By Walter E. Bethel*
BUILT in the early 1830s, and originally known as ‘Speed the Plough’, the Plough Inn at the junction of Parramatta and Liverpool roads, Ashfield, was one of the best known of the wayside hostelries between Sydney and Parramatta.
The inn was a changing place for the coach horses, and John Ireland, the first licensee was associated with the house for many years.
The place is mentioned in the “New South Wales Calendar” for 1833, the roads itinerary of which thus records its location: ‘At five and a half miles (i.e. from Sydney), public house, the Ploughman, the landlord calling to the traveller’s mind the jolly appearance of a roadside host in England’.
A fire partly destroyed the house in 1861. The illustration (above), showing the old inn after it was rebuilt, is reproduced from a photograph taken by Frank Walker shortly before the demolition of the house in 1911.
The Plough Inn was where the coaches changed horses for the last time, and the pace from the old inn to Sydney was a cracker.
The roadway bridges to be negotiated were Johnston’s Bridge, Battle Bridge and the Orphan School Creek Bridge. These would only take one vehicle at a time, and first over was a big consideration in the race to George-street.
The Plough Inn was long identified with John Ireland and his wife.
Ireland died in 1847, and Mrs Ireland carried on.
An opposition hotel sprang up opposite the Plough Inn. It went by the name of The Bird in Hand, and was kept by Samuel Lucas.
Mrs. Ireland married Lucas, thus blending both their lives and their businesses.
Michael Boylson took it over in 1861. He was a man of many enterprises. He had a flour mill at Bathurst, and one in Sussex Street, Sydney. He built another close to the Plough Inn. Then he opened a general store.
In point or fact, as an old writer puts it, he seemed to have a small township to himself.
These old hotels were not merely drinking houses, they were family hotels in the best sense of the word, and the proprietor’s wife was a great controlling influence, and safeguarded the respectability of the house.
They were the centres of all news and gossip, as it filtered through from Sydney, and the arrival of the daily coach was an incident that unfailingly brought its own crowd, and caused its own excitement.
* From an article published in the Sydney Sun 28 March 1931
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