From the Archives - Tea, Cake & Cars

An endearing feature of many UK market towns is the presence of 17 and 18th Century coaching inns where the weary traveller could gain respite along the route of their arduous and bumpy coach journey.

The invention of the bicycle made them a popular stopping route for cyclists in need of rest and refreshment, but it was the invention of the car that gave them new life.

As cars were so expensive, the motorist could afford to wine and dine well, whilst the facilities previously used to house horses were of adequate dimensions to stable cars. In 1904, the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland produced its first handbook for touring, which listed inns and hotels that were equipped for the car to stay overnight and displayed the RAC sign of approval. This image shows the A.C.G.B.I Easter Tour 1898 through the market town of Farnham, Surrey, which contained a sizeable former coaching inn popular with motorists.

The Edwardian motorist was used to 5* dining and did not see the vast amounts of alcohol consumed at meals at odds with getting behind the wheel. The Treasurer of the A.C.G.B.I Frank Hedges Butler, even used to carry a case of port in his car should he break down by the roadside.

By the 1920’s increased car production had resulted in a less affluent class of motorist, less concerned with the quality of the dining experience. The 1920’s also saw an increase in roadside petrol stations and many of these housed cafes. As roads between towns and coastal areas saw heavy traffic, new tea rooms also sprang up to capture the motorist and those familiar with veteran cars may also be familiar with the Bridge House tearoom on Reigate Hill created in the mid-1930’s.

Despite their popularity in the USA from the 1920’s onwards, the motel did not appear on mass in the UK until the 1950’s when chains like Holiday Inn formed. As a no-frills stopover, they did not encapsulate the charm and history of a bygone era.

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