to “carriage” which implies mail coaches or stagecoaches etc rather than private carriages.


Cary’s Itinerary also lists the noblemen and gentlemen’s seats “situate near the Roade” and the Corse Lawn Manor House isn’t listed there, either. Whoever was living there at the time doesn’t seem to have rated a mention by Cary.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The mundane answer is possibly that the stone block was added to the ramp much later, in order to stop people driving coaches (or even cars?) into the pond. The fact that the block looked extremely old doesn’t prove anything, of course. The house owner could have used an old block so that it was in keeping with the rest of the ramp.

Which would be a shame, I think. I’d much rather there was a quirky, romantic reason for the existence of that stone block in the middle of the ramp. Maybe you can think of one?



Christina said...

A sort of old-fashioned "car wash", how intriguing! Never thought of them washing them in that way, but it does make sense.

Joanna Maitland said...

Many apologies for failure to respond, Christina. In my defence (!!) I was sailing round the Greek Islands and I had no internet access.

Yes, it is intriguing, isn't it? And yet they must have washed the coaches somehow, so why not this way? Doesn't solve the problem of the stone pillar though...

Marian Child said...

Have just come back from visiting a coaching pond in east sussex. No solution to the stone, however we were told that the pond also helped to swell the wheels.

On a long journey, the wooden wheels dried out and shrank slightly, causing the metal rims to become loose. These coach ponds served to help swell the wood back to their supposed size and give the horses and drink.

Joanna Maitland said...

Fascinating, Marian. Thank you. Hadn't thought about drying-out wheels.