Stable Barn – A Unique Survivor of Witney’s Georgian Hospitality
During the Georgian era, as health spas such as those at Bath and Tunbridge Wells began to develop as major social centres, inns along their main coaching routes developed their food and accommodation to attract travelling customers. 28 miles west of Witney lies Cheltenham, the popularity of whose mineral springs (discovered in 1716) grew slowly until 1788 when King George III’s doctor recommended he take the waters there. Royal approval catapulted Cheltenham into the upper echelons of social importance and initiated large-scale development of civic buildings and beautiful townhouses during the Regency Period.
1.1 The Marlborough Hotel / The Blue Boar
Witney’s location on the coach route from London to this new spa town brought opportunities for the town’s hospitality sector. Around 1800, the owners of a 16th– 17th-c. townhouse (probably by then already an inn), refashioned its marketplace façade in the smart new neo-Classical style (Fig.2 left), and built a new accommodation wing to the rear in matching style.
The Hotel’s name marked the increasing commercial interest that the Duke of Marlborough took in the town from the 1750s after he began to lease the Manor of Witney from the bishops of Winchester. The hotel has been renamed “The Blue Boar”.
1.2 Stabling á la mode
West of the new accommodation wing, the hotel’s owners built an attractive stable block (comfortably distanced up the service lane from the hotel to keep stable odours away from customers). These new facilities were designed not only to attract the custom of people travelling through Witney, but also landowners and yeoman farmers coming down from the northern Cotswolds to buy and sell stock and to conduct business at the weekly markets. Customers accessed these smart new stables from Market Square through the coaching arch to the right of the hotel frontage (Fig.2 above left) where they found stabling quarters and mangers for six horses. Hay and straw for each stable were hoisted through a doorway at first-floor level in the street façade (Fig.1).
The walls of the stable building’s upper haylofts are lined with bricks set vertically on their narrow sides, making the haylofts far drier and warmer than the ground floor, and thus suitable for dry storage of horse tack and saddles, and even perhaps sleeping quarters for customers’ stable servants. Whether a customer was overnighting or spending a day in Witney, their horse(s) and a small gig or phaeton could then be sheltered within the confines of the stable and its yard.
1.3 A rare Georgian survival
The construction of Stable Barn to the rear of the hotel’s marketplace façade (Fig.3) would have placed it in the company of a multitude of ancillary and small workshop buildings once dotted behind the town’s medieval street frontages. However, during the 20th century, most of these ancillary buildings were demolished or rebuilt with a new function. Stable Barn thus represents a unique Georgian survival.
1.4 Fashionable architecture
Remarkably, whilst Stable Barn’s rear and gable walls are constructed in rough unfaced cornbrash limestone (the usual material for ancillary buildings), the design of the stables’ street façade bears distinct witness to the involvement of an architect or master builder. The materials employed demonstrate the desire to show off this building as fashionable:
- faced ashlar blocks for the wall surface
- high quality oolite limestone for finer carving for:
- the door and window embrasures that bear beautiful rhomboid corner stones and rhomboid keystones (Fig.4 upper left).
- the string course in relief that unifies the door and window lintels on the ground floor.
Such finer detailing was usually only found in the houses of the upper classes in Georgian Britain. Why elaborate door and window openings in a stable block? The Marlborough Hotel’s owner was clearly seeking to impress customers by using a social statement they would recognise:
“Stay here: even your horses and servants will be accommodated á la mode !“