Tour of Lost Birmingham Nᵒ.61: A Regency Stay at the Hen and Chickens Hotel (New Street)

The Hen and Chicken's on New Street, with King Edward's school to the right, c. 1808.
Coaches would enter the rear stables through the arch.
Held by Birmingham Museums.

Were you at the “Hen and Chickens,” from which I write, however, you would be very well content with your quarters [...] I am surrounded by vases of beautiful flowers, many of them the choice productions of the green house in our rude climate, which ornament and perfume the halls and landings of the staircases, and impart an air bordering on elegance, to the general neatness and comfort of the establishment. The inn at which we are, is said to be the best in this great work-shop of iron and steel [...].*
So noted Charles Samuel Stuart, an American visiting England and Ireland in 1832. He did not remain long in Birmingham, he felt it very modern, and the manufactures that made it worthy of visiting made it smokey and noisy. But Stuart did remain long enough to visit some manufactories before he left. He popped to the Pantechnetheca over the street, and up to St. Philip's church to visit the nearby premises of Edward Thomason on Church Street. Find details of his visit here.

The writer Thomas de Quincey also stayed at the Hen and Chickens in the 1830s, and noted:

as to the noise, never did I sleep at that enormous Hen and Chickens, to which usually my destiny brought me, but I had reason to complain that the discreet hen did not gather her vagrant flock to roost at less favourable hours. Till two or three, I was kept waking by those who were retiring; and about three commenced the morning functions of the porter, or of “boots”, or of “underboots”, who began their rounds for collecting the several freights for the Highflyer, or the Tally-ho, or the Bang-up, to all points  of the compass, and too often (as much happen in such immense establishments) blundered into my room with the appalling, “Now, sir, the horses are coming out.” So that rarely, indeed, have I happened to sleep in Birmingham.**

The Hen and Chicken's, where Stuart and de Quincey stayed, was a coaching inn on New Street built in 1798 'according to the plan of James Wyatt Esq of London'.*3* So stated an article in Aris's Birmingham Gazette that year which informed the Birmingham public that Mrs. Sarah Lloyd was removing the Hen and Chickens from its original site on High Street to its new home on New Street. 

The extent of how important the 'coaching' part of the establishment was can be seen in the sale plan, below, which shows how much land behind the hotel the stables covered. But the building itself was large for an inn of this time, and de Quincey described it as 'colossal'. 

Front elevation and plan of stables for Hen and Chickens, 1836.
Birmingham Archive: MS 3069/13/2/66.

The plan, above, shows the building of the Hen and Chickens with its new portico, protruding porch supported by columns in a classical design, built in 1830. This lent an even grander tone for visitors such as Stuart and de Quincey. It had been built under the hotel's ownership by William Waddell, who took over after Mrs. Lloyd (by at least 1818, probably before). At the same time as building the portico, Waddell converted the front rooms of the premises into 'a commodious restaurant'.*4*

Advert for Wm Waddell's Hen and Chickens, 1830-1835.
Engraved by J. Garner from a drawing by Samuel Lines.
Held by Birmingham Museums.

The view, above, looks along New Street towards Christ Church at the end of the street.

Click here for and image of the Hen & Chicken's from Bisset's Magnificent Directory (1800)/

The original Hen and Chicken's on High Street, nearby, was called the Angel and Hen and Chickens in the 1740s. It was where the first flying coaches arrived at in 1742, which came from London in two days, something considered amazing at the time (see post on the London to Birmingham stage, here). It also had a fine bowling green attached, bowling being a popular pastime of the mid-Georgian era.*5*

Full references on request. MS 3069/10/345
* here, pp. 42-43.
** Autobiographic Sketches, pp. 291-292.
*3* Dent, p. 304.
*4* Eliezer Edwards, The Taverns of Old Birmingham (1879).
*4* Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 14 December 1741.

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