Malmesbury had several of what are now called coaching inns – the George, the Griffin, the King’s Arms, the Bear, the Unicorn – of which only the King’s Arms survives as an inn. The inns of Malmesbury would have had accommodation for carriages and horses but very few stage coaches ever came to Malmesbury. They ran north through Cirencester to Gloucester ran in numbers through Chippenham to Bath and Bristol but not to Malmesbury. You had to change and come by carrier or fly. The early stage coaches were not an easy ride.
A 1667 advertisement
All those desirous to pass from London to Bath
Or any other place on their road, let them repair
To Le Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill and the
White Lion at Bath, at both which places they may
Be received in a Stage Coach every Monday,
Wednesday and Friday, which perform the whole
journey in three days! (If God permit) and sets forth
at five in the morning.
Passengers to pay One pound five shillings and
Who are allowed to carry fourteen pounds weight.
Three days to travel 115 miles and note the proviso!
Travel slowly improved with innovations such as springing making the ride easier but the real breakthrough came with turnpiked roads which had a good surface. By 1836 the night stage from London to Bath took 11 1/2 hours. Teams of horses were used and changed frequently (about every 15 miles); it is thought there were 150,000 horses used by stage coaches. It was a major industry employing up to 20% of the working population.
A timetable of 1721 records that a carrier left the White Swan at Holborn Bridge every Friday for Malmesbury.
Stan Hudson and E S T Cole had garages in the High Street before the second world war Stan Hudson was born in 1897 and wrote “A Hill Top Town” a history of the town published in 1977. In this he recalls the difficulties the early cars had in tackling the steep gradient at the bottom of the High Street. Perhaps this kindled his interest in motors.
EST (Stuart) Cole had been a fighter pilot in the first world war and then came to Malmesbury. His son, Dick, continued the business still selling petrol in 1960s. He sold out to the Hyams in the mid 1970s; they still run the business.
The Cirencester Road garage, Adye’s garage on Bristol Road and the Athelstan garage by Stainsbridge were all active and prosperous businesses. Now only Hyams and the Cirencester Road garage remain.
Malmesbury had its own coach company; Athelstan Coaches. It was run by J Grimes initially from a garage at the top of Silver Street but in the 1960s they moved to a site in Park Row. In 1986 they were taken over by Overland and County . Within a few years this company went into liquidation.