How the Talbot suddenly took off to become a serious rival to the King's Head in Cuckfield has long been a mystery. But now some records have been found throw some light on this - but frustratingly they also raise new questions that need answering.
It all started with the seventeenth century alehouse called The Hound. The core of this building is incorporated into what became the Talbot Hotel. Even today the north end wall brickwork gives some evidence of how the building evolved.
The regeneration of the business was through the input of London and Brighton sourced experience in the transport and leisure businesses working together to offer a quality overnight stay for travellers between London to Brighton.
Brighthelmstone and high society
To explain this we need to turn the clicks back to Let's when Prince George was 20 and first visited a small fishing village called Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) in 1782. High society and the fashionable set soon followed and started travelling down from London to attend 'his court'. Due to the extended time of travel by coach, seven hours or more at the time, there was a huge rise in demand to stay in a hotel by the sea and to break the journey along the route.
John Wichelo, a wealthy brewer living in Glynde and running Tidy and Whittle in Brighton’s Boyce Street had a business that was ‘known far and wide’ saw a lucrative opportunity to build a hotel in Brighton.
In 1785 he opened The New Inn in North Street (this is the main connecting road from The Old Steine to the Clock Tower). The hotel was one of the first of many to be built and was designed to attract fashionable gentry who were prepared to pay for the finest accommodation. When the hotel was let in 1811 it was described as including: ‘Large coffee-room, billiard room, 10 sitting rooms, 26 bedrooms, two kitchens, and tap attached to the premises; two stable yards, with accommodation for nearly 50 horses and six coaches.’
It was well located in Brighthelmstone as ‘A Peep Into The Past’ explains:
‘The New Inn was happily situated; for when the entrance to the town from London by Steyning was down North street, it was the first place in the street where what could really be called hotel accommodation was available. When the coach route was altered in 1807-8 by Pyecombe - avoiding all hills - the house would appear to have been equally favourably situated; for, by an advertisement in the Brighton Herald in 1808 (inserted by Mr Wichelo, of Glynde, on behalf, of the executors of Mrs Henwood), the situation of The New Inn is described as "about the centre of the town, nearly opposite the New Road, lately made by HRH the Prince of Wales, at the entrance from London !"
Sadly it is in a less happy state today and hides behind a busy bus shelter.
Scott and Owden
The earliest named proprietors of the hotel were Messrs. Scott and Owden in 1793 but they could have been running it well before this date. Both were also associated with the Talbot in Cuckfield, so The New Inn will have been the blueprint for their new challenge.
Subsequently the New Inn was taken over in 1800 by William H Henwood (previously of The White Horse, East Street), who was also the leading partner of the firm of London coach proprietors, Henwood, Crosweller, Cuddington, Pockney, Harding and Co., whose offices were at The New Inn, and who occupied the extensive range of stabling originally attached to it.
From the researches outlined in my previous article, we learned that John Owden learned his career skills in London. And it likely that Wichelo wanted to employ a skilled management team to run his new enterprise. London knowledge would have been helpful and perhaps Owden was already on good terms with the London ‘great and good’ and familiar with the exacting standards that they demanded.
In 1784 we have the first confirmation of Cuckfield's The Hound changing its name to The Talbot:
‘ On Thursday night the 9th inst, Mr Dench, master of the Talbot Inn, at Cuckfield, had three full-grown fowl, that roosted under cover, dropped dead from their perch, through the inclemency of the weather.’ Sussex Advertiser, Mon 20 December 1784.’
Note the date and the opening of the New Inn in Brighton was 1785 - could The Talbot also have been expanded and relaunched at this point? Was Dench in fact a manager being employed by Owden and Scott, or did they appear on the scene a decade later?
The alehouse became a hotel and expanded to meet the needs of the London gentry. A whole new floor was added to The Talbot and no doubt there were extensive interior changes - and we know a ballroom was included.
John Owden married for a second time to Ann Scambler in Brighton on 2 February 1796, he was 50 at the time. That suggests that his roots at that time were not in Cuckfield. The first positive link of the name Owden and The Talbot was the burial in Cuckfield Churchyard of Ann Owden age ‘one star of John from Talbot Inn’ in May 1800.
John and Ann's son, Thomas Owden, the future Lord Mayor of London, was born in Cuckfield in 1808.
The 1802 will of John Buckwell of Framfield refers to the sale of 'my capital messuage … situate in the town of Cuckfield commonly called or known by the name or sign of The Talbot, to James Scott of Cuckfield, Innkeeper'.
The ownership by Buckwell doesn't preclude the possibility of Owden, Scott and Dench all being involved. Running a pub, serving food, hotel accommodation, livery management all need specialist skillsets and managers. Buckwell would have been happy that his property and tenancy could prosper with the London experience and coach links.
Coach service for their clients
During the summer of 1790, Messrs. William Henwood and James Scott ran a new and elegant post-coach, carrying four inside and three out between London and Brighton. The route was through Cuckfield and Reigate the coach left the White Horse Inn, Brighton, at eight o'clock in the morning, and reached the Blossoms Hotel, Lawrence Lane, Cheapside, in nine hours; the inside passengers paid eighteen shillings, and the outsides half that amount. (From ‘Brighton and its coaches’ by WCA Blew, P39).
But the journey time explains the need for an overnight journey break at a hotel.
In the UK Land Redemption for 15 Feb 1799, ‘James Scott’ is listed as proprietor and occupier for the Talbot Inn. £1 8s Daniel Dench.' This confirms the presence of Owden's business partner and Dench the landlord.
Remember the words referring to the local inn landlords from Mid Sussex Times article on 22 May 1883 ‘Demolition of the Old Market House, Cuckfield.: ‘… Owden, Scott, Best, and Dench all sleeping among the dead in the Cuckfield churchyard.’
Scott was from Brighton and the family was a leading player in the passenger coach service there. From the 1791 Universal British Directory we read of a coach service: ‘By Henwood, Scott, Holbrook - a light coach, carrying four insides, sets out every morning, at eight o'clock, Sunday excepted, from the White Horse inn, East Street, to the Blossom's Inn, Lawrence Lane, and the Mecklenburgh coffee-house, near Charing Cross. From these places in London, it returns every day, at the same hour. Fare 18s.’
It seems most likely that Scott and Owden developed a strong business relationship while building the New Inn business.
Scott may have drawn on the financial muscle of the Wichelos - but it's just as likely that the Scott coach business stumped up the investment cash - as this business would have mutually benefited from a quality hotel and its own coaching stop in Cuckfield - but then possibly the Buckwell's of Framfield might have been interested in investing in the expansion. The burgeoning business will not have been short of backers.
We know that the New Inn, Brighton was taken over by William Henwood in 1800. And we have a positive link with the Owden name and Cuckfield for 1800. The Talbot was expanded to meet the growing business which peaked in 1812 when coach traffic was starting to switch to the shorter route via Hickstead. John’s wife sold the Talbot business after her husband’s death in 1811 and moved to London with the family.
My assessment of all this is that it seems highly probable that the expansion of The Hound happened much earlier than 1800. The passenger demand was there and Scott and Owden would have had too much development in too short a time if it all started in 1800 when records definitely confirm that they were based in Cuckfield.
So either Scott and Owden were 'on the case', perhaps still based in Brighton, around 1790's or Dench senior was responsible. But the financial muscle needed, the experience to match the quality of service expected supports the idea of a grander plan possibly coupled with a similar investment in a London terminus hotel. So there's potential for more research here and Brighton - if the records still exist.
The New Inn in Brighton from the outset was attracting prestige business, it had patronage by the Royals and at the time was the location of the magistrates court.
So the idea that the sister business The Talbot was a second best - 'a me too' - business to compete with the King's Head on the other side of the High Street is wrong. It was well thought through, financially well resourced and run by experienced management. With its ballroom for social events and taking on the postal service it was a strong competitor for the King's Head and matching or even exceding the King's Head on quality.
Wood engraving by and after R Alford. Published in J G Bishop’s 1892 edition of 'A Peep into the Past: Brighton in the Olden Time', p208. The building now called Clarence House is still present in North Street today.
Note: The New Inn was later renamed the Clarence Hotel, when the Duke of Clarence succeeded to the throne as William lV in 1830.
History of Brighthelmstone - the Ancient and Modern History of Brighton, JA Erredge 1867.
20-31 North Street Brighton from My Brighton and Hove website: https://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/places/placestree/north-street-brighton/north-street-8
Detailed insight into the New Inn and Clarence Hotel: 'A Peep Into The Past' by John George Bishop, 1892.
P198 Richard Lemmon Wichelo.
Coach painting; 'Behind time at Reigate Tollgate' from Brighton and its coaches by WCA Blew '
draing of a 1783 coach by Rowlandson ib 'A Manula of Coaching' by Fairman Rogers 1901
Note: The name 'The New Inn' was changed to 'The Clarence Hotel' about 1830 to honour the then Duke of Clarence becoming William IV .
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.