By Peter Stopp

Whilst researching stories of Sir William Paxton (1743-1824) as background for leading tours of his estate at the National Botanic Garden of Wales I came across a puzzling reference stating that he purchased the Inn at Cold Blow. I knew Cold Blow as a remote cluster of a few houses lying on a hill to the south of Narberth. What could have driven him to purchase its inn? The answer, I eventually found, lay in the fact that it was on a Turnpike Road.

Turnpikes

An Act of 7 March 1763 established the Main Trust, the first of the Turnpikes in South Wales, through Carmarthenshire from Trecastle mountain west to Tavernspite on the Pembrokeshire border.[i] Tolls (fig.1) were extracted to repay the upkeep of the road, which simply followed the long-used byways uphill and down dale. Soon many more Turnpikes were to follow, including the Tavernspite Trust in 1771.

The road led from Tavernspite through Princes Gate, Cold Blow and Narberth Bridge through the town to Robeston Wathen and on to Haverfordwest (fig. 2).

Figure 2: The Turnpike route through Cold Blow

Figure 2: The Turnpike route through Cold Blow

By 1772 there were two main routes being used by mail coaches from London through to Carmarthen and on to Haverfordwest. By 1785 the mail coaches ran through to Hubberston via Narberth[i] – with a change of horses at the Noah’s Ark Inn, Blaengwaethno by Princes Gate. Fenton mentions, in 1810, that there had been an inn there.[ii]

By 1793 the town of Milford Haven  had been started and the terminus transferred there, at Hakin Point to meet the packet ships bound for Waterford,  Ireland.[iii]  The mail coach set off from London every evening at 7.15 p.m., at a pace requiring its four horses to be changed every 8 miles along the route, so inns with reliable stabling were needed at those staging posts. From Carmarthen a three-horse ‘unicorn’ team took over to reach the Irish packet at Milford Haven at 5.30 a.m. on the second day, thirty-four and a quarter hours after having left London. This route to Ireland was an important one, and by 1804/5 the mail service had been upgraded to a daily event[iv], passing through Narberth at 2 p.m.[v]

William Paxton

At the start of the nineteenth century travel to the Continent was hindered by Napoleon’s antics. Instead society looked to places in the U.K., especially to sea-bathing and spas then in fashion and William Paxton saw his opportunity to capitalise on that – by developing Tenby, which had by then become very run-down, with many neglected houses.

In 1802 Paxton purchased his first properties in Tenby and wrote to his friend David Williams:

“The Tenby lot pleases me most and if … it answers my expectations I may probably lay out thousands in building lodging houses etc which being much wanted, may be of some benefit to the place.”

 He continued with a few more details, writing…

“One great advantage of No. 2 is that it joins Green Hill, 2/3 of which I purchased at the Coomb Sale, and the remaining 1/3 I shall probably get when Sir Hugh Owen comes of age, about a twelvemonth hence.”[vi]

He built a house on the site of the Globe in Tudor Square, which is now the Tenby House Hotel.[vii] Edward Laws tells us…

‘He purchased two properties: one of which had previously belonged to the White family and another from Sir Roger Lort (and) ..the Stackpole Estate’. [viii]

The ruins of the former property, on the northwest side of Tenby Church were eventually presented in 1808 to the Corporation… ‘that they might be removed and so improve the High Street’.[ix]

In 1805 Paxton even went to Tenby for the summer. There he…

‘informed the Town Council of his plans for building a bath-house and was granted “a lease of two cellars and gardens lying in a street called Laston”[i] for that purpose.’

In the same year he apparently commissioned the Assembly Rooms. Paxton commissioned James Grier and Samuel Pepys Cockerell to design and build a fashionable bathing establishment….(and) work on the building began in the first week of July 1806.[ii]

The many developments in Tenby that Paxton made relied upon a tourist trade, so access to the town was critical to its success. For the very wealthy with their own coach travel that was less of a problem. The upper middle class could travel there individually by horse. But for many travel was by coach, including  the mail coach with its four outside seats. The nearest mail coach route was that which went through Narberth where the Receiving House transferred the packages of mail destined for Tenby residents onto saddle horse for delivery there by the postboy.[iii] If Paxton could connect Tenby by coach to the mail route it would enable passengers to transfer from mail coach to the local taxi route. But that journey from Narberth to Tenby entailed crossing Narberth ‘mountain’, a steep climb for coach-horses.

Mail Staging Posts

An early staging  post on the mail route had been the Noah’s Ark Inn at Blaengwaethno near Princes Gate[iv], nine miles from St Clears, but that had closed by 1810 when Richard Fenton made his travels. Fenton refered to Narberth town as  a ‘market and post-town.’[v] So a staging post was located there, probably in the White Hart Inn, which had existed since at least 1776[vi], but that was twelve miles from St Clears , half as far again as the ideal distance of seven to eight miles. Tavernspite had inns – the Old Tavernspite (later renamed the Coach and Horses) and the Plume of Feathers[vii] and the latter was certainly a Milford mail staging post in 1810, according to Fenton.[viii] That was 7 miles on from St Clears, so the next stage, to Narberth, would have been a short 5 miles.

Paxton would have been able to see  that Cold Blow offered advantages as a transfer point. It lay on the main mail route at a junction which led to Tenby, avoiding Narberth Mountain, and at just over 10 miles from St Clears made a slightly less demanding journey than going on to Narberth.  A staging post there could possibly replace both Tavernspite and Narberth. Did he gamble on that? We may never know. One account states that he built an inn at Cold Blow [ix] and that seems confirmed in the wording – ‘has been built’ – of a later  letter from the District Surveyor in 1814 referring to the inn there (see below).

In June 1812 David Hughes advertised (fig. 3) the inn at Cold Blow as having a Post Chaise and ‘careful drivers’.

Fig 3

Perhaps significantly he also advertised that he was ‘late guard of His Majesty’s Royal Mail’. If he was Paxton’s appointee that might have been a deliberate step on the way to attracting the staging post to Cold Blow. If so, it worked, for on 25 May, 1814, Samuel Woodcock, the District Surveyor of Posts, proposed to the Postmaster General (PMG) the establishment of a Receiving House at Cold Blow to serve Tenby and Pembroke…

‘since Tenby has become a fashionable resort for sea-bathing, and the number of visitors much increased, a very good inn has been built at a place called Cold Blow, which is a more convenient point of communication, both with Tenby and Pembroke as by that means a long steep hill called Narberth Mountain is avoided … I therefore propose that a Receiving House …shall be fixed at the Inn called the Windsor Castle in Cold Blow …(at) a small salary per annum of £4’.

The PMG, Sir Francis Freeling, confirmed the transfer in June, 1814.[i] What the residents of Narberth felt about this switch is not known. Their mail was now carried  on foot.

Hughes was succeeded as licensee  by David Philipps who reopened the inn after its facelift in 1820, and then in 1823 by William Small and his wife, Mary. By this time the inn possessed stabling for fifteen horses and standing for five carriages.[ii] A later recollection paints a picture of life here around this time:

‘Coldblow, at one time, was a post-village of considerable importance, and was well-known to all who frequented the western part of the island. An immense traffic flowed through it. It was on the highway to the south of Ireland, and the last place where relayes were kept. Two mail coaches daily changed horses at the door of the inn, and it was no unusual thing to see half a dozen travelling carriages at a time drawn up in the road’. [iii]

Figure 4: Cover sheet of letter sent from Cold Blow by J. Hensleigh Allen, M.P.

Figure 4: Cover sheet of letter sent from Cold Blow by J. Hensleigh Allen, M.P.

In or around 1824, the year that William Paxton died, the Receiving House gained a circular 254 mileage mark.[iv] The cover sheet (fig. 4) was sent by John Hensleigh Allen, M.P. for Pembroke Borough, via Cold Blow, to his solicitor in Haverfordwest, probably near the peak of its business life.

The Fall of the House of Windsor

In the following year William Small was thrown from his horse and he died, leaving his wife, Mary, to run the business. But the Receiving House was transferred to Narberth in 1827[1] and stayed there until 1836 when it was proposed to return it to Cold Blow.[2] Still in the hands of Mary until March, 1837 she auctioned off the fixtures and fittings, a process lasting two days, and retired to a cottage next to the inn. She sold the inn five years later as well suited ‘ for being converted into an excellent premises for maltsters’. [3] At that time the end was clearly in sight for the inn. A new road was being built by Thomas Telford from Red Roses through to Hobbs Point, Pembroke Dock. That was opened in April, 1839 and became the new mail coach route for Ireland, but for little more than a decade, because then the railway took over.

The inn may have been closed long ago but its name lives on in a small close alongside the site, called ‘Windsor Gardens

 

Figure 5: The Windsor Castle, after its demise as an inn.

 

NOTES

[1]   A.H.T. Lewis,  The Early effects of Carmarthenshire Turnpike Trusts 1760-1800 in The

    Carmarthenshire Historian  IV (1967), 41-54.

[1]   P. Reynolds,  The mail coaches of Wales: 1 in South Wales Welsh Philatelic Society

    newsletter No. 50 (December, 1988),  4-11.

[1]   R. Fenton,  A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London , 1811, reprinted 1903),

260.

[1]   The London Gazette 6.4.1793.

[1]   Cambrian 28.1.1804.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips,  The Cold Blow Receiving House in The Welsh Philatelic Society

     Newsletter (September 1990),  55, 10-11.

[1]    NLW David Williams collection 1802 Letter from Wm Paxton to David Williams.

[1]    B. Price,  The Fortune of William Paxton in Pembrokeshire Life (November, 2011), 9-11.

[1]    E. Laws  The History of Little England beyond Wales (George Bell, Londodn1888) ,  395

[1]   E. Laws,  ibid.

[1]   W.G.J.Kuiters, William Paxton, 1744-1824: Middleton Hall and the adventures of a

      Scottish “Nabob” in Carmarthenshire (undated), 40. W.G.J.Kuiters MA dissertation for

Leiden University was translated and  published in 1992 in Bengal Past & Present

      (British Library, India Office Collection).

[1]    Kuiters Op cit, 40/41.

[1]    Return relating to Mail Coaches App 45 First Report of the Select Committee on Postage

HC 1837/8 xx (ii)  649. 4 April 1838, in Welsh Philatelic Society Newsletter,  41 (August

1985),  14-16.

[1]    K. Johnson, The pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South East Pembrokeshire. (2004),

62.

[1]    R. Fenton, op cit  (1903), 168.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit, 115.

[1]    K. Johnson,  Historic Inns of Pembrokeshire: the rise and fall of the house of Windsor in

Pembrokeshire Life. (November 2002), 7.

[1]    R. Fenton, op cit, 261.

[1]    K. Johnson,  op cit , 64.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips, and H.B.Lee,  The Postal History of Tenby (1974) 5.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit.

[1]    Anon, The Charm Doctor  (1857), 222.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips, op cit.

[1]    Anon – (?G. Scourfield) mimeo notes ‘Narberth Post Office’ held in Narberth Museum.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips & H. B. Lee, op cit.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i]    D. Rhys-Phillips, and H.B.Lee,  The Postal History of Tenby (1974) 5.

[ii]    K. Johnson, op cit.

[iii]    Anon, The Charm Doctor  (1857), 222.

[iv]    D. Rhys-Phillips, op cit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i]   W.G.J.Kuiters, William Paxton, 1744-1824: Middleton Hall and the adventures of a

      Scottish “Nabob” in Carmarthenshire (undated), 40. W.G.J.Kuiters MA dissertation for

Leiden University was translated and  published in 1992 in Bengal Past & Present

      (British Library, India Office Collection).

[ii]    Kuiters Op cit, 40/41.

[iii]    Return relating to Mail Coaches App 45 First Report of the Select Committee on Postage

HC 1837/8 xx (ii)  649. 4 April 1838, in Welsh Philatelic Society Newsletter,  41 (August

1985),  14-16.

[iv]    K. Johnson, The pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South East Pembrokeshire. (2004),

62.

[v]    R. Fenton, op cit  (1903), 168.

[vi]    K. Johnson, op cit, 115.

[vii]    K. Johnson,  Historic Inns of Pembrokeshire: the rise and fall of the house of Windsor in

Pembrokeshire Life. (November 2002), 7.

[viii]    R. Fenton, op cit, 261.

[ix]    K. Johnson,  op cit , 64.

[i]   P. Reynolds,  The mail coaches of Wales: 1 in South Wales Welsh Philatelic Society

    newsletter No. 50 (December, 1988),  4-11.

[ii]   R. Fenton,  A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London , 1811, reprinted 1903),

260.

[iii]   The London Gazette 6.4.1793.

[iv]   Cambrian 28.1.1804.

[v]    D. Rhys-Phillips,  The Cold Blow Receiving House in The Welsh Philatelic Society

     Newsletter (September 1990),  55, 10-11.

[vi]    NLW David Williams collection 1802 Letter from Wm Paxton to David Williams.

[vii]    B. Price,  The Fortune of William Paxton in Pembrokeshire Life (November, 2011), 9-11.

[viii]    E. Laws  The History of Little England beyond Wales (George Bell, Londodn1888) ,  395

[ix]   E. Laws,  ibid.

[i]   A.H.T. Lewis,  The Early effects of Carmarthenshire Turnpike Trusts 1760-1800 in The

    Carmarthenshire Historian  IV (1967), 41-54.