Riding high to Old Times travel

Let's take a ride by stagecoach to those old times – aboard, rather naturally, a stagecoach called Old Times.

The Old Times stagecoach in action carrying visitors at Blists Hill, driven by Phil Holder, with young groom Karen Stevenson sitting on the "wrong" side to operate the brake.
The Old Times stagecoach in action carrying visitors at Blists Hill, driven by Phil Holder, with young groom Karen Stevenson sitting on the "wrong" side to operate the brake.

And we don't have to go back many years, as these photographs show the historic coach was still in action in Shropshire much more recently than you might think.

The Old Times stagecoach originally ran between Chester and Shrewsbury, but had a new life in the late 1920s when it ran daily between Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Lilleshall Hall, which had been turned into a visitor attraction.

It seems to have been the same stagecoach of that name which ended up in the collection of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Now Philip Holder, who is the British Driving Society’s Area Commissioner for Shropshire, has got in touch to tell us: "I am not sure that it is widely known now, but the Ironbridge Gorge Museum had the coach on loan from Birmingham in the 1970s when I drove it on a number of occasions.

Philip Holder's horse Snow and John Hendy's horse Shannon being put to the coach at Blists Hill. Philip is extreme right.

"John Hendy and I put a team together to horse the coach at Blists Hill Museum when the public were given the opportunity to travel on it through the toll gate.

"The coach was again used at Blists Hill for filming for an episode of Blue Peter when the late John Noakes joined me on the box seat and also for an episode of the Horizon programme about William Withering.

"We also used it to convey Father Christmas at Telford town centre and the coach put in an appearance at Wellington old time market. The light was failing on returning to my yard at Long Lane and the son of one of the museum staff rode his motorbike just ahead of the horses to light the way.

"Newport on Boxing Day 1977 was another occasion when the coach was used. Eventually the museum returned the coach to Blakesley Hall, Birmingham, and when it was decided to move it to the city centre museum I was once again asked to drive it, with my horses considered more appropriate than moving it on a lorry.

A poster for a Boxing Day excursion in 1977 on Old Times, setting out from the Vine Vaults in Newport.

"I think the last time it was used was to convey the mayor of Birmingham to open the antiques fair at the NEC.

"Many years ago I recall that my father visited Mrs Ford in her flat at Lilleshall Hall when she told him that the coach had been sold, presumably to the Birmingham museum, and that the last of the horses had died. The name of the coach was not mentioned but I believe it must have been the Old Times."

Probably Shropshire's most famous coach was the Shrewsbury Wonder.

"The original Shrewsbury Wonder coach driven by Sam Hayward used to travel at speed up Wyle Cop and under the arch into the Lion yard. Beth Corbett, one of my predecessors, some years ago endeavoured to recreate this. George Wilkins brought his replica of the Wonder to Shrewsbury but decided it would not be possible to access the arch as it is now lower than it used to be.

"However in recent years Shropshire coaching enthusiasts Rod and Barbara Stockton did manage to drive their replica road coach, the Monarch, under the arch."

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