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Title: Old Coaching Days - Some Incidents in the Life of Moses James Nobbs, the last of the Mail Coach Guards
Author: Nobbs, Moses James
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the [1891] Eyre and Spottiswoode edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                 [Picture: Picture of Moses James Nobbs]



                            OLD COACHING DAYS


                                * * * * *

                              SOME INCIDENTS

                              IN THE LIFE OF

                            MOSES JAMES NOBBS,

                    THE LAST OF THE MAIL COACH GUARDS.

                            _Told by Himself_.

                                * * * * *

              With a Preface by the Controller of the London
                             Postal Service.

                                * * * * *

                            _Price Sixpence_.

                                * * * * *



PREFACE.


BY the operation of the new Order in Council regulating Civil Service
superannuations, under which officers who have attained the age of
sixty-five have—_nolens volens_—to take their pensions, there will be, at
the end of this year 1891, quite an exodus of many who through the
survival of the strongest and fittest are still serving Her Majesty,
although they have reached the Psalmist’s allotted span of three score
years and ten.

The loss of our veterans in this manner will be accompanied by many a
pang of regret, but in the case of Mr. Moses James Nobbs, the last of the
Mail Coach Guards, who is now about to be pensioned, the regret is
softened by the circumstance that he recognises his inability to work any
longer, and finds the quiet and comfort of country life at Uxbridge, to
which place he is retiring, more suitable than Post Office occupation at
a busy London Railway Station.

Mr. Nobbs has been in the service of the Post Office fifty-five years.
He commenced life as a Mail Guard, and for years worked on Mail coaches.
When the old coach system was superseded by railway service Mr. Nobbs did
postal duty for some years as Mail Guard on the London and Exeter
Railway, and was afterwards appointed to superintend the receipt and
despatch of Mail bags at Paddington Station.  Thus he was better known to
travellers of all degrees on the Great Western line of Railway than to
his fellow-servants, with whom he was not brought much into contact,
owing to the fact that his duties confined him to the Paddington
Terminus.  In order, therefore, that this Post Office _rara avis_ might
be brought into prominence—as his early retirement was then foreseen—I
wrote of him as follows in a published report on the Post Office work in
the Christmas Season of 1889:—

    “The Christmas postal traffic on the Great Western Railway
    necessitated the running of the Night Mail train in two portions
    between London and Penzance, the first part taking the passengers,
    and the second being reserved exclusively for the Mails.  Strangely
    enough, the despatch of the Mails from Paddington Station was
    superintended by the only Mail Coach Guard now in the service, Mr.
    James Nobbs, who for over fifty years has most faithfully looked
    after Her Majesty’s Mails.  He well recollects that on Christmas Eve,
    1839, just prior to the introduction of the Penny Post, he was the
    Guard to the Mail Coach running between Cheltenham and Aberystwith.
    What a contrast!  His Christmas night’s load of Mails in 1839 did not
    exceed a hundredweight.  In 1889 he saw off from Paddington twenty
    tons of Mail matter in the day, in the most prosaic manner, with no
    blowing of musical horn, and no carrying of deadly blunderbuss, as of
    yore.  The still hale and hearty old gentleman, in the picturesque
    costume of the Mail Guard of the past, is a prominent figure at
    Paddington Station, and long may he so remain.”

Mr. F. E. Baines, C.B., Inspector-General of Mails, in his well-known
humorous style, gave in “_Blackfriars_” the following account of a coach
trip taken to Brighton by the chiefs of the Post Office Department, to
inaugurate a Parcel Post Service by road with “London-super-Mare”:—

    “Mr. Moses James Nobbs, the last (I think) surviving Mail Guard,
    began work June 27th, 1836, and still does duty as Mail Officer at
    Paddington.  He could remember a good deal in his fifty-three years
    of service.  Old memories must have revived as he went down from
    London to Brighton, two or three years ago, as Guard in charge of the
    special trip of the new Brighton Parcel Coach.  He was fully
    equipped, as of yore, for that perilous journey, a timepiece from
    Jamaica serving to complete the outfit.  We maintained (within an
    hour or two) a moderate punctuality, but the tropic sun, or a
    luncheon at Red Hill, I know not which—perhaps both—disturbed the due
    action of the watch.  ‘Thrice armed the Guard who hath his timepiece
    just.’  All the same, a blunderbuss from Exeter was handed in at the
    last moment to make our armament fourfold; and, I grieve to state,
    had, amidst the delighted and (I fear) ironical cheers of a crowded
    courtyard, to be tied on to the hind seat with official string.”

Mr. Baines considerately omitted to say that Mr. Nobbs’ attempts to blow
the horn were somewhat of a failure.  When, for the sake of Auld Lang
Syne, he was asked to act as guard to the coach, he represented that he
could not blow a horn owing to having lost several teeth.  He was,
however, persuaded to attempt it, and to practise beforehand.
Unfortunately his efforts in going down that busy London
artery—Cheapside—were futile, and the feeble sounds he managed to extract
from the horn excited the derision of all the street urchins _en route_.
Mr. Nobbs took his discomfiture in perfect good humour, and I feel sure
will not be offended at this public allusion to the amusing incident.

Another _contretemps_ on the same journey was the stoppage of the coach
at the bottom of Cheapside by the police on account of the coachman—that
well known jehu, Mr. John Manley Birch—trying to take the coach on the
wrong side of a particular post.  Sir Arthur Blackwood tried his
persuasive powers, Mr. Algernon Turnor threatened pains and penalties for
the interference with Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, but the policemen were
inexorable.  The position was getting rather ludicrous, and the immense
traffic was being considerably impeded, when, in a twinkling, our
resolute coachman saw his opportunity, and having for leaders two horses
accustomed to run in a fire-engine and quick to get a start, drove past
the astonished policemen—who were not prepared for such a dash—and away
we sped amid the plaudits of the assembled crowd.

At the Conversazione at the South Kensington Museum in 1890, in
celebration of the Jubilee of Penny Postage, Mr. Nobbs, as one of the
oldest officers in the Postal Service, had the honour of presenting to
Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh a letter signed by old
officers of the Post Office, who entered the service more than fifty
years previously.  Again, at a meeting which was held at the General Post
Office to inaugurate the City Telegraph Messengers’ Institute, Mr. Nobbs
in his brilliant scarlet coat put Postmen and Telegraph Messengers quite
into the shade.  He said at this meeting what a boon it would have been
to him if Institutes, with night classes, had been formed in the days
when he first donned Her Majesty’s uniform.  If he could then have
obtained the educational advantages now enjoyed by every Telegraph Boy
employed in the City, he would not, after a period of fifty-five years of
most faithful and zealous service have occupied at the last the
comparatively subordinate position of a Mail Guard.

In order that this good old man may not depart without some testimony
that his sterling qualities have been recognised and respected, it has
occurred to me that the publication of some incidents of his life, told
by himself, may be of interest, as the words of a man who has seen the
old order of things entirely displaced by the new, and who, by his
integrity and unflagging zeal in a long life of faithful devotion to
duty, has well exhibited—

    “The constant service of the antique world,
    When service sweat for duty, not for meed.”

In introducing his interesting narrative, I would remark that the
self-sacrificing spirit which Mr. Nobbs displayed on the trying occasions
recalled in these reminiscences has characterised the whole of his
official career.  He would have deserved well of his country if he had
done nothing more than show by his example, as he certainly has done,
that he acted up to the _bon mot_, given in his narrative, that he would
never “damage his own health by drinking other people’s.”  Certainly no
one should know so well as an old Mail Guard how many people put an enemy
in their mouths to steal away their brains; and no doubt Mr. Nobbs has
carried many a Squeers who found it necessary to alight at every stage
“to stretch his legs,” but whose breath on getting up again was redolent
of gin.  Mr. Nobbs has, however, done more than present an example of
self-control and temperance.  To use his own unaffected words, it has
always been his “greatest ambition” to do his duty faithfully, and thus
earn the confidence of his superior officers.  To this ambition he has
been consistent throughout.  He has succeeded in winning the confidence
and esteem of his official superiors, and he retires from the Service
with their heartiest good wishes.

                                                              R. C. TOMBS.

December, 1891.



SOME INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF MOSES JAMES NOBBS.


ON retiring from the Service of the Post Office after fifty-five years
spent in harness, it has been suggested to me that some account of my
experience of Post Office work in the days before the railways were
established might be of interest to many who have no knowledge of “the
good old coaching days,” except what they have acquired by hearsay or
from books.  I will, therefore, set down a few of the incidents that
stand out most clearly in my memory.  They will show, at any rate, that
life on a Mail Coach fifty years ago was not all “beer and skittles,”
though enjoyable enough at times.

I was born in Angel Street, Norwich, on the 12th May, 1817.  My father
was a coach-builder, and had at that time a contract for the construction
and repair of the Mail and other coaches running in and out of Norwich.
I was brought up to the same business until I was about nineteen, when my
entry into the Mail Service was brought about in this way.  My father was
a staunch Whig, and about the year 1835 there happened to be a General
Election.  In those times the polling at an election lasted for fourteen
days, and I can remember that I took a very keen interest in the
proceedings.  My father had seven tenants, and these were kept in reserve
until the final day of the polling, when they were the last men to vote.
Their votes carried the election.  Some little time afterwards, the
member who was elected showed his gratitude to my father by getting me an
appointment in the Post Office Service.  When I was leaving home to take
up my new duties, my father—who, no doubt, knew the temptations of the
life I was about to enter upon—gave me an excellent piece of advice,
which I never forgot, and which was of great benefit to me in after
years.  He told me “Never to injure my own health by drinking other
people’s.”

About Midsummer in 1836, then, I was sent down to act as guard to the
Mail from London to Stroud, and shortly afterwards was transferred to the
Mail running from Peterborough to Hull.  It was not very long before I
had another change, and this time I was appointed to the Portsmouth and
Bristol Mail as a regular duty.  This was a night journey, and occupied
about 12 hours—from 7.0 p.m. to 7.0 a.m.  My duty as Mail Guard was to
take charge of the Mail bags and protect them.

This winter of 1836 was the first I passed on the road, and a severe one
it was too.  There were terrible snow-storms towards Christmas time, and
many parts of the country were completely blocked.  I had one very rough
experience of what my new duties were to be like.  After leaving Bristol
one night at 7.0 p.m. all went well until we were nearing Salisbury, that
is to say, about midnight.  Snow had been falling gently for some time
before, but after leaving Salisbury it came down so thick and lay so deep
that we were brought to a standstill, and found it impossible to proceed
any further.  Consequently we had to leave the coach and go on horseback
to the next changing place, where I took a fresh horse and started for
Southampton.  There I procured a chaise and pair and continued my journey
to Portsmouth, arriving there about 6.0 p.m. the next day.  I was then
ordered to go back to Bristol.  On reaching Southampton on my return
journey I found the snow had got much deeper, and at Salisbury I found
that the London Mails had arrived, but could not proceed any further, the
snow being so very deep.  Not to be done, I took a horse out of the
stable, slung the Mail bags over his back, and pushed on for Bristol,
where I arrived next day, after much wandering through fields, up and
down lanes, and across country—all one dreary expanse of snow.  By this
time I was about ready for a rest, but there was no rest for me in
Bristol, for I was ordered by the Mail Inspector to take the Mails on to
Birmingham, as there was no other Mail Guard available.  At last I
arrived at Birmingham, having been on duty for two nights and days
continuously without taking my clothes off.  I may add that for my
exertions and perseverance in getting the Mails through I received a
letter of thanks from the Postmaster-General.

I remained on the Bristol and Portsmouth Mail for ten months, when I was
transferred to the London, Yeovil and Exeter Mail.  We had a very sad
accident with that Mail once between Whitchurch and Andover.  The coach
used to start from Piccadilly, where all the passengers and baggage were
taken up.  On this occasion the Mail was brought up to Piccadilly by me
in a cart as usual, and we were off in a few seconds.  My coachman had
been having a drinking bout with a friend that day, and when we had got a
few miles on the road I discovered that coachee was the worse for drink,
and that it was not safe for him to drive; so when we reached Hounslow I
made him get off the box seat.  After securing the Mail bags, and putting
the coachman in my seat and strapping him in, I took the ribbons.  At
Whitchurch the coachman unstrapped himself and exchanged places with me,
but we had not proceeded more than three miles when, the coach giving a
jolt over a heap of stones, he fell between the horses, and the wheels of
the coach ran over him, killing him on the spot.  The horses, having no
driver, broke into full gallop, so, as there was no front passenger, I
climbed over the roof to gather up the reins, when I found that they had
fallen among the horses’ feet and were trodden to bits.  Returning over
the roof I missed my hold and fell into the road, but fortunately with no
worse result than some bruises and a sprained ankle.  The horses kept on
until they reached Andover, where they pulled up at the usual spot.
Strange to say, no damage was done to the coach, though there was a very
steep hill to go down.  The old Exeter Mail, running from London to
Exeter, which came behind our coach, found the body of my coachman on the
road, and, a mile further on, picked me up.  Notwithstanding the
excitement I had undergone, and the bruising I had sustained, I took my
Mails on to Exeter and returned the next day for the inquest.

Accidents of one kind and another were not uncommon on the road, though
some, of course, made more impression on me than others.  I remember that
when bowling along towards Andover one very dark night I noticed
something lying at the side of the road.  The coachman pulled up, and I
found that it was a man with his head smashed to pieces.  I wrapped the
poor fellow’s remains in my shawl, and took them on to Andover, returning
from Exeter on the following day to be on the inquest.  It turned out
that the man had been riding on the shaft of a lime waggon, and falling
off—probably while asleep—the wheels had gone over his head.  On another
occasion, in a different part of the country, when my coach was nearing
Cheltenham, our leaders knocked down a man who was walking along the road
from Cheltenham Fair.  The front part of his head was crushed by the
horse’s hoofs, and the wheels of the coach went over him.

In 1838 I was transferred to the Cheltenham and Aberystwith Mail, leaving
Cheltenham at 7.0 a.m. and arriving at Aberystwith at 9.0 p.m.  I worked
this Mail for 16 years—from 1838 to 1854—and this was the most eventful
period of my career.  The road ran through a fearful country, and we had
to go over Plinlimmon Mountain, the top of which is about 2,000 feet
above the sea level.  We had many accidents and adventures with this
coach.  For example, we left Hereford one market day, the wind blowing a
hurricane.  When we reached St. Owen’s turnpike gate I saw that the gate
was closed, and blew the horn for the gatekeeper to open it.  He threw
the gate wide open, when it rebounded and struck one of the leaders,
which so frightened the team that they got completely out of hand, and
galloped down the road as fast as they could lay feet to the ground.  The
coachman was a very nervous man, and, finding he could not control the
horses or pull them up, he threw himself off the box into the road, with
the result that the back part of his head was dashed in.  The horses, now
at full gallop, ran into a donkey cart in which an old woman and her
daughter were going home from market, and doubled it up completely.  The
daughter heard the noise of the approaching coach and jumped out in time
to save herself, but the poor old woman was kicked to death before I
could cut the harness to release the leaders, which had fallen and got
mixed up with the remains of the cart.  I had the bodies of the old woman
and the coachman placed on hurdles and carried to the Infirmary.
Meanwhile the leaders had broken loose from the coach and galloped on for
about two miles.  They did further mischief by running into another cart,
but without doing any serious damage.  There is little use reproaching
the dead, but it would have been a good thing for this poor coachman and
others if he had been as good a whip and possessed of as steady nerves as
the late Mr. Selby.  If he had only stuck to his post—as every coachman
should in such circumstances—this sad accident might have been averted.

While I was on this Mail there was a dreadful flood all over the country.
I think it was in the year 1852.  The rivers were so swollen,
particularly the Severn and the Wye, that it was difficult to get along
the roads.  Leaving Gloucester at midnight on one occasion, all went on
pretty well until the coach reached Lugg Bridge, four miles from
Hereford, or rather the place where the bridge had been, for it had been
washed away in the night, and the coach, going along quickly, fell into
the rushing stream.  Horses, coach, and coachman, the guard (whose name
was Couldry) and one passenger were carried down the river about a mile
and a half.  The coachman caught hold of one of the leaders which had
broken loose, and he and the horse were carried some distance and washed
into a field, where the animal was able to regain its footing.  The other
three horses were drowned.  The guard and the passenger managed to catch
hold of a tree as they floated down stream, and were rescued after being
some hours in the water, but unfortunately the passenger died some days
after from the effects of his immersion.  On the following night I had a
very unpleasant experience of the flood.  Coming within a mile and a half
of Gloucester, we found the water had risen considerably since the
morning; so much so that the coachman would not venture to proceed unless
someone went first to see what was the depth.  I got down and walked for
about a hundred yards, with the water up to my armpits, and called to
them to come on, which they did; but unfortunately for me they did not
stop to pick me up, and there I was left for full three hours on a dark
night, in the water, surrounded by it on all sides, and afraid to move
one way or another for fear of getting out of my depth.  At last, almost
in despair, I did make an effort, and with great difficulty managed to
get to Gloucester, where I was put to bed and between warm blankets.

On another occasion on the same Mail we escaped with our lives in an
almost miraculous manner.  This happened in passing over Plinlimmon.  It
was a fearful night.  The snow had been falling for hours before we got
to the top of the mountain at Stedfa-gerrig, and after going for about a
mile downhill we found ourselves enveloped in a dense fog and snow-storm.
We completely lost our way, although we had a postboy in front as guide,
but unfortunately he missed the road and took us over a precipice about
60 feet deep.  The coachman and I, without any effort on our part,
performed the acrobatic feat of turning two complete somersaults before
we reached the bottom.  I remember distinctly that my one thought was how
I could avoid being crushed under the falling coach.  We both escaped
this, however, and, owing to the depth of the snow, were quite unhurt by
the fall, though much shaken of course.  The two inside passengers were
cut about a good deal by the glass of the windows, and two of the horses
were killed.  The next thing was to right the coach and get the living
horses loose, which was an extremely difficult thing to do, as the snow
was very deep at the bottom.  It took us two hours to get things together
again, and fortunately we discovered that there was an old Roman road
near where we were, so at last we got started, and made up a good deal of
time before we got to Cheltenham, arriving there just in time to catch
the up London Mail.  An account of this accident was given in the
_Hereford Times_ newspaper.

And yet another winter adventure on this Mail.  We had left Gloucester,
and all went on pretty well until we came to Radnor Forest, where we got
caught in such a snow-storm that it was impossible to take the coach any
further, so we left it.  I took the Mail bags, and, with the assistance
of two shepherds, made my way over the mountains.  It took us five hours
to get over to the other side to an inn at Llandewy.  There we met the up
Mail Guard Couldry, who took my guides back again.  It was not many hours
before the abandoned coach was completely covered with snow, and there it
remained buried for a week.  Well, the up guard Couldry fell down in the
snow from exhaustion, and had to be carried by the two shepherds to the
Forest Inn on the other side of the mountain.  There he remained some
days to recover himself.  I had to proceed with my bags, so I got a
chaise and pair from Penybont and another at Rhayader, but was unable to
take that very far owing to the snow.  There was nothing for it but to
press on again on foot, which I did for many miles until I came to
Llangerrig.  There I found it was hopeless to think of going over
Plinlimmon, and was informed that nothing had crossed all day, so I made
up my mind to go round by way of Llanidloes, and a night I had of it!  I
was almost tired out, and benumbed with cold, which brought on a
drowsiness I found it very hard to resist.  If I had yielded to the
feeling for an instant I should not have been telling these tales now.
When I got about eight miles from Aberystwith I found myself becoming
thoroughly exhausted, so I hired a car for the remainder of the journey,
and fell fast asleep as soon as I got into it.  On arriving at
Aberystwith I was still sound asleep, and had to be carried to bed and a
doctor sent for, who rubbed me for hours before he could get my blood
into circulation again.  I had then been exposed to that terrible weather
for fifty hours.  Next day I felt a good deal better and started back for
Gloucester, but had great difficulty in getting over the mountain.  Again
I had the honour of receiving a letter from the Postmaster-General,
complimenting me on my zeal and energy in getting the Mail over the
mountain.  Even when there was no snow, the wind on the top of Plinlimmon
was often almost more than we could contend with.  Once, indeed, it was
so strong that it blew the coach completely over against a rock, but we
soon got that right again, and always afterwards took the precaution of
opening both the doors and tying them back, so that the wind might pass
through the coach.  Altogether I had good reason to remember Plinlimmon,
and, after all I have undergone in that country in the way of floods and
snow-storms, it is little wonder if I am troubled with rheumatism now.

In 1854 the Mail Coach from Gloucester to Aberystwith ceased running, and
I was transferred to the London and Exeter Railway.  I travelled upon
that line, working the Mail Bag Apparatus and sorting and delivering the
Mail bags, until the year 1861, when I was placed at Paddington Station.
There I have been ever since, despatching and receiving Mail bags and
superintending the Parcel Post work at the station since its
commencement.  It will be seen, therefore, that I have worked for
eighteen years on Mail Coaches, seven years on the railway, and thirty
years at Paddington Station.

I have often been asked if I had any encounters with highwaymen in my
coaching days.  Many people seem to have an idea that the stoppage of
Mail Coaches by Dick Turpin and his followers was an event of frequent
occurrence.  All I can say is that in my experience of the road nothing
of the kind ever happened to my coach except once, and then I was like to
have done myself more injury than the highwaymen did.  It was in the year
1836, when I was travelling on the Bristol and Portsmouth Mail.  One
night, between Bath and Warminster, two men jumped out of the hedge; one
caught hold of the leaders, and the other the wheelers, and tried to stop
the coach.  My coachman immediately whipped up the horses and called out
to me, saying “Look out! we are going to be robbed!”  I took the
blunderbuss out of the sword case (which was a box just in front of the
guard’s seat); but, just as I did so, I saw the fellows making towards
the hedge, and then lost sight of them altogether.  To let them know that
I was prepared I fired off into the hedge.  I don’t know whether I hit
anything; I heard no cries or groans; but I do know that the recoil of
the blunderbuss nearly knocked me off my seat.  I have had many hard
knocks in my time, but that blunderbuss kicked like a mule.  No doubt it
was loaded to the muzzle, as was usual with those weapons.

                                * * * * *

Occasionally of late years I have been reminded of my old coaching days.
A few years ago the Marquess of Worcester kindly invited me to go down
with him to Brighton by coach.  On the journey I was able to tell the
Marquess that I knew the late Duke of Beaufort, who used very often to
take the reins between Gloucester and Hereford when going down to one of
his country seats in Monmouthshire.  A splendid whip he was too.  It was
quite a treat to ride behind him, and every coachman and guard was
pleased to see him, he was so affable and pleasant to all.

                                * * * * *

One of the Wards—I think it was Harry—used to drive me on the
“Quicksilver” Exeter Mail, on which I acted as guard for a short period.

I don’t know that I notice very much change in the manners and habits of
people from what they were in my younger days.  As regards my Post Office
work, however, the change has been most wonderful, and at Christmas time
the Mails despatched by me from Paddington to places on the Great Western
Line have grown to be a hundredfold of the quantity we used to carry by
coach.

                                                               M. J. NOBBS



OTHER COACHING INCIDENTS.


COACHES IN SNOW-STORMS.


THE great snow-storm of Christmas, 1836, was long remembered as one of
the most severe on record, and Mr. Nobbs’ coach was only one of many that
had to be abandoned owing to the depth of the snow-drifts.  All over
England, and in Scotland as well, most of the roads were rendered
impassable.  Some coaches, after proceeding for miles on their journey,
were forced to return; thus the Brighton Mail from London had to put back
after getting as far as Crawley, and the Dover Mail got no further than
Gravesend.  Other coaches were upset, and some were completely lost,
having been abandoned, and afterwards buried in the snow-wreaths.  Near
Chatham the snow lay to a depth of 30 or 40 feet, and on some of the
roads in the Midlands, after cuttings had been made, the snow was banked
to the height of 50 feet.  A full account of this and other memorable
snowstorms will be found in Mr. Wilson Hyde’s most interesting book, “The
Royal Mail.”

History repeats itself, and more than fifty years after that 1836 storm
we again find Mail Coaches blocked by the snow on the Brighton road.  The
severe snow-storm of the 9th and 10th of March last taxed the resources
of the Post Office in the South and West of England to the utmost.  For
several days Plymouth was virtually without any service of Mails, and one
after another came an apparently endless series of telegrams to
headquarters in London, bearing dismal tidings of trains buried in
mammoth drifts, cuttings blocked with snow, and portentous
“accumulations” of parcel receptacles at places quite unprepared to bear
so large a share of the Post Office burden.  The trials and triumphs of
that stirring time have, however, already found a capable chronicler—as
readers of the _St. Martin’s-le-Grand_ Magazine will shortly discover.
All we would refer to here is the fact that the up and down Brighton
Parcel Coaches were both blocked by snow at Handcross Hill, about four
miles from Crawley—one at the top of the hill and the other at the
bottom.  The resources of civilisation in 1891, however, afforded a means
of overcoming the difficulty which was not open to our fathers and
grand-fathers in 1836.  An experienced officer (Mr. W. Roberts) went down
from London by train and superintended the digging out of the coaches.
This done, he had both vehicles taken to Crawley, where the parcel
baskets were transferred to the railway.  In 1836 those parcels would
probably not have reached their destination under a week or ten days.



BRIDGE DISASTER TO COACH.


Mr. Nobbs’ graphic account of the Lugg Bridge accident recalls the more
calamitous one which befell the Glasgow and Carlisle coach on the 25th
October, 1801.  The circumstances were alike in both cases, but the
results of the earlier disaster were much more grave.  The bridge was one
spanning the river Evan, between Elvanfoot and Beattock; it had collapsed
under stress of a flood following a sudden thaw, and at about ten o’clock
at night the coach plunged into the rocky bed of the stream.  Two outside
passengers were killed on the spot, and the coachman sustained such
injuries that he died some days afterwards.  The inside passengers, a
lady and three gentlemen, and the guard, escaped with injuries more or
less severe.  Three of the horses were killed, and the coach was smashed
to pieces.



ROBBERY OF MAILS.


If Mr. Nobbs had been on the road some twenty or thirty years earlier he
might have acquired a larger experience of the manners and customs of
highwaymen—or perhaps we should say mail robbers,—for the picturesque
highwayman of romance is conspicuously absent from Post Office annals.
In this connexion it may be interesting to give the text of two or three
Post Office Notices issued early in the century.  This one is typical of
many others circulated about the same time:—

                                                      General Post Office,
                                        _Tuesday_, 27_th_ _October_, 1812.

About 7 o’clock on the Evening of Monday the 26th instant, the LEEDS
Mail-Coach was robbed of the Bags of Letters for London, described at
Foot, between Kettering and Higham Ferrers, and within 3 Miles of Higham
Ferrers, by forcing the Lock of the Mail Box.

                           The Bags stolen are,

Halifax of the    25th.      Chesterfield      ditto
Bradford          ditto      Mansfield         ditto
Leeds             ditto      Nottingham        26th.
Wakefield         ditto      Melton Mowbray    ditto
Huddersfield      ditto      Oakham            ditto
Barnsley          ditto      Uppingham         ditto
Sheffield         ditto      Kettering         ditto
Rotherham         ditto      Thrapstone        ditto

_Whoever shall apprehend the Person or Persons who committed the said
Robbery_, _will be entitled to a Reward of_

                           TWO HUNDRED POUNDS,

_one Moiety to be paid on Commitment for Trial_, _and the other Moiety on
Conviction_.  _If an Accomplice in the Robbery will surrender himself and
make Discovery_, _whereby one or more of the Persons concerned therein
shall be apprehended and brought to Justice_, _such Discoverer will be
entitled to the said Reward_, _and be admitted an Evidence for the
Crown_.

                                     By Command of the Postmaster-General,
                                                              F. FREELING,
                                                                Secretary.

                                * * * * *

Four months later we have a minute description of the “knight of the
road” who was supposed to have committed the robbery:—

                                                      General Post Office,
                                                   _February_ 9_th_, 1813.

                            200 POUNDS REWARD.

                                 Whereas

HUFFEY WHITE is strongly suspected to have been concerned in the Robbery
of the _Leeds Mail_, between _Kettering_ and _Higham Ferrers_, on Monday
Evening, the 26th of October last: whoever shall apprehend, or cause him
to be apprehended, will be paid a Reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS upon his
Commitment for Trial, and the further Reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS upon
his Conviction.

                                     By Command of the Postmaster-General,
                                                         FRANCIS FREELING,
                                                                Secretary.

The said HUFFEY WHITE, is a Native of _London_, by Trade a Cabinet Maker,
about 35 or 36 Years of Age, of good Appearance, 5 Feet 8 or 9 Inches
high, stoutish made, and stands very upright, has thin Legs, brown Hair,
broad or full Forehead, Pale Complexion, light grey Eyes, and little
Eyebrows, is marked with the Small-Pox in large Pits deep in the Skin,
and at some distance from each other; his Nose turns up.  He has a
Squeaking Voice, is mild in manners, and does not talk much.  He is well
known at all the _Police Offices_.

He had formerly served some Years on Board the Hulks, and returned about
10 Years since.

About four Years ago he was capitally convicted at the _Old Bailey_, and
ordered to be transported for Life, but afterwards made his Escape.

About twelve Months after this Conviction he was apprehended at
_Stockport_, and tried and convicted at _Chester Assizes_ for his Escape,
and sent back to the Hulks, but again escaped.

He afterwards robbed the _Paisley Union Bank_, and immediately proceeded
to _London_ by way of _Edinburgh_, in Post Chaises; and in two or three
Days after his arrival, was apprehended in Surrey, and tried and
convicted at _Kingston Lent Assizes_, 1811, for being at large, and was
sent to the Hulks.

From thence he again escaped, and has since been in the Counties of
_Cambridge_, _Huntingdon_, and _Northampton_, passing by the Name of
WALLIS, until the Robbery of the _Leeds Mail_ the 26th of October last.

It is not known where he has been since, except that he was at the
_Bull’s Head_, in _Bread Street_, for two or three Days immediately
afterwards, and then went to Bath.  He slept at the _Swan Inn_ in
_Birmingham_ on Sunday the 24th of January last, and proceeded the next
Day in Company with Robert Brady, otherwise called Oxford Bob, in the
_Shrewsbury_ Mail to _Wolverhampton_, where Brady was apprehended, and
White took the opportunity to quit the Coach.

                                                     _March_ 29_th_, 1813.

Huffey White _was at_ Bristol _in the last Week_, _and escaped from
thence on Saturday the_ 27_th_ _instant about Noon_, _in company with
one_ Richard Haywood.

_White was dressed in a Blue under Coat_, _with gilt Buttons_, _White
Waistcoat_, _Blue Pantaloons_, _and a Yellow Belcher Handkerchief about
his Neck_.

_Haywood was dressed in a Light Loose Great Coat_ (_had no Hat_) _and a
Yellow Belcher Handkerchief_.  _He is about_ 35 _or_ 36 _Years of Age_, 5
_Feet_ 10 _Inches high_, _Stout made_, _and is pitted with the Small
Pox_.

_Two of their Companions_, Birkett _and_ John Goodman, _were secured_,
_in whose possession there was found every apparatus for opening Locks
and forcing Doors_.

                                * * * * *

That is decidedly disappointing.  The name is very unromantic, to begin
with, and the description does not suggest a person of unusually
prepossessing appearance.  We miss, too, the gold lace and ruffles, the
cocked hat, and—most important of all—the mysterious mask with which we
were wont to adorn the dashing highwayman of our youthful fancies.  There
is no horse either.  Fancy Dick Turpin without Black Bess!  It will
strike everyone, however, that for a gentleman who presumably was not
desirous of attracting too much attention, “Huffey White’s” attire was
somewhat “loud.”

Talking of horses, we may give a notice, nine years later in date, which
shows how the Claude Duvals of the period provided themselves with
steeds.

                                                        Post Office, York,
                                   _Monday Evening_, 11_th_ _March_, 1822.

                            50 POUNDS REWARD.

                                 Whereas

The POST BOY conveying the MAIL from WHITBY to MALTON, was, about Three
o’Clock this Afternoon, stopt on the Road, about Fourteen Miles from
WHITBY, by a Man, who pulled the Rider from his Horse, and mounted it
himself, and immediately rode off across the Moor towards Lockton, with
the Mail Bags for London, York, and other Places.

_Whoever shall apprehend the Person who has committed this FELONY_, _will
be entitled to the above Reward_.  _Twenty Pounds_, _Part thereof_,
_payable on his Commitment for Trial_, _and the remaining Thirty Pounds
upon his Conviction_.

                                * * * * *

The highwayman’s lot in those days, like the policeman’s in ours, was not
altogether “a happy one.”  If caught—as he generally was in the long
run—he was granted very short shrift.  In fact there are instances
recorded in which, the robbery, capture, examination by magistrate,
trial, sentence, and execution were all comprised in the space of one
week.  There was nothing “leaden-footed” about that justice.



MAIL COACHMEN AND MAIL GUARDS.


Mr. Nobbs’ reference to the skill of the present Duke of Beaufort’s
father as a “whip,” a skill which seems to be hereditary in that family,
reminds us of the fact that the same nobleman, while Marquess of
Worcester, habitually drove the “Beaufort” coach on the Brighton Road.
The “Age” coach, on the same road, was driven by Sir Vincent Cotton, and
the Hon. Fred. Jerningham acted as coachman to the Brighton day mail.  It
would appear, therefore, that in the days when stage coaching was a
serious business, aristocratic amateurs of four-in-hand driving were as
much in evidence as they are now.  Many of them were, of course, unknown
to their passengers, and the historians of the old coaching days allege
that they were in the habit of pocketing their tips in a matter-of-course
manner which would have done credit to the oldest regular coachman on the
road.

But it was the guard who was the person of greatest importance on a Mail
Coach, and he was generally fully conscious of his own dignity, and
inclined to “stand upon” it on the slightest provocation.  It was
necessary, however, that the guards should be men of strict probity, as
they were often entrusted with commissions of great consequence, such as
the conveyance of large sums of money for bankers, &c.  Moreover, they
were principally dependent for their income upon fees received from the
public, and in some cases, it is said, those fees amounted to as much as
300_l._ a year.  It is obvious that this system was one that opened a
door to corruption and abuse had the guards been unscrupulous men.  The
payment made to them by the Post Office was but half a guinea, a week—a
sort of retaining fee—or just sufficient, with the uniform, to mark them
as servants of the Department.  Thus, when the Post Office guards began
to be employed on the railways, the Postmaster-General had to apply to
the Treasury for authority to pay them in salaries, “inasmuch as it was
clear that they would have no chance of obtaining fees.”  Some time
afterwards the Postmaster-General made a second application to the
Treasury, stating “that on certain lines of road, owing to the
competition of the railways (with the coaches), the number of passengers
by coaches was greatly reduced, and that, consequently, the guards had
lost many of their fees.”  Thereupon the Treasury granted permission to
pay the guards employed on coaches, in certain cases, at the same rate as
the Post Office guards on the railways.

The Stage Coach system was already in its decline when Mr. Nobbs took up
duty in 1836.  In 1837—the year of Her Majesty’s Accession—52 Mail Guards
were appointed; in 1840, 19; in 1843, only 1.  The total number of Mail
Guards in the United Kingdom in 1841 was 365; in 1843 it had fallen to
327.

It has been pointed out by a recent writer that the Mail Bag Apparatus
now in use on the railways had its prototype in the days of the stage
coaches, when the Mail bags were held out on the end of a stick to be
clutched by the guard as the coach hurried past.  Many of these exchanges
were, of course, made in the night, and a former officer of the Surveying
Staff in the North of Scotland vouches for the truth of the following
anecdote.  At one of the offices in Caithness—Dunbeath, he believes—the
coach used to pass very early in the morning, and the Sub-Postmaster was
in the habit of keeping the bags ready for despatch in his bedroom.  The
blowing of the horn warned him of the approach of the coach, and the
guard used to come and receive the bags out of the bedroom window.  Once,
on a dark rainy night, the guard was handed what he supposed to be the
Mail bags, and the coach proceeded some little distance on its way, when,
to his disgust, the guard discovered that instead of Mail bags he was
carrying off a portion of the Sub-Postmaster’s apparel.  The coach was
turned back, and once more, to his astonishment, the sleepy
Sub-Postmaster heard the tootle of the horn and hastened to the window to
inquire what might be the matter.  “Hey, mon!” shouted the guard, “gie’s
the bags an’ tak’ in yer breeks!”  Needless to say the incident afforded
the passengers much amusement.

In taking leave of the last of the old Mail Coach Guards we may quote
from a recent issue of the _Daily Telegraph_ the following paragraph
relative to one who was perhaps the oldest surviving stage coachman:—

    “One of the olden time has passed away in William Clements of
    Canterbury, who, before the present century had reached its twenties,
    drove the famous ‘Tally-ho’ Coach which plied between the Cathedral
    City and Gracechurch Street.  More than once he had to run the
    gauntlet of robbers and highwaymen, of whom, however, he had a
    decidedly low opinion.  Railways killed his Coach.  Clements
    reluctantly admitted the superiority of the iron horse to his own
    teams, although he never relinquished the idea that England’s
    degeneracy commenced when the ‘Tally-ho’ and other coaches were
    vanquished by ‘Puffing Billy.’  He died in his ninety-first year, and
    perhaps is entitled to be called the ‘Last of the Whips.’”

Mr. Clements was not, however, the “Last of the Whips.”  While these
sheets were passing through the press we had the pleasure of an interview
with another veteran, Mr. Harry Ward, of whom mention is made on page 35.
Mr. Ward states that he is 78 years of age, though, judging by his hale
and active appearance, one would pronounce him to be ten years younger.
He drove the London and Glasgow Mail so far back as the year 1833, at
which time he was the youngest coachman on the road.  Mr. Ward assures us
that in all his fifty years’ experience he never had an accident to his
coach.  To the remark that this must surely be a unique record, he
replied, with pardonable pride, that he was reckoned “the champion
coachman” of his time.  Such was his fame, indeed, that after the London
and Exeter Coach had twice met with serious mishaps, some of the leading
inhabitants of Devon and Cornwall sent a strongly worded memorial to the
authorities, asking that Harry Ward might be placed on the box; and he
was transferred accordingly.  Mr. Ward, whose memory is wonderfully
clear, has a distinct recollection of the great snow-storm of 1836, when
his coach was one of several that were snowed up on Salisbury Plain.  He,
too, knew the members of the Beaufort family well; indeed it was he who
taught the present scions of that house the “art and mystery” of
four-in-hand driving.  We are glad to be able to add that Mr. Ward is in
good health, and still quite capable of managing a team.

[Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                * * * * *

             EYRE AND SPOTTISWOODE, East Harding Street, E.C.





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