Cross pictured at the beginning of the 20th century. Note the telephone poles and the hardtop surface to the road

The line of the A38 from the base of Shute Shelve to Lower Weare, incorrectly marked as Turnpike Road, was only constructed in the 1930’s. Before then all traffic going south from Bristol turned into the village of Cross on the, correctly named, Old Coach Road. It is difficult now to imagine this village noisy with the busy coaching trade but the clues are there in the fact that this small community still boasts two old coaching inns.

The White Hart is documented in the early 17th century, but is undoubtedly older. The inn was larger than can be seen today having, on the east, coach houses and stabling. These buildings were converted in the mid 19th century into the terrace of cottages we see today. The New Inn recorded in a deed dated 1665 was at one time occupied by Soloman Trew, whose son Richard Trew became Mayor of Axbridge. It contains a room known as the Court Room where the Manor court was held each year to determine rents and deal with any land disputes. However there was a third inn known as the King’s Arms opposite the New Inn; this building is known today as Manor Farm. Its use as an inn can be dated as far back as 1647.

The crossroads at Cross during the big freeze of 1962-63. This photo was sent in to the Strawberry Line Times to illustrate a feature on that winter in the area

On the same site was a large stable used to supply horses for coaches and travellers. It was also the destination of the Mail Coach that arrived daily in the morning at a quarter to 12. The Mail coaches were famed for their time keeping and villagers would gather to see it arrive to set their clocks and watches. Until the coming of the railway in Axbridge the village of Cross was important for the many coaches that travelled to Exeter and Plymouth every day with exotic names such as Comet and Eclipse. Parish Records and the census give some insight into the many occupations needed to service the coaching trade such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and horse jobbers.

The milestones that can still be seen beside the road show how many miles it is to Cross indicating its importance to travellers. Travelling at that time was often hazardous; many coach posters that have survived state arrival times followed it by the alarming statement “If God Permit”. Arriving at Cross to the warmth, safety and refreshments at any of the three inns must have lifted many travellers spirit. Well known travellers are recorded as having stayed in Cross these include William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge and the road engineer John MacAdam. Unfortunately none of these named have recorded in which of the three inns they had their lodging. With the coming of rail travel the age of coaching declined and the Kings Arms became a farm.

The New Inn, pictured in 2013 – still a popular watering hole for poets, locals and those using the A38

The others sought new business: the White Hart advertised as a hotel, for example offering “accommodation for cyclists”, a growing pursuit in the 19th century. Hunts Directory of 1850 says of Cross “it formally appeared more bustling than at present – the cracking whip, the rattling wheels, the prancing horses and the sound of the coach horn, no longer enlivens this village”. The two remaining inns, now smaller in size, still offer hospitality to passing trade and local people as they have done for centuries.

Margaret Jordan

This article was for the Strawberry Line Times in 2013.

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