Unlocking Stourport's Past


The Georgian Tontine Hotel

As early as 1772 the Directors of the Staffs and Worcs Canal Company took a decision to have their headquarters and Commercial Hotel at Stourport. It was to be built overlooking the River Severn. It opened in 1788 and remains to this day the most impressive Georgian building in the town.

The original name was The Stourport Inn, Tontine Buildings, the name given to the whole of the buildings. It was later called the Areley Inn and then, The Tontine Hotel.

The Tontine Hotel at Stourport was the Canal Company at its elegant best, a place with space for 100 beds and a ballroom. A place where the Directors, the Committee and principal shareholders met to conduct the business of the enterprise. After the business of the day was concluded, the hotel became a scene of revelry. The meals put on were massive, by any standards, the choicest fish, the most expensive cuts of meat, venison and all sorts of game and pastries etc. were eaten. All this washed down with the finest wines and spirits brought up the river from Bristol.

This highly desirable situation only lasted while large dividends were being paid and it all ended with the coming of the railway to Stourport in 1862. By 1880 the canal and river trade was in sharp decline and the Tontine itself had undergone a change. John Randall in his book The Severn Valley writes

"We found the Company’s great commercial hotel, the Tontine, a large square block, with rooms sufficient to make up 100 beds, and equally extensive stabling, diminished to proportions of one of the smallest inns in the town, its extensive rooms let off to form dwelling houses."

Information provided by Geoff Neal (a renowned local historian)



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Summer would see the terraced gardens bustling with visitors taking advantage of the beautiful riverside location .

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The gardens can be seen to the left in front of the old canal company cottages with the broad barge locks, linking the basin to the river, to the right.

The name

The name Tontine came from an Italian- Lorenzo Tonti, who devised an early form of life insurance. A group of people would take out a policy where only the last surviving member would get the payout!

Life in a Tontine house

Read about life in a Tontine House 1940 -1960 

The fight against demolition

In 1977 Wolverhampton & Dudley brewery submitted plans to demolish the Tontine for redevelopment. For many years most of the building had been empty, only the middle of the building was run as a pub. At a Public Enquiry the society's objections were given by Chairman, the late Charles Hunt. The poet, Sir John Betjeman, gave considerable weight to the objectors with a letter outlining his objections. The inspector ruled that no external changes could be made to the building

The closure- a new beginning?

The Tontine owned by Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery closed in August 2001 after it was sold to a developer with plans to convert it into flats.It is now sadly boarded up. However, British Waterways have now bought the old hotel and are conulting widely with local groups, with a view to making it an important part of the regenerated Lichfield Basins scheme as befits a Grade 2 listed building.

back to index This page last updated 15 December 2005