Priestman's Venture recaptured the golden age of coaching

Robert Atkinson of the Friends of Beamish Museum recalls a man whose love of the traditional 'coach and four' was the inspiration for a business that ran for five decades...

Lewis Priestman's Venture coach
The Venture coach outside the Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland in 1923, ready to start its return journey to Shotley Bridge. Lewis Priestman is the driver and the guard is Will Payne. Robert Atkinson

The coaching revival began in the South of England in the 1860s when several gentlemen who enjoyed driving four-horse teams, set out, nostalgically, to recreate the glorious excitement of travelling in coaching's 'Golden Era' from about 1820 to 1840.

It was Lewis Priestman with his coach the Venture who brought the coaching revival to the North East. Lewis Priestman lived at Derwent Lodge, Shotley Bridge and began his public coaching hobby in 1891, when he bought his first coach and named it Venture, running it that summer from Newcastle to Shotley Bridge.

After the First World War he began to run on three days each week to Blanchland and at some time around 1930 he shortened the run to end at the 'Punch Bowl', Edmundbyers. The Venture continued its regular journeys until 1939.

The Venture would leave Derwent Lodge and at Derwent Dene bridge, two cock horses were put on, driven postillion, to help with the long pull to Mere Burn crossroads. It went through Shotley Field to Unthank where another team of horses took over.

On the return journey the cock horses met the coach after Derwent Bridge to help with the pull up to Carterway Heads and the team was again changed at Unthank for the return to Derwent Lodge. Lewis Priestman drove when he could, but on other occasions the 'Whip' would be George Burgess, Tom Easey or Will Payne.

Elsewhere in the North East other gentlemen ran coaches, most notably the Maling pottery brothers and George Blayney of the wine merchant's family. Further north, Alec Browne of Callaly coached too. Like Lewis Priestman, who was Master of the Braes of Derwent from 1896 until 1945, they were all involved with hunting.

I have been researching the story of this coaching revival for some years and I'd be pleased to hear from anyone who has any information. For instance, I've no evidence of the date when the journey was curtailed to Edmundbyers. I don't know where the horses were stabled in Blanchland or whether, on the Blanchland run, the horses were also changed in Edmundbyers.

Will Payne blows the horn
Coach guard Will Payne blows the horn which announced the arrival of the Venture coach. Ernie Walton

There were several other people involved with Lewis Priestman as his partners. The earliest of these was George Fenwick Boyd, a Newcastle solicitor and John Oswald Scott, who lived in the Riding Mill area, was involved for a time. Matthew Liddell, who lived for a time at Hindley, coached with Lewis Priestman for many years.

Especially important in this coaching activity was Robert Greer, of Newcastle's 'Old Times Livery Stables', Sandyford, because he supplied the coach horses and George Burgess of Woodhouse (and previously High Mickley House), who was Lewis Priestman's Sporting Agent and managed the operation. After both of these had left came Tom Easey, who did both jobs and sometimes drove the coach too.

If you can fill in any details of the story, or put me in touch with the family of any of those people I've mentioned above, please get in touch by emailing the Blanchland History website (see Contact page). - Robert Atkinson.