Coaching in Henley
Image: handbill advertising winter services from the White Hart Inn (by John Alleway), 1717. Read more, or read Alleway's will
From its creation Henley was dependent not only on the river but on good roads. In the late 17th century and the 18th, its advantageous position on important routes to and from London turned it into a major coaching centre, along with other Chilterns towns such as Marlow or Benson.
This had a significant impact on Henley's social tone and buildings. Suddenly, the town was on a transport route not only for bulk commercial goods, but for the most fashionable elements of society. Quick and comfortable transport made it feasible for surrounding country gentry to slot it into the newly fashionable round of assemblies, balls and social seasons (see Caroline Powys). Coaching and travel brought incidental trade to the town, along with employment for large numbers of unnamed stable-hands, ostlers, servants and kitchen staff. Those who stood most to gain were the town's innkeepers, who established close relations with coach-masters, and remodelled their premises to meet the needs of a new and sophisticated clientele accustomed to London and Bath fashions. The Red Lion and the Bell were rebuilt on a grand scale in the latest styles, catering not only for stage coaches and private travellers, but for the round of local balls and assemblies which accompanied this new world. The coming of the railway killed the coaching (and river) trade almost overnight, plunging Henley into serious economic difficulty in the early-to-mid 19th century. Only with the town's acquisition of a branch line in 1857 and the development of the Regatta did it start to recover its earlier prestige, re-emerging by the 1880s as a highly fashionable social, leisure and commuting centre within easy reach of London. Read more about coaching and turnpiking in and around Henley, extracted from our forthcoming EPE paperback Henley-on-Thames: Town, Trade and River. .