Coaching inn of old was a staging post
IT was in the mid-1960s that one of Dudley’s finest buildings, the Dudley Arms in the Market Place, was demolished to make way for a modern retail premises, despite it being a listed building.
Standing as it did close to where the Market Fountain is today it had served the people of Dudley and visitors alike since it was built in 1786. In the late 18th century the Hawkes family were associated with a great number of the town’s industries, and when Abiather Hawkes and the majority of the leading men of his ilk decided the town needed a new hotel they formed the first building society in the country to establish the Dudley Arms Hotel.
When HRH The Prince of Wales paid a visit to Dudley in 1923 a programme was published that mentioned the Dudley Arms Hotel as the oldest and principal hotel in Dudley. It went on: “From time to time it has been modernised and brought up to date in order to meet with the many requirements made upon its hospitality.”
It also described the interior: “The hotel contains a fine assembly room, a large dining hall, and suites of private rooms. The assembly room which overlooks the Market Place is fitted with an old oak floor and is in much request for balls, parties, etc., while it will accommodate a company of 120 to dinner, and makes an excellent banqueting hall. The dining room adjoining provides seating accommodation for 50 guests, and there are all the conveniences and comforts of an up-todate and modern family and commercial hotel with bedrooms numbering twenty-two. An entrance to the hotel is made through the portico whch leads into a wide and well-appointed entrance hall. There is an up-to-date lounge and smoke room lounge. Dinners are served daily from 12.45 to 2.0pm., and late dinners are provided to order.”
The programme also mentioned the fact that in the ‘olden’ days the Dudley Arms Hotel had been an important stagecoach stop for those travelling to London via Birmingham, from Stourport, Kidderminster, Stourbridge and Dudley every day. The Royal Mail coach in particular stopped at the Dudley Arms Hotel at 4pm every afternoon and called in on the way back at 9.45am every morning. What a wonderful sight it must have made, the coach and horses pulling up outside the hotel, its driver and companions probably spattered with mud off the pot-hole ridden roads, the passengers stretching their backs before venturing into the hotel, and the poor old horses set for a rest and a change of team at the nearby stables.
In its history the Dudley Arms was also an important meeting place for all kinds of people. In 1834 Dudley’s second member of parliament was Thomas Hawkes and he would regularly hold gatherings of his supporters in one of the smoke lounges. The hotel has also been at the centre of disturbances during 19th century elections. In 1874 the military had to be called during polling with the militia firing shots into the air and the Riot Act being read from the steps of the building.
The grandeur of such a building is perfectly described after a banquet was held on June 8, 1908, to celebrate the success of the Dudley fete, but ostensibly to celebrate the Earl of Dudley’s appointment as Governor-general of Australia. All the Black Country mayors attended.
Dudley Arms Hotel in Dudley
Thomas Hawkes and his supporters in one of the hotel’s smoke lounges.
The Royal Mail stagecoach
Dudley Market Place showing the Dudley Arms Hotel on the righthand side