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Title: Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore, Volume 1 (of 2) - A picturesque history of the coaching age
Author: Harper, Charles G. (Charles George)
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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    =The Brighton Road=: Old Times and New on a Classic Highway.

    =The Portsmouth Road=, and its Tributaries: To-day and in
        Days of Old.

    =The Dover Road=: Annals of an Ancient Turnpike.

    =The Bath Road=: History, Fashion, and Frivolity on an Old

    =The Exeter Road=: The Story of the West of England Highway.

    =The Great North Road=: The Old Mail Road to Scotland. Two

    =The Norwich Road=: An East Anglian Highway.

    =The Holyhead Road=: The Mail-Coach Road to Dublin. Two Vols.

    =The Cambridge, Ely, and King’s Lynn Road=: The Great
        Fenland Highway.

    =Cycle Rides Round London.=

    =The Oxford, Gloucester, and Milford Haven Road=: Two Vols.
        [_In the Press._


                    _From a contemporary painting._



  VOL. I



  _Illustrated from Old-Time Prints
  and Pictures_



  _All rights reserved_


[Illustration: PREFACE]

_“Hang up my old whip over the fireplace,” said Harry Littler, of the
Southampton “Telegraph,” when the London and Southampton Railway was
opened, in 1833,--“I shan’t want it never no more”: and he fell ill,
turned his face to the wall, and died._

_The end of the coaching age was a tragedy for the coachmen; and even
to many others, whose careers and livelihood were not bound up with the
old order of things, it was a bitter uprooting of established customs.
Many travellers were never reconciled to railways, and in imagination
dwelt fondly in the old days of the road for the rest of their lives;
while many more never ceased to recount stories of the peculiar
glory and exhilaration of old-time travel, forgetting the miseries
and inconveniences that formed part of it. But although reminiscent
oldsters have talked much about those vanished times, they have rarely
attempted a consecutive story of them. Such an attempt is that essayed
in these pages, confined within the compass of two volumes, not because
material for a third was lacking, but simply for sake of expediency.
It is shown in the body of this book, and may be noted again in this
place, that the task of writing anything in the nature of a History of
Coaching is rendered exceeding difficult by reason of the disappearance
of most of the documentary evidence on which it should be based; but I
have been fortunate enough to secure the aid of Mr. Joseph Baxendale
in respect of the history of Pickford & Co., of Mr. William Chaplin,
grandson of the great coach-proprietor, and of Mr. Benjamin Worthy
Horne, grandson of Chaplin’s partner, for information concerning
their respective families. Colonel Edmund Palmer, also, communicated
interesting notes on his grandfather, John Palmer, the founder of
the mail-coach system. To my courteous friend, Mr. W. H. Duignan, of
Walsall, whose own recollections of coaching, and whose collections of
coaching prints and notes I have largely used, this acknowledgment is
due. Mr. J. B. Muir, of 35, Wardour Street, my obliging friend of years
past, has granted extensive use of his collection of sporting pictures,
and Messrs. Arthur Ackermann & Son, of 191, Regent Street, have lent
prints and pictures from their establishment._

            CHARLES G. HARPER.

    _April 1903_.


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
     I. THE INTRODUCTION OF CARRIAGES                                  1

    II. THE HORSEMEN                                                  14

   III. DAWN OF THE COACHING AGE                                      57


          TRAVELLED                                                  103

    VI. THE EARLY MAIL-COACHES                                       146

   VII. THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: 1800–1824                            181

  VIII. COACH LEGISLATION                                            194

    IX. THE EARLY COACHMEN                                           221

     X. THE LATER COACHMEN                                           231

    XI. MAIL-GUARDS                                                  249

   XII. STAGE-COACH GUARDS                                           272

  XIII. HOW THE COACHES WERE NAMED                                   282

   XIV. GOING BY COACH: BOOKING OFFICES                              320

          THE ROAD                                                   333



        contemporary Painting_)                     _Frontispiece_

   2. THE STAGE-COACH, 1783. (_After Rowlandson_)                     83

   3. THE WAGGON, 1816. (_After Rowlandson_)                         115

   4. THE STAGE-WAGGON, 1820. (_After J. L. Agasse_)                 121

   5. THE ROAD-WAGGON: A TRYING CLIMB. (_After J. Pollard_)          131

   6. THE STAGE-WAGGON, 1816. (_By Rowlandson_)                      137

        George Best_)                                                141

   8. JOHN PALMER AT THE AGE OF 17. (_Attributed to Gainsborough,
        R.A._)                                                       149

   9. JOHN PALMER. (_From the Painting by Gainsborough, R.A._)       153

  10. THE MAIL-COACH, 1803. (_From the Engraving after George
        Robertson_)                                                  169

  11. JOHN PALMER IN HIS 75TH YEAR. (_From an Etching by the
        Hon. Martha Jervis_)                                         175

        (_After Rowlandson_, 1809)                                   183

  13. THE SHEFFIELD COACH, ABOUT 1827. (_From a contemporary
        Painting_)                                                   187

        (_From a contemporary Painting_)                             191

        (_After Rowlandson_)                                         223

        Alken_)                                                      233

  17. IN TIME FOR THE COACH. (_After C. Cooper Henderson,
        1848_)                                                       243

  18. STUCK FAST. (_After C. Cooper Henderson, 1834_)                267

        J. Pollard_)                                                 297

  20. THE EXETER MAIL, 1809. (_After J. A. Atkinson_)                301

  21. THE BRIGHTON “COMET,” 1836. (_After J. Pollard_)               307


  23. A COACH-BREAKFAST. (_After J. Pollard_)                        349


  Vignette                                          (_Title-page_)

  Preface                                                            vii

  List of Illustrations                                               xi

  Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore                                 1

  Arms of the Worshipful Company of Coach and Harness Makers          12

  Epigram Scratched with a Diamond-ring on a Window-pane by Dean
        Swift                                                         46

  Old Coaching Bill, Preserved at the “Black Swan,” York              75

  Old Birmingham Coaching Bill                                        81

  Coaching Advertisement from the _Edinburgh Courant_, 1754           89

  One of Three Mail-coach Halfpennies struck at Bath, 1797           173

  Moses James Nobbs, the Last of the Mail-guards                     265




    “Ah! sure it was a coat of steel,
      Or good tough oak, he wore,
    Who first unto the ticklish wheel
      ’Gan harness horses four.”

The lines quoted above are not remarkably good as poetry. Nay, it is
possible to go farther, and to say that they are exceptionally bad--the
product of one of those corn-box poets who were accustomed to speak of
steam as a “demon foul”; but if his lines are bad verse, the central
idea is good. That man who first essayed to drive four-in-hand must
indeed have been more than usually courageous.

To form anything at all like an adequate idea of the Coaching Age,
it is first necessary to discover how people travelled before that
age dawned. As a picture is made by contrasted light and shade, so is
the story of the coaching period only to be properly set forth by
first narrating how journeys were made from place to place before the
continuous history of wheeled traffic begins. That history, measured
by mere count of years, is not a long one. It cannot, in its remotest
origin, go back beyond the first appearance of the stage-waggon,
about 1590, when the peasantry of this kingdom began to obtain an
occasional lift on the roads, and sat among the goods which it was
the first business of those waggons to carry. The peasant, then, was
the first coach-passenger, for while he was carried thus, everyone
else, in all the estates of the realm, from King and Queen down to
the middle classes, rode horseback, and it was not until 1657 and the
establishment of the Chester Stage that the Coaching Age opened for the
public in general.

If, then, we please to pronounce for that event as the true beginning,
and allow 1848, the year when one of the last coaches, the Bedford
“Times,” was withdrawn from the London and Bedford road in consequence
of the opening of the Bletchley and Bedford branch railway, to be
the end, we have the beginning, the growth and perfection of the old
coaching era, and its final extinction, all comprised within a period
of a hundred and ninety-one years.

Wheeled conveyances are generally said by the usual books of reference
to take their origin in this country with the introduction of Queen
Mary’s Coronation carriage in 1553; but, so far from that being
correct, mention of carriages is often found in authorities of a
period earlier by almost two centuries. Thus, in her will of September
25th, 1355, Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady Clare, bequeathed her “great
carriage, with the covertures, carpets, and cushions,” to her eldest
daughter; and carriage-builders at the close of Edward III.’s reign
charged £100 and £1000 for their wares. Carts were not unknown to the
peasantry; Froissart tells us that the English returned from Scotland
in 1360 in “charettes,” a kind of carriage whose make he does not
specify; and ladies are discovered in 1380 travelling with the baggage
in “whirlicotes,” which were cots or beds on wheels, or a species of
wheeled litter. We have, by favour of one of the old chroniclers, a
fugitive picture of Richard II., at the age of seventeen, travelling in
one of these whirlicotes, accompanying his mother, who was ill.

But such instances do not prove more than occasional use, and it
certainly appears that when Queen Mary rode from the Tower of London
to Westminster on her Coronation Day, September 20th, 1553, in her
State coach, she thereby revived the use of carriages, which, for some
reason or another, had fallen into disuse since those early days. Her
coachmaker, by a grant made on May 29th in the first year of her reign,
was one Anthony Silver.

We may seek the cause of wheeled conveyances going out of use in the
two centuries before this date in the steady and continuous decay of
the roads consequent upon the troubled state of the kingdom in that
intervening space. Rebellions, pestilences, foreign wars, and domestic
strife had marked that epoch. The Wars of the Roses themselves lasted
thirty years, and in all that while the social condition of the people
had not merely stood still, but degenerated. Towns and districts were
half depopulated, and the ancient highways fell into disuse. It is
significant that the first General Highway Act, a measure passed in
1555, was practically coincident with the reintroduction of carriages.

Queen Mary’s Coronation carriage--or, as it was called in the language
of that time, “coach”--was drawn by six horses, less for reasons of
display than of sheer necessity, for, with a less numerous and powerful
team, it would probably have been stuck fast in the infamously bad
roads that then set a gulf of mud between the twin cities of London
in the east and Westminster in the west. Only three other carriages
followed her Majesty on that historic occasion, and the ladies who
attended rode horseback.

Two years after this new departure mention is found of a
“coach”--still, of course, a carriage--made for the Earl of Rutland by
one Walter Rippon, who in the same year appears to have built a new one
for the Queen.

The next patron of carriages seems to have been Sir Thomas Hoby,
sometime Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to the French Court:
that Sir Thomas who lies beside his brother, Sir Philip, in their
magnificent tomb in the little Berkshire village church of Bisham,
beside the Thames. He owned a carriage in 1566.

The progressive age of Elizabeth now opens. In 1564, six years after
her accession, she was using a carriage brought over from Holland
by a certain William Boonen, himself a Hollander. Boonen, indeed,
became her Majesty’s coachman, but his services cannot often have
been required, for, if we are to believe Elizabeth’s own words to the
French Ambassador in 1568, driving in these early carriages, innocent
of springs, must have been as uncomfortable as a journey in a modern
builder’s cart or an ammunition-waggon would be. When his Excellency
waited upon her, she was still suffering “aching pains, from being
knocked about in a coach driven too fast a few days before.”

Little wonder, then, that the great Queen used her coach only when
occasions of State demanded. She journeyed to her palace at Greenwich
by water, between Greenwich and her other palace of Eltham on
horseback, and to Nonsuch and Hampton Court and on her many country
progresses in like manner, resorting only to wheels with advancing
years. How bad were even the roads especially repaired for her coming
may be judged from a contemporary description of her journey along that
“new highway” whose “perfect evenness” is the theme of the writer. “Her
Majesty left the coach only once, while the hinds and the folk of a
base sort lifted it on with their poles.” Majesty must have been sore
put to it to look majestic on such occasions, and in the bad condition
of all roads at that time we find a new significance in the courtliness
of Sir Walter Raleigh, who at Greenwich threw his velvet cloak upon the
ground for Elizabeth to walk over.

Elizabeth was an accomplished horsewoman, and it is not surprising,
under these circumstances, that she made full use of the
accomplishment, continuing on all possible public occasions to appear
in this manner. On longer journeys she rode on a pillion behind a
mounted chamberlain, holding on to him by his waistbelt just as
ladies continued to do for centuries yet to come. The curious in
these things may find interest in the fact that the modern groom’s
leathern waistbelt, which now serves no practical function, is merely
a strange survival of that old necessity of feminine travel. The
commonly-received opinion that Elizabeth objected to carriages from
the supposed “effeminacy” of using them receives a severe shock from
her carriage experiences, which make it quite obvious that travelling
in the earliest of them was only to be indulged in by persons of the
strongest frame and in the rudest health. She who mounted on her
palfrey before her troops at Tilbury, when the Armada threatened, could
justly claim that though but a woman she had the spirit of a King--aye,
and a King of England--quailed before the rigours of a carriage-drive.

In 1579 the Earl of Arundel imported one of these new and strange
machines from Germany. How novel and strange they were may be gathered
from the particular mention thus accorded them in the annals of the
time. When we consider how bad was the condition even of the streets
of London, it will be abundantly evident that a desire for display
rather than comfort brought about the increasing use of carriages
that marked the closing years of Elizabeth’s reign. By 1601 they had
become so comparatively numerous that it was sought to obtain an Act
restraining their excessive use and forbidding men riding in them.
This projected ordinance especially set forth the enervating nature
of riding in carriages; but it would seem that the real objection was
the growing magnificence displayed in this way by the wealthy, tending
to overshadow the public appearances of Royalty itself. Whatever the
real reason of this disabling measure, it was rejected on the second
reading and never became law, and four years later both hackney and
private carriages were in common use in London. Carters and waggoners
hated them with a bitter hatred, called them “hell-carts,” and heaped
abuse upon all who used them. Both their primitive construction and
the fearful condition of the roads rendered their use impossible in
the country. Teams of fewer than six horses were rarely seen drawing
coaches in what were then regarded as London suburbs, districts long
since included in Central London; and perhaps even the haughty and
arrogant Duke of Buckingham, favourite of James I. and Charles, was
misjudged when, in 1619, the people, seeing his carriage drawn by
that number, “wondered at it as a novelty, and imputed it to him as a
mastering pride.” Had he employed fewer horses he certainly would have
been obliged to get out and walk, or to have again resorted to the use
of the sedan-chair, in which, before he had set up a carriage, he was
used to be carried, greatly to the indignation of the populace, to whom
sedan-chairs were at that time novelties. “The clamour and the noise of
it was so extravagant,” we are told, “that the people would rail upon
him in the streets, loathing that men should be brought to as servile a
condition as horses.” Yet no one ever thought of denouncing Buckingham
or any other of the magnificos when they lolled in easy seats under
the silken hangings of their state barges and were rowed by the labour
of a dozen lusty oarsmen on the Thames. The work was as servile as the
actual carrying of a passenger, but the innate conservatism of mankind
could not at first perceive this. On the whole, Buckingham therefore
has our sympathy. The most innocent doings of a favourite with Royalty
are capable of being twisted into haughty and malignant acts, and had
it not been for Buckingham’s position at Court his displays would not
have brought him the hatred of the people and the rivalry of his own
order which they certainly did arouse. The Earl of Northumberland was
one of those who were thus goaded into the rivalry of display. Hearing
that the favourite had six horses to his carriage, he thought that he
might very well have eight, “and so rode,” we are told, “from London to
Bath, to the vulgar talk and admiration.”

The first public carriages, according to a statement made to
Taylor, the “water poet,” by Old Parr, the centenarian, were the
“hackney-coaches,” established in London in 1605. “Since then,” says
Taylor, writing on the subject at different times between 1623 and
1635, “coaches have increased with a mischief, and have ruined the
trade of the watermen by hackney-coaches, and now multiply more than
ever.” The “watermen” were, of course, those who plied with their
boats and barges for hire upon the Thames, chiefly between London and
Westminster, the river being then, and for long after, the principal
highway for traffic in the metropolis. So greatly, indeed, was the
river traffic for the time affected, that the sprack-witted Taylor
relinquished his trade of waterman and embarked upon the more promising
career of pamphleteering.

“Thirty years ago,” he says, in one of these outbursts, “The World
runnes on Wheeles,” “coaches were few”:--

    Then upstart helcart coaches were to seeke,
    A man could scarce see twenty in a weeke,
    But now I thinke a man may daily see
    More than the whirries on the Thames can be.
    Carroches, coaches, jades and Flanders mares
    Doe rob us of our shares, our wares, our fares;
    Against the ground we stand and knock our heeles,
    Whilest all our profit runs away on wheeles.

“This,” we find him saying, on another occasion, “is the rattling,
rowling, rumbling age, and the world runnes on wheeles. The
hackney-men, who were wont to have furnished travellers in all places
with fitting and serviceable horses for any journey, are (by the
multitude of coaches) undone by the dozens.”

The bitter cry of Taylor and the Thames watermen may or may not have
been hearkened to, but certainly hackney-coaches were prohibited in
1635. This, however, was probably due rather to Royal whim or prejudice
than to any consideration for a decaying trade.

It was an arbitrary age, and it only needed a Star Chamber order for
public carriages, considered by the Court to be a nuisance, to be
suppressed. The reasons advanced read curiously at this time: “His
Majesty, perceiving that of late the great numbers of hackney-coaches
were grown a great disturbance to the King, Queen, and nobility
through the streets of the said city, so as the common passage was
made dangerous and the rates and prices of hay and provender and other
provisions of the stable thereby made exceeding dear, hath thought
fit, with the advice of his Privy Council, to publish his Royal
pleasure, for reformation therein.” His Majesty therefore commanded
that no hackney-coaches should be used in London unless they were
engaged to travel at least three miles out of town, and owners of such
coaches were to keep sufficient able horses and geldings, fit for his
Majesty’s service, “whensoever his occasion shall require them.”

This despotic measure was amended in 1637, when fifty hackney-coachmen
for London were licensed, to keep not more than twelve horses each.
This meant either that three hundred or a hundred and fifty public
carriages then came into use, according to whether two or four horses
were harnessed. “And so,” says Taylor, “there grew up the trade of
coach-building in England.”

These early carriages, whether hackney or private, were not only
without springs, but were innocent of windows. In their place were
shutters or leather curtains. The first “glass coach” mentioned is
that made for the Duke of York in 1661. Pepys at this period becomes
our principal authority on this subject. On May 1st, 1665, he is found
witnessing experiments with newly-designed carriages with springs, and
again on September 5th, finding them go not quite so easy as their
inventor claimed for them. Yet, since private carriages were clearly
becoming the fashion, Mr. Secretary-to-the-Admiralty Pepys must needs
have one; and accordingly, on December 2nd, 1668, he takes his first
ride: “Abroad with my wife, the first time that I ever rode in my own


Pepys always delighted in being in the fashion. He would not be in
advance of it, and not, if he could help it, behind. The fact, then,
of his setting up a carriage of his own is sufficient to show how
largely the moneyed classes had begun to go about on wheels. But
better evidence still is found in the establishment, May 1677, of the
Worshipful Company of Coach and Harness Makers, whose arms still bear
representations of the carriages in use at that period. The armorial
bearings of the Coach-makers are, when duly tricked out in their proper
colours, somewhat striking. Stated in plain terms, done into English
out of heraldic jargon, they consist of a blue shield of arms with
three coaches and a chevron in gold, supported on either side by a
golden horse, harnessed and saddled in black studded with gold; with
blue housings garnished with red, and fringed and purfled in gold.
The horses are further adorned with plumes of four feathers in gold,
silver, red, and blue. A crest above displays Phœbus driving his
chariot, and the motto beneath declares that “After clouds rises the

The hackney-carriages of London in 1669, the year following Pepys’
establishment of his own private turn-out, numbered, according to the
memoirs of Cosmo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who travelled England at that
time, eight hundred. The age of public vehicles was come.



“The single gentlemen, then a hardy race, equipped in jack-boots and
trousers up to their middle, rode post through thick and thin, and,
guarded against the mire, defying the frequent stumble and fall, arose
and pursued their journey with alacrity.”--_Pennant_, 1739.

Long before wheeled conveyances of any kind were to be hired in this
country, travellers were accustomed to ride post. To do so argued no
connection with that great department we now call the Post Office,
although that letter-carrying agency and the custom of riding post
obtain their name from a common origin. The earliest provision for
travelling post seems to have been in the reign of Henry VIII., when
the office of “Master of the Postes” was established. Sir Brian Tuke
then held that appointment, and to him were entrusted the arrangements
for securing relays of horses on the four great post roads then
recognised: the road from London to Dover, on which the carriers came
from and went to foreign parts; the road to Plymouth, where the King’s
dockyard was situated; and the great roads to Scotland and Chester,
and on to Conway and Holyhead. These relays of horses were established
exclusively for use of the despatch-riders who went on affairs of
State; but by the time of Elizabeth these messengers were, as a
favour, already accustomed to carry any letters that might be given
into their charge and could be delivered without going out of their
way; while travellers constantly called at the country post-houses,
and on pretence of going on the Queen’s business, obtained the use of
horses, which they rode to exhaustion, or overloaded, or even rode away
with altogether.

These abuses were promptly suppressed when James I. came to the English
throne. In 1603, the year of his accession, a proclamation was issued
under which no person claiming to be on Government business was to be
supplied with horses by the postmasters unless his application was
supported by a document signed by one of the officers of State. The
hire of horses for public business was fixed at twopence-halfpenny a
mile, and in addition there was a small charge for the guide. A very
arbitrary order was made that if the post-houses had not sufficient
horses, the constables and the magistrates were to seize those of
private owners and impress them into the service. Post-masters, who
were salaried officials, were paid at the very meagre rate of from
sixpence to three shillings a day. They were generally innkeepers on
the main roads; otherwise it is difficult to see how they could have
existed on these rates of pay. Evidently these were considered merely
as retaining fees, and so, in order to give them a chance of earning
a more living wage, they were permitted to let out horses to “others
riding poste with horse and guide about their private business.” Those
private and unofficial travellers could not demand to be supplied
with horses at the official rate: what they were to pay was to be a
matter between the post-masters and themselves. In practice, however,
the tariff for Government riders ruled that for all horsemen, as made
clear in Fynes Morison’s _Itinerary_, 1617, where he says that in
the south and west of England and on the Great North Road as far as
Berwick, post-horses were established at every ten miles or so at a
charge of twopence-halfpenny a mile. It was necessary to have a guide
to each stage, and it was customary to charge for baiting both the
guide’s and the traveller’s horses, and to give the guide himself a
few pence--usually a four-penny-piece, called “the guide’s groat”--on
parting. It was cheaper and safer for several travellers to go
together, for one guide would serve the whole company on each stage,
and it was not prudent to travel alone. Morison says that, although
hiring came expensive in one way, yet the speed it was possible to
maintain saved time and consequent charges at the inns. The chief
requisite, however, was strength of body and ability to endure the

As to that, the horsemen of the period were, equally with those of
over a hundred years later, mentioned by Pennant, “a hardy race.” In
March, 1603, for example, Robert Cary, afterwards Earl of Monmouth,
eager to be first in acclaiming James VI. of Scotland as James I. of
England, left London so soon as the last breath had left the body of
Queen Elizabeth, and rode the 401 miles to Edinburgh in three days. He
reached Doncaster, 158 miles, the first night, Widdrington, 137 miles,
the second, and gained Edinburgh, 106 miles, the third day, in spite of
a severe fall by the way. About the same time a person named Coles rode
from London to Shrewsbury in fourteen hours.

When Thomas Witherings was appointed Master of the Post, in 1635, the
Post Office, as an institution for carrying the correspondence of the
public, may be said to have started business, although as early as
1603 private persons were forbidden to make the carrying of letters a
business. Like all such ordinances, this seemed made only to be broken
every day. It was particularly unreasonable because, before Witherings
came upon the scene in 1635 and reorganised the posts, there existed no
means by which letters could be sent generally into the country. Only
the post-riders on business of State on the four great roads were in
the habit of taking letters, and their doing so was a matter of private

The postmasters now, on the appointment of Witherings, first officially
made acquaintance with letters, and their name began to take on
something of its modern meaning. They still supplied horses to the
King’s messengers and the King’s liege subjects, and held a monopoly in
these businesses.

In 1657 the so-called “Post Office of England” was established by
Act of Parliament, and the office of Postmaster-General created, in
succession to that of Master of the Posts. His business was defined
as “the exclusive right of carrying letters and the furnishing of
post-horses,” and these two functions--the overlordship of what were
officially known for generations afterwards as the “letter post” and
the “travelling post”--the long line of Postmasters-General continued
to exercise for a hundred and twenty-three years.

In 1658 the mileage the country postmasters were entitled to charge
was, according to an advertisement of July 1st in that year, increased
from twopence-halfpenny to threepence, and on the Chester Road, at
least, there was no longer any obligation to take a guide:--

“The postmasters on the Chester Road, petitioning, have received order,
and do accordingly publish the following advertisement: All gentlemen,
merchants, and others who have occasion to travel between London and
West Chester, Manchester, and Warrington, or any other town upon that
road, for the accommodation of trade, dispatch of business, and ease
of purse, upon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, between six
and ten of the clock, at the house of Mr. Christopher Charteris, at the
sign of the Hart’s Horns, in West Smithfield, and postmaster there,
and at the postmaster of Chester, and at the postmaster of Warrington,
may have a good and able horse or mare, furnished at threepence the
mile, without the charge of a guide; and so likewise at the house of
Mr. Thomas Challoner, postmaster at Stone in Staffordshire, upon every
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, to go to London; and so
likewise at all the several postmasters upon the road, who will have
such set days, so many horses, with furniture, in readiness to furnish
the riders, without any stay, to carry them to and from any of the
places aforesaid in four days, as well to London as from thence, and to
places nearer in less time, according as their occasions shall require,
they engaging, at the first stage where they take horse, for the safe
delivery of the same to the next immediate stage, and not to ride that
horse any farther without consent of the postmaster, by whom he rides,
and so from stage to stage to their journey’s end. All those who intend
to ride this way are desired to give a little notice beforehand, if
conveniently they can, to the several postmasters where they first take
horse, whereby they may be furnished with as many horses as the riders
shall require, with expedition. This undertaking began the 28th of June
1658, at all the places aforesaid, and so continues by the several

The Chester Road--the road to Ireland--was of great moment at that
age. Indeed, it had been of importance for centuries past. It was in
a lonely hollow near Flint, on his landing from Ireland, that Richard
II. was waylaid in 1399 by Henry Bolingbroke, and his progress to
London barred; and from Chester as well as from Milford Haven English
expeditions were wont to sail--some carrying fire and sword across St.
George’s Channel, and later ones taking English colonists to occupy and
cultivate the lands from which the shiftless Irish had been driven.
But it was not until the close of Elizabeth’s reign, when Ireland was
subjugated, that this road began to be constantly travelled.

Under James I. the Irish chieftains came to these shores to swear
fealty, and in the wild and whirling series of events that filled the
years from 1641 to 1692 with horror, a continual flux and reflux of
military travellers and trembling refugees came and went along these
storied miles.

Already, in the year before the announcement of post-horses on the
Chester Road, the first stage-coach of which we have any particulars
had been established on this very route. It did not continue to
Holyhead, for the individually sufficient reasons that no practicable
road to that port existed for anything going on wheels, and that
Chester itself, and Parkgate, a few miles down the estuary of the Dee,
were the most convenient ports of embarkation for Ireland. No direct
road to Holyhead existed until 1783, when coaches began to run to
that port. Before that time, those who wished to cross from Holyhead
generally rode horseback. Few ventured across country by Llangollen
and Bettws-y-Coed; most, like Swift, leaving civilisation behind at
Chester, took horse and guide, and going by Rhuddlan and Conway, dared
the precipitous heights of that great headland called Penmaenmawr,
or, even more greatly daring, crept round by the rocks underneath at
ebb tide. Swift wrote two couplets for the inn that then stood beside
the track on Penmaenmawr. As the traveller approached he read, on the
swinging sign:--

    Before you venture here to pass,
    Take a good refreshing glass;

while the returning wayfarer was cheered by:--

    Now this hill you’re safely over,
    Drink, your spirits to recover.

One personage, greatly daring, did in 1685 succeed in passing his
carriage over this height. This was the Viceroy, Henry, Earl of
Clarendon, who, ill enough advised to try for Holyhead, embarked his
baggage at Chester, and essayed this perilous undertaking. “If the
weather be good,” he wrote, before setting out, “we go under the rocks
in our coaches.” But it was December, the weather was _not_ good, and
so they had to take to the hill-top. His Excellency had ample cause
to regret the venture, for he was five hours travelling the fourteen
miles between St. Asaph and Conway, and on the crossing of Penmaenmawr
the “great heavy coach” had to be drawn by the horses in single trace,
while three or four sturdy Welsh peasants, hired for the job, pushed
behind, so that it should not slip back. His Excellency walked all the
way across, from Conway to Bangor, and Lady Clarendon was carried in a
litter. How the Menai Straits were crossed does not appear, but there
is evidence in the tone of his letters that he was astonished at last
to find himself safely come to Holyhead.

In 1660, on the Restoration, the law of 1657, constituting the Post
Office and regulating the letting of post-horses, was re-enacted. By
some new provisions and amendments of old ones, travellers might now
hire horses wherever they could if the postmasters could not supply
them within half an hour. This concession, together with that which
repealed the power given by the earlier Act for horses to be seized,
was evidently made in deference to the indignation of travellers
delayed by lack of horses in the hands of the only persons who could
legally hire them out, and by the fury of private individuals who had
seen their own choice animals not infrequently requisitioned in the
King’s name and hack-ridden unconscionable distances by travellers or
King’s messengers whose first and last thoughts were for speed, and who
had not the consideration of an owner for the steeds that carried them.
The term “postage,” occurring in the Act of 1660, shows that a widely
different meaning was then attached to the word: “Each horse’s hire or
postage” is a phrase that sufficiently explains itself.

Such were the methods and costs of riding horseback when stage-coaching
began. The Government monopoly, however, was infringed with increasing
impunity as time went on, and as the letter-carrying business of the
Post Office developed, so was the “travelling post” allowed to decay.
The growing number and increasing convenience of the coaches, too,
helped to make the monopoly less valuable, for when travellers could
be conveyed without exertion by coach at from twopence to threepence a
mile, they were not likely to pay threepence a mile and a guide’s groat
at every ten miles for the privilege of bumping in the saddle all day
long. Those who mostly continued in the saddle were the gentlemen who
owned horses of their own, or those others to whom the chance company
of a coach was objectionable.

The Post Office monopoly in post-horses was, accordingly, not worth
preserving when it was abolished by the Act of 1780. From that time
the Postmasters-General ceased to have anything to do with horse-hire,
and anything lost by their relinquishing it was amply returned to
the State by the new license duties levied upon horse-keepers or
postmasters, and coaches. A penny a mile was fixed as the Government
duty upon horses let out for hire, whether saddle-horses or to be used
in post-chaises. All persons who made that a business--generally, of
course, innkeepers--were to take out an annual five-shilling license,
and were under obligation to paint in some conspicuous place on their
houses “Licensed to let Post-Horses.” In default of so doing the
penalty was £5. As a check upon the business done, travellers hiring
post-horses were to be given a ticket, on which the number of horses so
hired, and the distance, were to be specified. These tickets were to be
delivered to the turnpike-keeper at the first gate, and the vigilance
of these officials was made a matter of self-interest by the allowance
to them of threepence in the pound on all tickets thus collected. At
certain periods the tickets were delivered to the Stamp Office, and the
innkeepers and postmasters themselves were visited by revenue officers,
who required to see the books and the counterfoils from which these
tickets had come.

But the Government did not for any length of time directly collect
these duties. They were farmed out by the Inland Revenue Department,
just as the turnpike tolls were farmed by the Turnpike Trustees, and
men grew rich by buying these tolls and duties at annual auctions,
relying for their profit on the increased vigilance they would cause to
be exercised. The Jews were early in this field. In the golden era of
coaching a man named Levy farmed tolls and duties to the annual value
of half a million sterling.

But to return to our horsemen. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries the country gentlemen, the members of Parliament, the judges
on circuit, every hale and able-bodied man of means sufficient, rode
his horse, or hired one on his journeys, for the reason that carriages
could only slowly and with great difficulty and expense be made to move
along the distant roads. The passage from Pennant’s recollections,
quoted at the head of this chapter, shows the miseries made light of
by the single gentlemen, and endured by those married ones whose wives
rode behind them on a pillion and clutched them convulsively round the
waist as the horse stumbled along.

Nor did stage-coaches immediately change this time-honoured way of
getting about the country, for there existed an aristocratic prejudice
against using public vehicles. Offensive persons who never owned
carriages of their own were used to give themselves insufferable airs
when journeying by coach, and hint, for the admiration or envy of their
fellow-passengers, that an accident had happened to their own private
equipage. Satirists of the time soon seized upon this contemptible
resort of the snob, and used it to advantage in contemporary
literature. Thus we find the committeeman’s wife in Sir Robert Howard’s
comedy explaining her presence in the Reading coach to be owing to her
own carriage being disordered, adding that if her husband knew she had
been obliged to ride in the stage he would “make the house too hot to
hold some.”

Here and there we find exceptions to this general rule. In the coach
passing through Preston in 1662, one Parker was fellow-traveller with
“persons of great qualitie, such as knightes and ladyes”; and on one
occasion in 1682 the winter coach on its four days’ journey between
Nottingham and London had for passenger Sir Ralph Knight, of Langold,
Yorks; but the single gentlemen in good health continued for years
after the introduction of stage-coaches to go on horseback, and when
their families came to town they usually took the family chariot, and
either contracted with stable-keepers for horses on the way, or else,
taking their most powerful horses from the plough, harnessed four or
six of them to their private vehicle, and so, with the driving of their
best ploughman, came to the capital in state, much to the amusement of
the fashionables of Piccadilly and St. James’s.

We must, however, suppose, from the fury of Cresset’s _Reasons for
Suppressing Stage Coaches_, of 1662, that some of the less energetic
among the country gentlemen had already succumbed to the discreditable
practice of travelling in them. In his pages we learn something of
what a horseman’s life on the road was like, and what he escaped
by taking to the coach. The hardy race became soft and grievously
enervated by the unwonted luxury; their muscles slackened, and they
developed an infirmity of purpose that rendered them no longer able
to “endure frost, snow, or rain, or to lodge in the fields”--trifling
inconveniences and incidents of travel which, it appears, they had
previously been accustomed to support with that cheerfulness or
resignation with which one faces the inevitable and incurable.

But Cresset had other indictments, throwing a flood of light upon
what the horseman endured in wear and tear of body, mind, and wearing
apparel: “Most gentlemen, before they travelled in coaches, used to
ride with swords, belts, pistols, holsters, portmanteaus and hat-cases,
which in these coaches they have little or no use for; for, when they
rode on horseback, they rode in one suit and carried another to wear
when they came to their journey’s end, or lay by the way; but in
coaches a silk hat and an Indian gown, with a sash, silk stockings, and
beaver hats, men ride in, and carry no other with them, because they
escape the wet and dirt, which on horseback they cannot avoid; whereas,
in two or three journeys on horseback these clothes and hats were wont
to be spoiled; which done, they were forced to have new ones very
often, and that increased the consumption of the manufactures and the
employment of the manufacturers; which travelling in coaches doth in no
way do.”

Fortunately, the biographical literature of our country is rich in
records of the horsemen who, still relying upon their own exertions and
those of their willing steeds, rode long distances and left the toiling
stage leagues behind them at the close of each day’s journey. Ralph
Thoresby, of Leeds, a pious and God-fearing antiquary who flourished
at this time, gives us, on the other hand, the spectacle of one who
generally rode horseback trying the coach by way of a change. He had
occasion to visit London in February 1683, and as there was at that
time no coach service between Leeds and London, he rode from Leeds to
York to catch the stage, which seems to have kept the road in this
particular winter. He rose at five one Saturday morning, and was at
York by night, ready for the coach leaving for London on the Monday.
Four years earlier he had scorned the coach, and did not now take it
for sake of speed, for he commonly rode from Leeds to London in four
days, and the York stage at this period of its career took six; so,
including the two days expended in coming to York, he was clearly twice
as long over the business. He looked forward to the coach journey with
misgivings, “fearful of being confined to a coach for so many days with
unsuitable persons and not one I know of.”

On other occasions, when he rode horseback, his diary is rich with
picturesque incident. He finds the waters out on the road between
Ware and Cheshunt, and waits until he and a party of other horsemen
can be guided across by a safe way, and so avoid the pitiful fate of
a poor higgler, who blundered into the raging torrent where the road
should have been, and was swept away and drowned. He loses his way
frequently on the high-road; shudders with apprehension when crossing
Witham Common, near Stamford, “the place where Sir Ralph Wharton slew
the highwayman”; and, with a companion, has a terrible fright at
an inn at Topcliffe, where they miss their pistols for a while and
suspect the innkeeper of sinister designs against them. Hence, at the
safe conclusion of every journey, with humble and heartfelt thanks he
inscribes: “God be thanked for his mercies to me and my poor family!”

In 1715, when John Gay wrote his entertaining poem, _A Journey to
Exeter_, describing the adventures of a party of horsemen who rode
down from London, things were, we may suppose, much better, for the
travellers found amusement as well as toil on their way.

They took five days to ride to Exeter. The first night they slept at
Hartley Row, 36 miles. The second day they left the modern route of the
Exeter Road at Basingstoke, and, like some of the coaches about that
time, struck out along the Winchester road as far as Popham Lane, where
they branched off across the downs to Sutton and Stockbridge, at which
town they halted the night, after a day’s journey of 30 miles. The
third morning saw them making for Salisbury. Midway between Stockbridge
and that city their road falls into the main road to Exeter. That night
they were at Blandford. The fourth day took them to Axminster, and the
fifth to Exeter:--

    ’Twas on the day when city dames repair
    To take their weekly dose of Hyde Park air;
    When forth we trot: no carts the road infest,
    For still on Sundays country horses rest.
    Thy gardens, Kensington, we leave unseen;
    Through Hammersmith jog on to Turnham Green:
    That Turnham Green which dainty pigeons fed,
    But feeds no more, for Solomon is dead.
    Three dusty miles reach Brentford’s tedious town,
    For dirty streets and white-legg’d chickens known:
    Thence o’er wide shrubby heaths and furrow’d lanes
    We come, where Thames divides the meads of Staines.
    We ferry’d o’er; for late the winter’s flood
    Shook her frail bridge, and tore her piles of wood.
    Prepar’d for war, now Bagshot Heath we cross,
    Where broken gamesters oft repair their loss.
    At Hartley Row the foaming bit we prest,
    While the fat landlord welcom’d ev’ry guest.
    Supper was ended, healths the glasses crown’d,
    Our host extolled his wine at ev’ry round,
    Relates the Justices’ late meeting there,
    How many bottles drank, and what their cheer;
    What lords had been his guests in days of yore,
    And praised their wisdom much, their drinking more.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Let travellers the morning’s vigils keep:
    The morning rose, but we lay fast asleep.
    Twelve tedious miles we bore the sultry sun,
    And Popham Lane was scarce in sight by one;
    The straggling village harbour’d thieves of old,
    ’Twas here the stage-coach’d lass resigned her gold;
    That gold which had in London purchas’d gowns,
    And sent her home, a belle, to country towns.
    But robbers haunt no more the neighbouring wood;
    Here unnamed infants find their daily food;
    For should the maiden mother nurse her son,
    ’Twould spoil her match, when her good name is gone.
    Our jolly hostess nineteen children bore,
    Nor fail’d her breast to suckle nineteen more.
    Be just, ye prudes, wipe off the long arrear,
    Be virgins still in towns, but mothers here.
    Sutton we pass; and leave her spacious down,
    And with the setting sun reach Stockbridge town.
    O’er our parch’d tongues the rich metheglin glides,
    And the red dainty trout our knife divides.
    Sad melancholy ev’ry visage wears;
    What! no election come in seven long years!
    Of all our race of Mayors, shall Snow alone
    Be by Sir Richard’s dedication known?
    Our streets no more with tides of ale shall float,
    Nor cobblers feast three years upon one vote.

           *       *       *       *       *

      Next morn, twelve miles led o’er th’ unbounded plain
    Where the cloak’d shepherd guides his fleecy train.
    No leafy bow’rs a noontide shelter lend,
    Nor from the chilly dews at night defend;
    With wondrous art he counts the straggling flock,
    And by the sun informs you what’s o’clock.
    How are our shepherds fall’n from ancient days!
    No Amaryllis chants alternate lays;
    From her no list’ning echoes learn to sing,
    Nor with his reed the jocund valleys ring.
    Here sheep the pasture hide, there harvests bend,
    See Sarum’s steeple o’er yon hill ascend;
    Our horses faintly trot beneath the heat,
    And our keen stomachs know the hour to eat.
    Who can forsake thy walls, and not admire
    The proud cathedral and the lofty spire?
    What sempstress has not proved thy scissors good?
    From hence first came th’ intriguing riding-hood.
    Amid three boarding-schools well stock’d with misses,
    Shall three knight-errants starve for want of kisses?
    O’er the green turf the miles slide swift away,
    And Blandford ends the labours of the day.

           *       *       *       *       *

    The morning rose; the supper reck’ning paid,
    And our due fees discharg’d to man and maid,
    The ready ostler near the stirrup stands,
    And as we mount, our halfpence load his hands.
    Now the steep hill fair Dorchester o’erlooks,
    Bordered by meads, and wash’d by silver brooks.
    Here sleep my two companions, eyes supprest,
    And propt in elbow-chairs they snoring rest;
    I weary sit, and with my pencil trace
    Their painful postures and their eyeless face;
    Then dedicate each glass to some fair name,
    And on the sash the diamond scrawls my flame.
    Now o’er true Roman way our horses sound;
    Grævius would kneel and kiss the sacred ground.
    On either side fair fertile valleys lie,
    The distant prospects tire the travelling eye.
    Through Bridport’s stony lanes our route we take,
    And the proud steep ascend to Morecombe’s lake.
    As hearses pass’d, our landlord robb’d the pall,
    And with the mournful scutcheon hung his hall.
    On unadulterate wine we here regale,
    And strip the lobster of his scarlet mail.
    We climb’d the hills when starry night arose,
    And Axminster affords a kind repose.
    The maid, subdued by fees, her trunk unlocks,
    And gives the cleanly aid of dowlas smocks.
    Meantime our shirts her busy fingers rub,
    While the soap lathers o’er the foaming tub.
    If women’s gear such pleasing dreams incite,
    Lend us your smocks, ye damsels, ev’ry night.
    We rise, our beards demand the barber’s art;
    A female enters, and performs the part.
    The weighty golden chain adorns her neck,
    And three gold rings her skilful hand bedeck;
    Smooth o’er our chins her easy fingers move,
    Soft as when Venus strok’d the beard of Jove.
    Now from the steep, ’mid scatter’d cots and groves,
    Our eye through Honiton’s fair valley roves.
    Behind us soon the busy town we leave,
    Where finest lace industrious lasses weave.
    Now swelling clouds roll’d on; the rainy load
    Stream’d down our hats, and smoked along the road;
    When (O blest sight!) a friendly sign we spy’d,
    Our spurs are slacken’d from the horse’s side;
    For sure a civil host the house commands,
    Upon whose sign this courteous motto stands--
    “This is the ancient hand, and eke the pen;
    Here is for horses hay, and meat for men.”
    How rhyme would flourish, did each son of fame
    Know his own genius, and direct his flame!
    Then he that could not Epic flights rehearse
    Might sweetly mourn in Elegiac verse.
    But were his Muse for Elegy unfit,
    Perhaps a Distich might not strain his wit;
    If Epigram offend, his harmless lines
    Might in gold letters swing on alehouse signs.
    Then Hobbinol might propagate his bays,
    And Tuttle-fields record his simple lays;
    Where rhymes like these might lure the nurses’ eyes,
    While gaping infants squall for farthing pies.
    “Treat here, ye shepherds blithe, your damsels sweet,
    For pies and cheesecakes are for damsels meet.”
    Then Maurus in his proper sphere might shine,
    And these proud numbers grace great William’s sign;--
    “This is the man, this the Nassovian, whom
    I named the brave deliverer to come.”
    But now the driving gales suspend the rain,
    We mount our steeds, and Devon’s city gain.
    Hail, happy native land!--but I forbear
    What other counties must with envy hear.

Dean Swift, too, was a frequent traveller on horseback, particularly on
the Chester and Holyhead road. He seems once to have tried the Chester
stage, and ever after to have taken to the saddle. Riding thus in 1710
from Chester to London in five days, he describes himself as “weary the
first, almost dead the second, tolerable the third, and well enough the
rest,” but “glad enough of the fatigue, which has served for exercise.”
After making the journey from London to Holyhead and Dublin in 1726, he
wrote to Pope, describing “the quick change” he had made in seven days
from London to Dublin, “through many nations and languages unknown to
the civilised world.” He had expected the enterprise, “with moderate
fortune,” to take ten or eleven days. “I have often reflected,” he
adds, “in how few hours, with a swift horse or a strong gale, a man
may come among a people as unknown to him as the Antipodes.” Swift
was by no means indulging in playful banter when he wrote this. He
felt a genuine cause for wonder in such expedition; and certainly if
the rustic speech of rural England was like a strange and uncivilised
tongue, how much more strange and uncivilised the languages of Wales
and Ireland must have sounded!

The Dean’s last recorded journey was made in September 1727. The little
memorandum-book, tattered and discoloured, in which he noted down many
of its incidents is still in existence, and is not only a valuable
document in the story of Swift’s life, but is equally precious and
interesting as an intimate record of the daily trials and troubles of
a traveller in those times, set down while he was still on his journey
and thus echoing every passing feeling. Swift was in bad health and
worse spirits when he wrote this diary at Holyhead, where he was
detained for seven days by contrary winds. It was written for lack of
employment afforded to a cultivated mind in the dreary little seaport,
and under the influence of a great sorrow. “Stella” lay dying over
in Ireland, and he, raging with impatience at Holyhead, filled his
notebook with aimless scribbling. “All this to divert thinking,” he
writes, sadly, in the midst of it.

The original notebook is still in existence, and is carefully preserved
at the South Kensington Museum, to which it was bequeathed by John
Forster. Inside its cover the handwriting of successive owners gives
the relic an authentic pedigree, and Swift himself humorously declares
how he came into possession of the blank book: “This book I stole from
the Right Honourable George Dodington, Esq., one of the Lords of the
Treasury, but the scribblings are all my own.” This George Dodington
was George Bubb Dodington, afterwards Lord Melcombe.

On the first page are hastily-scribbled memoranda for appointments: “In
Fleet Street, about a clerk of St. Patrick’s Cathedral”; “Spectacles
for seventy years old”; “Godfrey in Southampton Street”; “Hungary
waters and palsy drops.”

Then the Dean left London, riding horseback, with his servant, Watt,
for company on another nag, and carrying his master’s travelling
valise. The heavy luggage had been sent on by waggon to Chester. Watt,
as we shall presently see, was a veritable Handy Andy, always doing
the wrong thing, or the right thing in a wrong way. Swift carried the
notebook in his pocket, without writing anything of his journey in it
until Holyhead was reached.

A few unfinished lines on an old cassock, out at elbows, preface the
diary, which begins abruptly: “Friday at 11 in the morning I left
Chester. It was Sept. 22, 1727. I baited at a blind ale house 7 miles
from Chester. I thence rode to Ridland (Rhuddlan), in all 22 miles. I
lay there: bred, bed, meat and tolerable wine. I left Ridland a quarter
after 4 morn on Saturday, slept, on Penmanmaur (Penmaenmawr), examined
about my sign verses the Inn is to be on t’other side, therefore the
verses to be changed.”[A]

    [A] See p. 21.

Here, on the verge of the wild Welsh coast, the way was so uncertain
and dangerous that travellers had of necessity to employ guides, who
conducted them thence to Bangor, and across Anglesey to Holyhead.
The roads in Anglesey were unworthy of the name, and only a little
better than horse-tracks; while the inhabitants of the isle spoke only
Welsh, and understood not a word of English. Nearly two hundred years
have passed, but although the roads have been made good, the folks of
Anglesey speak English no more than they did then, when the guides
acted the part of interpreters as well.

Swift, therefore, is found at Conway, mentioning the guide who had
already brought him safely over Penmaenmawr: “I baited at Conway, the
guide going to another Inn; the maid of the old Inn saw me in the
street and said that was my horse, she knew me. There I dined, and sent
for Ned Holland, a Squire famous for being mentioned in Mr. Lyndsay’s
verses to Day Morice. I there again saw Hook’s tomb, who was the 41st
child of his mother, and had himself 27 children, he dyed about 1638.
There is a note here that one of his posterity new furbished up the
inscription. I had read in Abp. Williams’ Life that he was buryed in an
obscure Church in North Wales. I enquired, and heard that it was at[B]
... Church, within a mile of Bangor, whither I was going. I went to the
Church, the guide grumbling. I saw the Tomb with his Statue kneeling
(in marble). It began thus (Hospes lege et relege quod in hoc obscuro
sacello non expectares. Hic jacet omnium Praesulum celeberrimus). I
came to Bangor and crossed the Ferry, a mile from it, where there is an
Inn, which, if it be well kept, will break Bangor. There I lay; it was
22 miles from Holyhead.”

    [B] It was Llandegai.

This was the “George” at Menai Straits, a house that until the building
of Telford’s suspension bridge in 1825, flourished greatly on the
traffic of the ferry that then plied between it and the opposite shore.
Large additions have been made to the hotel, but the original wing that
Swift knew is still in existence, and is a characteristic specimen of
the architecture in vogue about the time of Queen Anne.

Swift unfortunately tells us nothing of the actual crossing of the
Straits. He must have been up at an unconscionable hour, for he was
already on the Anglesey side by four o’clock the next morning, Sunday:
“I was on horseback at 4 in the morning resolving to be at Church at
Holyhead, but we then lost Owain Tudor’s tomb at Penmarry.” This was
Penmynydd, a very steep and craggy place, whence came those Tudors
who through the fortunate marriage of Owain Tudor came at last to the
throne of England.

“We passed the place,” says Swift, “being a little out of the way, by
the Guide’s knavery, who had no mind to stay. I was now so weary with
riding that I was forced to stop at Langueveny (Llangefni), 7 miles
from the Ferry, and rest two hours. Then I went on very weary, but in
a few miles more Watt’s horse lost his two fore-shoes. So the Horse
was forced to limp after us. The Guide was less concerned than I. In
a few miles more my Horse lost a fore-shoe and could not go on the
rocky ways. I walked above two miles, to spare him. It was Sunday,
and no Smith to be got. At last there was a Smith in the way: we left
the Guide to shoe the horses and walked to a hedge Inn 3 miles from
Holyhead. There I stayed an hour with no ale to be drunk. A boat
offered, and I went by sea and sayled in it to Holyhead. The Guide came
about the same time. I dined with an old Innkeeper, Mrs. Welch, about
3, on a Loyne of mutton very good, but the worst ale in the world, and
no wine, for the day before I came here a vast number went to Ireland
after having drunk out all the wine. There was stale beer, and I tryed
a receit of Oyster shells which I got powdered on purpose; but it was
good for nothing. I walked on the rocks in the evening, and then went
to bed and dreamt I had got 20 falls from my Horse.

“_Monday, Sept. 25._--The Captain talks of sailing at 12. The talk
goes off, the wind is fair, but he says it is too fierce. I believe he
wants more Company. I had a raw Chicken for dinner and Brandy with
water for my drink. I walked morning and afternoon among the rocks.
This evening Watt tells me that my landady whispered him that the
Grafton packet-boat just come in had brought her 18 bottles of Irish
Claret. I secured one, and supped on part of a neat’s tongue which a
friend at London had given Watt to put up for me, and drank a pint of
the wine, which was bad enough. Not a soul is yet come to Holyhead,
except a young fellow who smiles when he meets me and would fain be my
companion, but it has not come to that yet. I writ abundance of verses
this day; and several useful hints, tho’ I say it. I went to bed at ten
and dreamt abundance of nonsense.

“_Tuesday 26th._--I am forced to wear a shirt 3 days for fear of being
lowsy. I was sparing of them all the way. It was a mercy there were 6
clean when I left London;--otherwise Watt (whose blunders would bear an
history) would have got them all in the great Box of goods which went
by the Carrier to Chester. He brought but one crevat, and the reason he
gave was because the rest were foul and he thought he should not get
foul linen into the Portmanteau. For he never dreamt it might be washed
on the way. My shirts are all foul now, and by his reasoning I fear he
will leave them at Holyhead when we go. I got a small Loyn of mutton
but so tough I could not chew it, and drank my second pint of wine. I
walked this morning a good way among the rocks, and to a hole in one
of them from whence at certain periods the water spurted up several
feet high. It rained all night and hath rained since dinner. But now
the sun shines and I will take my afternoon walk. It was fiercer and
wilder weather than yesterday, yet the Captain now dreams of sailing.
To say the truth Michaelmas is the worst season in the year. Is this
strange stuff? Why, what would you have me do? I have writ verses and
put down hints till I am weary. I see no creature. I cannot read by
candle-light. Sleeping will make me sick. I reckon myself fixed here,
and have a mind like Marshall Tallard to take a house and garden. I
wish you a Merry Christmas and expect to see you by Candlemas. I have
walked this morning about 3 miles on the rocks; my giddiness, God be
thanked, is almost gone and my hearing continues. I am now retired
to my chamber to scribble or sit humdrum. The night is fair and they
pretend to have some hopes of going to-morrow.

“_September 26th._--Thoughts upon being confined at Holyhead. If this
were to be my settlement during life I could content myself a while
by forming new conveniences to be easy, and should not be frightened
either by the solitude or the meanness of lodging, eating or drinking.
I shall say nothing about the suspense I am in about my dearest friend
because that is a case extraordinary, and therefore by way of comfort.
I will speak as if it were not in my thoughts, and only as a passenger
who is in a scurvy, unprovided comfortless place without one companion,
and who therefore wants to be at home where he hath all conveniences
proper for a gentleman of quality. I cannot read at night, and I have
no books to read in the day. I have no subject at present in my head
to write upon. I dare not send my linen to be washed for fear of being
called away at half an hour’s warning, and then I must leave them
behind, which is a serious Point. I live at great expense without one
comfortable bit or sup. I am afraid of joyning with passengers for
fear of getting acquaintance with Irish. The days are short and I have
five hours a night to spend by myself before I go to Bed. I should be
glad to converse with Farmers or shopkeepers, but none of them speak
English. A Dog is better company than the Vicar, for I remember him of
old. What can I do but write everything that comes into my head? Watt
is a booby of that species which I dare not suffer to be familiar with
me, for he would ramp on my shoulders in half an hour. But the worst
part is in my half-hourly longing, and hopes and vain expectations of
a wind, so that I live in suspense which is the worst circumstance
of human nature. I am a little wrung from two scurvy disorders, and
if I should relapse there is not a Welsh house-cur that would not
have more care taken of him than I, and whose loss would not be more
lamented. I confine myself to my narrow chamber in all unwalkable
hours. The Master of the pacquet-boat, one Jones, hath not treated me
with the least civility, although Watt gave him my name. In short I
come from being used like an Emperor to be used worse than a Dog at
Holyhead. Yet my hat is worn to pieces by answering the civilities of
the poor inhabitants as they pass by. The women might be safe enough
who all wear hats yet never pull them off, and if the dirty streets
did not foul their petticoats by courtesying so low. Look you; be not
impatient, for I only wait till my watch makes 10 and then I will give
you ease and myself sleep, if I can. O’ my conscience you may know a
Welsh dog as well as a Welsh man or woman, by its peevish passionate
way of barking. This paper shall serve to answer all your questions
about my journey, and I will have it printed to satisfy the kingdom.
_Forsan et haec olim_ is a damned lye, for I shall always fret at the
remembrance of this imprisonment. Pray pity your Watt for he is called
dunce, puppy and lyar 500 times an hour, and yet he means not ill for
he means nothing. Oh for a dozen bottles of Deanery wine and a slice of
bread and butter! The wine you sent us yesterday is a little upon the
sour. I wish you had chosen a better. I am going to bed at ten o’clock
because I am weary of being up.

“_Wednesday._--To-day we were certainly to sayl: the morning was calm.
Watt and I walked up the mountain Marucia, properly called Holyhead
or Sacrum Promontorium by Ptolemy, 2 miles from this town. I took
breath 59 times. I looked from the top to see the Wicklow hills, but
the day was too hazy, which I felt to my sorrow; for returning we were
overtaken by a furious shower. I got into a Welsh cabin almost as bad
as an Irish one. There were only an old Welsh woman sifting flour who
understood no English, and a boy who fell a roaring for fear of me.
Watt (otherwise called unfortunate Jack) ran home for my coat, but
stayed so long that I came home in worse rain without him, and he was
so lucky to miss me, but took good care to convey the key of my room
where a fire was ready for me. So I cooled my heels in the Parlour
till he came, but called for a glass of Brandy. I have been cooking
myself dry, and am now in my night gown.... And so I wait for dinner.
I shall dine like a King all alone, as I have done these six days. As
it happened, if I had gone straight from Chester to Park-gate 8 miles I
should have been in Dublin on Sunday last. Now Michaelmas approaches,
the worst time in the year for the sea, and this rain has made these
parts unwalkable, so I must either write or doze. Bite, when we were in
the wild cabin I order Watt to take a cloth and wipe my wet gown and
cassock: it happened to be a meal-bag, and as my gown dryed it was all
daubed with flour well cemented with the rain. What do I but see the
gown and cassock well dryed in my room, and while Watt was at dinner
I was an hour rubbing the meal out of them, and did it exactly. He is
just come up, and I have gravely bid him take them down to rub them,
and I wait whether he will find out what I have been doing. The Rogue
is come up in six minutes, and says there were but few specks (tho’
he saw a thousand at first), but neither wondered at it, nor seemed
to suspect me who laboured like a horse to rub them out. The 3 packet
boats are now all on their side, and the weather grown worse, and so
much rain that there is an end of my walking. I wish you would send me
word how I shall dispose of my time. I am as insignificant a person
here as parson Brooke is in Dublin; by my conscience I believe Cæsar
would be the same without his army at his back. Well, the longer I
stay here the more you will murmur for want of packets. Whoever would
wish to live long should live here, for a day is longer than a week,
and if the weather be foul, as long as a fortnight. Yet here I could
live with two or three friends in a warm house and good wine; much
better than being a slave in Ireland. But my misery is that I am in the
very worst part of Wales under the very worst circumstances, afraid
of a relapse, in utmost solitude, impatient for the condition of our
friend, not a soul to converse with, hindered from exercise by rain,
caged up in a room not half so large as one of the Deanery closets; my
Room smokes into the bargain, but the weather is too cold and moist
to be without a fire. There is or should be a proverb here: When Mrs.
Welch’s chimney smokes, ’Tis a sign she’ll keep her folks, But when of
smoke the room is clear, It is a sign we shan’t stay here. All this to
divert thinking. Tell me, am not I a comfortable wag? The Yatcht is
to leave for Lord Carteret on the 14th of October. I fancy he and I
shall come over together. I have opened my door to let in the wind that
it may drive out the smoke. I asked the wind why he is so cross; he
assures me ’tis not his fault, but his cursed Master, Eolus’s. Here is
a young Jackanapes in the Inn waiting for a wind who would fain be my
companion, and if I stay here much longer I am afraid all my pride and
grandeur will truckle to comply with him, especially if I finish these
leaves that remain; but I will write close and do as the Devil did at
mass, pull the paper with my teeth to make it hold out.

“_Thursday._--’Tis allowed that we learn patience by suffering. I have
not spirit enough now left me to fret. I was so cunning these three
last days that whenever I began to rage and storm at the weather I took
special care to turn my face towards Ireland, in hope by my breath to
push the wind forward. But now I give up.... Well, it is now three in
the afternoon. I have dined and revisited the master; the wind and tide
serve, and I am just taking boat to go to the ship. So adieu till I see
you at the Deanery.

“_Friday, Michaelmas Day._--You will now know something of what it is
to be at sea. We had not been half an hour in the ship till a fierce
wind rose directly against us; we tryed a good while, but the storm
still continued; so we turned back, and it was 8 at night dark and
rainy before the ship got back, and at anchor. The other passengers
went back in a boat to Holyhead; but to prevent accidents and broken
shins I lay all night on board, and came back this morning at 8. Am now
in my chamber, where I must stay and get a fresh stock of patience.”


So ends this curious diary. This is the last time that Swift is known
to have visited England, and it has always been assumed, from the lack
of evidence of his again touching these shores, that he never did
return. But he was mentally active until 1736, and it was not until
1745 that he died, in madness and old age. Meanwhile, there still
exists indisputable evidence of his travelling along the Holyhead
Road in 1730; for an old diamond-shaped pane of glass, formerly in
a window of the “Four Crosses” Inn at Willoughby, and deeply tinged
with a greenish hue, as much old glass commonly is, may be found in
private possession at Rugby, inscribed by him with a diamond ring.
The handwriting compares exactly with that of his diary and other
manuscripts still extant, and the ferocity of the humour in the lines
is characteristic of him. Other windows, at Chester and elsewhere,
are known to have been inscribed by him with epigrams and satirical
verses, but they do not appear to have survived. The occasion of
his offering this advice to the landlord of what was then the “Three
Crosses” has always been said to have been the landlady’s disregard of
his importance. Anxious to set off early in the morning, he could by no
means hurry the good woman over the preparation of his breakfast. She
told him; “he must wait, like other people.” He waited, of necessity,
but employed the time in this manner.

John Wesley was of this varied company of horsemen, and in a long
series of years rode into every nook and corner of England. His
“Journal,” abounding with details of his adventures on these occasions,
proves him to have been a hard rider and among the most robust and
enduring of travellers in that age. He rode incredible distances
in the day, very frequently from sixty to seventy miles. Once, in
1738, he travelled in this way from London to Shipston-on-Stour, a
distance of 82¾ miles, and ended the long day, as usual with him, in
religious counsel. “About eight,” he says, “it being rainy and very
dark, we lost our way, but before nine came into Shipston, having
rode over, I know not how, a narrow footbridge which lay across a
deep ditch near the town. After supper I read prayers to the people
of the inn, and explained the Second Lesson; I hope not in vain.” The
next day this indefatigable traveller and missioner rode 59 miles,
to Birmingham, Hednesford, and Stafford; and the next a further 53
miles, to Manchester, feeling faint (and no wonder!) on the way,
at Altrincham. In November 1745, riding from Newcastle-on-Tyne to
Wednesbury, he did not experience many difficulties until he came, in
the dark, to Wednesbury Town-end, where he and his companion stuck
fast. That is indeed a bad road in which a horse sticks. However,
people coming with candles, Wesley himself got out of the quagmire
and went off to preach, while the horses were disengaged from their
awkward position by local experts. The spot where Wesley was bogged
is now a broad and firm macadamised road through Wednesbury, part of
the great Holyhead Road. Eighteen years before this happening, an Act
of Parliament had been passed for repairing and turnpiking the road
between Wednesbury and Birmingham; but, although the turnpike gates
may have been in existence, the road itself certainly does not seem to
have been repaired, and must have remained in the condition described
in the preamble to that Act, when it was “so ruinous and bad that in
the winter season many parts thereof are impassable for waggons and
carriages, and very dangerous for travellers.” At the same time, the
road on the other side of Wednesbury was “in a ruinous condition, and
in some places very narrow and incommodious”; so it is evident that
Wednesbury was in the unenviable but by no means unique position of
being islanded amid execrable and scarcely practicable roads.

In his old age Wesley occasionally made use of coaches and chaises,
which were then a great deal better and more numerous than they had
been forty years earlier, when he commenced his labours; but he did
not give up the saddle until very near the last. In 1779, being then
in his seventy-seventh year, he was still so active that on one day
he rode from Worcester to Brecon, sixty miles, and preached on his
arrival there. In 1782, when eighty, he still travelled, according to
his own computation, four or five thousand miles a year, rose early,
preached, and possessed the faculty of sleeping, night or day, whenever
he desired to do so. When he began to travel he rose at the most
astonishing hours--hours unknown even to the early-rising, hard-riding,
hard-living travellers of that time. Let us look at his record for
February 1746, along the Great North Road:--

“_16th February._--I rose soon after three. I was wondering the day
before at the mildness of the weather, such as seldom attends me in my
journeys; but my wonder now ceased. The wind was turned full north,
and blew so exceeding hard and keen that when we came (from London) to
Hatfield neither my companions nor I had much use of our hands or feet.
After resting an hour, we bore up again through the wind and snow,
which drove full in our faces; but this was only a squall. In Baldock
field the storm began in earnest; the large hail drove so vehemently in
our faces that we could not see, nor hardly breathe; however, before
two o’clock we reached Baldock, where one met and conducted us safe to
Potton. About six I preached to a serious congregation.

“_17th._--We set out as soon as it was well light; but it was hard
work to get forward, for the frost would not well break or bear; and,
the untracked snow covering all the roads, we had much ado to keep our
horses on their feet. Meantime the wind rose higher and higher, till it
was ready to overturn both man and beast. However, after a short bait
at Bugden, we pushed on, and were met in the middle of an open field
with so violent a storm of rain and hail as we had not had before; it
drove through our coats, great and small, boots, and everything, and
yet froze as it fell, even upon our eyebrows, so that we had scarce
either strength or motion left when we came into our inn at Stilton.

“We now gave up our hopes of reaching Grantham, the snow falling faster
and faster. However, we took the advantage of a fair blast to set
out, and made the best of our way to Stamford Heath; but here a new
difficulty arose from the snow lying in large drifts. Sometimes horse
and man were a well nigh swallowed up, yet in less than an hour we were
brought safe to Stamford. Being willing to get as far as we could, we
made but a short stop here; and about sunset came, cold and weary, but
well, to a little town called Brig Casterton.

“_18th._--Our servant came up and said, ‘Sir, there is no travelling
to-day; such a quantity of snow has fallen in the night that the roads
are quite filled up.’ I told him, ‘At least we can walk twenty miles a
day, with our horses in our hands.’ So in the name of God we set out.
The north-east wind was piercing as a sword, and had driven the snow
into such uneven heaps that the main road was not passable. However,
we kept on on foot or on horseback, till we came to the White Lion at
Grantham”--from whence Mr. Wesley continued his journey to Epworth, his
birthplace, in Lincolnshire.

Wesley’s economy of time and his methods when riding are indicated in
an interesting way in his observations on horsemanship:--

“I went on slowly, through Staffordshire and Cheshire, to Manchester.
In this journey, as well as in many others, I observed a mistake that
almost universally prevails; and I desire all travellers to take good
notice of it, which may save them both from trouble and danger. Near
thirty years ago I was thinking, ‘How is it that no horse ever stumbles
while I am reading?’ (History, poetry, and philosophy, I commonly read
on horseback, having other employment at other times.) No account can
possibly be given but this--because when I throw the reins on his neck,
I set myself to observe: and I aver that in riding above a hundred
thousand miles, I scarce ever remember any horse, except two, (that
would fall head over heels any way,) to fall, or make a considerable
stumble, while I rode with a slack rein. To fancy, therefore, that a
tight rein prevents stumbling is a capital blunder. I have repeated the
trial more frequently than most men in the kingdom can do. A slack rein
will prevent stumbling, if anything will, but in some horses nothing

Dr. Johnson’s is a figure more often associated with coach and chaise
travelling than with horsemanship, but in his younger days he could
ride horseback with the best. He only lacked the money to afford it.
His wedding-day--when he took the first opportunity of teaching his
Tetty marital discipline--was passed in a journey from Derby. His wife
rode one horse and he another. “Sir,” he said, a few years later, “she
had read the old romances, and had got into her head the fantastical
notion that a woman of spirit should use her husband like a dog. So,
sir, at first she told me that I rode too fast, and she could not
keep up with me; and when I rode a little slower she passed me and
complained that I lagged behind. I was not to be made the slave of
caprice, and I resolved to begin as I meant to end. I therefore pushed
on briskly, till I was fairly out of her sight. The road lay between
two hedges, so I was sure she could not miss it; and I contrived that
she should soon come up with me. When she did, I observed her to be in

It has already been noted that judges and barristers formerly rode
circuit on horseback. As Fielding says, “a grave serjeant-at-law
condescended to amble to Westminster on an easy pad, with his clerk
kicking his heels behind him.” In such cases, and when a lady rode
pillion behind her squire, clutching him by the waistbelt, the “double
horse” was used. This, which was by no means a zoological freak,
was the type of horse asked for and supplied by postmasters to two
riders going in this fashion on one animal. Like the brewers’ double
stout, the “double horse” was specially strong, and possessed more the
physique of the cart-horse than the park hack. It was chiefly for the
use of the ladies thus riding that the “upping blocks,” or stone steps,
still occasionally seen outside old rustic inns, were placed beside the
road. They enabled them to get comfortably seated.

Travellers from Scotland to London about the middle of the eighteenth
century were accustomed to advertise for a companion. Thus, in the
_Edinburgh Courant_ for January 1st, 1753, we find:--

“A GENTLEMAN sets off for LONDON Tomorrow Morning, and will either post
it on horses or a Post-Chaise, so wants a Companion. He is to be found
at the Shop of Mr. Sands, Bookseller.”

It was then generally found cheap, and sometimes profitable as well, to
buy a horse when starting from Edinburgh, and to sell him on arrival
in London. Prices being higher in the Metropolis, the canny travellers
who adopted this plan often got more for the horse than they had given.
This method had, however, the defect of not working in reverse, and so
those Scots who returned would have had to hire at some considerable
expense, or buy dear to sell cheap, a thing peculiarly abhorrent to the
Scottish mind. Dr. Johnson would have characteristically brushed this
argument away by declaring that the Scot never did return.

During many long years Scots travelling in their own country followed
an equally economical plan. “The Scotch gentry,” said Thomas Kirke in
1679, “generally travel from one friend’s house to another; so seldom
require a change-house. Their way is to hire a horse and a man for
twopence a mile; they ride on the horse thirty or forty miles a day,
and the man who is his guide foots it beside him, and carries his
luggage to boot.” The “change-house” was, of course, an inn; and from
this custom, when every man’s house was an hotel, the Scottish inns
long remained very inferior places.

Fielding throws a very instructive light upon the device hit upon
by any two travellers who wished to go together and yet had only
one horse between them. This was called “Ride and Tie.” He says:
“The two travellers set out together, one on horseback, the other on
foot. Now, as it generally happens that he on horseback outgoes him
on foot, the custom is, that when he arrives at the distance agreed
on, he is to dismount, tie the horse to some gate, tree, post, or
other thing, and then proceed on foot; when the other comes up to the
horse, he unties him, mounts, and gallops on, till, having passed by
his fellow-traveller, he likewise arrives at the place of tying. And
this is that method of travelling so much in use among our prudent
ancestors, who knew that horses had mouths as well as legs, and
that they could not use the latter without being at the expense of
suffering the beasts themselves to use the former.”

Not until the first decade of the nineteenth century had gone by
did the horseman wholly disappear from the road into or on to the
coaches. Let us attempt to fix the date, and put it at 1820, when the
fast coaches began to go at a pace equal or superior to that of the
saddle-horse. The curious may even yet see the combined upping-blocks
and milestones placed for the use of horsemen on the road across
Dunsmore Heath.

In thus giving 1820 as the date of the horseman’s final disappearance,
it need not be supposed that Cobbett and his _Rural Rides_ are
forgotten. He covered England on horseback some years later, but his
journeys are not on all fours with those of the horsemen whose only
desire was quickly to get from start to finish of their journeys. He
halted by the way, and from the vantage-point of the saddle cast a
keenly scrutinising eye upon the agricultural methods of the various
districts, as seen across the tops of hedgerows, or delayed his travels
to harangue the farmers on market-days. Nor is the existence forgotten
of those country gentlemen and City merchants who, seventy years
ago, rode to and from the City on horseback; but they also formed an
exception. Already, by some ten years or so, the commercial travellers,
as a body, had left the saddle and taken to what was, in its first
inception, essentially the vehicle of the commercial representative.
This was the “gig.” The gig at once became a favourite middle-class
conveyance. Thurtell, the flashy betting-man, vulgar _roué_, and
murderer, was thought by a witness “a respectable man: he kept a gig.”
This aroused the scorn of Carlyle, who coined the word “gigmanity.”

The early commercial travellers, in fact, were long known as “riders,”
from their custom of riding horseback from town to town, sometimes with
a led pack-horse when their samples were unusually bulky or heavy.
The “London riders” sometimes found mentioned in old literature were
therefore London commercials. The successive names by which these
“ambassadors of commerce,” as they have sometimes been grandiloquently
styled, were known are themselves highly illuminating. They were,
in succession, “bagmen,” “riders,” “travellers,” and “commercial
gentlemen.” They are now “representatives.”



Meanwhile the first stage-coaches had been put upon the chief roads out
of London, and had begun to ply between the capital and the principal
towns. Stage-coaches are, on insufficient authority, said to have
begun about 1640, but no particulars are available in support of that
statement, and in considering this point we are bound to look into the
social state of England at that time, and to consider the likelihood
or otherwise of a public service of coaches being continued throughout
those stormy years which preceded, accompanied, and followed the great
Civil War that opened with the raising of the King’s standard at
Nottingham in 1642, and ended with the Battle of Naseby in June 1645.
That victory ended the war in favour of the Parliament men, but the
political troubles and their attendant social displacements continued.

It has been said that hawking parties pursued their sport between the
opposed armies on Marston Moor, and the inference has been drawn that
the nation was not disturbed to its depths by what we are usually
persuaded was a tremendous struggle between King and Parliament.
Certainly the Associated Counties of East Anglia were little affected
by the contest, but theirs was an exceptional experience, brought
about by that association, entered upon for mutual protection against
either side, and to prevent the scene of warfare being pitched within
those limits. It is not likely that any service of coaches ran in the
disturbed period, when confidence was so rudely shaken; and it was not
until the Commonwealth had been established some years that the first
coaching advertisement of which we have any knowledge appeared.

In writing thus, it is not forgotten that somewhere about the year
1610 a foreigner from the wilds of Pomerania obtained a Royal patent
granting him, for the term of fifteen years, the exclusive right of
running coaches or waggons between Edinburgh and Leith. We have no
details of this purely local service, but it is to be supposed that
it was little more than a stage-waggon carrying goods and passengers
too infirm to ride horseback between Edinburgh and its seaport. We are
equally ignorant of the length of time the service lasted.

The next reference to stage-coaches is equally detached and
inconclusive. It is found in a booklet issued by John Taylor,
describing a journey he made to the Isle of Wight in 1648. He and his
party set out on October 19th to see the captive Charles the First,
their “gracious Soveraigne, afflicted Lord and Master,” imprisoned at
Carisbrooke Castle. They “hired the Southampton Coach, which comes
weekly to the Rose, near Holborn Bridge”--a statement that at least
proves the existence of a public vehicle of sorts. But it is the first
and last reference to the Southampton Coach that has come down these
two hundred and fifty-odd years. If Taylor tells us nothing of its
history, he at least gives a description of the journey that retains
something of its original amusing qualities, and, with the lapse of
time, becomes something of an historic document:--

    We took our coach, two coachmen and four horses,
    And merrily from London made our courses.
    We wheel’d the top of th’ heavy hill call’d Holborne
    (Up which hath been full many a sinful soule borne),
    And so along we jolted past St. Gileses,
    Which place from Brainford six (or neare) seven miles is.
    To Stanes that night at five o’clock we coasted,
    Where (at the Bush) we had bak’d, boyl’d, and roasted.
    Bright Sol’s illustrious Rayes the day adorning,
    We past Bagshot and Bawwaw Friday morning.
    That night we lodg’d at the White Hart at Alton,
    And had good meate--a table with a salt on.
    Next morn w’arose with blushing cheek’d Aurora;
    The waves were faire, but not so faire as Flora,
    For Flora was a goddesse, and a woman,
    And (like the highwayes) to all men was Common.
    Our Horses, with the Coach, which we went into,
    Did hurry us amaine, through thick and thine too;
    With fiery speede, the foaming bit they champt on,
    And brought us to the Dolphin at Southampton.

Southampton, eighty miles from their starting-point, was therefore a
three days’ journey in the autumn of 1648. That they were careful not
to be on the road after dark is evident from the time they got to
Staines, the first stopping-place. The sun sets at exactly 5 p.m. on
October 19th.

The reference to a place called “Bawwaw,” between Bagshot and Alton, is
not to be explained by any scrutiny of maps.

Thenceforward until 1657 stage-coaches are not mentioned in the
literature of the age, and we set foot upon firm ground only with the
advertisement in the _Mercurius Politicus_ of April 9th in that year:--

  “_FOR the convenient accommodation of Passengers from and betwixt
  the Cities of_ London _and_ Westchester, _there is provided several
  Stage-Coaches which go from the_ George _Inn without Aldersgate
  upon every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to_ Coventry, _in Two days
  for Twenty five shillings, to_ Stone _in Three days for Thirty
  shillings, and to_ Chester _in Four days for Thirty five shillings,
  and from thence to return upon the same days; which is performed
  with much safety to the Passengers, having fresh Horses once a day.
  In Mondays Intelligence last the severall sums and rates were by
  the Printer mistaken._”

The objective of the first stage-coach ever established being Chester
naturally provokes inquiry. There seems to have been no other stage
upon any road in that pioneer year. The preference for Chester argues
a large traffic already existing on that road: men riding post-horses,
women riding pillion behind friends, relatives, or servants, or
possibly in some stage-waggon whose history has not come down to us.
The coach can only have been established to satisfy a pre-existent
demand. The question why there should have been more travellers on this
route than any other is answered in this being the road to Ireland then
generally followed, and Chester itself the port of embarkation for that
country. Coventry and Stone were only served incidentally.

The following spring witnessed an amazing burst of coaching activity,
for the _Mercurius Politicus_ in April contained an advertisement
announcing stage-coaches on the Exeter and Great North roads, to begin
on the 26th of that month. They ran from the “George” Inn, Aldersgate
Street Without:--

“On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Salisbury in two days for XX^s,
Blandford and Dorchester in two days and a half for XXX^s, Burput in
three days for XXX^s, and Exmaster, Hunnington, and Exeter in four days
for XL^s.

“Stamford in two days for XX^s, Newark in two days and a half for XXX^s,
Doncaster and Ferribridge for XXXV^s, and York in four days for XL^s.”

Every Monday and Wednesday others were to set forth for,

    “Ockinton and Plimouth for L^s.

    “Edinburgh, once a fortnight for £4 apeece.

    “Darneton and Ferryhill for L^s, Durham for LV^s, and Newark
        for £111.”

Every Friday,

    “To Wakefield in four days for XL^s.”

This advertisement then concluded by inviting passengers to another
“George” Inn:--

“Let them repair to the George Inn on Holborn Bridge, and they shall
be in good Coaches with good Horses at and for reasonable rates, to
Salisbury, Blandford, Exmaster, Hunnington, Exeter, Ockinton, Plimouth,
and Cornwal.”

The extraordinarily misspelt names of some of the places mentioned in
these notices show how ill-known the country then was. For “Burput”
we must read Bridport; for “Hunnington,” Honiton; and for “Exmaster,”
Axminster; “Ockinton” is probably Okehampton.

At this time, and for very many years yet to come, the stage-coaches
were strictly fair-weather services. With every recurrent spring they
were brought out from their retirement, and so early as Michaelmas
were taken off the roads and laid up for the winter. How the pioneer
coach to Chester fared in its second season is hid from us, but the
announcement of its third year, in 1659, is instructive:--

“These are to give notice, that from the George Inn, without
Aldersgate, goes every Monday and Thursday a coach and four able
horses, to carry passengers to Chester in five days, likewise
to Coventry, Cosell (Coleshill), Cank, Litchfield, Stone, or to
Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Newport, Whitchurch, and
Holywell, at reasonable rates, by us, who have performed it two years.

                    “WILLIAM DUNSTAN.
                    “HENRY EARLE.
                    “WILLIAM FOWLER.”

It now took a day longer to reach Chester--assuming that the promise
to perform the journey in four days ever was kept; and it will be
observed that Birmingham, Shrewsbury, and other places, on a different
route than that through Lichfield and Stone, are named in the manner
of an alternative. The Chester stage of this year, in fact, varied its
itinerary to suit its passengers. The “by us, who have performed it
two years,” looks suspiciously like an opposition already threatened;
while the “four able horses” insisted on (but not mentioned in the
first announcement) reads like an improvement upon a former team that
was not able. Those, of course, were times before horses were generally
changed on the way, and the same long-suffering beasts that dragged the
coaches from London often brought them to their destination. According
to the first advertisement of this Chester stage, quoted above, this
particular coach was an exception to the usual practice, and actually
had fresh horses once a day.

A stage seems to have plied between London and Oxford in 1661, but new
coaches for a time were few, and it is said that there were but six
in 1662. In the following year a coach of sorts ran from Preston in
Lancashire to London; and, as may be gathered from a letter from Edward
Parker to his father, it was a very primitive contrivance:--

“I got to London on Saturday last; my journey was noe way pleasant,
being forced to ride in the boote all the waye. The company y^t came
up with mee were persons of greate qualitie, as knightes and ladyes.
My journey’s expense was 30^s. This travell hath soe indisposed mee, y^t
I am resolved never to ride up againe in y^e coatche. I am extremely
hott and feverish. What this may tend to I know not. I have not as yet
advised my doctor.”

Our natural curiosity on that head cannot be satisfied, for the Parker
correspondence ends abruptly there; but we fear the worst. Heading that
testimony to the quality of early coach-travelling, we may find it not
altogether without significance that from this year forward to 1667
little is heard of coaches. Perhaps those who gave the early ones a
trial were glad to get back to their saddles and ride horseback again.
However that may be, certainly coaching history, except by inference,
is in those years a blank. We may infer services to other towns from
oblique and scattered references, but direct information is lacking.
That a stage-coach--or possibly more than one--was on the road between
London and Norwich in 1665 is to be gathered from the proclamation
issued in that East Anglian city on July 20th of that terrible year
of the Great Plague, which destroyed half the population of London:
“From this daie,” ran that ordinance, “all ye passage coaches shall be
prohibited to goe from ye city to London, and come from thence hither,
and also ye common carts and wagons.” Already, before that notice was
issued, wayfarers from that doomed city had been struck down by the
deadly and mysterious disease, and at Norwich itself travellers hailing
from the centre of infection had died, swiftly and in circumstances
that struck terror into the hearts of the people. Not that plagues
were things unknown; for Hobson, the Cambridge carrier, had died
from the vexation and enforced idleness of the Cambridge edict of
1631, forbidding intercourse with London, even then ravaged with an
infectious disorder.

What were the first stage-coaches like?

If we are to credit Taylor’s description of the earliest coaches,
some of them must have resembled the present Irish jaunting-car, or
Bianconi’s mid-nineteenth century coaches, in the manner of carrying
passengers. He tells us, in his fanciful way, that a coach, “like a
perpetual cheater, wears two bootes and no spurs, sometimes having two
pairs of legs to one boote, and oftentimes (against nature) it makes
faire ladies weare the boote; and if you note, they are carried back
to back, like people surprised by pyrats, to be tyed in that miserable
manner, and thrown overboard into the sea. Moreover, it makes people
imitate sea-crabs, in being drawn sideways, as they are when they
sit in the boot of the coach; and it is a dangerous kind of carriage
for the commonwealth, if it be considered.” This boot, or this pair
of boots--which did not in the least resemble, in shape or position,
the fore and hind boots of a later age--was a method of carrying the
outsides in days before the improvement of roads rendered it possible
for any one to ride on the roof without incurring the danger of being
flung off. No illustration of this type of coach has ever been found,
but it seems possible that the back-to-back boots, to carry four, were
built on to the hinder part of the coach, and really formed the first
attempt to carry outsides.

This type of coach described by Taylor must have been freakish and
ephemeral. Those in general use were very different, resembling in
their construction the private carriages and London hackney-coaches of
the time, and varying from them only in being built to hold a number
of people--usually six, but on occasion eight. In Sir Robert Howard’s
comedy, _The Committee_, printed in 1665, the Reading coach brings six
passengers to London.

The body was covered with stout leather, nailed on to the frame with
broad-headed nails, whose shining heads, gilt or silvered, picked out
the general lines of the structure, and were considered to give a
pleasing decorative effect. Windows and doors were at first unknown. In
their stead were curtains and wooden shutters, so that the interior of
an early coach on a wet or chilly day, when the curtains were drawn,
must have been a close and dismal place. It was this feature that gave
Taylor an opportunity of comparing a coach with a hypocrite: “It is a
close hypocrite, for it hath a cover for knavery and curtains to vaile
and shadow any wickedness.” The first vehicle with glass windows was
the private carriage of the Duke of York, in 1661, and we do not begin
to hear of glazed windows in stage-coaches until the beginning of the
eighteenth century, when “glass coaches” were announced. It is, indeed,
unlikely that glass could in any case have been introduced for the
purpose of country travelling at an earlier date, for it would need to
have been of extraordinary strength and thickness to survive the shocks
and crashes of travel of this period.

All these vehicles were low hung, for the heavy body, slung by massive
leather braces from the upright posts springing from the axletrees
of front and hind wheels, was too responsive to any and every rut
and irregularity of the road to be placed at the height to which the
coaches of a century later attained.

In the excessive jolting then incidental to travelling, the body of a
coach swayed laterally to such an extent that it would often swing,
in the manner of a pendulum, quite clear of the underworks. Occupants
of coaches were thus often afflicted with nausea, not unlike that of
sea-sickness, and to be “coached” was at that time an expression which
meant the getting used to a violent motion at first most emphatically
resented by the human stomach.

Although the body of a coach enjoyed a wide range of motion sideways,
it had not by any means the same freedom back and forth. A severe
strain, in the continual plunging and jolting, was therefore thrown
upon the supporting uprights, so that they not infrequently gave way
under the ordeal, and suddenly threw passengers and coachman in one
common heap of ruin. To aid him in making such roadside repairs as
these and other early defects of construction often rendered necessary,
the coachman carried with him a box of tools placed under his seat,
and it is from this circumstance that the name of “hammercloth”--the
hangings decorating the coachman’s seat on many a State carriage--was

Bad as was the situation of the passengers, that of the coachman
was infinitely worse. His was a seat of torture, for it was placed
immediately over the front pair of wheels, and, totally unprovided with
springs, transmitted to his body the full force of every shock with
which those wheels descended into holes or encountered stones.

In 1667 a London and Oxford coach is found, performing the fifty-four
miles in two days, halting for the intervening night at Beaconsfield;
and in the same year the original Bath coach appears, in this
portentous announcement:--


    “All those desirous to pass from London to Bath, or any
        other Place on their Road, let them repair to the ‘Bell
        Savage’ on Ludgate Hill in London, and the ‘White Lion’
        at Bath, at both which places they may be received in a
        Stage Coach every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which
        performs the Whole Journey in Three Days (if God permit),
        and sets forth at five o’clock in the morning.

    “Passengers to pay One Pound five Shillings each, who are
        allowed to carry fourteen Pounds Weight--for all above to
        pay three-halfpence per Pound.”

This is the first appearance of the epithet “Flying” in the literature
of coaches. Possibly it was used in this first instance in order to
distinguish the new conveyance from a stage-waggon that must for
many years before have gone the journey, as well as to justify the
higher fare charged by the new vehicle. The waggon would have conveyed
passengers at anything from a halfpenny to a penny a mile; by “Flying
Machine” it came to threepence. The term “Flying,” for a coach that
consumed three days in performing a journey of 109 miles, raises a
smile; but it was only relative, and in contrast with the pace of the
waggons of that period, which would probably have made it a six-days’

This Bath coach would seem to have set the fashion in nomenclature,
for in April 1669 a “Flying Coach” began to fly between Oxford and
London. It was, it will be noticed, a “coach,” and not a “machine”;
the term “machine” did not come into general use until about seventy
years later. But although the Oxford coach did not call itself by so
high-sounding a title, it made a better pace than the Bath affair,
doing the fifty-four miles in one day, between the hours of six o’clock
in the morning and seven in the evening. Moreover, its fare--twelve
shillings, reduced two years later to ten--was somewhat cheaper.
Perhaps one was always charged higher rates on the fashionable Bath

How, in this thirteen years’ interval between 1657 and 1669, had the
older stages progressed? The Chester stage was going its way, promising
to do the distance in five days, but taking six--a sad falling off
from the original four; of the others, presumably continuing, we hear
nothing further, and of new ventures there is not a whisper. Yet it is
surely not to be supposed that, at a time when coaches ran to Bath,
to York, to Coventry, and to Norwich, such a place (for instance) as
Bristol would be without that convenience. For Bristol was then what
Glasgow is now--the second city. London came first, with its half a
million inhabitants; Bristol came next, with some 28,000, and Norwich
third, with 27,000. It is, then, only fair to assume that other coaches
existed of whose story nothing has survived. A strong reason for coming
to this conclusion is found in the publication in 1673 of Cresset’s
violent tirade against coaches, not, surely, called forth _apropos_
of the already old-established stages, but provoked, doubtless, by
some sudden increase, of which we, at this lapse of time, know
nothing. What brief John Cresset could have held for the innkeepers and
horse-breeders, and for the other trades supposed to be injuriously
affected by the increase of stage-coaches, we know not, nor, indeed,
anything of Cresset himself, except that he lived in the Charterhouse.

Between London, York, Chester, and Exeter he calculated that a total
number of fifty-four persons travelled weekly, making a grand total for
those roads of 1,872 such travellers in a year. A brief examination of
his arithmetic shows--as we have already pointed out--that the coaches
of that age lay up for the winter months.

His indictment of coaches is to be found in his _Grand Concern of
England Explained_, and is very vigorous indeed, and--as we see it
nowadays--extravagantly silly:--

“Will any man keep a horse for himself and another for his servant all
the year round, for to ride one or two journeys, that at pleasure,
when he hath occasion, can slip to any place where his business lies
for two or three shillings, if within twenty miles of London, and so
proportionately to any part of England? No, there is no man, unless
some noble soul that seems to abhor being confined to so ignoble, base,
and sordid a way of travelling as these coaches oblige him to, and who
prefers a public good before his own ease and advantage, that will keep

According to this vehement counsel for the suppression of
stage-coaches, they brought the country gentlemen up to London on the
slightest pretext--sometimes to get their hair cut---with their wives
accompanying them; and when they were both come to town, they would
“get fine clothes, go to plays and treats, and by these means get such
a habit of idleness and love for pleasure that they are uneasy ever

“Travelling in these coaches can neither prove advantageous to men’s
health or business, for what advantage is it to men’s health to be
called out of their beds into their coaches an hour before day in the
morning, to be hurried in them from place to place till one, two, or
three hours within night, insomuch that sitting all day in the summer
time stifled with heat and choked with dust, or in the winter time
starving or freezing with cold, or choked with filthy fogs? They are
often brought to their inns by torchlight, when it is too late to sit
up to get a supper, and next morning they are forced into the coach so
early that they can get no breakfast. What addition is this to men’s
health or business, to ride all day with strangers oftentimes sick,
or with diseased persons, or young children crying, to whose humours
they are obliged to be subject, forced to bear with, and many times are
poisoned with their nasty scents, and crippled by the crowd of their
boxes and bundles? Is it for a man’s health to travel with tired jades,
to be laid fast in the foul ways and forced to wade up to the knees in
mire, afterwards to sit in the cold till teams of horses can be sent to
pull the coach out?”

Cresset was also of opinion that the greater number of the many
roadside inns would lose their trade owing to the rapidity of
coach-travelling. Here, at least, he exceeded his brief, for coaches
by no means attained so speedy a rate of travel as that reached by
horsemen. Thoresby, ten years later, is a case in point. He was wont
to travel horseback between Leeds and London in four days, but when he
journeyed from York to London in the coach, no greater distance than
from Leeds, it took six days. Swift, too, in 1710, rode from Chester
to London in five days; when the degenerating Chester stage, which
had started to perform it in 1657 in four days, had already taken one
additional day, and was about to take another. Cresset, summing up
such objectionable things as “rotten coaches” and traces, and coachmen
“surly, dogged, and ill-natured,” advocated the total suppression
of such methods of travelling, or at least--counsels of moderation
prevailing--of most of them. In conclusion, he proposed that coaches
should be limited to one for every county town in England, to go
backwards and forwards once a week.

Unhappily for Cresset’s peace of mind, coaches did not decay. Nor did
they wilt and wither before the onslaught of another writer, who, under
the pen-name of “A Country Tradesman,” published a pamphlet in 1678,
called _The Ancient Trades Decayed, Repaired Again_. According to this
writer, if coaches were suppressed, more wine and beer would be drunk
at the inns, to the great increase and advantage of the Excise; and
the breed of horses would be improved, in consequence of the gentlemen
who then rode in coaches being obliged to return to horse-riding.

In 1673, in an announcement of stages to York, Chester, and Exeter,
the journey to Exeter is put at “eight days in summer, ten in winter.”
Here was at least one coach that had already begun to run throughout
the year, but its summer performance justified the remarks of those
ancients who, seeing the original “four-days” announcement of 1658, had
shaken their heads and suspected it would never last.

The year 1678 saw a coach on the road between the important seaport of
Hull and the city of York, probably in connection with the York stage
between that and London; but our only knowledge of its existence at
so early a date is--to put it in rather an Irish way--a reference to
its having been taken off. Ralph Thoresby, the Yorkshire antiquary,
is our authority. In his diary he notes that he landed at Hull in
November of that year, and that the stage-coach was already over for
the winter. This Hull and York coach we may suppose to have been in
connection with a York and London stage already existing--that original
vehicle, started in 1658 and alluded to in 1673, which was to perform
the journey in four days, the fare 40s. The first detailed account
of the “York Old Coach,” as it came to be known, is found in an old
advertisement broadside discovered some years since at the back of an
old drawer at the “Black Swan,” in York. It is dated 1706, and is
evidently an announcement of the coach resuming its season after one of
its annual hibernations:--

[Illustration: YORK Four Days


_Begins on_ Friday _the 12th of_ April 1706.

  ALL that are desirous to pass from _London_ to _York_, or from
  _York_ to _London_, or any other Place on that Road, Let them
  Repair to the _Black Swan_ in _Holbourn_ in _London_, and to the
  _Black Swan_ in _Coney street_ in _York_.

  At both which Places, they may be received in a Stage Coach every
  _Monday_, _Wednesday_ and _Friday_, which performs the whole
  journey in Four Days, (_if God permits_.) And sets forth at Five in
  the Morning.

  And returns from _York_ to _Stamford_ in two days, and from
  _Stamford_, by _Huntington_ to _London_ in two days more. And the
  like Stages on their return.

  Allowing each Passenger 14l. weight, and all above 3d. a Pound.

                             {_Benjamin Kingman_,
                Performed By {_Henry Harrison_,
                             {_Walter Baynes_,

    Also this gives Notice that Newcastle Stage Coach, sets out
      from York, every Monday, and Friday, and from Newcastle
      every Monday, and Friday.


It still took four days, as it had done when first established close
upon half a century before. Clearly times and coaches alike moved

That York even then displayed its sub-metropolitan character will be
seen from the footnote to the handbill, relating to the Newcastle
coach. Local services apparently radiated from the city to Hull, Leeds,
Wakefield, and other places.

Meanwhile, other provincial towns had not been idle, and we must needs
make a slight divergence here to give an outline of what Glasgow
was attempting in local intercommunication. Nothing thus early was
on the road between Glasgow and London, but strenuous efforts were
made to link Glasgow and Edinburgh (forty-four miles apart) together
by a public service so early as 1678, when Provost Campbell and the
magistrates of Glasgow agreed with William Hoorn, of Edinburgh, for a
coach to go on that road once a week: “a sufficient strong coach, drawn
by sax able horses, whilk coach sall contine sax persons and sall go
ance ilk week, to leave Edinburgh ilk Monday morning, and to return
again (God willing) ilk Saturday night.” To travel those forty-four
miles was, therefore, the occupation of three days. Even thus early we
see the beginnings of that spirit of municipal enterprise which has
in modern times carried Glasgow so far. Now the local tramway, water,
gas, and electric lighting authority, she, so early as the seventeenth
century, essayed a public service of coaches.

Like much else in early coaching history, this is merely a fragment;
but again, in 1743, Glasgow is found returning to the question, in an
attempt of the Town Council to set up a stage-coach or “lando,” to go
once a week in winter and twice in summer. The attempt failed, and it
was not until 1749 that the first conveyance to ply regularly between
Glasgow and Edinburgh was established. This was the “Caravan,” which
made the passage in two days each way. It was succeeded in 1759 by the
“Fly,” which brought the time down to a day and a half.

In 1697, according to an entry in the diary of Sir William Dugdale,
under date of July 16th, a London and Birmingham coach, by way of
Banbury, was then running; but such isolated references are quite
obscured by the flood of light thrown upon coaching by the work of De
Laune, _The Present State of London_, dated 1681. In his pages is to be
found a complete list of all the stage-coaches, carriers, and waggons
to and from London in that year. The carriers and waggons are very
numerous, and there are in all 119 coaches, of which number between
sixty and seventy are long-distance conveyances, the remainder serving
places up to twenty or twenty-five miles from London. In that list
we find that, although a marvellous expansion of coaching had taken
place, some of the places already catered for in 1658 are abandoned.
The Edinburgh stage does not appear, and nothing is to be found on
that road farther north than York. The reason for the omission was,
doubtless, that York, then relatively a more important place than now,
had its own well-organised coaching businesses. Travellers from London
for Edinburgh would secure a place to York, and, arriving there, book
again by a York and Edinburgh coach. The Edinburgh stage from London,
once a fortnight, is, indeed, not heard of again until 1734.

Many of the coaches mentioned by De Laune went twice and thrice a
week, and a large proportion of those to places not beyond twenty or
twenty-five miles from London made double journeys in the day. Thus
Windsor had no fewer than seven coaches, six of them in and out daily.
The age, it will be conceded, was not without enterprise. But the
omissions are striking; Okehampton, Plymouth, and Cornwall, included
in the purview of the pioneers of 1658, are not mentioned. Liverpool,
Sheffield, Newcastle, Leicester, Hereford and others were outside their
activities. No one, it seemed, wanted to go to Glasgow; Manchester
men were content to ride horseback; Leeds, now numbering some 430,000
inhabitants, and increasing by 2,000 a year, was a town of only 7,000,
and the clothiers rode to York and caught the London coach there. To
Bath and Bristol, however, there were five coaches; to Exeter, four;
to Guildford, three; to Cambridge, Braintree, Canterbury, Chelmsford,
Gloucester, Lincoln and Stamford, Norwich, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading,
Saffron Walden, and Ware, two each.

Despite the four coaches between Exeter and London mentioned by De
Laune in 1681, the Mayor of Lyme Regis, having in October 1684 urgent
official business in London, is found, in company with one servant,
hiring post-horses from Lyme to Salisbury. It is quite clear that if
there had been a coach serving at the time, he would have caught it at
Charmouth, a mile and a half from that little seaport; but there was,
for some unexplained reason, a break in the service, and it was not
until Salisbury was reached, sixty miles along the road, that he found
a stage. The coach fare from Salisbury to London for self and servant
was 30s., and he spent, “at several stages, to gratify coachmen,” 4s.

With the existence of such a volume of trade as that disclosed by
De Laune, it is not surprising to find that the scolding voices of
opponents to coaching had by this time died down to a mere echo.
Instead of reviling coaches, the writers of the age extolled their
use and convenience. Thus Chamberlayne, in the 1684 edition of his
_Present State of Great Britain_, the _Whitaker’s Almanack_ of that
period, says: “There is of late such an admirable commodiousness for
both men and women to travel from London to the principal towns in
the country, that the like hath not been known in the world; and that
is by stage-coaches, wherein any one may be transported to any place,
sheltered from foul weather and foul ways, free from endamaging of
one’s health and one’s body by hard jogging or over-violent motion,
and this not only at the low price of about a shilling for every five
miles, but with such velocity and speed in one hour as that the post
in some foreign countries cannot make but in one day.” Those foreign
countries have our respectful sympathy, for Chamberlayne in thus
extolling our superiority was singing the praises of four miles an hour!

From the limbo of half-forgotten things we drag occasional references
to coaches towards the close of the seventeenth century. In April
1694 a London and Warwick stage was announced to go every Monday, to
make the journey in two days, “performed (if God permit) by Nicholas
Rothwell”; and in 1696 the “Confatharrat” coach was already spoken of
as a familiar object on the London and Norwich road. All we know of
the “Confatharrat” is that it came to the “Four Swans,” in Bishopsgate
Street Within. Its curious name is probably the seventeenth-century
spelling of the word “confederate,” and the coach itself was, no doubt,
run by an association, or “confederacy,” of owners and innkeepers,
in succession to some unlucky person who singly had attempted it and

On some roads enterprise slackened. Thus, in 1700, the “Fly” coach to
Exeter slept the _fifth_ night from London at Axminster, where the next
morning a woman “shaved the coach,” and on the afternoon of the sixth
day it crawled into Exeter. Forty-three years earlier it had taken only
four days.

[Illustration: BIRMINGHAM


In Two _Days_ and a half; begins _May_ the 24th, 1731.

  SETS out from the _Swan-Inn_ in _Birmingham_, every _Monday_ at
  six a Clock in the Morning, through _Warwick_, _Banbury_ and
  _Alesbury_, to the _Red Lion Inn_ in _Aldersgate street, London_,
  every _Wednesday_ Morning: And returns from the said _Red Lion
  Inn_ every _Thursday_ Morning at five a Clock the same Way to the
  _Swan-Inn_ in _Birmingham_ every _Saturday_, at 21 Shillings each
  Passenger, and 18 Shillings from _Warwick_, who has liberty to
  carry 14 Pounds in Weight, and all above to _pay One Penny a Pound_.

            Perform d (if God permit)

            By Nicholas Rothwell.

  The Weekly Waggon _sets out every Tuesday from the Nagg’s-Head
  in_ Birmingham, _to the_ Red Lion Inn _aforesaid, every Saturday,
  and returns from the said Inn every Monday, to the Nagg’s-Head in
  Birmingham every Thursday_.

  Note, _By the said_ Nicholas Rothwell _at_ Warwick, _all Persons
  may be furnished with a ‘By-Coach,’ Chariot, Chaise or Hearse, with
  a Mourning Coach and able Horses, to any Part of Great Britain, at
  reasonable Rates: And also Saddle Horses to be had_


Nicholas Rothwell, of the London and Warwick stage in 1694, reappears
in an extremely interesting broadsheet advertisement of 1731,
announcing that the “Birmingham stage-coach in two days and a half
begins, May the 24th.” Although we have no earlier information
of this coach, it is probably safe to assume that this, like the
advertisement of the York coach already quoted, merely advertised
the beginning of a new season, and that winter was still largely, as
it had been seventy-six years before, a blank in the coaching world.
Rothwell was evidently established at Warwick, and seems to have been
the first notable coach-proprietor, the forerunner of the Chaplins,
Nelsons, Mountains, Shermans and Ibbersons of a later age. By his old
advertisement we see that he catered for all classes of travellers--by
stage-coach, private carriage, chaise, and waggon--and that he hired
out horses to the gentlemen who still preferred their own company and
the saddle to the coach and its miscellaneous strangers. Even the dead
were not beyond the consideration of Mr. Rothwell, whose “Hearse, with
Mourning Coach and Able Horses,” is set forth to “go to any part of
Great Britain, at reasonable Rates.” Unhappily for the historian eager
to reconstruct the road life of those times, this old advertisement
is almost all that survives to tell us of Rothwell, and fortunate we
are to have even that, for such sheets, as commonplace when issued
as the advertisements of railway excursions are at the present time,
are now of extreme rarity. It would appear, from the rude woodcut
illustrating Rothwell’s bill, that his coach was of the old type, hung
on leather straps and quite innocent of springs--the kind of coach that
Parson Adams, in Fielding’s _Joseph Andrews_, outwalked without the
slightest difficulty. It seems to be more up-to-date in the matter of
windows, and to be a “glass-coach,” if we may judge by the appearance
of the window at which the solitary and unhappy-looking passenger is
standing in an attitude suggestive of stomachic disturbance. There
are no windows in the upper quarters of the coach, which in that and
some other respects greatly resembles the vehicle pictured in 1747 by
Hogarth in his _Inn Yard_.

[Illustration: THE STAGE-COACH, 1783.
                    _After Rowlandson._

Rothwell’s coach is drawn by four horses in hand, with a postilion on
the off horse of a couple of extra leaders. The practice of using six
horses and a postilion is one to which we find allusion in Fielding’s
_Joseph Andrews_, written nine years later than the date of this
Birmingham coach. The curious will find the description in the twelfth
chapter of that novel, where Joseph, recovering from the murderous
attack of two highwaymen, attracts the attention of the postilion of a
passing stage-coach. “The postilion, hearing a man’s groans, stopped
his horses, and told the coachman he was certain there was a dead man
lying in the ditch, for he heard him groan.” (That postilion surely was
an Irishman.) “‘Go on, sirrah!’ says the coachman: ‘we are confounded
late, and have no time to look after dead men.’ A lady, who heard what
the postilion said, and likewise heard the groan, called eagerly to
the coachman to stop and see what was the matter. Upon which, he bid
the postilion alight and look into the ditch. He did so, and returned,
‘That there was a man sitting upright, as naked as ever he was born.’
‘O J--sus!’ cried the lady; ‘a naked man! Dear coachman, drive on and
leave him!’”

Rowlandson shows that in 1783 six horses were still used, and that
a postilion continued to ride one of the leaders. It was about this
same period that the generally misquoted remark about the ease of
driving a coach-and-six through an Act of Parliament grew proverbial.
It had originated so early as 1689, when Sir Stephen Rice, Chief
Baron of the Irish Exchequer and a bigoted Papist, declared for James
the Second, and was often heard to say he would drive a coach and
six horses through the Act of Settlement. Later generations, knowing
nothing of six horses to a coach, and unused to seeing more than four,
unconsciously adapted the saying to the practice of their own times.



All this while the stages had gone their journeys with the same
horses from end to end, and travel was necessarily slow. To the
superficial glance it would seem that neither the dictates of humanity
towards animals nor even the faintest glimmering perception of the
possibilities of speed in constant relays had then dawned upon
coach-proprietors; but it would be too gross an error to convict a
whole class of stupidity so dense and brutal. It is not to be supposed
that, at a time when ten-mile relays of saddle-horses for gentlemen
riding post were common throughout the kingdom, the advantages of
frequent changes and fresh animals were hidden from men whose daily
business it was to do with coaches and horses. The real reasons for the
bad old practice were many. They lay in the uncertainty of passengers,
in the extreme difficulty of arranging for changes at known places of
call, and, above all, in the impossibility of those coaches changing
whose route between given starting-point and destination was altered to
suit the convenience of travellers.

The first hint of quicker travel and of a better age for horses is
obtained in this advertisement of the Newcastle “Flying Coach,” May
9th, 1734:--

“A coach will set out towards the end of next week for London, or any
place on the road. To be performed in nine days, being three days
sooner than any other coach that travels the road: for which purpose
eight stout horses are stationed at proper distances.”

This, we may take it, was a rival of the old once-a-fortnight London
and Edinburgh stage, travelling those 396 miles in fourteen days, and,
as we infer from above, reaching Newcastle in twelve. At the same time
John Dale came forward with a statement that a coach would take the
road from Edinburgh for London, “towards the end of each week,” also
in nine days; so that rivalries evidently existed on the great road to
the north at that period. No conceivable change can satisfy everyone,
and these accelerated services alarmed the innkeepers, who thought they
saw their business of lodging and entertaining travellers thus doomed
to decay. It was obvious that when the Edinburgh stage travelled an
average of forty-four miles a day instead of a mere twenty-eight or
twenty-nine, and lay on the road only eight nights instead of thirteen,
innkeepers on that route must have lost much custom in the course of
the year. Other innkeepers on other roads gloomily heard of these
improvements, thought the times moved a great deal too rapidly, and
talked of the good old days when travelling was safe and respectable,
and an honest licensed victualler could earn a living. All these good
folks were, no doubt, greatly relieved when this sudden burst of
coaching enterprise died away, as it presently did, either because
the proprietors had undertaken to perform more than they could do,
or possibly for the reason that they had come to an agreement not to
force the pace or cut the fares. Such rivalries and such subsequent
agreements were in after years the merest commonplaces of coaching
history, and if we seek them here we shall probably be by way of
explaining the falling-off that left its traces twenty and thirty years
later in the following announcement:--

[Illustration: THE EDINBURGH STAGE-COACH, for the better Accommodation
of Passengers, will be altered to a new genteel Two-end Glass Machine,
hung on Steel Springs, exceeding light and easy, to go in ten Days in
Summer and twelve in Winter, to set out the first Tuesday in March, and
continue it from Hosea Eastgate’s, the Coach and Horses in Dean-street,
Soho, LONDON, and from John Somervell’s in the Canon gate, Edinburgh,
every other Tuesday, and meet at Burrow-bridge on Saturday Night, and
set out from thence on Monday Morning, and get to London and Edinburgh
on Friday. In the Wintera o set out from London and Edinburgh every
other Monday Morning, and to get to Burrow-bridge on Saturday Night;
and to set out from thence on Monday Morning, and get to London and
Edinburgh on Saturday Night. Passengers to pay as usual. Perform’d, if
God permits, by your dutiful Servant,

                    HOSEA EASTGATE.

Care is taken of small Parcels, paying according to their Value.


It is noteworthy that the Sunday was still kept in this year of 1754
as a day of rest. The reference to fares, in the lack of antecedent
information, leaves us in ignorance of what the passengers who paid
“as usual” really did pay, but it seems that the coach itself was in
that year something new and wonderful--a great improvement on what
had gone before. The old conveyance, hung on leather straps and with
unglazed windows, was discarded, and we have a “glass coach-machine,”
on steel springs, and with two ends, whatever they may have been.
Also, the coach ran winter and summer. The rough woodcut accompanying
this advertisement in the _Edinburgh Courant_ for March 4th, 1754,
and subsequent dates, shows us rather a coach built on the lines of
the gentleman’s private carriage of that age than a stage-coach. The
boasted springs are duly indicated. The driver has four horses in hand,
while a postilion, with a face like an agonised turnip, has a couple of

So much for 1754 on the Great North Road; but 1763 showed that
retrogression was still the note of the time in that quarter, for the
Edinburgh stage set out only once a month, and only when the weather
was favourable did it get to its destination in less than a fortnight.

A feeble effort made about 1739 to expedite travelling on the Exeter
Road seems also to have done little. The Exeter “Flying Stage” of
that year, purporting to inform the journey in three days, generally
took six. In 1752 it was announced that the “‘Exeter Fast Coach,’
for the better conveyance of travellers, starts every Monday from the
‘Saracen’s Head,’ Skinner Street, Snow Hill.” This also, although it
promised to get to Exeter in three days and a half, usually took six
days in winter.

Its programme was thus set out:--

  MONDAY.--Dines at Egham; lies at Murrell’s Green.

  TUESDAY.--Dines at Sutton; lies at the “Plume of Feathers,” in

  WEDNESDAY.--Dines at Blandford; lies at the “King’s Arms,” in

  THURSDAY.--At one o’clock, Exeter.

It carried six inside, but no outsides.

But let us be just to the coach-proprietors whose fate it was to work
the Exeter Road at that time. In that very year a correspondent wrote
to the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ pointing out the dreadful character
of that road. “After the first forty-seven miles from London,” he
said, “you never set eye on a turnpike.” There were turnpikes, and,
by consequence, well-kept roads, on the way to Bath, and he declared
that every one who knew anything at all about road-travelling went to
Exeter by way of Bath. As for the country along the Exeter Road, it was
reputed to be picturesque, but the state of the road forbade any one
making its acquaintance. “Dorchester is to us a _terra incognita_, and
the map-makers might, if they pleased, fill the vacuities of Devon and
Cornwall with forests, sands, elephants, savages, or what they please.”

Meanwhile, manufacturing England was coming into existence, and the
growing necessities of trade had brought about an increase of coaches
in other directions. Thus Birmingham, whose first direct communication
with London has already been shown in existence in 1679, and again
in 1731, had set up a “Flying Coach” in 1742, followed in 1758 by an
“Improved Birmingham Coach,” with the legend “Friction Annihilated”
prominent on the axle-boxes. This the _Annual Register_ declared to be
“perhaps the most useful invention in mechanics this age has produced.”
Much virtue lingered in that “perhaps,” for nothing more was heard of
that wonderful device.

It was not until 1754 that Manchester and London were in direct
communication. The desire of the provinces to get into touch with the
metropolis has always been greater than that of London to commune
with the country towns, and thus we see that it was an association of
Manchester men who set up the “Flying Coach,” just as the citizens of
Oxford and the good folks of Shrewsbury’s desire to travel to London
established conveyances for that purpose, and just as that early
railway, the London and Birmingham, was projected and financed at
Birmingham, and should, strictly speaking, have been inversely named.
But hear what the Manchester men of 1754 said:--

“However incredible it may appear, this coach will actually (barring
accidents) arrive in London in four days and a half after leaving
Manchester.” The distance, it may be remarked, was 182 miles.

The ancient rivalry of Manchester and Liverpool was roused by this, and
four years later the Liverpool “Flying Machine” was established, to
travel the 206½ miles between Liverpool and London in three days. The
fare, at £2 2s., thus represents about 2½d. a mile. This was followed
by the Leeds “Flying Coach” of 1760, advertised to do the 190 miles in
three days, by Barnsley, Wakefield, and Sheffield, but actually taking

Another great centre of coaching activity at this was Shrewsbury. Those
who know that grand old town, seated majestically on its encircling
Severn, that girdles the ancient blood-red walls with a flow as yellow
as that of the Tiber, will have observed an ancient metropolitan
air, an atmosphere of olden self-sufficiency, subtly characterising
the place. It is complete in itself: within the double ceinture of
river and hoary defensive walls it comprises something typical of
each separate estate of the realm. The monarch and the governing idea
are represented within that compass by the Castle and by the Council
House, and all around are still to be seen the town houses of the old
nobility and county families, neighboured by prosperous shops and
smaller residences. Shrewsbury, like York and Edinburgh, is in fact an
ancient seat of government, delegated directly from the Crown, once as
vitally viceregal as the Viceroyalty of India is now and much more so
than that of Ireland for long years past has been. Shrewsbury remained
the capital of the Marches of Wales until 1689, and the history of the
Council that thence ruled the border-lands is still singularly fresh.
Nor did it lose its importance even with the abolition of that body;
for, more than elsewhere, the town, until the railways came--suddenly
breaking up the old order and centralising everything in London--was a
centre of social life for wide surrounding districts. The titled and
gentle families of Shropshire, Herefordshire and North Wales who had
resorted to the old Court of the Marches continued to adorn Shrewsbury,
which had its own fashionable season and its own self-contained
interests. The whole social movement of those surrounding districts
was centred here, and at a time when the great manufacturing future of
England had not dawned, creating vastly populated cities and towns,
Shrewsbury was not rivalled as a coaching centre even by Bath. A
Shrewsbury coach was in existence in 1681, but the roads between the
Salopian capital and London proved too bad, and it did not last long,
nor was it succeeded by any other coach until the spring of 1753.
Stage-waggons were on the road in the interval between 1737 and that
date, but they did not fit the requirements of the gentlefolk, who,
when they did not ride horseback or drive in their own chariots to
London, posted across country to Ivetsey Bank, where they caught the
Chester and London stage.

With 1753 the continuous coaching history of Shrewsbury begins, in
the starting of the “Birmingham and Shrewsbury Long Coach,” which
journeyed to London in four days, by the efforts of six horses.
The distance was 152 miles, the fare 18s. The “Long Coach” was a
type of vehicle intermediate between the “Caravan” of 1750[C] and
the “Machine,” established in April 1764. It was a cheap method of
conveyance, one remove above the common stage-waggons. It set out once
a week, and seems to have been so immediately successful that a rival
and somewhat higher-class vehicle was put on the road as soon as the
coachmakers could build it. It was in the June of that same year that
the rival--“Fowler’s Shrewsbury Stage-coach” was the name of it--began
to ply to and from London in three and a half days; fare, one guinea
inside, outside half a guinea. Thus they continued to run for thirteen
years, without the intrusion of a third competitor. We are not told how
these outsides were carried. Probably they were obliged to cling to the
sloping roof, on which the athletic and adventurous found a fearful
joy with every roll and lurch, while those who were neither agile
nor imbued with the spirit of adventure grew grey with apprehension.
Indeed, it was probably the freak of some wild spirit--perhaps a sailor
or a drunken soldier--in seating himself on the roof that first gave
coach-proprietors the idea that roofs might be used to carry outsides
as well as to shelter the august occupants of the interior. We may be
allowed to imagine the arrival of the coach that first carried these
freakish persons on that dangerous eminence, and to picture the joy of
the proprietor, who thereupon determined that, as these pioneers for
the fun of it had arrived safely, there must be a commercial value in
places on the roof. The thing was done. Three outsides sat on the front
part, with their feet on the back of the driving-box, while one had
a place on the box-seat with the driver, and room was left for three
more on the hind, and most inconvenient, part of the roof, where, like
Noah’s dove, they found no rest for the soles of their feet, and had
the greatest difficulty in maintaining their position.

    [C] P. 119.

If the “outsides” on Fowler’s Shrewsbury stage of 1753 were not
carried on the roof, they must have been carried in “the basket”;
but as stage-coaches provided with this species of accommodation
were generally stated in their advertisements to have “a conveniency
behind,” and the advertisement of this makes no such claim, we are
free to assume that the roof was their portion. The “basket” was,
however, already a well-established affair. It was a great wickerwork
structure, hung on the back of the coach between the hind wheels by
stout leather straps, and rested on the axletree. Originally intended
to convey the luggage, it was found capable of holding passengers, who
suffered much in it in order to ride cheaply. In the racy, descriptive
language of the time, this “conveniency” was known much more aptly as
the “rumble-tumble.” In this “rumble-tumble,” then, the second-class
passengers sat, up to their knees in straw. The more straw the better
the travelling, for although the body of the coach had by this time
been eased with springs, the basket was not provided with any such
luxury, and anything in the nature of padding would have been welcome.
Already, in 1747, Hogarth had pictured an inn yard with a coach
preparing to start, and had shown a basket fully occupied, and two
outsides above.

The coaches were by now hung much higher, and the original driver’s
seat had given place to a lofty box, from which the coachman had a
greater command over his horses.

The general appearance of stage-coaches at this time has been
eloquently described by Sir Walter Scott. They were covered with dull
black leather, thickly studded with broad-headed nails, tracing out
the panels. The heavy window-frames were painted red, and the windows
themselves provided with green stuff or leather curtains which could
be drawn at will. On the panels of the body were displayed in large
characters the names of the places whence the coach started and whither
it went. The coachman and guard (when there was a guard at all) sat
in front upon a high narrow boot, often garnished with a spreading
hammer-cloth with a deep fringe. The roof rose in a high curve. The
wheels were large, massive, ill formed, and generally painted red.
In shape the body varied. Sometimes it resembled a distiller’s vat
somewhat flattened, and hung equally balanced between the immense back
and front springs; in other cases it took the form of a violoncello
case, which was, past all comparison, the most fashionable form; again,
it hung in a more genteel posture, inclining on the back springs,
in that case giving those who sat within the appearance of a stiff
Guy Fawkes. The foremost horse was still ridden by a postilion, a
longlegged elf dressed in a long green and gold riding-coat and wearing
a cocked hat; and the traces were so long that it was with no little
difficulty the poor animals dragged their unwieldy burden along. It
groaned, creaked, and lumbered at every fresh tug they gave it, as a
ship, beating up through a heavy sea, strains all her timbers.

In 1774 the proprietors of the “Original London and Salop Machine,
in the modern taste, on steel springs,” announced that, among other
improvements, their coach had “bows on the top.” Some consideration of
this portentous improvement inclines us to the belief that these “bows”
must have been guard-irons on the roof for passengers to hold on by,
and to prevent them being thrown off. A little further consideration
will perhaps bring us to the conclusion that those “bows” would not
even then have been placed there had not some serious accident already
happened. Such protection was not uncommon, as may be gathered from
an account of a coach journey written by Charles H. Moritz, a worthy
German pastor who visited England in 1782. His narrative shows that
those who were obliged to ride cheaply had a choice of the basket and
the roof, and that although the roof then had no seats, it was provided
with little handles, to hold on by. But they were of little use, and
when the coach rolled like a ship upon a stormy sea the chances of
being flung overboard were still as many as ever. But he, like others,
having tried both basket and roof, preferred the latter, and returned
to it, groaning with the shocks received in the “rumble-tumble.”

Rowlandson’s picture of a stage-coach in 1780 shows the same
preference. Only one passenger is seen in the wickerwork appendage,
while the roof, innocent of safeguards or seats, is covered with
sprawling passengers who are content to take their chance of an
involuntary flight, so that they escape the certain inconveniences of
the “conveniency.”

“I observe,” says Moritz, “that they have here a curious way of riding,
not in, but upon, a stage-coach. Persons to whom it is not convenient
to pay a full price, instead of the inside, sit on the top of the
coach, without any seats or even a rail. By what means passengers thus
fasten themselves securely on the roof of these vehicles I know not;
but you constantly see numbers seated there, apparently at their ease
and in perfect safety. This they call riding on the outside, for which
they pay only half as much as those who are within.

“Being obliged to bestir myself to get back to London, as the time
drew near when the Hamburg captain with whom I intended to return had
fixed his departure, I determined to take a place as far as Northampton
on the outside. But this ride from Leicester to Northampton I shall
remember as long as I live.

“The coach drove from the yard through a part of the house. The inside
passengers got in from the yard, but we on the outside were obliged to
clamber up in the street, because we should have had no room for our
heads to pass under the gateway. My companions on the top of the coach
were a farmer, a young man very decently dressed, and a blackamoor. The
getting up alone was at the risk of one’s life, and when I was up I was
obliged to sit just at the corner of the coach, with nothing to hold
on by but a sort of little handle fastened on the side. I sat nearest
the wheel, and the moment that we set off I fancied I saw certain death
before me. All I could do was to take still tighter hold of the handle,
and to be strictly careful to preserve my balance. The machine rolled
along with prodigious rapidity over the stones through the town of
Leicester, and every moment we seemed to fly into the air, so much so
that it appeared to me a complete miracle that we stuck to the coach at
all. But we were completely on the wing as often as we passed through a
village or went down a hill.

“This continual fear of death at last became insupportable to me, and
therefore, no sooner were we crawling up a rather steep hill, and
consequently proceeding slower than usual, than I carefully crept
from the top of the coach, and was lucky enough to get myself snugly
ensconced in the basket behind. ‘O sir, you will be shaken to death!’
said the blackamoor; but I heeded him not, trusting that he was
exaggerating the unpleasantness of my new situation. And, truly, as
long as we went on slowly up the hill, it was easy and pleasant enough;
and I was just on the point of falling asleep, having had no rest the
night before, when on a sudden the coach proceeded at a rapid rate
downhill. Then all the boxes, iron-nailed and copper-fastened, began,
as it were, to dance around me; everything in the basket appeared to be
alive, and every moment I received such violent blows that I thought my
last hour had come. The blackamoor had been right, I now saw clearly;
but repentance was useless, and I was obliged to suffer horrible
torture for nearly an hour, which seemed to me an eternity. At last we
came to another hill, when, quite shaken to pieces, bleeding, and sore,
I ruefully crept back to the top of the coach to my former seat. ‘Ah,
did I not tell you that you would be shaken to death?’ inquired the
black man, when I was creeping along on my stomach. But I gave him no
reply. Indeed, I was ashamed; and I now write this as a warning to all
strangers who are inclined to ride in English stage-coaches and take an
outside seat, or, worse still, horror of horrors, a seat in the basket.

“From Harborough to Northampton I had a most dreadful journey. It
rained incessantly, and as before we had been covered with dust, so now
we were soaked with rain. My neighbour, the young man who sat next me
in the middle, every now and then fell asleep; and when in this state
he perpetually bolted and rolled against me with the whole weight of
his body, more than once nearly pushing me from my seat, to which I
clung with the last strength of despair. My forces were nearly giving
way, when at last, happily, we reached Northampton, on the evening of
July 14th, 1782, an ever-memorable day to me.

“On the next morning I took an inside place for London. We started
early. The journey from Northampton to the metropolis, however, I
can scarcely call a ride, for it was a perpetual motion, or endless
jolt from one place to another, in a close wooden box, over what
appeared to be a heap of unhewn stones and trunks of trees scattered
by a hurricane. To make my happiness complete, I had three travelling
companions, all farmers, who slept so soundly that even the hearty
knocks with which they hammered their heads against each other and
against mine did not awake them. Their faces, bloated and discoloured
by ale and brandy and the knocks aforesaid, looked, as they lay before
me, like so many lumps of dead flesh. I looked, and certainly felt,
like a crazy fool when we arrived at London in the afternoon.”



We have now arrived at the time when the goods traffic became a
prominent feature of the road.

The precursor of all public vehicles was the carrier’s waggon, a
conveyance of hoary antiquity, intended in the first instance for the
carriage of heavy goods, but finding room for those wayfarers who were
too poor to own or hire a horse, or possibly too infirm to sit one even
if their means sufficed. At least a hundred and fifty years before
the earliest stage-coach was put on the road, the waggon, the poor
man’s coach, was creaking and groaning on its tedious way at a pace of
little more than two miles an hour. The stage-waggon, in fact, came
into use about 1500, and the first glimpse and earliest notice of the
carrier’s and stage-waggon business introduces us to a very celebrated
waggoner indeed, by far the most notable of all his kind--none other,
in fact, than Thomas Hobson, the carrier between Cambridge and London,
the grand original of the Chaplin & Hornes, the Pickfords, the Carter
Patersons, and Suttons of succeeding generations. Hobson’s London
place of call was the “Bull,” Bishopsgate Street Within. When the
business was founded is not on record, but it was old-established
and prosperous when he succeeded to it on the death of his father in
1568. Under the terms of his father’s will he inherited, among other
things, the vehicle with which the carrying trade was conducted, the
“cart and eight horses, and all the harness and other things thereunto
belonging, with the nag.” It is quite evident from this that one cart
or waggon sufficed for all the commerce between London and Cambridge
at that time. If he did not choose to take these things, he was to
have £30 instead, the equivalent of their value, which--taking into
consideration the fact that the purchasing power of money at that time
would be about six times that of our own--was therefore £180. The
“nag” specified in the will was, of course, the horse ridden by the
waggoner by the side of the eight-horse waggon team. In old prints of
stage-waggons we see that the waggoner did not usually drive his team
from the waggon holding the reins, but rode a pony, and, wielding a
whip of formidable length, urged on the much-suffering beasts through
mud and ruts.

Hobson senior had been a man of wealth and consideration, and his son
increased both. In his father’s lifetime he had gone continually back
and forth with the waggon, and so continued to go until his death,
January 1st, 1631, in his eighty-sixth year. He was, as his father had
been before him, not merely a carrier between Cambridge and London, but
the only one, and specially licensed by the University. He conveyed
the letters, too, and had a very lucrative business of letting out
saddle-horses. In those days, before coaches had come into existence,
and when able-bodied men, despising the slow progress of the waggon,
rode horseback, his stable of forty horses, “fit for travelling, with
boots, bridle, and whip, to furnish the gentlemen at once, without
going from college to college to borrow,” was in great request. From
his determination to allow no picking and choosing, and his refusing
to allow any horse to be taken out of its proper turn, first arose
that immortal proverb, “Hobson’s Choice, that or none”--in other
words, no choice whatever. University witlings made great play with
Hobson, and when at last he died, quite a sheaf of lyrical epitaphs on
him appeared, from the well-known ones by Milton to the more obscure
exercises of anonymous versifiers.[D]

    [D] For a detailed notice of Hobson, with a portrait of him,
        see the _Cambridge, Ely, and King’s Lynn Road_, pp. 10–12,
        32, 140, 157–166.

The business of stage-waggoning obtained its first specific notice
so late as 1617, when Fynes Morison, in his _Itinerary_, mentioned
the “carryers, who have long covered waggons, in which they carry
passengers from place to place; but this kind of journey is so tedious
by reason they must take waggon very early and come very late to their
innes, that none but women and people of inferior condition travel in
this sort.”

How early they were accustomed to start, and how late would come
to their inns, may be gathered from the great classic instance in
Shakespeare, where the two carriers in the First Part of _King Henry
the Fourth_ are discovered in the innyard at Rochester preparing to
set forth for London. It is two o’clock in the morning, and London
but thirty miles away, yet it will not be earlier than “time to go to
bed with a candle” before that gammon of bacon and those two razes of
ginger are delivered at Charing Cross.

Shakespeare, of course, here wrote, not of the manners and customs of
Henry the Fourth’s time, but of what he had himself heard and seen,
and what might so be seen and heard on any day, early in the morning,
in the yard of any considerable hostelry in the kingdom. He has fixed
for ever, in his deathless pages, the road life that existed when the
sixteenth century was drawing to its close.

Contemporary with, but originating even earlier than, the stage-waggons
were the pack-horses, which dated from a time when even the
broad-wheeled wains would have sunk hopelessly in the mud of the best
roads in the country. By pack-horse, at an earlier date than 1500,
all goods, and even such heavy articles as building-stone, coals and
timber, were carried, for the very eloquent reason that, before the
passing of the first General Highway Act, in 1555, which was the first
obligation upon the parishes to repair and maintain the roads, nothing
had been done to keep them in repair for many centuries; and the
parishes, with the best will in the world, could not at once retrieve
them from their desperate condition. Wheeled traffic had been unknown
until the early stage-waggons appeared, and those few who travelled
otherwise than afoot or on their own horses were content to mount the
pack-saddle of a patient and long-suffering pack-horse, themselves
only a degree less long-suffering and patient. Then the etymology of
the words “travel” and “journey” was abundantly justified; for it was
sorrow and hard labour to leave one’s own fireside, and a day’s journey
was--what the word “journey” implies--the passing from place to place
within the hours of daylight. No one dared travel the roads when night
had fallen, and it was not until the eighteenth century had dawned that
coaches began to run by night as well as day.

In far parts of the country and on the by-roads the pack-horse train
lasted an incredible time. Wheeled conveyances of any kind were,
generally speaking, impossible on any but the principal roads. The
farmers and higglers who had occasion to transport heavier loads
than it was possible for horses to carry, used a primitive kind of
sledge, formed of tree-trunks, of which the light tapering ends formed
the shafts and the heavy bodies of the trunks the runners. Thus the
building materials were of old often carried or dragged, with much
friction and waste of effort, to their destination. In Devon and
Cornwall these truly savage makeshifts were called by the peculiarly
descriptive name of “truckamucks.”

When Smollett, the novelist, travelled from Glasgow to Edinburgh
and on to London as a young man, in 1739, he rode pack-horse as far
as Newcastle, for the simple reason that between Glasgow and the
Tyne there was neither coach, cart, nor waggon on the road; and in
Yorkshire, Cumberland, Devon and Cornwall, and the like extreme corners
of the land, where remoteness from the world and the rugged nature of
the country conspired to exclude wheels, the packman and his small but
sturdy breed of laden horses alone kept the rural districts supplied
with their barest requirements until the first years of the nineteenth
century were come. The old packmen’s and drovers’ ways, narrow and
winding to avoid the turnpike-gates that once took toll of all but the
foot-passenger, may still be traced on the Yorkshire wolds, along the
shoulders of the Westmorland and Cumberland fells, and by the rivers
and moors of Devon and Cornwall. Often they are not even lanes, but
only precipitous and rocky tracks, eloquent of those old times that
are commonly pictured so rosy, but were really very grey and dour.
Here and there the sign of the “Pack Horse” still survives, and marks
the old houses of entertainment once frequented by the packmen of that
vanished past. The “Pack Horse” at Chippenham and those two old houses
at Turnham Green, the “Old Pack Horse” and the “Pack Horse and Talbot”
were halting-places of the packmen who travelled the Bath Road. The
last-named house is now little more than an ordinary London “public,”
but it still displays a picture-sign, copied from an old original,
showing a pack-horse with a talbot by his side; the “talbot” being the
old English hound, something between a foxhound and a bloodhound, a
fierce creature who guarded his master’s property from the thieves and
dangers of all kinds that then befell so constantly along the roads, or
even at the often ill-famed inns by the wayside.

An attempt to supplant the pack-horses between London and Shrewsbury
was made in 1737, by the establishment of the “Gee-ho.” Facts relating
to this conveyance are of especial interest, because we are told the
circumstances that led to it being put on the road. It seems, then,
that until that year Shrewsbury had known no other than a pack-horse
service, which set out from and came to what was then the “Pheasant,”
now the “Lion and Pheasant,” Inn on Wyle Cop, in that town. A Mrs.
Warner, a widow, was landlady, and apparently pack-horse proprietor as
well. A shrewd fellow named Carter, a soldier who had been billeted at
the inn, made love to the widow, married her, and managed the business.
Let us hope they were both happy and successful. At any rate, Carter
started the “Gee-ho” as the first conveyance to ply between Shrewsbury
and London. It was a stage-waggon, drawn by eight horses, with two
others in reserve to pull it out of those sloughs that might then be
confidently expected on the way. It was advertised to go to or from
London in seven, eight, or nine days in either direction, according to
the condition of the roads.

Smollett’s description of how Roderick Random and Strap easily
overtook the waggon journeying to London along the Great North Road
naturally leads to an inquiry why, if being ill-provided with money
and only lightly burdened with luggage, they, in common with others,
preferred to pay for the doubtful privilege of going slower than they
could easily walk. The reason, perhaps, lay partly in that lack of
appreciation of scenery which characterised the period. Poets had not
yet seen fit to rhapsodise upon the beauties of nature, and artists had
not begun to paint them. Both were in thrills of the most exquisite
rapture on the subject of shepherds and shepherdesses, but their Arcady
was bounded by bricks and mortar. Strephon and Chloe wore silk and
satin, red-heeled shoes and wigs, and patched and powdered amazingly.
Theirs was a bandbox Arcady, a pretty bit of make-believe of the kind
pictured by Watteau; and though they found much poetry in lambs, they
knew nothing of the wintry horrors experienced by the genuine shepherds
in the lambing season, and, indeed, nothing of nature outside the
well-ordered parks and formal gardens of the great. All classes alike
looked with horror upon natural scenery, regarded the peasantry as
barbarians, and left the towns with reluctance and dismay.

With feelings of this kind animating the time, it is not surprising
that even humble wayfarers, ill able to spare the money, should
have sought the shelter and the society that the interior of the
stage-waggons afforded. Other reasons existed, little suspected by
the present generation, whose great main roads, at any rate, are well
defined and excellently well kept. No one, nowadays, once set upon the
great roads to York and Edinburgh, to Exeter, to Portsmouth, Dover or
Bath, need ask his way. It is only necessary to keep straight ahead.
In those old days, however, when travellers could describe the visible
road as being a narrow track three feet wide, _occasionally_ rising
out of the profound depths of mud and water on either side, no one
who could afford to pay would walk, even assuming the very doubtful
physical possibility of struggling through such sloughs afoot.

In 1739 two Glasgow merchants, going horseback from Glasgow by
Edinburgh to London, found no turnpike road until they had gone
three-quarters of their journey, and were come to Grantham. Up to that
point they travelled on a narrow causeway, and met from time to time
strings of pack-horses, thirty to forty in a gang, carrying goods.
The leading horse of each gang carried a bell, to give warning to
travellers coming from an opposite direction. The narrow causeway not
affording room to pass, the horsemen were obliged to make room for the
pack-horses and plunge into the mud, out of which they sometimes found
it difficult to get back upon the road again. Those were the times
when coachmen, often finding the old roads impassable, would make new
routes for themselves across a country not merely strange to turnpike
roads, but still largely open and unenclosed. Travellers then dare not
go alone, if only for a very well-founded fear of losing their way,
just as Pepys, years before, often did when travelling in his carriage
to Bath, to Oxford, Salisbury and elsewhere. He is found paying a
guide 22s. 6d. to show him and his coachman the way between Newport
Pagnell and Oxford; 3s. 6d. for another to guide him from Hungerford
to Market Lavington, and, indeed, after he had experienced the awful
seventeenth-century mischance of losing his way two or three times
through having economised and neglected to provide this necessary aid,
guides everywhere. Travellers then achieved what we moderns are apt to
think wonderful things in thus losing themselves. Pepys actually missed
his way on the Bath Road between Newbury and Reading, and Thoresby lost
himself riding on the Great North Road between Doncaster and York in
1680; in his diary fervently thanking God that he found it again.

Although, by an early Act of William III.’s reign, the justices were
ordered to erect guideposts at the cross-roads, and road surveyors were
to be fined 10s. if the provisions of the Act were not complied with,
such posts (except perhaps on the road to Harwich, so often travelled
by the Third William on his journeys to and from the Continent) were
conspicuously lacking for many generations yet to come, and no one ever
seems to have heard of country surveyors being fined for not performing
the duty thus laid upon them. An exception to this picture of an
uncharted wilderness thus presented is found in the diary of Celia
Fiennes, who in the last decade of the seventeenth century travelled
through England on horseback, and especially remarked the Lancashire
cross-roads between Wigan and Preston being furnished with “hands
pointing to each road, with ye names of ye great towns on.” The fact of
her thinking the circumstance worth noting shows us how uncommon it was
for roads to be signposted.

Only the waggoners who constantly used the roads could with certainty
find their way; and so, and for fear of the highwaymen and the
footpads and other hedgerow rascals to whom the smallest plunder was
not despicable, the waggon was a welcome friend to the poor. Safety
was thought to lie in numbers; although it is true that, in the
moment of trial, even a waggonful of able-bodied travellers would
commonly surrender their few valuables to the first demand of a single
highwayman, whose pistol was probably unloaded, and, even if primed,
generally refused to “go off” when fired. It is not unnatural to
prefer to be robbed in company with a number of others, rather than
to be the solitary victim. For these reasons, therefore, even the
able-bodied and unencumbered often chose to tediously travel with
the women, the infirm, and those whose luggage compelled. Smollett’s
humorous description of the stage-waggon and the follies and foibles
of its very mixed passengers is the classic authority for this stratum
of road life. The sham captain, really a quondam valet, braggart
before the timorous, but shaking with the fear of death upon him when
the pretended highwayman appears; his wife, aping a gentility as mean
as it is transparently false; the money-loving and peace-loving but
satirical Jew; the lively Miss Jenny, and the waggoner, are all types,
slightly caricatured, but true to the life of the period. Putting aside
the question as to whether such people could be conjured out of his
inner consciousness without some basis of fact, we must consider that
Smollett, writing of his own time, would not for his own sake be likely
to draw a picture which would seem a forced or unnatural representation
of the wayfaring life of the period. Thus, when he makes his characters
journey for five days in this manner, and brings them on the sixth to
an inn where the landlord gives the meal they had bespoken to three
gentlemen who had just arrived, we think we learn something of the
contempt with which almost every one looked down upon passengers by
stage-waggons. The gentlemen themselves said: “The passengers in the
waggon might be d----d; their betters must be served before them;
they supposed it would be no hardship on such travellers to dine on
bread-and-cheese for one day.” And the poor devils certainly would have
gone without their meal had it not been for that good fellow Joey, the
waggoner, who, entering the kitchen of the inn with a pitchfork in his
hand, swore he would be the death of any man who should pretend to
seize the victuals prepared for the waggon. “On this,” says Smollett,
“the three strangers drew their swords, and, being joined by their
servants, bloodshed seemed imminent, when the landlord, interposing,
offered to part with his own dinner, for the sake of peace,” which
proposal was accepted, and all ended happily.

[Illustration: THE WAGGON, 1816.

                    _After Rowlandson._

Such was the picture of travel by stage-waggon it was possible to
present to the public in 1748 as a reasonably accurate transcript of

It was at that time the usual practice among a party of travellers
by waggon to elect a chairman on setting out. The one thus set above
his fellows arranged with the waggoner where they were to halt during
the day, settled with the innkeepers an inclusive charge for meals
and accommodation, and was treasurer, paymaster, umpire, and general
referee in all disputes. Thus was the ancient original idea of
government in larger communities--government solely for the welfare of
the community itself--reproduced in these poor folk.

The gradual replacement of the pack-horses by heavy waggons began on
the most frequented roads about the third decade of the eighteenth
century. Twelve Turnpike Acts for the improvement of local roads had
been passed in the ten years between 1700 and 1710. They increased by
seventy-one in the next ten years, and no fewer than two hundred and
forty-five came into existence between 1730 and 1760, followed from
1760 to 1770 by a hundred and seventy-five more. The great number of
five hundred and thirty Acts in seventy-five years shows both the
crying needs of the age and the energy with which the problem of
road-improvement was grasped by Parliament. If the resulting betterment
of the roads was not so great as it should have been, that was due
rather to the unbusinesslike methods by which the turnpike trustees
despatched their business, and not to the Government.

Aikin, writing of Manchester and its history, tells how the trade of
that town, carried on of old by chapmen, owning gangs of pack-horses,
began to increase in 1730, consequent upon the improvement of the
roads. Waggons were set up, and the chapmen, instead of setting
forth with their goods for sale, only rode out for orders, carrying
patterns with them in their saddle-bags. Thus the commercial traveller,
familiar in all the years between 1730 and the present time, came into
existence. During the forty years from 1730 to 1770, says Aikin, the
trade of Manchester was greatly pushed by the practice of sending these
“riders,” as they were called, all over the kingdom. The goods they
sold by sample were delivered in bulk by the waggons.

By 1750, the gradual introduction of two classes of vehicles between
the common stage-waggon and the stage-coach had begun. The first of
these intermediate types was the Shrewsbury and London “Flying Stage
Waggon,” announced to begin flying from Shrewsbury, October 22nd, 1750,
to reach London in five days, winter and summer. As Shrewsbury is 152
miles from London, this meant thirty miles a day. Welsh flannels, and
consignments of butter and lard and miscellaneous goods, shared this
vehicle with the passengers. There was nothing in the build of this new
comer on the road to distinguish it from the common stage-waggons, and
it only progressed the quicker because, following the newly-established
practice of the coaches of that period, it changed horses at places on
the way, instead of making the whole journey with one--often tired and
exhausted--team. The other type of vehicle was the “caravan” or “long
coach,” the next step higher in the social scale. A “caravan” was put
on the road between Shrewsbury and London at the close of 1750. It was
an affair greatly resembling modern gipsy-vans, and was fitted inside
with benches for eight, twelve, or even, at a pinch, eighteen persons.
It was drawn by “six able horses,” and professed to reach London in
four days, but often occupied the whole of five. The fare to London
by “caravan” was 15s.--rather less than a penny-farthing a mile. A
six-horsed conveyance answering to this description, but uncovered, is
pictured by Rowlandson fifty-six years later, on a road not specified
by him.

In April 1753 the “Birmingham and Shrewsbury Long Coach” began to ply
between those places and London, completing the distance in three and
a half days; fare 18s. Here, evidently, were several social grades;
and when the Shrewsbury stage-coach of the same year, charging a
guinea for an inside place, and the “Machine” of 1764, with a limited
number of seats at 30s., each came on the scene, the several degrees
of contempt with which all these classes of travellers, from those at
twopence-farthing a mile down to those others at a penny-farthing,
regarded one another and the lowest class, whose shilling a day or
halfpenny a mile was the lowest common denominator in stage-waggon
travelling, must have been curious certainly, if not edifying, to
witness. The usual alternative of a halfpenny a mile or a shilling a
day gives about twenty-four miles as a day’s journey for the common
stage-waggon, and as the Flying Waggon was advertised to go at the
rate of thirty miles a day, six miles a day was therefore the measure
of the superiority in speed of one over the other. But the accumulated
contempt of all those social scales for the occupant of the common
waggon did not rest there, any more than it began with the passengers
of the “Machine.” Just as the lordly and gentle folk who had travelled
in their own chariots looked down even upon the loftiest heights of
stage-coach travelling, so did the poor folk of the waggons unload
their weight of contempt upon those poorest of the poor, who, having
nothing to lose, feared no one--except perhaps the parish constable,
apt to be arbitrary and not always able to distinguish between a
penniless but honest wayfarer and a rogue and vagabond. Frequently
these travellers in the lowest stratum saw the highwayman approach,
not merely without fear but with a certain pleasurable anticipation;
because your true knight of the road had a certain generous code
of morals, and while he robbed the rich, gave to the needy--a thing
perhaps counted to him for righteousness by that recording angel who
effaced the record of Uncle Toby’s hasty imprecation with a kindly
obliterating tear.

[Illustration: THE STAGE-WAGGON, 1820.

                    _After J. L. Agasse._

The general increase of heavy traffic soon after the middle of the
eighteenth century did not escape the notice of those responsible for
the condition of the roads. Incompetent road-surveyors, ignorant of
the science of road construction and employing unsuitable materials
and unskilled labour, saw the highways they had mended with mud,
road-scrapings and gravel continually falling into ruts and sloughs,
often from twelve to eighteen inches deep. Seeking any cause for this
rather than their ignorance of the first rudiments of construction,
they naturally discovered it in the passage of the heavily-weighted
waggons, and raised an outcry against them accordingly. To an age that
saw no better method of mending the roads than that of raking mud on
to them and throwing faggots and boulder-stones upon that basis, this
seemed reasonable enough, and Parliament was at length persuaded to
authorise discriminatory rates to be imposed by the turnpike trusts
upon carts and waggons whose wheels were not of a certain breadth.
The argument was that the broader the wheels, the greater would be
the distribution of weight, and consequently the road would be less
injured. It was an argument based, correctly enough, upon natural laws,
and the age was not educated to the point of seeing that roads should
be made to the measure of the traffic they might be called upon to
bear, rather than that the build of vehicles should be altered to suit
the disabilities of the roads themselves. So, from 1766, a series of
Turnpike Acts began, containing clauses by which narrow wheels were
penalised and broad ones relieved. Tolls were not uniform throughout
the country, but although those one Trust would be authorised to levy
might, from some special circumstance, be higher than others, they
ranged within narrow limits. Generally, a four-wheeled waggon drawn by
four horses, with wheels of a less breadth than six inches, would pay a
shilling on passing a turnpike gate; with wheels measuring six inches
broad and upwards, the toll would be ninepence; and with a breadth of
nine inches and upwards, sixpence. Not at every gate was payment of
tolls made in those old days. Payment made at one generally “freed”
the next, and sometimes others as well; but here again there was no
general rule. Special circumstances made some trusts liberal and others
extremely grasping.

A width of sixteen inches for waggon wheels was very generally urged
and adopted, and thus it is that in old pictures of this period the
great wains have so clumsy an appearance, looking, indeed, as though
the wainwrights had not yet learned their business, and from ignorance
built more solidly than the loads carried gave any occasion for.

In 1773, one James Sharp, of Leadenhall Street, advertised his
invention of a “rolling waggon,” whose rollers (in place of wheels)
were of this breadth of sixteen inches, and proceeded to state that
“two late Acts of Parliament” allowed all carriages moving upon
rollers of that gauge to be drawn by any number of horses or cattle,
and further, that they were allowed to carry eight tons in summer and
seven in winter, and to pass toll-free for the term of one year from
Michaelmas 1773, and after that time to pay only half toll. Clearly,
then, in the great mass of legislation for roads and traffic there was
then a limit existing for loads and for teams. It only remained for the
wisdom of the time to enact laws giving a bonus to every waggon whose
wheels exceeded a breadth of two feet--thus making every such vehicle
its own road-repairer--for the absurdity to be complete. There had,
indeed, already arisen a bright genius with a somewhat similar idea,
for in 1763 Bourne published his design of a four-wheeled waggon whose
front axletree was to be so much shorter than the hind one that the
foremost wheels would make a track inside the hinder. The breadth of
wheel, indeed, was not to be more than fifteen inches, but the combined
breadth of all four planned thus would flatten out no less than a
five-foot width of road, and the heavier the contents of the waggon,
so much better for the proper rolling of the way. But this ingenious
person took no account of the extra difficulty of haulage, and the
consequently larger teams that would be required for this engine of
his. It never came into use, nor did the rival invention of another
amiable theorist meet a better fate. This device set out to deal with
the problem of soft and rutted roads by fixing heavy iron rollers under
the frame of a waggon. While the vehicle progressed along good roads
these rollers were not brought into contact with the ground, but as
soon as the wheels began to sink into foul and miry ways, the rollers
came into touch with the surface, and at the same time prevented any
further sinking and flattened out all irregularities.

Turnpike roads, being then things “new-fangled” and unusual, were of
course disapproved of by all that very numerous class who distrust any
change. Doubtful of their own ability to hold their own in any order
of things newer than that in which they have been brought up, _any_
change must to them be for the worse. The waggoners to a man were
numbered in this class, and, apart from the tolls to be paid on the
new roads, objected to them as new. An entertaining contributor to the
_Gentleman’s Magazine_ in 1752 consulted “the most solemn waggoner” he
could find between London and Bath. This was one “Jack Whipcord,” who,
like every one else, preferred to go round by “a miserable waggon-track
called ‘Ramsbury Narrow Way.’ Jack’s answer was, that roads had but one
object--namely, waggon-driving; that he required but five feet width
in a lane (which he resolved never to quit), and all the rest might go
to the devil. That the gentry ought to stay at home and be damned,
and not run gossipping up and down the country. No turnpikes, no
improvements of roads for him. The Scripture for him was Jeremiah vi.
16.[E] Thus,” says the writer, “finding Jack an ill-natured brute and a
profane country wag, I left him, dissatisfied.”

    [E] “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,
        where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find
        rest for your souls.”

We are not to suppose, from this imaginary “Jack Whipcord,” that
waggoners were generally of a dour and unpleasant nature. Indeed,
the consensus of opinion to be collected from old-world literature
shows that, as a class, they were pleasant and light-hearted. M.
Samuel de Sorbière, a distinguished Frenchman who visited England in
1663 and has left a very entertaining account of his travels, paints
a charming little cameo portrait of the waggoner who was in charge
of the six-horse stage-waggon by which he travelled from Dover to
Gravesend. The horses were yoked one before the other, and beside them
walked the waggoner, “clothed in black and appointed in all things
like another Saint George. He had a brave mounteero on his head, and
was a merry fellow, who fancied he made a figure and seemed mightily
pleased with himself.” “Joey,” too, the waggoner already glimpsed in
_Roderick Random_, was sprightly and light-hearted; and we have the
evidence of that old English ballad, the “Jolly Waggoner,” that men of
this trade were conventionally regarded as devil-me-care fellows, own
brothers in disposition to sailors, always represented as jolly, even
in the old days when rations were scanty and bad and rope’s endings
plentiful. This jollity is insisted upon, even by the old wayside signs
of the country inns. Now and again you may find the sign of the “Jolly
Anglers,” while on the Portsmouth Road the “Jolly Drovers” is to be
seen, and on the Exeter Road the “Jolly Farmer,” a creature vanished
from this country and utterly unknown these forty years and more; but
only the waggoners and the sailors are usually known by that adjective.
Rarely, indeed, is the sailor described in any other way. In a few
instances he may be “Valiant,” but ninety times in every hundred he is

According to the second verse of the “Jolly Waggoner,” his cheerfulness
was invincible:--

    It is a cold and stormy night: I’m wetted to the skin,
    But I’ll bear it with contentment till I get me to my inn,
    And then I’ll sit a-drinking with the landlord and his kin.
                  Sing wo! my lads, sing wo!
                  Drive on, my lads, gee-ho!
    For who can live the life that we jolly waggoners do-o-o?

He knew something of all kinds of weather, and met all kinds of men in
his daily journeys, and thus early became something of a philosopher,
looking forward for nothing beyond his nightly inn, in whose kitchen he
was well known and esteemed, alike for his own qualities and the news
and parcels he brought from the outer world on the other side of the
distant hills. With a sack over his shoulders and peace in his mind,
he could greet the rainy days with joke and song, or endure even the
wintry horrors of December and January with equanimity; yet when spring
was come and grass grew green and the bare, ruined boughs of the trees
began to be clothed again with leaves, not even the old heathen Greeks
and Romans in their Floralia celebrated the coming again of the sun
with more heartiness. His horses and himself were decked with ribbons
on May Day, his sweetheart had some longed-for present from the Great
City, and not even the blackbird on the hawthorn spray sang a merrier
tune, as he drove his team along their steady pace.

It is not a little difficult to pronounce an opinion upon the fares
which the poor folk paid by stage-waggon. Prices varied widely. On the
Great North Road in 1780, between London and Edinburgh, the measure
was, indeed, not by miles but by days; but as the journey took fourteen
days, and the fare was a shilling a day, and the distance covered was
396 miles, we can figure it out at about twenty-eight miles a day
at something less than a halfpenny a mile. Early stage-waggons to
Cambridge, however, appear to have exacted three-halfpence a mile, and
moved with incredible slowness, taking two and a half days to perform
the fifty-one miles, and sleeping two nights upon the road. On the Bath
Road the waggon-fare seems to have been something less than a penny a

We have already seen something of the old waggon-life, as shown by
Smollett: let us now inquire into the costs and charges of the journey,
apart from the fare. How did these humble folk eat and drink, and how
did they lodge for the night when the waggon came to its inn at sunset?
Sometimes they slept in the shelter of the waggon itself, under the
substantial covering of the great canvas tilt, snugly curled up in
the hay and straw, and barricaded by the crates and boxes that formed
part of the load--not an altogether uncomfortable, if certainly too
promiscuous, a sleeping arrangement. At other times the stable-lofts of
the inns formed their apartments. Landlords of reputable hostelries,
mindful of the social gulf that (in the opinion of the insides)
existed between the inside passengers of a stage-coach and those
off-scourings of the country who rode on the roof or in the “basket,”
did not commonly allow those belonging to that even lower stratum, the
waggons, to sleep in their houses. A supper of cold boiled beef and
bread in the kitchen, followed by a shake-down in the hay or straw
of the stables, at an inclusive price of sixpence or ninepence, was
their portion. Swift himself, that terrible genius of the eighteenth
century, who knew the extremities of obscurity and fame, of penury and
affluence, was, in his early days, of this poor company. When a young
man, travelling from the house of his patron, Sir William Temple, at
Moor Park, near Farnham, in Surrey, to see his mother at Leicester,
he rode in the waggon, and slept at “the penny hedge-inns,” where
they were not above letting a bed for the night to a young man so
unusually particular as to pay sixpence extra for clean sheets and a
bed to himself--an exclusive arrangement, it would appear, not within
the everyday philosophy of those humble caravanserais. He whom not only
later ages, but even his contemporaries, unite in acclaiming a genius,
generally chose to take his food with waggoners, ostlers, and persons
of that station. The superfine Lord Orrery, who recorded these facts,
and tells us that Swift “delighted in scenes of low life,” says he
“dined” with them; but if Lord Orrery had been as well acquainted with
humble circles he would have known that the low people in them do not
“dine” at all; they just “have dinner.”


                    _After J. Pollard._

It is impossible to obtain more than a glimpse of the early carriers,
and even the later stage-waggons were only occasionally advertised in
the newspapers of the past. Thus, turning to Sussex, we only hear of
“Thomas Smith, the Old Lewes Carrier,” in a reference to him after his
death. How many years he had jogged along the green Surrey and Sussex
lanes on his weekly journeys between Southwark and Lewes we know not.
He died in 1746, and his widow carried on the business, according to
her advertisement in the _Lewes Journal_:--

  NOW CONTINUED BY HIS WIDOW, MARY SMITH, who gets into the ‘George
  Inn,’ in the Borough, Southwark, EVERY WEDNESDAY in the afternoon,
  and sets out for Lewes EVERY THURSDAY morning by eight o’clock, and
  brings Goods and Passengers to Lewes, Fletching, Chayley, Newick,
  and all places adjacent at reasonable rates. Performed (_if God
  permit_) by MARY SMITH.”

No mention yet, it will be observed, of Brighton, that little
fisher-village of Brighthelmstone which presently was to rival
fashionable Bath. The waggon went no farther than Lewes; and the first
public conveyance to Brighton appears to have been the “Brighthelmstone
Stage” of May 1756, running as an extension of the “London and Lewes
One-Day Stage.”

Speed was by no means sought upon these old waggon-journeys. Quite
apart from their usual inability to go, under the most favourable
circumstances, at more than about four miles an hour, they were exempt
from passenger-duty, on all travellers carried, only when the rate of
progression did not exceed that speed.

Thus, although the Brighton waggon owned by Tubb and Davis in 1770
had a rival conveyance put on the road in 1776 by Lashmar & Co., both
continued at the old pace. Both went by way of East Grinstead and
Lewes, and took three days to perform the fifty-eight miles, Lashmar’s
waggon leaving the “King’s Head,” Southwark, every Tuesday at 3 a.m.,
and arriving at the “King’s Head,” Brighton, on Thursday afternoons.
Goods and parcels were carried at the rates of 2s. 6d. and 3s. per cwt.

Malachy Postlethwayt’s _Dictionary of Trade_, a work published in
1751, gives some eloquent details on this subject of the carriage of
goods. Comparing that year, when turnpikes had improved the roads,
with the bad ways of thirty or forty years earlier, it is stated that
where six horses could in former times scarcely draw 30 cwt. sixty
miles, they could then draw 50 or 60 cwt. Carriage, too, was cheaper
by 30 per cent. than before. In 1750 there were from twenty-five to
thirty waggons sent weekly from Birmingham to London, carrying goods
at from £3 to £4 a ton; thirty years earlier the cost had been £7 a
ton. Between Portsmouth and London freights had fallen from £7 to £4 or
£5; and between Exeter and London and other towns in the west of like
distance from £12 to £8. Postlethwayt cited these figures with pride,
but he argued that the heavy waggons wore out the roads, and that
they did not pay sufficient toll. The manufacturers, he thought, got
too much advantage out of these low freights, and although the public
thereby could purchase goods more cheaply, they paid their savings
all out again in the heavy repairs of the highway and the consequent
extravagant highway rates rendered necessary. Railway rates, we may
here remark, are a source of much bitter discussion to-day, but they
are fifteen times less than the reduced rates of 1750.

Even in the last days of the road, when railways had already begun to
stretch the length and breadth of the land, the waggons on the less
important highways continued very much as they had been accustomed to
do; but with the second decade of the nineteenth century a demand for
the quicker conveyance of goods arose on those great roads that gave
access from the important manufacturing towns to London, or from London
to the chief seaports. With this demand, in the improved condition
of those roads, it now became for the first time possible to comply.
On less frequented routes--roads leading to agricultural districts
and sleepy old towns and villages that produced nothing for distant
markets and wanted little from them--the common stage waggon and the
flying waggon lingered. The Kendal Flying Waggon of 1816, pictured
by Rowlandson, halting at a wayside inn to take up or set down goods
and passengers and to change horses, lasted well on into the railway
age; but in places nearer to and in more direct communication with the
commerce of great cities, the type was early supplemented by later

[Illustration: THE STAGE-WAGGON, 1816.

                    _By Rowlandson._

The first of these were the “Fly Vans,” of which the swift conveyances
of Russell & Co., van proprietors, trading between London and the West
of England, were typical. They were built on the model of the wooden
hooded van seen in London streets at the present time, but considerably
larger than now common. Russells had for many years continued a service
of stage-waggons between the port of Falmouth and the Metropolis.
Drawn by the then usual team of eight horses, augmented by two,
or even four, more on many of the hills that make the west-country
roads a constant succession of ups and downs, they had brought heavy
goods and luggage that distance in twelve days, at the rate of three
miles an hour, carrying passengers at a halfpenny a mile. But with the
coming of the nineteenth century they found the stage-coaches, with
their “rumble-tumbles,” beginning to carry people at a slightly higher
fare, and performing the whole distance of 269 miles in three days and
nights. Even the poorest found it cheaper to pay the higher fare and
save the delays and expenses of the other nine days, and so Messrs.
Russell found one branch of their trade decaying. They accordingly,
about 1820, put their “Fly Vans” on the road, vehicles which did the
journey in the same time as the ordinary stage-coaches of that period,
and, running night and day, continued so to set forth and come to their
journey’s end until the railway came and presently made away with fly
vans, stage-coaches and mails alike.

A sign of the times immediately preceding railways was the appearance
of the heavy covered luggage and goods vans, exclusively devoted to
that class of traffic and carrying no passengers. How the heavy goods
of Birmingham and other great towns were then conveyed along the roads
is shown in the curious and very interesting old painting, engraved
here, of Pickford & Co.’s London and Manchester Luggage Van. The roads
between London and the great manufacturing towns at length became
crowded with goods, and had it not been for the railways, they must at
an early date have become altogether inadequate, and an era of great
highway improvement and widening have set in, notwithstanding that
quite two-thirds of the goods traffic at that time was water-borne, and
went by those canals with which the genius of Brindley and Telford,
and the enterprise of the Duke of Bridgewater and others, had half a
century earlier intersected the trade routes and manufacturing centres
of the country.

It is at once instructive and interesting here to glance at the figures
prepared by the promoters of the London and Birmingham Railway, opened
in 1838, by which they argued the pressing need of a railway, which
should carry cheaper and quicker. They gave several sets of estimates,
whose discrepancies are to be accounted for by the increasing volume
of traffic; but, to reduce their figures to round numbers, it seems
that in the year before the line was begun, the annual average of goods
despatched between Birmingham and London was 144,000 tons, carried at
rates of from fivepence to sixpence a mile per ton by the “Fly-boats”
on the canal and by the vans and waggons. By canal the annual
expenditure was £227,000, by road £113,000. Passengers, numbering
488,342, at an average of twopence a head per mile on the 109 miles,
spent £447,646 in travelling.


                    _After George Best._

To those who unfailingly see the wise direction of Providence in
everything, it would seem that Providence had thus raised up railway
engineers and capitalists at the psychological moment; but the views
of coach-proprietors, coachmen, guards, ostlers, innkeepers, and the
innumerable others depending in one way or another upon the road for a
living, did not, it is to be feared, look so complacently upon the new
era which in many instances ruined them. Nor, perhaps, did those who
were financially interested in canals ascribe the new order of things
to providential interposition.

That, indeed, is providential which advances one’s own interests and
preserves one’s well-being, but misfortunes are generally given a very
different ascription. The providential interpositions that benefited
one class inflicted very great hardship and loss upon another. The
canals that were, before the introduction of railways, very great and
keen competitors with the waggons, were frozen up in severe winters,
and all traffic along them stopped, and thus the whole of the carrying
trade went by road, greatly to the advantage of the turnpike trusts
and the owners of waggons. Indeed, severe winters, if unaccompanied
by snow, were in every way advantageous to the waggons, because the
frost-bound roads gave good going, while “open” winters made the
highways a sea of mud and almost impassable.

Although with the coming of the railways the stage-waggons swiftly
disappeared from such direct commercial routes as those between London
and Birmingham and London and Manchester, this ancient type of vehicle
lingered amazingly on the purely agricultural roads leading to the
Metropolis out of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. As the stage-waggon was the
earliest of old road vehicles, so also it was the last; and even when
the last coach came off the road, and people travelled only by train,
there were still left not a few of the old waggons continuing their
sober journeys, not in the least affected by the railways. They came
to and set out from London very much as they had been used to do two
hundred and forty years before, and resorted as of old to the ancient
inns that lingered in such strongholds of the old road-faring interest
as the Borough High Street, Aldgate and Whitechapel, and Bishopsgate
Street. It is true they carried passengers no longer, for when railway
travel came, and was cheap as well as speedy, there were none who could
afford the time taken of old by waggon. It was cheaper to pay a railway
fare, and thus save a day or even more. But with heavy goods it long
remained far otherwise, and even into the ’sixties it was possible to
see the lethargic waggons still ponderously coming to their haven out
of Kent and Sussex at the “Talbot” in the Borough (only demolished in
1870), from the Eastern Counties to the “Blue Boar” or the “Saracen’s
Head” in Aldgate, or from the North to the “Four Swans,” the “Bull,”
or the “Green Dragon,” in Bishopsgate Street Within, precisely as they
had done from the beginning, when Shakespeare was play-writing. They
were built in the same fashion as of yore. The immense canvas-covered
tilts had not changed their pattern, and their dim old horn lanterns
were genuine antiques; their wheels, as clumsy as ever they had been,
shrieked for grease and racked the ears of the lieges as they had
always done; and the lieges swore at the waggoners and the waggoners
cursed back at them in strange provincial dialects, just as their
respective ancestors had been wont to do for more generations than one
cares to count. The Londoner little imagined--because his imagination
on any subject is small--when he looked dully upon these old
conveyances, and the old inns to which they came, that he was gazing
upon a survival of the age of Elizabeth; and while he was thus failing
to realise the exquisite interest of what he saw, the “common stage
waggons,” as they were technically named by Act of Parliament, ceased
altogether off the face of the earth, and nearly all the old galleried
inns were swept away.



Long before the last quarter of the eighteenth century dawned, the time
was ripe for Post Office reform in the carrying of the mails; but, as a
matter of course, no one within that department saw any necessity for
change, and although the Post Office revenue was suffering severely
from correspondence being sent in a clandestine manner by stage-coach,
the slow and uncertain old methods had been retained. Reform had, as
always, to come from without, just as when Ralph Allen of Bath planned
his service of postboys in 1719. He had, against much opposition,
introduced his system of messengers riding with the mails at a speed of
“not less than five miles an hour,” then considered great expedition,
and comparing very favourably with the average stage-coach speed of
something less than four miles, including stops. Allen’s postboys were
at that time the fastest travellers on the road, with the exception of
the highwaymen, whose blood mares, according to tradition, were faster
still. No one could grumble at the course of post in those days on the
score of comparison with the journeys made by other travellers; but,
like many other reforms, Allen’s postboys, excellent at the beginning,
did not wholly succeed in keeping abreast of the times. Roads improved:
everyone and everything went at a much greater rate of progression,
save the Post Office postboys, who for forty-six years continued to
go at the same speed as that of their predecessors of an earlier
generation. They were, indeed, sent out more frequently on certain
routes on which business had increased, and on the more frequented
roads the mails were, from June 1741, despatched six days in the week,
instead of twice and thrice, as had formerly been the case; but up to
the time of Allen’s death, in 1764, speed remained what it had always
been, and it was not until the following year that the postboys’
regulation rate of travelling was raised by Act of Parliament from
five to six miles an hour, inclusive of stops. The post-horses were,
however, of the same inferior kind as of old. The best animals were,
very naturally, kept back by the postmasters--who were generally the
innkeepers also--for their customers, and for the Post Office the worst
nags in the stable were invariably reserved. An Act of Parliament,
backed by the power of the executive, is a very dread thing, but it
has not the power of compelling a horse incapable of going more than a
certain number of miles an hour to add another mile to his speed. The
improvement could thus have been only nominal.

The Post Office officials in Lombard Street, where the General Post
Office was then situated, were very well content for the public service
to be continued as of old. It would be idle to speculate how long the
department would have lagged behind the times and seen the Post Office
revenues being gradually eaten away by the growing practice of secretly
sending letters by the stage-coaches, which had by this time attained
a speed of about seven miles an hour, and in addition set out more
frequently and at more convenient hours than the postboys. It would
be idle thus to speculate, because, when the scandal was growing to
noticeable proportions--when it was asserted that the Post Office lost
not less than £80,000 a year by letters being conveyed by unauthorised
persons, and when people grew indignant that “every common traveller
passed the King’s Mail”--there came to the front a man with a plan to
remedy what surely was the very absurd paradox that the Government
strenuously reserved to itself the monopoly of letter-carrying, and yet
provided no reasonable facilities for those letters to be conveyed,
and idly watched thousands of pounds of that cherished revenue being
annually diverted from their proper destination. This man with a
well-matured scheme of reform was John Palmer, a native of Bath, born
at No. 1, Galloway’s Buildings (now North Parade Buildings), in 1742.
His father was a brewer and spermaceti-merchant, and proprietor of two
highly prosperous theatres at Bath and another at Bristol. Intended by
his father for the Church, his own inclinations were for the Army; but
he was not suffered to follow his bent, and so was taken from school
and placed in the counting-house of his father’s brewery. Wearying
of that commercial routine, and still without success disputing the
question of entering the Army, he set about learning the practical side
of brewing, and worked among the vats and mash-tubs of his father’s
establishment. Then his health gave way, and signs of consumption
rendered a rest and change of air necessary. Recovering at last
and returning to Bath, he entered into the conduct of his father’s
theatrical enterprises, and at the time when he conceived his plan was
the very busy and successful manager of all these theatres, for which
his energy had secured Royal patents--a license then necessary for the
presentation of stage-plays. These patents were then the only ones
enjoyed by theatres out of London.

[Illustration: JOHN PALMER AT THE AGE OF 17.

                    _Attributed to Gainsborough, R.A._

Palmer was, therefore, no impecunious adventurer, but a theatrical
proprietor and manager, accustomed to secure the highest talent for his
houses in this resort of fashion. His native energy, that brought him
success in beating up for talented actors and actresses all over the
country, stood him in good stead when the idea of entirely remodelling
the carrying of the mails occurred to his active mind. Nothing, indeed,
short of the utmost persistence and determination could have surmounted
the obstacles to reform that were placed in his way by the Post Office

The mails he had perceived to be the slowest travelling in the kingdom,
and he decided that they ought to be, and should be, the quickest.
His own frequent journeys had shown him the possibilities, and long
observation at Bath had displayed how far short of these the postboys’
journeys always fell. Thirty-eight hours were generally taken to
perform the 109 miles between the General Post Office and Bath, at a
time when travellers posted down in post-chaises in one day.

Other objections to postboys existed than on the score of insufficient
speed. It was, he declared, in the last degree hazardous to entrust
the mail-bags--as inevitably was often done--to some idle boy, without
character, and mounted on a worn-out hack, who, so far from being able
to defend himself against a robber, was more likely to be in league
with one.

Post Office postboys, it should here be said, were, like the postboys
who drove the post-chaises, by no means necessarily boys or youths.
They included, it is true, in their ranks all ages, but the great
majority of them were grown-up, not to say aged, men. Some people,
indeed, recognising the absurdity of calling a decrepit old man a
“postboy,” preferred to give him the title of “mailman,” by which
name a postal servant who got drunk and delayed the Bath mail in 1770
is styled in a contemporary newspaper, which says, “The mail did not
arrive so soon by several hours as usual on Monday, owing to the
mailman getting a little intoxicated on his way between Newbury and
Marlborough and falling from his horse into a hedge, where he was found
asleep by means of his dog.”

[Illustration: JOHN PALMER.

                    _From the painting by Gainsborough, R.A._

Instead of exposing letters to these and other risks, Palmer
proposed that a service of mail-coaches should be established on every
great road.

It was a bold scheme, and seemed to most of those to whom it was
unfolded rash and unworkable. To quite understand this attitude of
mind on the part of Palmer’s contemporaries, both inside and outside
the Post Office, it is essential to project ourselves mentally into
those closing years of the eighteenth century, when no one travelled
save under direful compulsion, when correspondence between sundered
friends and relatives was fitful and infrequent, and when even business
relations between the newly-risen industries of the great towns and the
rural districts were carried on in what we now consider to have been
a most leisurely and somnolent manner. The world went very well then
for the indolent, and they resented any quickening of the pace; and
that the average acute business men of that age considered the course
of post reasonable seems evident when we consider that it was not from
their ranks that this reforming project came, and that they are not
found supporting it until the first mails had been put on the road and
proved successful. _Then_ that imagination which had been altogether
lacking or dormant in business minds was aroused, and the great towns
and cities not at first provided with these new facilities eagerly
petitioned the Post Office authorities for mail-coaches.

Palmer contended that mail-coaches could be established at no
greater expense than that of the postboys and horses, who cost
threepence a mile. At a time, he continued, when stage-coaches cost
their proprietors about twopence a mile, it was quite certain that
adventurers could be found to establish mail-coaches if the Government
would consent to pay them at the same rate as the postboys, to exempt
them from the heavy tolls to which ordinary traffic was liable, and to
permit passengers to be carried to enable these speculative persons to
earn a profit on their enterprise. The proposed exemption from toll
was very reasonable when we consider how onerous were the turnpike
charges on the Bath Road, typical as it was of others. The charges for
a carriage and four horses between London and Bath were not less than
18s., or about twopence a mile.

These mail-coaches, he considered, should travel at about eight or nine
miles an hour. They should carry no outside passengers, but were to be
provided with a guard, who, for the better protection of the mails,
should be armed with two short guns or blunderbusses. The coachman,
too, should be armed, but his equipment was to be two pistols, for with
his reins to hold with one hand he could not, like the guard, bring his
weapon to the shoulder. The journey, for example, between London and
Bath, it was thought, could be performed in sixteen hours, including
stoppages; and this unusual expedition, together with the assured
safety, would result in the projected coaches being well patronised by
the public.

This plan was matured in 1782, and Palmer lost no time in securing the
good offices of an influential friend to bring it to the notice of
the “Heaven-born Minister,” Pitt, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The time, however, was not propitious, for the ministry soon went out
of office, and it was not until 1784, when he was again in power, that
Palmer’s plan obtained a trial. Pitt was heartily in favour of it, and
carried it into effect against the unanimously adverse opinions of the
Post Office surveyors, who resented one outside their own sanctified
and anointed caste daring to suggest that the methods of the department
were capable of improvement. One was, or affected to be, unable to see
why the post should be the swiftest conveyance in the kingdom; and to
another it appeared that for guards and coachmen to carry arms would be
to encourage the highwaymen--who assuredly would continue to attack the
mail--to a greater use than before of pistols, so that murder would be
added to robbery and the country run with blood. In conclusion, they
were all amazed that any dissatisfaction or desire for change should
exist, and from that amazement proceeded to argue that they really
did not exist. If (they said) the mails were not frequent enough or
swift enough, there were always the expresses ready to be specially
hired. Now, as at that time a letter going a hundred miles by mail
would cost fourpence, and the cost of an express--at threepence a mile
and a two-and-sixpenny fee--would for the same distance be 27s. 6d.,
this surprise was not altogether unlike that of Marie Antoinette, who,
hearing that the people were starving for lack of bread, wondered why
they did not eat cakes instead.

These official objections having been brushed aside at a Treasury
conference held on June 21st, arrangements were made for a coach
to run on the road from Bristol, through Bath, to London, pursuant
to an order issued on July 24th, which stated that “His Majesty’s
Postmasters-General, being inclined to make an experiment for the more
expeditious conveyance of mails of letters by stage-coaches, machines,
etc., have been pleased to order that a trial shall be made upon the
road between London and Bristol, to commence at each place on Monday
the 2nd August next.”

On July 31st, 1784, five innholders--one in London, one at Thatcham,
one at Marlborough, and two in Bath--entered into an agreement to horse
the coach down that ancient turnpike. They received threepence a mile
for their services.

A conflict of testimony as to whether the first mail-coach started on
August 2nd, 1784, or on August 8th, seems to be disposed of by the
advertisement in _Bonner & Middleton’s Bristol Journal_ of July 31st
in that year, although there is nothing in succeeding issues of that
journal to show whether the service actually did or did not begin on
the date announced:--


  _To commence Monday, August 2nd._

  The Proprietors of the above Carriage having agreed to convey the
  Mail to and from London and Bristol in Sixteen Hours, with a Guard
  for its Protection, respectfully inform the Public, that it is
  constructed so as to accommodate Four Inside Passengers in the most
  convenient Manner;--that it well (_sic_) set off every Night at
  Eight o’Clock, from the Swan with Two Necks, Lad-Lane, London, and
  arrive at the Three Tuns Inn, Bath, before Ten the next Morning,
  and at the Rummer-Tavern, near the Exchange, Bristol, at Twelve,
  ... Will set off from the said Tavern at Bristol at Four o’Clock
  every Afternoon, and arrive at London at Eight o’Clock the next

  The Price to and from Bristol, Bath, and London, 28s. for each
  Passenger ... No Outside allowed.

  Both the Guards and Coachmen (who will be likewise armed) have
  given ample Security for their Conduct to the Proprietors, so that
  those Ladies and Gentlemen who may please to honour them with their
  Encouragement, may depend on every Respect and Attention.

  Parcels will be forwarded agreeable to the Directions immediately
  on their Arrival at London, etc. etc., and the Price of the
  Porterage as well as the Carriage, on the most reasonable Terms,
  will be charged on the Outside to prevent Imposition.

  Any person having reason to complain of the Porter’s Delay, will
  oblige the Proprietors by sending a Letter of the Times of Delivery
  of their Parcels to any of the different Inns the Diligence puts up

            Performed by
            WILSON & CO., London.
            WILLIAMS & CO., Bath.

  N.B. The London, Bath, and Bristol Coaches from the above Inns as

Immediately beneath this advertisement it is amusing to see a
counterblast, in the form of an announcement by Pickwick, Weeks, and
other “Proprietors of the Coaches from Bristol, Bath, and London,” who
“respectfully beg leave to inform the Public that they continue to run
their Coaches from the Bush Tavern in Corn Street, Bristol,” and from
other inns in that city and at Bath, “with equal Expedition to any
Coaches that travel the Road.” Stage-coach proprietors in general were,
not unnaturally, alarmed and angered by the inauguration of a swift
service of subsidised mail-coaches, not only claiming to perform their
journeys in a specified time, but actually doing so under contracts
providing for penalties when the official time-table was not kept.
_They_ were under no such obligations, and continually claimed to do
things impossible to be performed, secure from penalties. “What time
do you get to London?” asked a passenger of a stage-coachman. “Six
o’clock, sir, is the proper time, but I have been every hour of the
four-and-twenty after it,” was the reply.

The first mail-coaches were merely ordinary light post coaches or
diligences pressed into the service; but, unlike those of other and
unofficial coaches, whose stages ranged from ten to fifteen miles or
more, the horses were changed at stages varying from six to eight
miles. In this way it was possible to attain a running speed of eight
miles an hour, to destroy the old reproach that the mail was the
slowest service in the kingdom, and to set the pace to everything
else on the road. Thus once again the Post Office commanded the utmost
expedition, and to the mail-coaches those travellers flocked who
desired the quickest, the most dignified, and the safest method of
progression in that age.

The first results of the mail-coach system were of a very mixed nature.
The course of post was, it is true, greatly accelerated, but the rates
of postage were immediately raised, and although the added convenience
was well worth the extra charge--which, after all, was much less than
the surreptitious sending of letters by stage-coach had been--people
grumbled. By the ordinary postboys the charge for a single letter had
been a penny for one stage, twopence for two stages, and threepence
for any higher distance up to eighty miles. Over that distance the
charge was fourpence. The postboys’ stages ranged from ten to as many
as fourteen miles. Under the new dispensation the postage was raised at
once to twopence the first stage, and the stages themselves were rarely
more than seven or eight miles, and often shorter. Correspondence going
longer distances enjoyed, it is true, a reduction; for two stages cost
threepence and distances exceeding two stages and not more than eighty
miles were rated at fourpence.

The short-distance correspondence therefore paid from three to four
times as much as under the old order of things, and long-distance
letters a penny more; but all alike shared the advantage of the
mail-coaches’ comparative immunity from attack and their going every
day, including even Sundays. One class of correspondents, indeed,
suffered inconvenience for a time while reorganisation was in progress.
These were the residents on the bye-roads and in the smaller towns not
situated on the great mail routes. It is obvious that the coaches could
not be made to go along the secondary and very ill-kept roads, and
that, even could that have been done, it would not have been possible,
in the lack of passenger traffic along them, to have found contractors
prepared to horse the coaches at the price they gladly accepted on the
main arteries of travelling. The postboys had, on the other hand, gone
everywhere, and the complex system of bye- and cross-posts established
by Allen and maintained by these riders was really, for that time,
a wonderful achievement. Residents off the mail routes now began to
miss the postboy’s horn, and found their letters lying for days at the
post-offices until they were called for. Instead of the post coming to
the smaller towns and villages, those minor places had to send to the
nearest post-office on the mail-coach road. These inconveniences only
gradually disappeared on the organisation of a service of mail-carts
from the post-towns to rural post-offices, collecting and delivering
the cross-posts; and it was not until another ten years had passed that
the bye-mails became, as well as the direct ones, what they should
always have been, quicker than any other public conveyance on the
roads. With this at length accomplished, the leakage of Post Office
revenues automatically disappeared, for it is not to be supposed that,
when the mails were more; frequent, cheaper, and more speedy than other
methods, the public would resort to slow and more expensive ways of
sending their letters.

The next mail-coach to be put on the road was the Norwich Mail, in
March 1785; and in May of that same year the first of the cross-road
mails was established. This was the Bristol and Portsmouth. It was
followed in rapid succession by the long services from London: the
Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, on July 25th; the London, Gloucester
and Swansea; the Hereford, Carmarthen and Milford Haven, by Glasbury;
the Worcester and Ludlow; the Birmingham and Shrewsbury; the Chester
and Holyhead; the Exeter; the Portsmouth; and--on October 16th, 1786,
in answer to the petition for a mail-coach along the Great North Road
sent up by the cities and towns on that highway--by the York and
Edinburgh Mail.

Palmer was not content with merely reorganising the inland mails; he
was eager to see his plan adopted in France, and to this end opened up
negotiations with Baron D’Ogny, the French Minister of Posts, in 1787.
Correspondence between them, and between his secretary, Andrew Todd,
and M. de Richebourg, was still proceeding in 1791, when the French
Revolution put an end to all such things.

The success of his plan in England was no sooner assured than his
position came up for discussion. We must by no means regard Palmer as
a mere sentimental reformer. Nothing could be wider of the truth. He
thought he saw, in thus being of service to the public, an excellent
opportunity of furthering his own fortunes. He had observed how great a
fortune Allen had made by the posts being farmed to him, and although
by this time the business of the Post Office was grown too huge to be
let out at a rent, his acute mind, as we have seen, devised a plan
that brought him little financial risk or outlay. His were the brains;
the Post Office, and the contractors who horsed the coaches, took the
responsibility and the risk, if any.

It was now only to be expected that he should be rewarded for his idea
and for the way in which he had brought the plan into being. He was
accordingly, but not until October 1786, appointed Comptroller-General,
with a yearly salary of £1,500, and 2½ per cent. on the net revenue
in excess of £250,000; which sum represented the former Post Office
revenue of £150,000 plus the £90,000 the newly-raised rates of postage
had added to the year’s takings.

It is not the purpose of these pages to enter into the long and pitiful
story of the hatreds and jealousies that Palmer’s appearance at the
Post Office excited, nor does the subject in hand admit any extended
study of Palmer’s own character. When he went to the Post Office as
Comptroller-General, he went with a determination to be unfettered in
his actions, and expected to be supreme in fact, although nominally
responsible to the Postmasters-General. At this period the Post Office,
which had staggered on from job to job from its very inception,
and had been purged from time to time only to settle down on every
occasion into a new era of corruption and theft of every degree,
from the most pettifogging pilfering up to malversation of funds on
a monumental scale, was riddled through and through with scandals.
There had long been a succession of joint Postmasters-General from
1690, when Sir Robert Cotton and Mr. Thomas Frankland were appointed;
and that double-barrelled office, although conducted by those first
incumbents in an efficient and altogether praiseworthy manner, had long
degenerated into a political appointment. Cotton and Frankland had been
more than official figureheads. They had resided at the General Post
Office, and were hard-working and conscientious servants of the public.
Their successors degenerated into impracticable officers of State, who
usually only took part in Post Office work to the extent of signing
official documents they never read, and never actively interfered
but to perpetrate some new job, or--for they commonly were violently
jealous of one another--for the purpose of undoing some already
existent scandal set agoing by their fellow Postmaster-General.

It was Palmer’s misfortune to go to the Post Office at a time when
these gilded figureheads were not perhaps more efficient, but certainly
more interfering, than the generality, and, being himself hot-headed
and impatient of control, he very soon came to disagreement from them.
Their suggestions he at first haughtily ignored, as in his opinion
likely to injure his plans, and when those suggestions became commands,
he entirely disobeyed them. The chiefs with whom he thus came into
bitter conflict were at first Lords Carteret and Walsingham: the
former a “job-master,” as Palmer satirically styled him, of peculiar
shamelessness and audacity; his colleague a man of probity, but with
something of the formal prig in his constitution that irritated Palmer
at last beyond endurance. Walsingham made a point of investigating
everything. He may not have been a better man of business than Palmer,
but he was a man of orderly methods, which Palmer was not. Palmer did
things well, but in an unbusinesslike way; Walsingham must for ever be
seeking precedents, calling for vouchers, and insisting upon official
etiquette. All this was very poisonous to the new Comptroller-General,
who found himself largely controlled instead of controlling. Carteret,
being convicted by his colleague of a job, Palmer hotly thought his own
honesty questioned when careless and unreported appointments solely on
his own initiative were resented by his official superior. Thus affairs
continued through six years of changes, in which Postmasters-General
succeeded one another and returned like the changes of a kaleidoscope.
But while other Postmasters disappeared, Walsingham, the stickler
for form, remained. With others Palmer might have found some way
of compromise, but with Walsingham he could not do other than carry
on a struggle for mastery. The end came when that peer had for his
fellow the Earl of Chesterfield, who possessed sufficient humour by
himself to be amused with Palmer’s frettings against authority, but in
conjunction with Walsingham could only follow his lead. Annoyed beyond
his own powers of control (which, to be sure, were very limited) by
the action of the joint Postmasters in referring to the Treasury an
affair which he conceived to be a purely Post Office matter, concerning
the mileage to be paid for the Carlisle and Portpatrick mail, Palmer
forthwith suddenly stopped on his own authority the Falmouth, Bristol,
Portsmouth and Plymouth mail-coaches, which were all being paid for
at a higher rate than his superiors thought necessary, but which they
had not agreed to discontinue. Questioned about this action, that had
thrown the mails in the south-west of England into utter confusion,
he insolently declared that what their lordships objected to on one
road was surely objectionable on another; if they preferred mail-carts
to mail-coaches they could have them. A violent quarrel then blazed
up. Palmer charged the Postmasters-General with deliberately and
capriciously thwarting his best arrangements. He would appeal to the
Prime Minister against their interference.

The Postmasters desired nothing better; but Pitt, who had the
greatest confidence in Palmer, long evaded the interview they sought
with him to procure his dismissal, and when at length they did win
to his presence he made it quite clear that it was not in their
direction his sympathies extended. Indeed, it is quite possible that
the Comptroller-General would have seen his masters out of office
while he retained his own, had it not been for the extraordinary and
unexplained treachery of Palmer’s own friend, Charles Bonnor, whom he
had provided with a splendid post at the General Post Office. This man
suddenly launched a pamphlet in which he accused his benefactor of
delaying the London post in order to create popular demands for reforms
Palmer himself desired to introduce, reforms that would place him in
a position of higher authority. The Postmasters-General received the
publication of this pamphlet with a well-simulated amazement, but the
suspicion that they had themselves induced Bonnor to perform the part
of Judas is inevitable, and is deepened by their subsequent action.
Palmer, of course, suspended Bonnor, whereupon they asked the reason,
and on Palmer refusing to give an explanation that must have been
wholly unnecessary in fact, if not in actual form, they reinstated the
man. Nay, more, when Bonnor repaired to my lords with the news that
Palmer had refused to reinstate him, and had, in fact, ordered him with
threats off the premises, they consented to read and to show to Pitt
the private and confidential correspondence he had brought with him,
addressed by Palmer to his former friend during a series of years, and
containing not a little compromising matter, proving how Palmer had
been steadily bent on asserting his own authority and on denying that
of the Postmasters-General.

[Illustration: THE MAIL-COACH, 1803.

                    _From the engraving after George Robertson._

The whole pitiful story is at bottom an indictment of the figurehead in
public life; an exposure of the hoary custom of appointing political
and ornamental heads to the overlordship of executive departments
really ruled by permanent officials. My lords came and went as party
fortunes willed. Palmer had officially no politics; all he desired was
to perfect his already successful plan. Other Postmasters-General would
have been content with their figureheadship, and have danced like any
other Governmental puppets to the pulling of official strings; but
Palmer’s overlords declined to do anything of the sort, and if they
could not organise or originate, found it at least possible to meddle
and veto.

Palmer, ready at most times to do anything--to travel many
miles, to expend his highly nervous energies in any other way
than by letter-writing, made this one irretrievable blunder of a
generous-minded man. He was accustomed to unburden himself on paper
to the friend who already owed everything to him--and who by natural
consequence hated him for it--and by so doing was, as we perceive, in
the end undone.

The Postmasters-General were the sole eventual gainers by Bonnor’s
incredible perfidy, for that creature, by rare poetic justice, died at
last in misery and want.

When at length they succeeded in obtaining another interview with
Pitt and disclosed these letters, there was, of course, an end of
Palmer’s official career. But it was sorely against his will that the
Great Commoner left the Comptroller-General to his fate. He saw that
a great deal of the animus shown against him by my lords was due to
their sense of the enormity of a person of his rank withstanding not
merely Postmasters-General, but Postmasters-General who were also peers
of the realm. He saw, too, that a peer with the dignity of his caste
offended can descend to more despicable depths to avenge himself than a
mere untitled person would plumb. The pity is that even Pitt could not
ignore letters written in confidence and treacherously disclosed.

But, although Palmer was left to the mercy of his enemies, who
instantly dismissed him, he did not go without acknowledgment. His
salary and commission had by now reached £3,000 a year, and this sum
Pitt continued to him as a pension from 1792, the date of his dismissal.

Palmer was now fifty years of age, and in his prime. He naturally was
not content with this settlement, and moved the whole influential world
to aid him, petitioning the House of Commons, and at length securing a
committee to investigate his case. Sheridan, moving the appointment of
this body, urged Palmer’s claims with generous eloquence. He described
how the reformer had formed the plan of a mail-coach service, and
had introduced it to the notice of the Government, entering into an
agreement to receive a percentage in the event of success, and not
one shilling if it proved a failure. “None but an enthusiast,” he
declared, “could have formed such a plan; none but an enthusiast could
have carried it into execution; and I am confident that no man in this
country or any other could have done it but that very individual, John


The report of this committee, recommending an increased pension or a
grant, was not adopted; but in 1801 Palmer himself entered Parliament
and fought his own battles. He printed and circulated among the members
and in other circles a statement of his case, and in the course
of eight years expended no less a sum than £13,000 in appeals for
justice--in vain, and it was left for his eldest son, Colonel Charles
Palmer, who succeeded him in the representation of Bath in 1808, to at
last fight the question to a victorious issue. In 1813 he secured for
his father an award of £50,000, and the continuance during his life of
the commission on Post Office receipts originally agreed upon.

In the meantime, Palmer had been variously honoured. Gainsborough,
his neighbour at Royal Circus, Bath, painted his portrait; Glasgow
merchants, members of the Chamber of Commerce in that city, had
as early as 1789 presented him with a silver loving-cup, “as an
acknowledgment of the benefits resulting from his plan to the trade and
commerce of this kingdom”; and in 1797 three “mail-coach halfpennies”
were struck by some now unknown admirer. They bear on the obverse a
mail-coach, and on the reverse an inscription to him “as a token of
gratitude for benefits received” from his system. A third tribute
was the painting by George Robertson, engraved by James Fittler, and
inscribed, curiously, to him as Comptroller-General, in 1803, eleven
years after he had ceased to hold that position. He also received the
freedom of eighteen cities and towns in recognition of his public
services, was Mayor of Bath in 1796 and 1801, and represented that
city in the four Parliaments of 1801, 1802, 1806, and 1807. He died
at Brighton in 1818, in his seventy-sixth year. His body was conveyed
to Bath and laid in the Abbey Church; but no monument marks the spot,
and it is only recently that his residence at Royal Circus, and his
birthplace in his native city, have been identified to the wayfarer by
inscribed tablets.

[Illustration: JOHN PALMER IN HIS 75TH YEAR.

                    _From an etching by the Hon. Martha Jervis._

The very earliest mail-coaches were ill made, and were continually
breaking down. Although the coaches themselves were supplied by the
contractors, and the Post Office was not concerned in their cost, it
was very closely interested in their efficiency; and so, early in 1787,
Palmer had already represented to the contractors that the mails must
be conveyed by more reliable coaches.

“The Comptroller-General,” he wrote to one contractor, “has to complain
not only of the quality of the horses employed on the Bristol Mail, but
as well of their harness and the accoutrements in use, whose defects
have several times delayed the Bath and Bristol and London letters, and
have even led to the conveyance being overset, to the imminent peril of
the passengers. Instructions have been issued by the Comptroller for
new sets of harness to be supplied to the several coaches in use on
this road, for which accounts will be sent you by the harness-makers.
Mr. Palmer has also under consideration, for the contractors’ use, a
new-invented coach.”

This was a truly imperial way of remedying gross dereliction on the
contractors’ part, but it had its effect in this and other instances,
for it may be presumed that the harness-makers thus officially selected
to replace the contractors’ ancient assortments of worm-eaten leather
and cord were not the cheapest in the trade, and that those contractors
very soon awoke to the fact that it would be more economical in future
to provide new harness of their own free will, and from their own
harness-makers, than under compulsion.

In respect of the type of coaches, as well as of their equipment
in minor details, Palmer sternly resolved to impose thorough
efficiency. As he was very well assured that their defects arose
from the cheese-paring policy of the contractors themselves, he
decided that the Post Office must have a voice in the selection of
the coaches, and, having discovered what he considered a suitable
build, made it a condition of the service that it should be used. This
officially-approved new type was a “patent coach” by one Besant. The
contractors had no choice in the matter. Palmer, the autocrat, had
seen that Besant’s coaches were good, and willed it that they should
use none others, and so to that fortunate patentee they were obliged
to resort. He entered into partnership with Vidler, a practical
coachbuilder; and thus at Millbank, Westminster, was established
that mail-coach manufactory which for forty years supplied the
mail-coaches to the mail-contractors. Besant and Vidler’s terms were
twopence-halfpenny a double mile. For this price the coaches were
hired out to the contractors and kept in repair. The practice was for
Vidler’s men to take over the mail-coaches after they had entered the
General Post Office in the morning, on the completion of their up
journeys, and to drive them to Millbank, where they were cleaned and
greased, and delivered to the various contractors’ coach-yards in the

On December 2nd, 1791, Besant died. He was, we are told, “an honest,
worthy man, and the mechanical world sustains a great loss by his
death. His ingenuity was in various instances sanctioned by the
Society of Arts, many of whose premiums were awarded to him.”

However that may have been, and although to Palmer the patent coach
of Besant may have seemed altogether admirable, there were many who
condemned it and its patent springs. It is apparently one of this type
that is pictured by Dalgety in his print of St. George’s Circus, dated
1797. It is curious and interesting, as showing a transition between
the old type of coach and a style yet to come. The fore boot is of the
old detached type, but the wickerwork basket behind is discarded, and
a hind boot may be observed, framed to the body. The coach is hung
very high, and suspended at the back from iron or steel arms of the
pump-handle kind. This seems to be the type criticised so severely
by Matthew Boulton, himself an engineer, in 1798, when, describing a
mail-coach trip from London to Exeter, he roundly condemned the patent

“I had the most disagreeable journey I ever experienced the night after
I left you, owing to the new improved patent coach, a vehicle loaded
with iron trappings and the greatest complication of unmechanical
contrivances jumbled together, that I have ever witnessed. The coach
swings sideways, with a sickly sway, without any vertical spring; the
point of suspense bearing upon an arch called a spring, though it is
nothing of the sort. The severity of the jolting occasioned me such
disorder that I was obliged to stop at Axminster and go to bed very
ill. However, I was able to proceed next day in a post-chaise. The
landlady in the ‘London Inn’ at Exeter assured me that the passengers
who arrived every night were in general so ill that they were obliged
to go supperless to bed; and unless they go back to the old-fashioned
coach, hung a little lower, the mail-coaches will lose all their

Some debated points respecting the early mails are cleared up in a
series of replies by Palmer to questions put by the French Post Office
in 1791, respecting the English mail-coach system. “What,” asks M.
de Richebourg, “is a Mail-coach?” and among other details we learn
that “it is constructed to carry four Inside Passengers only, and One
Outside Passenger, who rides with the Coachman.” Here we perceive the
beginning of the outsides.

Then the question is asked: “When there are no Travellers on the
Mail-coaches, do they put-to the same number of Horses as when there
are?” To this the answer was: “They are all drove with four Horses,
sometimes, in Snow and very bad weather, with Six;--never less than
four, whether they have Passengers or not.” This disposes of the
statements made that the early mails were two-horsed.



The period at which this chapter begins is that when outside passengers
were first enabled to ride on the roofs of coaches without incurring
the imminent hazard of being thrown off whenever their vigilance and
their anxious grip were relaxed. It was about 1800 that fore and hind
boots, framed to the body of the coach, became general, thus affording
foothold to the outsides. Mail-coaches were not the cause of this
change, for they originally carried no passengers on the roof.

We cannot fix the exact date of this improvement, and may suppose
that, in common with every other innovation, it was gradual, and only
introduced when new coaches became necessary on the various routes.
The immediate result was to democratise coach-travelling. Exclusive
insides, who once with disgust observed the occasional soldier or
sailor dangling his legs in the windows, now were obliged to put up
with a set of cheap travellers who, if they did no longer so dangle
their common legs, being provided with seats and footholds, were
always to be found on the roof, laughing and talking loudly, enjoying
themselves in the elementary and vociferous way only possible to low
persons, and disturbing the genteel reflections of the insides. Let us
pity the sorrows of those superior travellers, unwillingly conscious of
those stamping, noisy, low-down creatures on the roof!

The revulsion of those sensitive persons led to the establishment of
a superior class of coach, carrying insides only; and accordingly,
we find the original improvement of seats on the roof bringing
far-reaching consequences in its train. While democratising coaches, it
at the same time necessitated another class, and thus directly brought
about a numerical increase. The exclusive were thus enabled to keep
their exclusiveness by going in such conveyances as that announced in
the advertising columns of the high-class papers:--


  _A New Carriage on Springs, called_


  Sets out from the _Bell Savage_, Ludgate Hill, to the _Red Lyon_ at
  Portsmouth, every Tuesday and Saturday, at 6 a.m. Fare, 15s. each
  Passenger. Ladies and Gentlemen are requested to Observe that the
  Frigate is elegantly sashed all round, and in order to preserve the
  gentility and respectability of the vehicle, no outside passengers
  are carried.


                    _After Rowlandson, 1809._

The period now under consideration was in other ways a very great and
progressive one. In this space of twenty-five years were included
the two most significant advances in the whole history of the road--the
introduction about 1805 of springs under the driving-box, and the
shortening of the stages. Without either of them, the acceleration that
resulted in the Golden Age of coaching, beginning in 1825, would have
been impossible.

The placing of springs under the driving-box was due to the suggestion
of John Warde, earliest of the coaching amateurs, who had been taught
the art of driving a stage-coach by Jack Bailey, a famed coachman on
the old “Prince of Wales,” between London and Birmingham. He had found
the jolting received directly from the axle an intolerable infliction
on a long drive, and urged coach-proprietors to provide springs.
Said “Mr. Wilkins of the ‘Balloon’”--a character in Nimrod’s _Life
of a Sportsman_--“they do say they are going to put the boxes of all
stage-coaches on springs, but Heaven knows when that will be--not in my
time, I fear. Our people say it won’t do; we shall go to sleep on them.
No danger of a man doing that now, even if he should be a bit overtaken
with drink.” Under these circumstances there was, as Mr. Wilkins went
on to show, “a great deal of _hart_ in sitting on a coach-box,” as well
as driving four horses. “Your body must go with the swing of the box,
and let your lines (loins, he meant) be as lissom as you can. It would
kill a man in a week to drive as far as I do, if he did not do as I

When it became clear to coach-proprietors that a coachman could drive
a longer distance when his body was not racked so intolerably, they
provided springs, and risked the remote chance of coachmen going to
sleep on the box.

Another reform, humane to the horses and directly productive of
increased speed and efficiency on the road, was the introduction of
shorter stages. From those almost incredible times when a coach went
from end to end of a long trip and returned with the same team, to
those when the stages were twenty miles long constituted, no doubt,
a great advance; but that was by this time no longer sufficient. The
mail stages, as we have seen, rarely at the earliest times exceeded ten
miles, and were often much less. The mails also travelled at night, a
thing the stage-coaches did not in the old times dare attempt. In the
early days of Pennant, and other chroniclers contemporary with him, the
coaches inned every evening. None dared travel when the sun had set and
darkness brooded over the land, for there were not only the highwaymen
to be feared--and they still continued to increase--but the badness of
the roads had constituted a danger even more dreaded. Now, however,
roads--thanks to Post Office insistence--were greatly improved; and
if the mails could go through the darkness, why not also the stages?
Coincident with these things, great minds perceived that by changing
horses every ten miles or so, and coachmen at intervals, a coach might,
in the first place, be made to go much faster, and secondly, might
put into twenty-four hours of continuous running what had formerly been
the work of three days. It is obviously easy to go over a hundred miles
in the twenty-four hours even if you only go five miles in every hour.
These great truths once perceived and acted upon, the coaching world
was revolutionised.

[Illustration: THE SHEFFIELD COACH, ABOUT 1827.

                    _From a contemporary painting._

No longer did coaching announcements propose to perform journeys in
so many hours _if the roads were good_. They boldly promised that
they would complete their course by a certain time, and altogether
disregarded contingencies. By this time the “God-permits” had also
become things of the past, and no proprietor was so old-fashioned as to
announce that his coach would set out or arrive, “God permitting,” as
aforetime had been the cautious or pious proviso. They now “started”
instead of “setting out,” and arrived, as an irreverent wag observed,
“God willing, or not.”

In fine, the world was made to go according to time-tables, and much
faster than of old. Coaches actually, as an ordinary everyday thing,
went at a quicker pace than an able-bodied man could walk, and it
was no longer possible for a weary traveller when offered a lift, to
decline with the _bonâ-fide_ excuse that he was in a hurry; and so,
continuing afoot, to arrive before the coach. Fielding shows us Parson
Adams outwalking the coach, about 1745; but in this era the passengers
just too late for the stage could by no means hope to catch it up.
Why, it commonly went at eight miles an hour, and often nine! Thus we
see Rowlandson’s anxious travellers, unable to attract the attention
of the coach in front of them and equally unable to overtake it, left

This, too, was the age of increased competition, when a continuous
smartening-up alone kept some of the old-stagers going. Thus, in 1805,
when three coaches left London every day for Sheffield, the quickest
took over thirty hours. In 1821 it left the “Angel,” Angel Street, St.
Martin’s-le-Grand, at 3.30 p.m., and arrived at Sheffield at 8 the next
evening,--163¼ miles in 28½ hours, or at the rate of 5¾ miles an hour,
including stops. In 1824 it started an hour later and arrived at the
same hour as before; and in 1827 was expedited by another half-hour.
That was very poor travelling, and it is not surprising that after 1827
it is heard of no more. More strenuous rivals usurped the route.

Here we see that coach drawn up in front of a wayside hostelry,--the
“Bull’s Head”--at some unnamed spot. Let us not criticise the drawing
of it too narrowly, for the painting whence this illustration was
engraved was the work of the coachman, Alfred Elliot. He was coachman
first, and artist afterwards.


                    _From a contemporary painting._

Another result of competition was the gorgeous livery a coach on
a hotly contested route would assume, and the number of places it
would pretend to serve. In the illustration of the “Express” London
and Birmingham coach--represented in the act of leaving the “Hen
and Chickens,” New Street, Birmingham, and reproduced from a curious
contemporary painting executed on sheet tin--an extraordinary number of
place-names are seen; some those of towns this coach could not possibly
have served. The explanation is that the “Express” made connections
with other routes and booked passengers for them, whom they set down at
ascertained points to wait for the connecting coach. This in itself, an
early attempt at the through booking and junction system obtaining on
railways, is evidence of the progress made towards exact time-keeping
in this era.

De Quincey, as a mail-passenger, has a scornful passage reflecting upon
the gold and colour that adorned these stage-coaches, which, being
furiously competitive, could not afford to be quiet and plain, like
the mails. “A tawdry thing from Birmingham,” was his verdict upon the
“Tally-Ho” or “Highflyer,” that overtook the Holyhead Mail between
Shrewsbury and Oswestry. “All flaunting with green and gold,” it came
up alongside. “What a contrast with our royal simplicity of form and
colour is this plebeian wretch, with as much writing and painting on
its sprawling flanks as would have puzzled a decipherer from the tombs
of Luxor!” Precisely the same things might be said of omnibuses in our
own days.



“The law,” said Mr. Bumble, “is a hass!” and scarcely ever has
it appeared more asinine than in its dealings with the roads and
road-traffic. Legislative traffic restrictions were very early
introduced, originally on behalf of the highways; and not until the
coaching age was well advanced did it appear necessary to intervene
with enactments protecting the passengers as well as the road surface.
There was perhaps no necessity to legislate against reckless driving in
the early days of coaching; for, with the singularly bad state of the
roads, the clumsy build of the original vehicles, and the exhaustion
of the teams that drew them great distances without a change, it would
have passed the wit of man to be a charioteer with the dashing methods
attributed to Jehu, that Biblical hero, the son of Nimshi, who, we are
told, “drove furiously.”

The first restrictions to be put in force were those levelled against
the heavy road-traffic of the time of James I. By them, four-wheeled
carts and waggons were, in 1622, absolutely prohibited, and loads
above 20 cwt. forbidden: “No carrier or other person whatsoever shall
travel with any wain, cart, or carriage with more than two wheels, nor
above the weight of twenty hundred, nor shall draw any wain, cart, or
carriage with more than five horses at once.” This was confirmed in
1629. It seems an arbitrary and merely freakish act, thus to interfere
with the traffic of the roads; but we must remember what those roads
were like, and consider that our ancestors were not irrational puppets,
but living, breathing, and reasoning men, whose doings, when considered
in relation with the times, the limitations that obscured their view,
and the disabilities that surrounded them, were eminently logical.
It is not easy to be wiser than one’s generation, and those who are
have generally been accounted geniuses by later ages and madmen by
their contemporaries. Even when ideas are of the enlightened kind,
they are not readily to be applied when greatly in advance of their
era; for stubborn facts, difficult to remove or improve away, commonly
delay the practical application of the most brilliant theories. If a
seventeenth-century MacAdam had arisen to preach the gospel of good
roads, instead of repressive regulations for bad ones, he would still
have had to overcome the difficulty of finding road-metal in districts
far removed from stone; and how he would or could have surmounted that
impediment when all roads were bad and the transport of materials
from a distance expensive and tedious, we will leave the reader to

To look upon our forbears, therefore, as though they were strange
creatures whose movements were not governed by as much common sense as
our own would be absurd.

The reason for the regulations proclaimed in 1622 and again in 1629 was
set forth in the statement that the four-wheeled waggons used up to
that time had, with their excessive burdens, so galled the highways and
the very foundations of bridges that they had become common nuisances.

The carriers and drovers and their kind were, in 1627, forbidden to
travel on Sunday, under a penalty of 20s. By the terms of this Act,
which began by stating that “the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday,”
was “much broken and profaned by carriers, waggoners, carters, wainmen,
butchers, and drovers of cattle, to the great dishonour of God and
reproach of religion,” any of these persons travelling or causing
their servants to travel or come to their inns on Sundays could be
convicted on the evidence of witnesses, or on their own confession, at
any time up to six months after the commission of the offence, and the
magistrates could at their discretion award one-third of the penalty to
the informer and two-thirds to the poor of the parish. Thus early did
the informer, who was in later years to play so important a part, come
upon the scene. The notion of a conscious-stricken carrier or drover
confessing to the heinous crime of travelling on Sunday is amusing.

The next intervention was that of the Sunday Trading Act of 1676, a
Puritanical measure whose enactment in the licentious reign of Charles
II. is still the wonder of students of social history. Had it been
a measure originating with the Commonwealth, its appearance in the
statute book could be readily explained, but, as matters stand, we
are reduced to assuming that, although King, Court and Society might
be vicious, yet Parliament, and England as a whole, were still deeply
tinged with strict Sabbatarian sentiments. The Act forbade the sale or
exposing for sale of any wares of merchandise whatsoever on the Sabbath
day. Drovers, waggoners, horse-coursers, butchers and higglers were
not to come to their inns on Sundays, under a penalty of 20s.; and no
work, except works of necessity and charity, was to be undertaken. The
service in private families and at inns was allowed, and meat might be
dressed on that day, and milk cried before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. But
plying for hire and travelling were not then considered necessary on
that day, and so enjoyed no special exemption. The cooking of meat and
the selling of milk only enjoyed this Sunday franchise because milk and
meat are perishable. It was this consideration that, in 1690, brought
about an amendment by which the crying of that exceptionally perishable
fish, mackerel, was legalised on the Sabbath.

Not a wheel wagged, therefore, on Sundays in the early days of
coaching, and the tradition against Sunday travel long outlasted
the legal disability; so that although mail-coaches were never a
Sabbatarian institution, the stage-coaches on that day were always few
while coaching lasted. The tradition was weaker on the Brighton Road
than elsewhere. That was a fashionable road, and fashion has ever been
irreligious, leaving the people outside its ranks to be the bulwarks of
the Seventh Day. Thus we find the first Sunday coach between London and
Brighton established in 1792.

The Sunday Trading Act has never been wholly repealed, and it is still
possible for sour and malignant persons to intervene, under the ready
cloak of religious and Sabbatarian feeling, and to lay information
against shopkeepers who open on Sundays, and so cause the tobacconists,
the hairdressers and newsagents, who commonly continue their business
on that day, to be summoned and fined for every such offence. The Act
only generally comprehended hackney-coaches, but that term included the
stages, which were thus penalised until 1710, when, by the 9th of Anne,
c. 23, hackney-coachmen and chairmen might ply.

It is a curious and noteworthy point about this obsolescent Act that
when an information is laid the police have no optional course. They
must issue a summons, while the magistrates are bound to fine offenders
on their being convicted. It depends, however, upon the character and
the prejudices of the bench whether the penalty may be a merely nominal
one, carrying an implied disapproval of the informer’s action, or the
full statutory fine of 5s. and costs. We here observe the ill which it
is still possible for the common informer to work, but the great days
of these gentry are gone.

Parliament, never tired of legislating for roads and vehicles,
produced in course of time a strange and bewildering medley of laws,
often contradictory of one another. Among these Acts, those for the
regulation of waggons were the most numerous. An early curiosity of the
statute book in this connection is the Act of Charles II. forbidding
carters and waggoners to drive six or more horses tandem. Already, it
appears, the old prohibition of four-wheeled carts or wains, in 1622
and 1629, was obsolete. Then followed an Act of William III. expressly
forbidding waggon-horses being yoked in pairs; but another of the same
reign withdrew this prohibition, and, in allowing pairs, limited the
team to eight animals. In the succeeding reign of Anne this limit was
reduced to six in pairs, except uphill, when additional horses might be
yoked on. The prohibition of horses going abreast points to the extreme
narrowness of the roads in many parts of the country at that time, just
as its supersession by the Act permitting pairs would appear to be a
result of road-widening.

To make a digest of this whole series of enactments and the clauses
repealed and re-enacted would not only tax the acumen and industry of
a Parliamentary lawyer, but the result would be tedious. Let us, then,
pass to the Act called, in Parliamentary jargon, “24th George II., c.
43.” This came into operation July 1st, 1752, and took off one of
the six horses allowed to waggons by the Parliament of Queen Anne. No
carriage or waggon drawn by more than five horses, except up steep
hills, was permitted to pass through any toll-gate or toll-bar, unless
the sum of twenty shillings over and above the usual tolls was paid;
and any person taking off any horse from such vehicle, with intent
to avoid the payment of the additional toll, was, on conviction of
the offence, to forfeit £5 to the informer, who was given the right
to levy a distress on the offender’s goods if he could not recover
the penalty in any other way. At the same time, no waggon was to pass
which weighed, with its contents, more than three tons; and weighing
engines were to be provided by turnpike trustees, to see that the law
was not infringed. This was a very determined Act, but those who drew
it were very well satisfied that, considering the comparatively few
roads already turnpiked, its meshes could not be made small enough to
catch those offenders who constantly carried weights up to five tons
upon the roads and yoked up ten or twelve horses to drag the enormous
load. It was obvious that the only thing the waggoners had to do in
order to evade the law was--risking the chance of finding the way
impassable--to turn aside on nearing a turnpike and to make a circuit
along parish roads where no toll-houses existed. Accordingly, those
who framed the Act inserted what was intended to be a very alarming
and altogether disabling clause. It was made an unlawful act to drive
off in this manner into adjacent roads for the purpose of avoiding
toll, and a penalty was set up for so doing. This was the forfeiting
of one horse (not being the shaft or thill horse) and “all his gear
and accoutrements.” This phrase for harness strikes one as being
magnificent, and almost raises the sturdy Suffolk “Punch” or the
Lincolnshire carthorse to the status of a military hero.

No enforcement of this penalty can be found, but it is not to be
supposed that it was never made, although, to be sure, the clause
had loopholes sufficiently wide for the traditional coach-and-six to
be easily driven through. Apart from the questionable legality of
forbidding common roads to traffic, it would have needed no very able
lawyer to successfully defend an offender charged with being on a
bye-route “with intent to defraud” the tolls. Half a dozen sufficient
explanations would have been ready. The waggoner might have missed his
way; it might have been his best way--and so forth.

This Act, and others of like nature, especially exempted certain
classes of waggons and carts, particularly agricultural vehicles; while
his Majesty’s War Office and military commanders might use waggons
carrying any weight they thought proper and drawn by as many horses as
might be thought necessary. The law was, in fact, framed to protect the
roads against traders, who were thought to be profiting greatly by the
growth of manufactures and not contributing sufficiently to the upkeep
of the roads which it was thought their excessive loads did much to
wear out. The Acts had force in the country generally, but London and a
radius from twenty-five to thirty miles were usually excepted.

A very lengthy and severe General Turnpike Act, embodying some of the
provisions already detailed, with many new ones, was that of 1766.
Preambles to Acts of Parliament are generally exaggerated statements
of the necessities that procured the passing of the enactments to
which they sometimes afford astonishing prefaces. They are, indeed,
officially so recognised, and lawyers accordingly describe them as
“common form.” The preamble, however, to the Act of 1766 was an exact
statement of affairs, and in saying that “the laws for the general
regulation of turnpike roads are very numerous and in some respects
ineffectual,” it merely set forth a commonplace of the time.

For a number of years before the passing of this measure, lengthy and
heated controversies had arisen on the subject of waggons and roads,
and as a result it was generally conceded that wheels with narrow tyres
and heavy loads cut up the highways into ruts, while broad wheels
so distributed the weight that they greatly minimised that evil, or
even, if they were broad enough, rolled the surface into a better
condition than it was in before their passing. Inventive minds, rioting
with theories not perfectly tested, went to extremes and produced
extraordinary waggons with heavy iron rollers instead of wheels, which
would certainly have flattened out the most rugged of roads had it been
possible for horses to have moved the enormous weight. As a result
of much trial, the stage-waggons of the time were constructed with
wheels whose breadth ranged from six to nine inches, and such vehicles
enjoyed a remission of extraordinary toll in proportion to those
measurements. From 1766, then, four-wheeled waggons weighing over three
tons, with wheels less than nine inches in breadth, paid 20s. over and
above the ordinary toll; all over six tons, irrespective of wheels,
20s.; and two-wheeled carts over three tons, 20s.; while waggons
and carts so constructed with regard to long and short axletrees to
front and hind wheels that, in conjunction with the breadth of their
wheels, they rolled a track of not less than sixteen inches on either
side, paid only half of the ordinary toll levied upon wagons with a
nine-inch breadth of wheel. These provisions may perhaps seem a little
complicated, but they were a great deal more so in actual working, for
their chance of being always understood and fairly applied was small
when administered by country pike-keepers.

The maximum length and width of waggons was specified by this Act,
which declared it to be unlawful for any but timber-waggons to be of
greater breadth than four feet six inches between the axletrees, or of
a greater length than nine feet from the centre of fore wheels to that
of the hind ones. No broad-wheeled waggon was to be drawn by more than
eight horses, or two-wheeled carts by more than five, in pairs; and
narrow-wheeled waggons were not allowed more than four. A penalty of
20s. was indicated for harnessing an extra horse, in addition to the
horse being confiscated. Additional horses might be used when the roads
were covered with snow or ice, and it was left to the discretion of
turnpike trustees to allow extra horses on steep hills, in which cases
any number up to ten might be used for four-wheeled waggons, or up to
six for two-wheeled; but trustees were to carefully specify those hills
on which this indulgence was granted. Steep hills, consequently, for
many years afterwards were generally seen with notices beside the road,
where the horses might be attached. A post at the bottom announced in
large letters, “Put On,” and another, at the top, “Take Off.”

Narrow-wheeled waggons were not to be drawn by pairs. Drag-irons or
slippers to be flat, not rounded; penalty 40s. The owner’s name and
place of abode were to be painted on the most conspicuous part of each
waggon or cart, with the words “COMMON STAGE-WAGGON,” or cart, as the
case might be. It was this enactment that for many years afterwards
gave their characteristic appearance to the old stage-waggons, for the
most conspicuous place on them was undoubtedly the canvas tilt, which
was always painted as the Act directed, in very large lettering.

The Act was lavish with its pains and penalties. For using a waggon
with a false name, or without a name, 40s. was the price. The driver of
any waggon with wheels not constructed according to law, or drawn by
more horses than authorised, could be imprisoned, and powers were given
to any person to apprehend any driver in such cases. If a driver, on
coming to a toll-gate, unharnessed any horses or unloaded any part of
his load with intent to deceive or defraud the turnpike authorities, he
forfeited £5; while the owner paid the same sum in cases where waggons
were loaded to excess, and the driver became liable to be committed for
one month to a house of correction.

Among the clauses of this and other Acts it is especially forbidden to
waggoners to sit in, or drive from, their waggons. They must either
walk or ride beside them. They had, indeed, generally done so, as
the portrait of old Hobson, on horseback, shows us, or the pictures
and narratives of old road life by contemporary artists and writers
sufficiently prove; but as the Acts especially decree that waggoners
were not to ride on the waggons, the reason being that from such a
position they could not maintain sufficient control over their horses,
some of them must have done so, and perhaps have fallen asleep and so
caused accidents, just as the slumbering carters and waggoners on their
way to and from Covent Garden Market do now.

It now became the turn of the coaches to attract the attention of
legislators. They obtained this doubtful favour because it had just
occurred to the Revenue officials that, owing to the increased number
of coaches running, and the larger number of persons resorting to
them, the duty on post-horses had not grown at its accustomed rate. The
remedy ready to hand was a Stamp Office duty on stage-coaches, which
was accordingly introduced in 1776, and four-wheeled coaches paid £5
per annum. The Revenue “vampires,” as the coach-proprietors called
them, turned again to this new source of income, and in 1783 levied a
duty of a halfpenny a mile run by every stage-coach. Further measures
were introduced two years later, when the duties were revised, and
four-wheeled and two-wheeled coaches alike paid a five-shilling annual
license, and a duty of a penny a mile. From this express inclusion
of two-wheeled coaches, it would seem that some vehicles of that
nature had been introduced to evade the previous duty; but coaching
history is silent on the subject. The duty of a penny a mile was to be
paid monthly, and seven days’ notice to be given of any coach being

So far the legislature had only taken notice of coaches when new
sources of revenue were being sought; but an eye was already upon
their doings, an eye that had noted the increasing accidents, due to
overloading, reckless driving, and a variety of other causes. It was
not an official eye that thus ranged over the roads of the kingdom
and marked the broken limbs and contusions of the lieges, acquired
by falling from the roofs of coaches, by collisions and upsets: it
was the stern gaze, indeed, of one Richard Gamon, a private member of
Parliament, who in 1788, in the face of much opposition and ridicule,
brought in a Bill to regulate stage-coaches. It is sad to think that
even those who travelled largely by coach, whom Mr. Gamon desired to
protect, made fun of his efforts, and, when his Bill at first failed to
pass, rejoiced as greatly in the prospect of a continued free trade in
broken necks and legs as ever the coach-proprietors themselves could
have done. Some of this wit was very cheap stuff indeed. It largely
consisted of torturing Mr. Gamon’s name into “Gammon,” and that done,
the rest was easy. A morning newspaper found it possible to write

    Whene’er a loaded stage drives by
      With more than it should draw,
    We view the outside group, and cry,
      “That’s contrary to law.”

    But all the folks who clamour thus
      Are totally mistaken,
    For Gammon’s Bill did never pass,
      So coachmen saved their bacon.

Richard Gamon was a member for Winchester in five several Parliaments.
He had been a commissioner for salt duties, but resigned that office
to enter the House. He was created a baronet in July, 1795, and died,
aged sixty-nine, April 9th, 1818. His Act was not forgotten, for in
his obituary notice it is duly stated that “with him originated that
useful and humane law for regulating the number of outside passengers
on stage-coaches.”

What with public ridicule of his original Bill and the petition of
the coach-proprietors against it, Mr. Gamon and his legislative effort
had, in one way and another, a stirring time. But in the same year he
saw it pass into an Act, and two years later he procured an amended and
stricter statute. So ridicule does not always kill.

It therefore became law that stage-coaches were not to carry more than
six passengers on the roof or more than two on the box in addition to
the coachman. For every passenger in excess the coachman was liable to
a penalty of 40s., and if he was proprietor, or part proprietor, this
penalty was raised to £4. The amended Act very materially altered this
regulation. Coaches drawn by three or more horses were allowed only
one passenger on the box and four on the roof, and those with fewer
than three horses, one passenger on the box and three on the roof. If
the pair-horse coaches did not travel farther than twenty-five miles
from London, they might carry an additional passenger on the roof. The
penalty for carrying excess passengers was severe, and ingeniously
contrived in order to wholly suppress the practice. It was 5s. each
for every supernumerary passenger, to be paid to the toll-keeper at
every turnpike gate. This was a sure method, for an excess number would
be instantly detected by pike-men eager for a chance to add to their
income. The penalty for fraudulently setting down a passenger near a
turnpike gate, and taking him up on the other side, with intent to
evade this regulation, was of a different kind, but of equal severity.
It was a term of imprisonment, of not less than fourteen days or more
than a month. The names of the coach proprietors were to be painted in
legible characters on the doors of all the coaches, with the exception
of the mails.

One section of the Acts of 1788 and 1790 had a special significance.
It forbade coachmen permitting other persons to drive, under a penalty
of from 40s. to £5. The amateur whip, of whom later writers complained
so bitterly, had evidently already been taking coaching lessons on the
road, with disastrous results. The practice was not stopped by the
Acts or the penalty, for in 1811 the prohibition was renewed, and the
fine raised. It was then to be anything between £5 and £10, at the
discretion of the magistrates.

Coachmen were viewed all round, as it were, and their failings
separately ticked off and provided against. No coachman was to leave
his box without reasonable cause or occasion, or for an unnecessary
length of time. Furious driving now being physically possible,
and frequently indulged in, was legislated for, together with any
negligence or misconduct resulting in the overturning of a coach or the
endangering of passengers. A guard of a stage-coach who should fire off
his piece unnecessarily, or for other than defensive purposes, on the
road or in any town, forfeited 20s., a penalty enlarged to £5 in 1811,
and including mail-guards.

The Act of 1806, introducing itself by stating that previous Acts were
ineffectual and insufficient, started off by repealing the provisions
of the older ones, allowing only six outsides for four-horse coaches.
They might now carry twelve outsides in summer and ten in winter,
including the guard, but exclusive of coachman. In 1811 the number
was reduced to ten throughout the year. The positions of the outsides
were specified--one passenger on the box with the coachman, three in
front of the roof, the remainder behind. Coaches with only two or three
horses now carried five outsides, exclusive of the coachman; but “all
stages called long coaches, or double-bodied coaches” might carry eight
outsides, exclusive of coachman, but including the guard. Children in
arms or under seven years of age were not to be counted, unless there
were more than one, when two were to be counted as one passenger, and
so on.

A curious section, bearing upon and corroborating what De Quincey and
others have written upon the disdain and contempt of the insides for
the outsides, is that which forbade any outside passenger to go inside
or to remain inside without the consent of one at least among those
already within; and when that permission was granted, the outsider was
to be placed next the consenting passenger.

The height to which luggage might be piled on the roof of a coach was
also carefully set forth. From March 1st, 1811, it became unlawful
for any driver, owner or proprietor to permit luggage, or indeed any
person, on the roof of a coach the top of which was more than 8 ft. 9
in. from the ground, or whose gauge was less than 4 ft. 6 in. Coaches
must then have been of an extraordinary height to need such a clause
as this. The penalty for infringing it was £5. Luggage on ordinary
stage-coaches was not to exceed 2 ft. in height, or three-horsed
coaches, 18 in., with a penalty of £5 for every inch in excess. Luggage
might be carried to a greater height if it was not, in all, more than
10 ft 9 in. from the ground. Turnpike keepers and others were given
powers to have the luggage measured, and passengers themselves might
see that it was done; and drivers refusing such measurements to be
taken were to be fined, on conviction, 50s. Passengers, too, came in
for their share. No passenger was to sit on the luggage, or the place
reserved for it, under the like penalty of 50s.

Intoxicated coachmen came in for a maximum £10 penalty, or the
alternative of a term of imprisonment not less than three months or not
exceeding six; insulting coachmen, or others exacting more than the
proper fare, or endangering passengers’ lives, a maximum of 40s., or
imprisonment of three days to one month. Mail-coach drivers, being more
responsible officials, were awarded the heavier of the above penalties
for any among a variety of possible offences--such as loitering, or
hindering the conduct of his Majesty’s mails to the next stage, or
wilfully misspending or losing time, so that the mails did not travel
at the rates of speed specified by the Postmaster-General.

Licences were to specify the number of persons inside and out the
coaches were authorised to carry; and any running without a licence, or
carrying passengers in excess, were to be fined £10 for each passenger
or additional passenger, or double if the driver were also owner or
part-owner. If the offending coachman could be proved to have carried
the additional passengers without the knowledge of the proprietors, and
if the proprietors derived no profit from it, they escaped the penalty,
which then had to be borne by the coachman, with the alternative of

These regulations were notoriously broken with impunity every day in
the year. Passengers sat on the luggage if they felt so inclined;
coachmen got drunk, drove furiously, or allowed the deadly amateur to
drive; luggage was stacked to alpine heights; guards discharged their
blunderbusses everywhere from sheer wantonness or on joyful occasions;
passengers were carried to excess; and, indeed, every provision of
every Act was flagrantly violated, generally of malice aforethought,
but not seldom from very ignorance and the sheer inability of
coach-proprietors and the others concerned to keep themselves fully
informed on all points. The waggoners especially found it difficult,
with the best will in the world, to keep the law; and even the pikemen
at the turnpike gates, who were the sworn enemies of all the users of
the roads, but who were bound to comply with certain regulations, often
heedlessly omitted the formulæ as by law established, and became liable
to penalties.

This lengthy and confusing series of Acts brought into existence that
contemptible parasite, the Professional Informer. By those provisions,
which awarded sometimes the whole penalty, and in other cases the
half or two-thirds, or merely one-third, at the discretion of the
magistrates, to those persons who would discover these infringements
of the law to the authorities, the Sneak became an institution, wholly
supported by the involuntary contributions of the coaching world.
Informers swarmed on every road, and their operations were conducted
with a legal astuteness and business acumen that would have made the
fortunes of these gentry if they had directed their talents into
more reputable channels. For although Parliament had created the
Informer, it is not to be thought that he was liked by any class. He
was held to be a necessary evil, as from fear of him offenders might
be made to mend their ways, and so the roads be preserved. The end,
it was thought, justified the means employed. No one knew the Acts of
Parliament through and through, inside out and up and down, as this
detested class. Informers sometimes worked singly; at others they
constituted themselves into firms, with offices and tame attorneys, and
staffs of travelling spies, whose travelling expenses were well repaid,
with a handsome profit besides, by the materials for informations which
they had obtained on the roads. Indeed, it was stated that on certain
routes the waggoners paid annual sums to the informers, as a kind of
quit-rent against prosecutions; for, as an informer in a confidential
moment was heard to declare, the Acts were so many and so conflicting
that it was impossible to travel without a breach of the law.

The greatest of all informers was Byers, who combined the occupation
with that of a small shopkeeper in the outskirts of London. The acts
of Byers may be traced through many old files of newspapers, and even
_then_ you shall not discover his Christian name; for in those records
it is generally “Byers again!” or “Byers appeared before So-and-so
charging What’s-his-name.” Thus do we speak of the great in war, in
science, in literature; for custom tells only of a Wellington, a
Newton, or a Thackeray. We know their titles and Christian names, but
suppress them to gain a grand and monumental simplicity. To reduce the
argument to a logical conclusion, Byers was a greater than these, for
we do not even know his baptismal cognomen. He is a classic now, for
Barham accorded him the honour of an allusion and an explanatory note
in one of the _Ingoldsby Legends_--the “Lay of St. Nicholas,” where we

    The Accusing Byers “flew up to Heaven’s Chancery,”
    Blushing like scarlet with shame and concern.

The note describes him as “The Prince of Peripatetic Informers, and
terror of Stage Coachmen, when such things were. Alack! alack! the
Railroads have ruined his ‘vested interest.’” Time has so dimmed
the meaning of both the reference and the explanation that modern
commentators are generally puzzled by both. What he was we have stated;
what became of him when railways ruined coaching and his business at
once, we do not know. Some few details of his career have survived.
He originally seems to have been in the employ of one Johnson, an
informer, in 1824, when he obtained convictions against coachmen at
Dover and Canterbury, and on the Brighton Road; but by the summer of
the next year he had gone into the business for himself, and presently
became the Napoleon of the profession. 1825 was a busy year with him.
In August he summoned a coach-proprietor named Selby for that “on the
28th day of July he did suffer and permit a stage-coach belonging
to him, and drawn by two horses only, to carry more than the usual
number of passengers on the roof.” Moreover, he was summoned again
for not having his name painted on the door of the coach. After
much cross-swearing and discussion, the Brighton bench fined the
coach-proprietor £5 and 16s. costs.

In Bath, in the November of the same year, Byers laid so many as
thirty-four informations. The penalties to which the unfortunate
coach-proprietors and others were liable in this prodigious batch were
estimated at £500, but the newspaper reports of that time do not tell
us the total of the fines actually inflicted, so we are unable to form
any idea of the profits realised by the enterprising Byers in this
Western raid. The petty and tyrannical nature of the prosecutions may
be gathered from one instance before the Bathforum (for such was the
style and title of the local bench) magistrates. A farmer was summoned
for not having his Christian name and surname painted on the _right_ or
off-side of his waggon, and mulcted in 10s. and costs, while another
for the same mistake in the position was fined 5s. and costs; the
magistrates, in addition, holding that the strict letter of the law
required not only the name of the owner and that of the town, but the
street as well.

A great sheaf of informations was laid by him at Brighton in July 1827.
William Blunden, proprietor of a stage-van, was summoned--not for
carrying more passengers than he should, but for not having painted
on his conveyance the number of passengers his licence entitled him
to carry. A £5 fine was the result, of which Byers was awarded 50s.
and costs. In another of his cases on this occasion the informer did
not come off victorious. It was not his master-mind that had prepared
the cases, but that of one of his hirelings, Aaron Rolland, and there
was a fatal flaw in this particular one. It was a summons against
Snow, the Brighton proprietor, for carrying passengers in excess; but,
unfortunately for the prosecution, the coach was not plying for hire on
that occasion, and Byers suffered defeat.

In this same year Byers was arrested and imprisoned for debt, but he
was soon out again and prosecuting with redoubled energy. In November
William Cripps, of the firm of Cripps & Wilkins, coach-proprietors,
appeared at his instance before the Brighton magistrates, charged with
permitting a name other than that of the licensees to be painted on his
coach. The name was that of the afterwards celebrated Henry Stevenson,
of the “Age.” It was placed there with an idea of securing patronage
for the coach, and it was contended in court, that forty names might so
be painted on the panel of the coach, if the proprietors liked. But the
bench held otherwise, and imposed two mitigated penalties of 50s. each
with costs, it being the first offence.

In August 1830, Byers procured three fines of £10 each and costs in an
overloading case against Francis Vickers. In this affair the methods
of himself and his spies were disclosed, for it appeared that the spy
was watching the coaches from the upstairs window of a public-house.
But already, for some time past, one of Byers’ men had set up for
himself as a coachman’s lawyer, and, coming from the opposition camp,
of course brought with him a great deal of special knowledge. From
this time Byers’ business waned. The early steam-carriages of 1826 had
foreshadowed the end of the coaching age, and when railways came the
informers’ business was ruined. True, they might still make a trifle
out of the surviving waggons, and it was possible, now and again,
to catch a pikeman not giving a ticket when toll was paid, or not
having his own name painted on his toll-board as collector when he had
succeeded some other pikeman; but the penalties for these offences
were, like the offences themselves, trivial. In short, informing ceased
to pay its travelling expenses.

Among the many enactments for the protection of the public was
one forbidding all four horses galloping at the same time.
Mail-contractors, however, finding that they could not maintain the
speed necessary to fulfil their contracts without galloping, generally
secured a certain number of exceptionally fast trotters, for which
they paid high prices, in order to have one in every team. Such an one
was pretty widely known down the road as “the Parliamentary horse.”
Proprietors of fast day-coaches, however, infringed this provision of
the Act every day, as indeed every Act was continually infringed.

The last years of coaching were marked by a reduction in the duties on
stage-carriages, long urged by the coaching interest, and introduced by
the Act of August 24th, 1839. It was a grudging reduction, and came too
late to be of much relief to an oppressed industry. Up to that date the
mileage duty on passengers was on the graduated scale of 1d. a mile if
licensed to carry four; 1½d. if licensed for six; 2d. for nine; 2½d.
for twelve; 3d. for fifteen; and 3½d. for eighteen; whether running
fully loaded or not. It was always open for proprietors to license
for more or less, according to the season or their own requirements;
but, on the other hand, if in view of a slack season they licensed for
a small number and then on one of their journeys took up additional
passengers, they were liable, on conviction, to a heavy penalty. In
addition, there was a duty of 1d. a mile on the coach itself. The
concession of 1839 reduced this impost to a halfpenny a mile, and
provided a graduated passenger duty by which a coach licensed for not
more than six persons paid 1d. a mile; up to ten, 1½d.; not more than
thirteen, 2d.; not more than sixteen, 2½d., and so on to the impossible
number of twenty-two, when the license would be 3½d.

According to a return made for 1838, the mileage duty paid on
stage-coaches in England for that year was £166,625, showing a total
mileage for those twelve months of 40,530,000. The Government thus
apparently sacrificed £83,312 10s. in reducing the mileage duty
by one-half; but the greatness of the sacrifice was more apparent
than real, for already railways had begun and coaches were being
discontinued on every hand, while a small railway passenger duty of
one-eighth of a penny a mile made up for its smallness by the increase
in travelling that railways brought.

Still later, the passenger duty on coaches was further reduced,
and made 1½d. a mile on any number of passengers; while the annual
stage-carriage license was reduced from £5 to £3 3s., and the licence
for each coachman or guard from £1 5s. to 5s.

The harassed coach-proprietors, or those who still existed, were
properly grateful for the reduction made, for it just turned the scale
in many coaching accounts, and so kept on those public conveyances
where otherwise they would have been commercially impossible.
The railway magnates, who had by that time become a power in the
land, could afford to influence the Government in favour of these
concessions, for the coaches had already been driven off the direct
routes, and were no longer formidable competitors of the locomotive.
They had, indeed, become merely feeders to the victorious railways.



When stage-coachmen are mentioned, the mind at once flies to Mr. Tony
Weller, a stout man with a red face and a hoarse voice proceeding
from the depths of capacious shawls in which his throat is muffled.
Such was the typical coachman at any time between the introduction of
coaches and 1820, when a leaven of smartness and gentility began to be
noticeable, and the time-honoured type to fade away.

Coachmen were generally fat for the same reason that postboys were
thin: it was a necessity of their occupation. The postboys bumped their
flesh away on horseback, but the coachman’s sedentary occupation, and
still more a tremendous capacity for drinking induced by the open-air
life, caused him to accumulate fat to an immoderate degree. The typical
coachman is pictured in Hood’s ballad of John Day, who was

                the biggest man,
    Of all the coachman kind,
    With back too broad to be conceived
    By any narrow mind.

But while it would probably be safe to declare, without fear of
contradiction, that there never was such a thing as a fat postboy,
it would be the very height of rashness to say that a lean coachman
was unknown. There were many such, but the traditional coachman was
a bulky person, helped up to his seat by the combined efforts of the
stable-helpers; and Dickens, in picturing Tony Weller, fell in with the
public humour, although already the type was become somewhat out of

The stage and mail coachmen were no exotics, but, like every one
else, the product of their country and their times; and as those
times changed, so did they. The evolution of the smart coachmen of
the ’thirties can be followed, step by step, until progress, in the
shape of railways, extinguished the species. The original floggers of
six horses, who could only get along by dint of severely punishing
those unhappy animals throughout the day, were not really coachmen
in the later sense. They understood little of the art of coaching,
and were merely drivers. From early morn to sundown they lashed the
same horses along the rutted ways, with intervals for mending the
harness--generally, according to the testimony of the time, the “rotten
harness”; but those would have been wonderfully strong traces that
could long have withstood the strain they were subjected to, and so
they were probably not always so decayed as contemporary accounts would
have us believe. Under these circumstances, and the generally hard and
rough life they led, it is not to be wondered at that coachmen were
originally a rough and brutal class of men. They cannot be paralleled
nowadays, and the difference between them and the later ornaments of
the box can only be understood by comparing a modern van-driver with
the coachman of an aristocratic carriage--and then we should be doing
injustice to the van-man.


                    _After Rowlandson._

As coaching progressed and twenty-mile stages replaced the day-long
toil of the horses, not only did the six-horse give place to four-horse
teams, but coachmen improved. There was need for such improvement, and
all the science and resource of which they were capable were put to
the proof. Mud, stones, ruts, sandy places to plough through, steep
hills to lash his horses up to, and dangerous descents to hold them in,
were the commonplaces of the coachman’s career up to the dawning of
the nineteenth century. The coaches, too, were heavy and clumsy, and
harness now really was rotten, and had every now and again to be mended
while the passengers waited with what patience they could command.
Happily, time was not “of the essence of the contract,” as the lawyers
say, and half a day late was no matter at that period. But all these
difficulties made the coachman of those times an expert in many things.
He was not of that later kind, finicking in manner and dandies upon the
box, but a great, weather-beaten, bluff and gruff creature, mummified
in wraps; an expert in getting the last ounce out of his cattle, and
ready with his whip, not always because he was brutal by nature, but
because he had to thrash the wretched animals to get his coach along
at all. The coachmen of those days wore their whips out frequently,
and a usual detail of their equipment was the dozen or more of whipcord
points in the button-hole, ready to be spliced on--an operation they
could perform with ease and efficiency with their teeth while driving.
When even the double-thonged whip failed to rouse the poor brutes
to super-equine exertions, the “apprentice”--a kind of cat o’ nine
tails--was brought into use, and the wheelers thrashed with it. This
engine of torture was in later years known familiarly as the “short
Tommy,” and was kept in reserve on many provincial coaches. Among those
familiar with coaching in its last years, some have asserted the use of
this instrument up to the time when coaches themselves disappeared, and
others deny it. Both were right and both wrong: on some roads it was on
occasion brought forth, while on others it was unknown.

There were no smart coachmen before the introduction of mail-coaches.
Before coaches carried the mails and the drivers became, in a sense,
officials and persons of importance, wreathed around with a vague
atmosphere of authority, your average driver took no sort of pride
in himself. Nor, supposing the existence of one who fared the roads
in smart attire, could he for long have kept so gay and debonair an
appearance. The meagreness and uncertainty of his livelihood forbade
it, and if those factors had been eliminated, there still remained the
unutterable badness of the roads to discourage him, together with the
longer spells of driving that these earlier men knew, which wearied
them and rendered them careless of details. Thus the stage-drivers of
the era that preceded the classic age of the road wore clumsy hay-bands
round their legs to protect them from the cold, and, together with
their many layers of clothing, their top-boots encrusted with the
mud of a month’s journeys, and their general air of untidiness, were
figures of fun, in sharp contrast with their brethren of a later day,
who were certain of their employment, of their liberal and frequent
tips, of good roads exceedingly well kept, and of their coaches and
cattle being maintained in the pink of condition by a small army of
stable-hands and helpers. The poor old fellows of a bygone age wore
perhaps nothing but fold upon fold of “comforters” round their necks,
while their linen did not bear inspection. The flower of the coaching
age, on the other hand--the coachmen of the first quarter of the
nineteenth century--wore the gayest and the neatest neckties as a
finish to a neat and striking professional costume. They were artists
alike in the management of their horses and in the folding of a tie.
Never a journey but they had a posy in their buttonhole, and never an
occasion when they were not spotlessly clean, in linen, top-boots, and
costume generally. It was an unmistakable costume, and one familiar to
us nowadays in its revival by modern coaching enthusiasts. Box-cloth
coats, fearfully and wonderfully stitched in five or six rows, and
decorated with buttons of an enormous size, together with white beaver
hats, were the most outstanding items of this marvellous costume.

A reminiscent traveller, writing in 1831, lets some light into dark
places. He said he was old enough to remember a certain West-country
coach, which he took to be representative of others at that period.
It always took ten, and sometimes twelve hours to do fifty-seven
miles. “Now,” he said, marvelling at the progress of the age, “it
takes only six hours.” Joe Emmens, the driver of this slow coach,
was famous for never at any time turning away a would-be passenger,
no matter how crowded his conveyance, which was often observed to be
carrying seventeen out and nine in, with parcels and hampers tied to
and suspended from all kinds of hazardous places. This did not, we
sorrowfully acknowledge, argue zeal for his employers’ interests, but
only an inordinate appetite for those “short fares” which by ancient
use and wont the coachman pocketed. The custom was as old as that of

Tipping the coachman, a practice already mentioned, was early
introduced. It originated, there can scarce be any reasonable doubt,
with the very first stage-coach journey, and flourished exceedingly to
the very last, when the guard as well came in for his share. The custom
was originally known as “capping,” from the coachman coming with hat
or cap in hand for these contributions: a humble and beggarly method
to which the later artists of the coachbox were wholly strangers.
The later generation, it is true, removed their hats as a matter of
courtesy when they “left you here,” but their fee was no longer chucked
negligently into that headgear, as of old, but discreetly inserted
into an extended palm, and received as of right.

The earliest stages of tipping showed the practice in a very logical
and commonsense light, for although the later coachmen could be very
surly and disobliging if they were not “remembered,” they had not a
tithe of those opportunities of being actively offensive which the
older race of drivers enjoyed. The later generations of coachmen were
more directly responsible. They worked to a time-table, on good roads,
with fine cattle and perfect coaches; the older men stopped when and
where they liked, and altogether had the comfort or discomfort of
their passengers very largely in their hands. Thus they were to be
conciliated and kept in good humour by a reasonable expectancy of
vails. We first hear of tipping in 1665, in _The Committee_, Sir Robert
Howard’s comedy, where the vulgar committeeman’s wife gives Toby,
the coachman, something less than he expected. “By my whip,” he says
aside, “’tis a groat of more than ordinary thinness. Plague on this new
gentry,” he adds, with a sneer, “how liberal they are!”

“Tipping” grew and flourished extravagantly in after ages. The wealthy
and the free-handed set the standard then, as they do now in these
otherwise altered times, with the result that those who could not
afford the outlay in which the richer indulged were generally insulted
or neglected.

It was not often that the coachmen were so outspoken as the hero of the
following tale. “What do you expect?” asked a passenger new to the road
of him when collecting the customary tips at the end of his stage. That
ornament of the box was blunt and frank: “Gents generally gives me a
shilling; fools with more money than brains gives me half a crown,” he
said. What, in that case, could the passenger do but proclaim himself,
in the amount of his gratuity, a “gent” with a superfluity of brains
over cash, even though the coachman-philosopher was a loser to the
extent of one-and-sixpence?



The smart coachmen came into existence with short stages and the fast
day-coaches, about 1824. They did not burst suddenly upon an astonished
world--were not, like those insect-wonders, chrysalids in the morning
and butterflies in the afternoon--but developed by insensible
degrees. The first incentive to this improvement was, doubtless, that
acquaintance with the moneyed sporting world which began when the
country gentlemen ceased to travel horseback and took to going by
coach, and thence, from passive passengers, developed an interest in
driving; sitting beside the coachman and learning from him something
of what those worthies now, for the first time in their lives, began
dimly to perceive was an art, and not merely an ordinary wage-earning
occupation. When Jack Bailey, of the old “Prince of Wales,” who taught
old John Warde, the first of the amateurs, how to drive, tutored him,
he wrought a greater revolution than he knew. Acquaintance with, and
tutorship of, the growing ranks of the amateurs brought a strange
alteration in themselves. They taught the young sprigs of nobility
coaching, and their pupils unconsciously initiated them in new manners
of thought, speech and dress. The two classes strangely reacted on
one another, for while the coachmen learned to discard top-boots and
took to trousers, the amateurs thought it a fine thing to file their
front teeth, so that they could splice whip-points and spit like
the professionals, to wear the heavy “double Benjamins,” clumsy and
many-caped, that were necessary for the coachmen, and to be, in fact,
as thoroughly “down the road” in dress, manner and talk as though they
were professionals themselves. Each exaggerated the most remarkable
features of the other, so that the coachmen became caricature
gentlemen, and the gentlemen the most wonderful travesties of the

An admiring critic of coaching in its last decade enlarged with great
satisfaction upon the complete dissimilarity between the modern
“artists” and the “workmen” of old time. Their change of character
and appearance had kept pace with the improvements in the different
points of their profession. No longer did one see the dram-drinking,
gin-consuming, jolly-looking rotundities of yore. Instead of those
honest, wet old souls, the “ribbons” were handled by pinks of
perfection, turned out at all points like gentlemen, and in character
also like gentlemen, tasting nothing but their glass of sherry from end
to end of a journey.


                    _After H. Alken._

But side by side with these improvements upon the old order came what
were known to our grandfathers as the “flash men,” who, at the
extremity of ill-assumed gentility, were probably more objectionable
than the rough-and-ready old fellows of an earlier generation. The
flash coachman flourished very rankly indeed at Birmingham, Manchester,
Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, and other great commercial centres. He
always dressed in the extreme of fashion, and perhaps a little in
advance of it. His silken stock was swathed higher up his neck, his
gold (or gilded) scarf-pin was bigger, his waistcoat had a more
alarming pattern, his hat was more curly in the brim than others, and
in his conversation and manners he dotted the “i’s” and crossed the
“t’s” of his betters. He was, in fact, an unconscious caricature of
those among the upper classes who took an interest in the road, and
was a very loud, insufferable and offensive person, who, it was said,
“had a missus at both ends,” smoked a dozen real Havanahs in a hundred
miles, and hardly thanked you for half a crown. Such men imposed upon
many of the good commercial folks of those trading towns who were
foolish enough and inexperienced enough to take cigar-smoking for
superiority and overdressed insolence for the hallmark of gentility;
and these fellows became, in consequence, the curse of the roads.
Borrow has, in his _Romany Rye_, a very vigorous chapter on their kind,
but errs in so far as he seems to consider that they, and they only,
formed the “stage-coachmen of England.”

“The stage-coachmen of England, at the time of which I am speaking,
considered themselves mighty fine gentry; nay, I verily believe, the
most important personages of the realm, and their entertaining this
high opinion of themselves can hardly be wondered at: they were low
fellows, but masters at driving; driving was in fashion, and sprigs of
nobility used to dress as coachmen, and imitate the slang and behaviour
of the coachmen, from whom occasionally they would take lessons in
driving, as they sat beside them on the box, which post of honour any
sprig of nobility who happened to take a place on a coach claimed as
his unquestionable right; and these sprigs would smoke cigars and drink
sherry with the coachmen in bar-rooms and on the road; and when bidding
them farewell would give them a guinea or a half-guinea, and shake them
by the hand, so that these fellows, being low fellows, very naturally
thought no small liquor of themselves, but would talk familiarly of
their friends Lords So-and-so, the Honourable Misters So-and-so, and
Sir Harry and Sir Charles, and be wonderfully saucy to any one who
was not a lord or something of the kind; and this high opinion of
themselves received daily augmentation from the servile homage paid
them by the generality of the untitled male passengers, especially
those on the forepart of the coach, who used to contend for the honour
of sitting on the box with the coachman when no sprig was nigh to
put in his claim. Oh! what servile homage these craven creatures did
pay these same coach fellows, more especially this or t’other act of
brutality practised upon the weak and unoffending--upon some poor
friendless woman travelling with but little money, and perhaps a brace
of hungry children with her, or upon some thin and half-starved man
travelling on the hind part of the coach from London to Liverpool,
with only eighteen-pence in his pocket to defray his expenses on the
road; for as the insolence of these knights was vast, so was their
rapacity enormous; they had been so long accustomed to have crowns and
half-crowns rained upon them by their admirers and flatterers that they
would look at a shilling, for which many an honest labourer was happy
to toil for ten hours under a broiling sun, with the utmost contempt;
would blow upon it derisively, or fillip it into the air before they
pocketed it; but when nothing was given them, as would occasionally
happen--for how could they receive from those who had nothing? and
nobody was bound to give them anything, as they had certain wages from
their employers--then what a scene would ensue! Truly, the brutality
and rapacious insolence of English coachmen had reached a climax; it
was time that these fellows should be disenchanted, and the time--thank
Heaven!--was not far distant. Let the craven dastards who used to curry
favour with them, and applaud their brutality, lament their loss now
that they and their vehicles have disappeared from the roads.”

Here the Borrovian fury overreaches itself, and fails to convince the
reader of that brutality of a whole class he would fain have you
believe in. Were the later coachmen, indeed, moulded in so unvarying
a form? Assuredly not, for character still survived in the individual
before the railway age dawned, and nowhere was more marked than on the
box-seat. The sole person convicted of brutality in that attack is
Borrow himself, consigning all the objects of his dislike to misery and

Such men might have been found; but we have only to mention old
Thomas Cross, the dreamy, poetical, shiftless, other-worldly coachman
of the “Lynn Union,” the Wards, and John Thorogood, on the Norwich
Road, to see that the road was not handed over entirely to ruffians
of the kind Borrow draws. But in all coachmen reigned an autocratic
spirit, born of their mastery over four horses. In some this was
expressed by contemptuous replies when passengers unqualified for
the task endeavoured to talk about coaching and horsey matters; in
others it was manifested by a faraway and unapproachable meditation
or contemplation--or perhaps even vacuity of mind--like that of some
Indian fakir dwelling upon the perfections of Buddha; beside which many
a box-seat passenger felt a mere worm.

It was difficult to penetrate this professional reserve. A remarkable
character of this type was John Wilson, who drove the “Everlasting”
coach between Wolverhampton and Worcester; a coach so called because,
at a time when all the direct routes were being abandoned to railways,
this cross-country journey was left open and unchallenged for many
years. John, in addition to being a coachman, was host of the “King’s
Head,” a minor house in Bell Street, Wolverhampton, but was a taciturn
and grumpy individual. He drove only at the jog-trot of eight miles
an hour, and so had no excuse on that score for silence. He cherished
the greatest dislike to being questioned, and his replies, especially
to strangers, were of the briefest and surliest. On the occasion of
the British Association visiting Dudley in 1849, a gentleman residing
at Worcester, being very anxious to attend the meetings of so learned
a body, secured a box-seat on the “Everlasting” to Dudley. John was
the coachman on that occasion. The historian of it is the passenger

“‘A nice mild day, coachman,’ I said, as he mounted and took the

“‘’Tis, sir.’

“(After a pause of five minutes.) ‘What time do you get to Dudley?’

“‘Eight o’clock.’

“(A quarter of an hour’s pause.) ‘Capital crop of turnips this year,


“(A pause of twenty minutes, varied only by some long yawns from the
coachman, and some responsive ones from myself.)

“‘I say, driver, can you tell me who’s dead at that house?’

“‘Don’t know. ‘Niver inquires about nothing--yaw--haw--a-haw,’ yawning

“Here a passenger pointed out to ‘coachey’ a covey of partridges in
an adjoining field, and asked him if he knew the price of birds at

“‘No,’ says he, ‘I don’t--yaw-he-haw; but fresh herrings at
Wolverhampton be mighty cheap at thirty a shilling.’

“Another quarter of an hour’s profound silence, and we arrived at the
‘Crown,’ Ombersley. Seeing the fate that awaited me, of being linked
to this dreary fellow for a journey of nearly thirty miles, I proposed
to him a gentle stimulant, and expressed my apprehension that he was
considerably out of condition.

“‘Well, then, I’ll ha’ some brandy, I s’pose,’ he replied, with as much
politeness and satisfaction at this sixpenny treat as a porker may be
supposed to entertain on his first introduction to a bucket of grains.
Too soon, however, I found this investment of my capital was more than
useless--the man with the whip would not be drawn out. His horses, too,
seemed to be under the influence of the same stupifying medium, jogging
along at a rate which rendered our arrival at Dudley a probability
somewhat remote.”

John, oddly enough, was succeeded by another Wilson, but not a
relative. William Wilson was the direct antithesis to his predecessor,
and when the “Everlasting,” belying its proud name, went off the
road before the advance of the Great Western Railway from Oxford to
Worcester, he left pleasing memories.

Jo Walton, on the Cambridge Road, was a notable whip of the smarter
kind. No unwieldy stout man he, but tall and slim, faultlessly dressed,
and one of the best coachmen that ever drove. The railway spoiled him
in mid-career, but not before the very knowing gentlemen who wrote for
the sporting periodicals of the age had made his a classic figure. The
Cambridge Road alone was Walton’s ground. He drove the “Safety,” and
then the “Times,” in six hours; but it was not until he succeeded to
the box-seat of the “Star of Cambridge” that he came into notice. That
coach performed the fifty-two miles between the “Belle Sauvage” and
the “Hoop” at Cambridge in five hours. With fifteen minutes deducted
for breakfast on the way, and another fifteen for changing, this gives
four hours and a half actual running, or a speed of nearly eleven
and three-quarter miles an hour: an incredible rate of progress, but
vouched for by a contributor to the _New Sporting Magazine_ in 1833.

Jo Walton drove the “Star” double, every day except Sunday, leaving the
“Hoop,” at Cambridge at 7 a.m., reaching London at noon, and setting
forth again for Cambridge the same afternoon. This feat of driving over
a hundred miles a day he continued until the railway by degrees caused
the splendour of the “Star” to wane.

The Cambridge Road has, of course, many dead level stretches, and
Walton was sometimes known to put the coach along a certain five miles
in twenty minutes. Yet, according to the enthusiastic chronicler of
these things, he was among the safest of coachmen--a testimony not
supported by the fact that he twice upset the “Star” between Royston
and Buntingford. His determination to keep his time was, we are told,
superior to all mercenary considerations or regard for the “short
pocket.” Thus, although he pulled up on one occasion when hailed on the
road by a gentleman in a phaeton, saying he “might as well have this
half-crown as not,” he drove off again because the passenger did not
come instantly.

He was, according to the admiring testimony of the time, a fixture
on the box--nothing could throw him off. A scientific punisher of
refractory horses, too; accompanying the corrective discipline of the
whip with much grim humour. Passing through Buntingford one day, the
chestnut near leader attempted to bolt into a public-house. “I didn’t
know your friends lived _there_,” said Walton. “Come, come, now you are
got into this coach you must give up low company,” and two slashing
strokes of the whip followed. Walton, it was said, had the temper of an
emperor and a tongue as fluent and free as that of a bargee. The story
was told that he refused to pull up for a passenger who had lost his
hat, and that the passenger thereupon pushed Walton’s off, compelling
him to halt; but that tale was either untrue or the passenger
unacquainted with Walton. It was not likely that any one who knew him
would have taken such a liberty. We are not told what became of that
impulsive passenger.

[Illustration: IN TIME FOR THE COACH.

                    _After C. Cooper Henderson_, 1848.

The characteristics of coachmen had every opportunity of being well
impressed upon box-seat passengers down the long monotonous miles, and
their peculiarities have accordingly been well preserved in travellers’
recollections. One choice spirit, who drove the Leeds “Union” from the
“George and Blue Boar” in Holborn to Eaton Socon, let his leaders down
in Biggleswade street, so that they broke their knees. He observed that
they had made a terrible “fore paw,” but whether that was conscious or
unconscious humour remains uncertain.

A sharp distinction was drawn between London and provincial coachmen,
and between coachmen on main roads and those on by-ways. Yorkshire
by-roads, in particular, were regarded by coaching critics, from Nimrod
downwards, with contempt, alike for their coaches and coachmen. Thus,
one tells in 1830 of a dirty coach in Yorkshire, drawn by a team of
“tike” horses known to the coachman by the names of Rumbleguts and
Bumblekite, Staggering Bob and Davey. On the cross-roads of that
many-acred shire the coachmen changed with every stage, and cleaned and
harnessed their own horses. They were, in fact, in those remote parts,
a hundred years behind the age, and one might in the nineteenth century
have studied the manners and customs of the early eighteenth. The same
thing was noticed by Hawker in 1812, on the Glasgow and Carlisle road,
where the stage-coachmen resembled “a set of dirty gipsies,” driving
but one stage each, and then looking after their horses.

Those country hands were not in general very great respecters of rank
or station. The London coachmen were civil, had a peculiar humour about
them, and did not consider themselves _quite_ the equal of the box-seat
passenger who sat beside them; but the provincial performer poked one
in the ribs when he wanted to say anything, and perhaps nearly ejected
one from the box by his “knowing” jerk of the elbow when he considered
emphasis necessary to point his remarks. The old six-inside coaches
survived here long after they had been forgotten in most other parts
of the country, often driven by a coachman as comfortable as a “drop”
of gin could make him, and drawn by horses as weak as the water he
forgot to put into his last tumbler. In such an ominous combination,
the passengers involuntarily repeated the prayer in the Litany for “all
travellers by land.”

Drunken coachmen are heard of in the old coaching annals, and accidents
caused by them when in that state stand on record, but they are
comparatively few. It was not so easy a matter to make a seasoned
coachman--even one of only a few years’ experience--drunk. The capacity
of coachmen for drink was marvellous. As throwing some light upon it, a
meeting with Harry Ward at the “White Hart,” Andover, may be instanced.
He was then on the famous “Quicksilver” Devonport Mail.

On this occasion it was a cold winter’s night, and Ward was waiting for
the “Quicksilver” to come up, and to take his stage.

“How many brandys-and-water does that make to-day?” asked a passenger
who had just stood him one, hot.

“This is the twentieth,” replied Ward. (A glass of brandy-and-water
then cost 1s.)

He was not regarded by his contemporaries as an intemperate man, and
was never known to be the worse for drink; but he felt called upon to
explain those twenty glasses, and said, “You soon get it blown out of
you, crossing Salisbury Plain.”

This was in 1837, and Ward was then only twenty-four years of age.
“Youthful depravity,” some might say, and surmise an early and unhappy
end. But facts controvert such views. Harry Ward, who had already, in
1833, driven on the London and Glasgow Mail, and was then the youngest
coachman on the road, was also among the steadiest, and owed his
transference to the Devonport “Quicksilver” to that already established
reputation. To his last days--he died in 1894, in his 81st year--he was
proud of the fact that he never had an accident on any road.

Coachmen seem never to have been averse from loading their coaches
to their fullest capacity, except in one particular. Barrels of
oysters, kegs of spirits, hampers of game, and such heavy and bulky
things, seem never to have roused objections; but they nursed a grudge
against literature, for when the quarterly reviews were published and
magazine-time came round, and the fore and hind boots of the night
coaches were crammed with the damp sheets just issued from the press,
they discovered that the weight severely tried weak teams over long
stages, _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly_ reviewers prided themselves on
their literary weight, which was an unknown quantity to the coachmen,
who cursed them for their avoirdupois.

These old Automedons rarely took a holiday, and when they did were at
a loss how to use it. Like London omnibus drivers of the present time
under similar circumstances, they generally spent their off-time in
riding on some other coach and criticising the driving. The postboys
were alike in this respect. One of the fraternity--Tom King, of the
“Crown,” at Amersham, spent his holiday in a most peculiar manner. He
had had the honour, on one occasion, of driving “Farmer George” post,
after hunting with the Royal Staghounds, from Amersham to Windsor;
and to the end of his life he would do no work on the anniversary of
that day. After breakfast he repaired to the same yellow post-chaise,
and sat in it till nightfall, on the seat his Sovereign had occupied.
Throughout the day he refreshed himself liberally with pots of ale,
and if he took his pipe from his lips at intervals, it was only to
replace it with a key-bugle and to play “God save the King.” His master
humoured his fancy, and visited the post-chaise with many others during
the day, to see Tom indulging in these quaint Pleasures of Memory.



When Palmer first introduced his plan of mail-coaches he proposed
that, while the contractors supplied coaches and horses and the men to
drive them, the guards should be the servants of the Post Office, and
should, considering the dangers of the roads, be retired soldiers, who,
from their past training and habits of discipline, would be reliable
servants and men capable of defending the mails against attack. This
advice was not followed, and the first mail-guards were provided by the
contractors, who employed such unsatisfactory men that in a very short
time the Post Office was obliged to make the position of a mail-guard
a Post Office appointment and the guards themselves servants of and
directly responsible to the Department.

Placed on this footing, they were by no means fellow-servants with the
coachmen, but their official superiors, and not properly concerned in
any way with the passengers or any unofficial parcels or luggage. In
practice, however, they took part in all these things, and although
the coachmen were technically under their orders, it was only when
ill-assorted and quarrelsome men came together on one coach that any
disputes arose.

Mail-coaches had not long been established before the guards, those
protectors of his Majesty’s mails, presuming upon their position,
became the tyrants of the road. Pennant, writing in 1792, tells
how, in his district of Wales, “the guards, relying on the name of
royalty, in the course of the Irish road through North Wales, committed
great excesses. One, on a trifling quarrel, shot dead a poor old
gatekeeper.... In Anglesey another of these guards discharged his
pistol wantonly in the face of a chaise-horse, drawing his master,
the Rev. John Bulkeley, who was flung out and died, either on the
spot or soon after. These guards shoot at dogs, hogs, sheep, and
poultry as they pass the road, and even in towns, to the great terror
and danger of the inhabitants.” As with the mail-guards, so with the
mail-coachmen. “It has been a common practice with them to divert
themselves with flinging out their lashes at harmless passengers, by
way of fun. Very lately, one of these wretches succeeded so well as to
twist his lash round a poor fellow’s neck in the parish where I live.
He dragged the man under the wheels, by which one of his arms was

Not only Pennant complained of the early mail-guards. The country
in general went in terror of them and their lethal weapons, the
bell-mouthed blunderbusses which they carried to protect the mails
and were wont to discharge at random as they went along. It was, with
some pardonable exaggeration, said that the Post Office had conferred
a licence for indiscriminate slaughter upon them; for not only were
they armed against attack, but during the wars with France (and we
were always fighting the French in those days) the Postmaster-General
issued a kind of commission to mail-guards to shoot any prisoner of war
breaking parole. To promote zeal in this direction, a reward of £5 was
offered for every prisoner so winged or killed. Prisoners of war were
plentiful then, and in Edinburgh Castle, on Dartmoor, and at “Yaxley
Barracks,” near Norman Cross, on the Great North Road, were to be
counted in thousands. At Yaxley, as also perhaps at other places, they
were often allowed out on parole, with the understanding that they were
not to leave the high road and were not to remain out after sunset. It
is not on record that any prisoner was thus shot, but many inoffensive
rustics were wounded by guards sportively inclined, or--with what St.
Paul calls a “zeal not according to discretion”--eager to earn the
reward offered.

The mail-guards were, indeed, very dangerous fellows to the law-abiding
subjects of the King, however innocuous they may have been to the
law-breakers. We may dismiss the cutlass with which they were armed.
Not much damage could be accidentally wrought by that; but the
blunderbuss was a terror to nervous passengers by the mail, for when
the guard sportively loosed it off at the wayside sparrows, or at the
ploughman busy against the sky-line, it exploded with the roar of a
cannon, and some of its slugs generally whistled unpleasantly past the
ears of the outsides or pierced their tall beaver hats. The guard, in
fact, was a person to be shunned when he took his blunderbuss in hand,
either for practice or examination; for it was not only dangerous
as a gun, but was furnished with a bayonet which, folding back on a
hinge against the barrel, was released by touching a powerful spring.
How many persons were accidentally slain or mutilated by the guards’
awkward handling of this infernal contrivance we shall never know.

It was not, however, until 1811 that anything was done to stop this
indiscriminate shooting on the part of the guards; but in that year an
Act of Parliament came into existence which forbade the firing of their
blunderbusses except for defence, and instituting a penalty of £5 for
breaking this new law.

Meanwhile the position of mail-guard had become a dignified and
desirable one, often obtained through Parliamentary and other influence
brought to bear upon the Postmasters-General. Here, for example, is a
copy of a letter of recommendation, unfortunately undated, but showing
the methods in vogue:--

            “To their Lordships
                  the Postmasters-General.

  “MY LORDS,--

  “The bearer of this, John Peters, is very well known at the General
  Post Office, and is desirous of becoming a Mail Guard, he is 23
  years of age, and we beleive (_sic_) him to be a Sober, Steady Man,
  and deserving of the Situation.

  “We are,
    “My Lords,
      “Your Lordships’
        “Obedient Servts.,

  “RD. SPOONER, Banker, Birmingham;
  “THOMAS ATTWOOD, Banker, Birmingham.”

It was not the salary that made the position of a mail-guard so well
worth having. He received only 10s. 6d. a week from the Department, and
his uniform of trousers, top-boots, scarlet coat, frogged across the
front of the body with gold lace, and a gold-banded black tall hat with
a cockade. Out of his miserable half-guinea he had to himself provide
the cost of oil for the hand-lamp in front of his seat on the dickey,
and to pay the stable-helpers who cleaned his tools and tool-box,
oiled and reloaded every day his blunderbuss and pair of pistols, and
performed a variety of odd jobs that took live shillings a week out
of his pocket. He obviously could not exist on his pay: how, then,
did he live? That is a question soon answered. A mail-guard going a
long distance--anything from a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles
was a usual spell--generally looked for half a crown each from inside
passengers and two shillings from the outsides. If you could not afford
so much he would do with less, but then you lost the touch of the hat
that accompanied the larger sum.

A full coach produced 16s. in tips; or, if the trip did not boast
so good a waybill, guard and coachman by prescriptive right divided
all short fares below 3s. A “good mail”--that is to say, a mail on
one of the great direct roads--loading well, would produce sometimes
as much as from £300 to £500 a year in tips and fees for services
rendered to passengers and others. A guard’s income depended mainly
upon his attention and civility to passengers, but there were many
other sources. Before 1831 the sale of game was absolutely prohibited,
yet a great trade was done in it, with the mail and stage-guards as
intermediaries, and there can be no doubt that the coaches afforded
every opportunity that poachers could desire of marketing the birds and
ground-game that fell to their guns or nets in the darkling midnight

Country squires knew this very well, and threatened and fumed without
ceasing, but they or their keepers never by any chance saw those
roadside scenes familiar enough to passengers on the up-mails; when,
passing at midnight by some dense woodland bordering the road, a low
whistle would be heard, and the coach would pull up while a couple
of men handed a sack over to the guard, who, thrusting it into the
hind-boot and stamping the lid down, called out “Good-night!” and
the journey was resumed without comment. The curious or suspicious
might connect such an incident with another which often happened on
entering London. “Jack,” the guard would sing out, “Mr. Smith wants
his luggage left at so-and-so,” and the coach would be brought to a
momentary halt outside some public-house, and the sack, from whose
neck the inquisitive might perhaps have seen something remarkably
like pheasants’ tails projecting, handed to an expectant porter. Any
interested person following that porter would observe that the sack was
delivered at the nearest poulterer’s.

A guard pocketed half a crown each for all bankers’ parcels he was
entrusted with; he was purveyor of tea and fish and buyer of meat to a
hundred villages down the road; netted many a guinea from the lawyers
in those days before ever the Judicature Act was thought of, when every
answer filed in Chancery must needs be filed by special and sworn
messenger; had a penny each for all letters picked up on the way, when
post-offices were few and far between; was entrusted with great sums of
money for payment into the London banks; and purchased wedding-rings
for half the love-sick swains in a county. Every one knew him, trusted
him, and fed him, and if he was a prudent man he had no difficulty
in making money at express speed. One guard, it is recorded, was so
earnest a fishmonger that he used the Post Office bags to carry his
fish in, greatly to the disgust of the clerks, who found themselves
smothered in scales and surrounded by a decidedly ancient, as well
as fishlike, smell. They complained to the Postmaster-General, who
reprimanded the delinquent, and with a quite unintentional pun observed
that the “sole” reasons of his not being dismissed were his good
character and long service.

The guard of the Southampton Mail had long been suspected of smuggling,
and at last the Customs officers at that port, determined to search
the mail. They accordingly attempted to stop it one evening, but the
guard himself levelled his blunderbuss at them, swearing he would
blow out the brains of the man who should lay a hand upon the horses
or seek to search “His Majesty’s Royal Mail,” and so he got off, with
the hind boot stuffed to bursting with excisable but unexcised goods
in the nature of spirits and tobacco. A long correspondence between
the Postmaster-General and the Commissioners of Customs arose out of
this incident, each official jealous of his own Department’s rights as
only Government officers can be; but the Postmaster-General, although
declaring himself an enemy to smuggling, was indignant at the idea of
the mail being searched and possibly detained; and although warning
the guard, approved his conduct. It needs no great imaginative powers
to picture that guard embarking upon a colossal smuggling scheme after
finding himself thus secured from being searched.

Although the mail-guards were as a body a brave and devoted class of
men, determined to do their duty and to carry his Majesty’s mails in
the face of all difficulties of snowstorms, winds, and floods, yet
they gave Thomas Hasker, Chief Superintendent of Mail-coaches, a good
deal of trouble. They numbered 268, and he exercised the supreme
control of them. Complaints continually reached him from one quarter
or another of the mails being late, of the guards being impertinent,
and of the hind-boot, sacred to the mail-bags, being used by the
guards as a receptacle for things quite unauthorised and unofficial.
To stop some of these practices he was obliged to issue this notice,
which reads somewhat curiously nowadays: “In consequence of several of
the mail-guards having been detected in carrying meat and vegetables
in the mail-box, to the amount of 150 pounds weight at a time, the
superintendents are desired to take opportunities to meet the coaches
in their district, at places where they are least expected, and to
search the boxes, to remedy this evil, which is carried to too great a
length. The superintendents will please to observe that Mr. Hasker does
not wish to be too hard on the guards. Such a thing as a joint of meat,
or a couple of fowls, or any other article for their own families,
in moderation, he does not wish to deter them from the privilege of

Loading the roof with heavy or bulky articles was a thing he could not
allow as a usual thing. “Such a thing as a turtle tied on the roof,
directed to any gentleman once or twice a year, might pass unnoticed,
but for a constancy cannot be suffered.”

In one respect the lot of a mail-guard did not compare favourably with
that of his plebeian brethren on the stage-coaches. He rode throughout
the night in a solitary position on the little seat on the hind-boot
called the “dicky,” with the two outsides on the front part of the roof
facing away from him. It was a rule for many years strictly enforced
that the outside passengers of a mail-coach should be limited to three:
one on the box-seat beside the coachman, and the other two with their
backs to the guard, as described. It had its origin in the fear that,
if more were allowed, it would be an easy matter for desperadoes to
overpower coachman and guard, and to rob the mail. For the same reason,
the only means of access to the hind-boot, in which the mails were
stowed away in those early days, before the expansion of mail-matter
caused the roof to be piled up with great sacks of letters and packets,
was by a trap-door at the top, carefully locked, and on which the guard
had his feet placed during the whole of the journey. Any infraction of
the rule against allowing a passenger on the hind part of the coach was
sure to bring instant dismissal, and for permitting an extra passenger
on the roof the guard was fined £5.

But some of the joys of a mail-guard’s life are recounted in the old

    At each inn on the road I a welcome could find;
      At the Fleece I’d my skin full of ale;
    The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind;
      At the Dolphin I drank like a whale.

    Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff;
      They’d capital flip at the Boar;
    And when at the Angel I’d tippled enough,
      I went to the Devil for more.

    There I’d always a sweetheart so snug in the bar;
      At the Rose I’d a lily so white;
    Few planets could equal sweet Nan at the Star,
      No eyes ever twinkled so bright.

    I’ve had many a hug at the sign of the Bear;
      In the Sun courted morning and noon;
    And when night put an end to my happiness there,
      I’d a sweet little girl in the Moon.

    To sweethearts and ale I at length bid adieu,
      Of wedlock to set up the sign;
    Hand-in-Hand the Good Woman I look for in you,
      And the Horns I hope ne’er will be mine.

    Once guard to the Mail, I’m now guard to the fair,
      But though my commission’s laid down,
    Yet while the King’s Arms I’m permitted to bear,
      Like a Lion I’ll fight for the Crown.

Something of the old mail-guard’s welcome is reflected in those lines.
That he was, in the eyes of the country folk a highly important
personage admits of no doubt, and that, even among the upper classes,
he was a trusted emissary and purveyor of news is equally sure. He was,
in fact, news embodied. Winged Mercury might, in the ancient world,
and may be now, the personification of intelligence, hot and hot; but
from 1784 until the first railways began to outstrip the mail-coaches,
the mail-guards were the better type. They brought the first rumours
of joy or sorrow, of victory or defeat, down with them on the Royal
Mail; and as we were warring almost incessantly all over the world
during the mail-coach era, few were those occasions when the advent of
these official carriers was not awaited with bated breath. The tale
has often been told how the mail-coaches, carrying down with them the
news of Trafalgar, of Vittoria, and--culminating victory--of Waterloo,
went down into the country wreathed with laurel and flying jubilant
flags, and how the guards, hoarse at last and inaudible from continual
shouting, resorted to the expedient of chalking the words “Glorious
Victory” in large letters on the dickey, for the villagers to read
as they dashed along the roads. Often, under these circumstances, a
mail-guard was journalist as well, for when he could string sentences
together with a fair approach to grammar, his contributions to the
provincial press were welcomed and well paid for.

The duty of a mail-guard, besides the primary one of protecting
the mails, for which he was provided with a blunderbuss, a pair of
pistols, and a cutlass carried in a case, was to see that time was kept
according to the official time-bill handed to him. For the purpose of
checking speed on the road, and of keeping to that time-table, the Post
Office furnished every one of its guards with an official time-piece
enclosed in a wooden box in such a way that it was impossible for
any one to tamper with it, or to alter the hands, without being
discovered. These clocks were regulated to gain or lose so many minutes
in twenty-four hours, according to the direction in which the coach
travelled, in order that local time might be kept. The timepiece was
invariably carried in the leather pouch with a circular hole cut in it
that all mail-guards wore, so that the time could instantly be seen.

To every guard the superintendent supplied a list of instructions
comprising twenty-six items. Prominent among these was the obligation
to date and sign the time-bill correctly at every place, or to see it
signed and dated by the postmasters on the way. How this was always
accomplished in snow and wind and rain, with numbed fingers, is not
easily understood. Often the time-bills must have been reduced to
something like pulp by the time the trip was ended.

It was also the guard’s duty to report any horses unfit for service,
and any defective harness, and to see that the coaches were in proper
condition. He was urged to look to the lamps, to behave with civility
to the passengers, and to sound his horn on several occasions and in
certain contingencies duly specified.

Besides these ordinary official duties there were the extraordinary
ones, in the case of a breakdown or in the event of a snowstorm. The
guard had his tool-box and an assortment of spare parts at hand, so
that he could help the coachman in effecting roadside repairs to
harness or the coach itself; and when, from snowstorm or any other
cause, the coach could be driven no farther, it was the guard’s duty to
impress one of the mail horses and ride to the next stage, or to secure
post-chaises or saddle-horses, and personally convey the mail-bags.
No matter what became of the passengers, his first care was for His
Majesty’s mails.

Coachmen, although not the servants of the Post Office, were fined
heavily for being late, and for stopping at unauthorised places, and
the guards were fined as well for allowing them to do so. To one guard,
who had been severely reprimanded for not keeping time, and excused
himself by saying he could not get the passengers away from their
dinner, Hasker said, “Stick to your time-bill, and never mind what
passengers say respecting waiting over-time. Is it not the fault of
the landlord to keep them so long? Some day, when you have waited a
considerable time (suppose five or eight minutes longer than is allowed
by the bill) drive away and leave them behind. Only, take care you have
witness that you called them out two or three times. Then let them get
forward how they can.”

Beyond his weekly half-guinea, an annual suit of clothes, and a
superannuation allowance of seven shillings a week, a mail-guard had
no official prospects. It is true he might rise to become a travelling
inspector of mails, when he would receive up to £100 a year, with 15s.
a day travelling expenses. But inspectorships were naturally few, and
in any case it is not conceivable that a guard on a “good mail” would
ever have exchanged places with an inspector, who certainly drew the
higher salary but acquired no tips.

It has already been shown that guards did very well indeed on the
mainroad mails, and could very well have afforded to take the
situation without any salary at all, or even, like waiters at modern
restaurants, to pay for the privilege of receiving fees and tips.
The salary was, in fact, merely a nominal retaining-fee, to give the
Department a hold upon them. But there were a number of cross-country
mails that were not nearly so profitable as those that ran direct
from London, and it is to be feared that their guards did not always
do so particularly well. Nor even did those on the great mail-coaches
keep their handsome incomes at the last. Railways impoverished many
a mail before they were finally withdrawn, and it was then that the
guards agitated for higher salaries. Their perquisites had reached the
vanishing-point, and at last the Post Office agreed to a new scale of
pay. From 1842 the guards were to receive from £70 to £120 a year,
according to length of service, but at the same time were forbidden
to receive gratuities. This looks like a concession made by some
malevolent humorist, for already most of the mails had been withdrawn.

But mail-guards were, as a class, more fortunate than their brethren of
the stage-coaches when railways ran them off the road. It is true that
they keenly felt the loss of the great popularity they had enjoyed,
and more keenly still did they miss the very handsome incomes they in
many instances had made; but as officials directly employed by the Post
Office, it was incumbent upon that Department to find them employ or to
pension them. No such assured future could, or did, cheer the lot of
the coachmen of the mails, or the coachmen or the guards of the stages.

The mail-guards in many instances were drafted to the great railway
stations, where they assisted in despatching the mails by railway.
Most prominent among all whose career was thus diverted was Moses
James Nobbs, who died in 1897, half a century after the road as an
institution came to an end.

The career of this old servant of the Post Office is, from a variety
of circumstances, exceptionally interesting. He was born on May 12th,
1817, at Angel Street, Norwich, and was the son of a coachbuilder.
Entering the Post Office service on June 27th, 1836, as guard of the
London and Stroud Mail, he was shortly transferred to the Peterborough
and Hull Mail, and then to the Portsmouth and Bristol. In 1837 he
was on the new Exeter Mail, just started, on the accession of Queen
Victoria, to go through Salisbury and Yeovil---170 miles in 18¼ hours,
doing the journey to Exeter in two minutes’ less time than the famous
“Quicksilver” mail, which with this year varied its route and, avoiding
Salisbury and Yeovil, went by the slightly shorter route through
Amesbury and Wincanton. Nobbs went the whole distance, resting the
following day. The following year found him as guard on the Cheltenham
and Aberystwith Mail, on which he remained until 1854--sixteen years
of nightly exposure on a route one hundred miles long, through the
difficult and mountainous districts of mid-Wales. One of his winter
experiences may be given as a sample.


“We had left Gloucester,” he says, “and all went on pretty well until
we came to Radnor Forest, where we got caught in such a snowstorm that
it was impossible to take the coach any farther, 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 to the other side, to
an inn at Llandewy. There we met the up-guard, Couldery, 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, Couldery, it seems, 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, and there he remained for some days, to
recover. I had to proceed with my bags, so I got a chaise and pair from
Pen-y-Bont 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 one instant
I should not be 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 I was still fast 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. 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.”

[Illustration: STUCK FAST.

                    _After C. Cooper Henderson_, 1843.

On another occasion Nobbs and the mail escaped in a miraculous manner.
The snow had been falling for many hours on Plinlimmon, and it was a
fearful night. They safely passed the summit at Stedfa-gerrig, but,
after going down for a mile, lost their way in a dense combined fog
and snowstorm. A postboy was riding one of the leaders, but he took
the coach over a precipice about sixty feet deep, and Nobbs and the
coachman performed two somersaults in the involuntary descent. When
they reached the bottom they blessed that same snowstorm which they
had been regarding in quite another light, for the drifts made a soft
and safe resting-place. There were only two passengers, who were, of
course, riding inside on such a night. They were greatly cut by the
breaking of the glass, and two horses were killed. But in two hours the
coach was righted, and, having found an old Roman road in the hollow
and harnessed the two remaining horses, they drove off, and actually
succeeded in reaching Cheltenham in time to catch the up London mail.

When the Cheltenham and Aberystwith Mail came off the road, in 1854,
Nobbs was appointed travelling inspector to the Post Office on the
Great Western Railway between Paddington and Exeter, and was shortly
afterwards transferred to Paddington, where he remained for the rest
of his official career, superintending the receipt and despatch of the
mails until retired and pensioned off in 1891, under the Post Office
regulations. He had thus performed fifty-five years’ service, and had
seen the business of the Post Office grow from the one hundredweight
of mail-matter in his charge on the Cheltenham and Aberystwith Mail
at Christmas 1839, to the twenty tons despatched from Paddington on
Christmas Eve 1889.

A very curious experience fell to the lot of this veteran in 1887, when
a revival of the old days of the road took place, in consequence of
the Post Office deciding to send the London and Brighton Parcel Mail
by horsed van along that classic highway instead of by rail. By the
Post Office agreement with the railway companies of 1882, the year when
the Parcel Post was introduced, the companies were given 55 per cent.
of the total receipts; but as it presently appeared that this was an
extravagant proportion, and that the parcels could be conveyed by van
along the road at a much smaller cost, the road service now in force
was at length inaugurated, on June 1st, 1887.

To Nobbs, as the oldest guard in the service, fell the distinction of
acting in that capacity on the Brighton Parcel Mail on its trial-trip.
Again he wore the gold-banded hat and the scarlet coat, and sentimental
souls not only provided one of the old timepieces, but included a
blunderbuss in the equipment, while an even more enthusiastic admirer
of the bygone days produced a key-bugle, so that Nobbs might play “Auld
Lang Syne.” He tried, but the attempt was not a success. The results
were feeble, in consequence, as he explained, of his having lost his
front teeth.

Nobbs died, May 18th, 1897, in his eighty-first year, at Uxbridge.
His portrait is one of the cherished items in the Post Office Record

One of those who, for some reason or another, was not continued in
Post Office employment was an odd character popularly called “Cocky”
Murrell, who for many years afterwards was a solicitor’s clerk at
Downham Market, Norfolk. “Cocky” he was called from his prodigious
amount of bounce. He had formerly been guard of the mail between Ely
and King’s Lynn, and though not much taller than the horn he blew,
assumed as much authority as though he had been the Postmaster-General



Not every stage-coach carried a guard, and largely to that omission was
due the prevalence of accidents in the last years of coaching. When we
find guards first mentioned in old stage-coach advertisements, shortly
after the middle of the eighteenth century, they were provided strictly
for the purpose their name indicates--to guard the coaches against
attack; and when such dangers grew more remote they were generally
discontinued on day-coaches. Thus very often, except on long-distance
stages, even the smart day-coaches carried no guard, and when they did,
his functions were not so much to safeguard the coach in the original
sense as to help the coachman by skidding and unskidding down hill, and
to look after the way-bill and the passengers’ luggage. It was when no
such useful functionary was carried, and when the coachman, combining
the parts, descended from his box, and leaving the reins in charge of a
passenger, or often merely resting them on the horses’ backs, went to
explore the contents of the boots, or alighted for some other necessary
business, that the horses often started off on their own accord and
wrought disaster to coach and passengers.

In early days, when horses were either not changed at all on a long
journey, or went twenty-mile stages, nothing was less likely than that
they would bolt. All they wanted to do was to lie down and die. But in
the golden age of coaching, when well-kept teams working sometimes only
six- or eight-mile stages were usual, that coach-proprietor who, from
motives of economy or for any other reason, omitted to provide a guard,
should have been made criminally responsible for any accidents caused
by that omission.

As a rule the guards of mails and stages went from end to end, being
responsible for the contents of the way-bill. These spells of from ten
to fifteen hours’ duty were naturally very tiring, and they generally
rested the following day, or, if in London, took the opportunity of
executing those varied commissions--from the filing of a Bill in
Chancery to the matching of silks--of which every guard had plenty
always in hand.

An outstanding specimen of a stage-coach guard is the figure of George
Young, of the Leeds “Union.” An excellent whip, as well as guard, he
was a man of a peculiar versatility of genius, and as an entertainer of
company on the roof of a coach was probably unequalled in his day. He
transacted business commissions for the better class of jewellers and
attorneys, was fond of all kinds of sport, a successful bookmaker, a
good shot, went coursing, and at horseracing was as keen as any tyke in
broad Yorkshire. Not insensible, either, to the charms of the P. R., he
introduced some noted bruisers in his day, and was an intimate friend
and companion of Tom Spring. When not actively engaged, he was always
ready to take the ribbons for a friend who wanted a holiday or had
urgent private affairs to attend to; and the tooling of the teams, no
matter how refractory, never suffered in dignity from his manipulation.
He was, take him for all in all, perhaps one of the most original and
perfect specimens of the old-fashioned, cheery, story-telling, and
loquacious sort who ever blew a horn, kissed a pretty barmaid, pulled
a sluggish team out of a difficulty, or chaffed a yokel on his way to

This paragon among guards met his death in April 1825, dying at the
“Red Lion,” Pontefract, of mortification resulting from an accident.
It seems that, to make room for an extra passenger, he had given up
the guard’s seat, and went to sit beside the coachman, who already had
a passenger on the box. In order not to inconvenience the coachman’s
driving, he sat on the edge of the seat, with one of his legs dangling
over the side, and so when the coach gave a lurch, was thrown off and
his thigh broken.

Bob Hadley, guard of the “Unicorn” coach between Manchester and the
Potteries, was of the eccentric kind, sporting an odd kind of headgear
which went by the name of the “Hadley Tile,” and was as well known
in his circle as the “D’Orsay Hat” was in fashionable London. “It
resembles,” said a contemporary, “an umbrella in extent, and Bob, as
he luxuriates under its broad leaf, looks like an ourang-outang under
a banyan-tree. Some of his contemporaries having adopted his taste
too closely, he has been under the necessity of extending its brim
about four inches, which puts all competition at defiance, and he now
presents an unique specimen. To put himself still further beyond the
reach of envious competition, he has enclosed his delicate person in a
complete suit of plaid, from his thorax to his trotters, and is now as
complete an original as is to be found in any zoological collection in
the Kingdom.”

It was in the very nature of their work that the “up” and “down”
coachmen and guards should never meet, save in that moment of passing
one another on the road. Like the little man and woman of the
old-fashioned weather-gauge--the one coming out and the other going
in, as fine or wet weather willed it--they could not, in the ordinary
routine, possibly enjoy one another’s society. An exception was
annually made on the Holyhead Road, when a hundred coachmen and guards
were bidden to a feast at the “Green Man,” Dunchurch. They managed to
find substitutes for their places on the box, or on the guard’s seat,
for the occasion, and usually sat down to the half of a fat buck from
the Buccleuch estate adjoining that village.

The festival of September 1834 was a memorable one. According to a
contemporary, the anticipation of the tuck-out had kept them on the
_qui vive_ for a week, and it was not a little amusing to see them
nearing the point of attraction on the evening and night before;
in some cases two, and even three, being perched on one coach and
making the welkin ring with notes of their bugles, in solos, duets,
or trios, to the no small interruption of the peaceful slumbers of
wayside hamlets, whose inhabitants, from the constant din of “See the
Conquering Hero Comes,” fancied the Duke of Wellington, at least, was
on the road.

The guards of the Manchester “Red Rover” were particularly on their
stilts, and, having met for the first time on the same vehicle in
musical fellowship, continued practising every tune they did know and
did not know, from the time they quitted Highgate until they entered
Dunchurch, at about 3 a.m., when they took leave of the coach with
the splendid finale of “We Won’t go Home till Morning,” leaving the
harassed passengers with the chance of an odd wink for the remainder
of the journey. “We ought,” says the historian of these things, “as
faithful reporters, to state that Bob Hadley and his chum on the
‘Rover’ occasionally rested their pipes with a cigar or a song; and
in the latter attempt Hadley was certainly second best, for no raven
in a chimney-pot could have more barbarously murdered the airs of
Rossini--so much to the horror of a lady outside, who was herself a
bit of a musician, that she fancied she had by accident got upon the
railway, and taken her seat in a cattle train, in one of the private
boxes set apart for the accommodation of four-footed squeakers.”

The dinner on this occasion was of the most substantial description,
and, for want of a better, Rob Hadley was put in the chair, a
distinction his modesty would have induced him to decline; but the
voices of the company were unanimous, and on mounting his perch he
returned thanks on his bugle in the favourite hunting air of “Old
Towler”; which, as “on that day,” or a few days before, a stag was
supposed to have died, was considered extremely appropriate, and
was applauded accordingly. Whether a stag had died or not seemed
subsequently to have become a matter of doubt, for the chairman, after
carving the “noble haunch,” and coming to the foot, which was enclosed
with a profusion of curled writing-paper, was not a little surprised
to find the hoof, instead of being _cloven_, to be _entire_. A noted
farrier present swore it was the hoof of a young donkey! This the
landlord positively denied, but upon a jury being summoned to decide
the question, the hoof was found to have mysteriously disappeared, and
the point remained for ever unsettled; although it was freely hinted
that the guard of the “Emerald,” jealous at being shut out from
the feast, had conveyed the haunch away and substituted for it the
hind-quarter of a deceased “Neddy” he had imported from Wolverhampton.

One of the most daring deeds ever related of a guard was that well-nigh
incredible one told of the guard of the famous “Tantivy”:--

“We had just entered Oxford from Woodstock,” says Lord William Lennox,
“when suddenly the horses started off at an awful pace. What made
matters worse was that we saw at a distance some men employed in
removing a large tree that had fallen during the storm of the previous
night across the road near St. John’s College. The coachman shook his
head, looking very nervous, while the guard, a most powerful man, stood
up, prepared for any emergency. On we went, the coachman trying in
vain to check the galloping steeds, and we had got within a few yards
of the critical spot when the guard, crawling over the roof, managed,
somehow or another, to get on the footboard, when, with a spring, he
threw himself on the near wheeler, and with a giant’s clasp checked the
horses at the very moment the leaders were about to charge the tree.
Down they came, but the guard never yielded an inch, and, with the
assistance of the country people near at hand, the leaders regained
their legs, without the slightest damage to man, horse, coach, or
harness. A subscription for our gallant preserver was got up on the

The last twenty years of the coaching era were remarkable for the
development of musical ability on the part of the guards, both of the
mail- and stage-coaches, who, relieved from their old-time anxieties
and fears of highwaymen, kept their blunderbusses safely stowed away,
and, turning their attention, like so many scarlet-coated Strephons,
to the ballad-music of the moment, became expert practitioners on the
key-bugle. That instrument came over from Germany in 1818, and for a
time pretty thoroughly displaced the old “yard of tin” the earlier
guards had blown so lustily. The new generation developed a passion for
this strident kind of minstrelsy. Like the hero (or is it heroine?) of
the “Lost Chord,” their “fingers wandered idly over the sounding keys,”
and although many were expert players and, unlike the organist in that
song, _did_ know what they were playing, the jolting of the coaches
must often have discomposed their harmony to some extent, so that the
passengers could not always boast the same knowledge.

Piccadilly, one of the chief starting-points in London, was in this
manner a highly musical thoroughfare at the period now under review.
Ten guards, blowing ten different tunes at once, produced, we are
told--and can well believe--a wonderful effect; and the roads became
excruciatingly lively when every gay young blood of a guard learned to
play “Cherry Ripe,” the “Huntsman’s Chorus,” “Oh! Nanny, wilt Thou
gang wi’ Me?” and half a hundred others. The passengers, like that
famous young lady “with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,”
had music wherever they went. Let us hope they appreciated their good
fortune to the full.

The Post Office looked with a cold glance upon these proceedings, and
forbade mail-guards to play the key-bugle. Those officials therefore
purchased them secretly, and snatched a fearful joy by producing them
when clear of London streets, and playing, loud and long, such airs
as “The Days when we went Gipsying, a Long Time Ago,” and “Sally
in our Alley,” to the great admiration of the country joskins. The
performances of expert players were said to be delightful, and no doubt
they quickly reaped in tips a harvest from what they had expended on
their instruments.

It is on record that a guard on the Chester Mail, with the fear of God
or public opinion before him, always used to honour the Sabbath Day
by playing the “Old Hundredth” as the coach passed through town and
village, reserving his secular tunes for the secluded highway.

Cornets-à-piston began to rival the key-bugle in the last years
of coaching, and the hurly-burly grew terrific. To what lengths
this progressive din would have been carried had not the coaching
age itself come to an end let us not seek to inquire; but when the
coaching revival of 1863 and succeeding years brought back some of
the old sights and sounds of the road, key-bugles and their like were
very properly voted bad form, and the older coach-horn regained and
still retains its ancient ascendency. Those other instruments and all
their possibilities are left to modern beanfeasters and Bank-holiday
merrymakers, who, as the suburban Londoner knows only too well, do not
fail to take full advantage of them.

What became of the stage-coach guards? Some of them were killed, and
thus never experienced the bitterness of finding their occupation
gone. There is an inscription in the churchyard at Great Driffield,
Yorkshire, to one who ended thus:--



  Guard of the “Wellington,” who lost his life by
  the Coach being unfortunately overturned at
  Nafferton, September 9th, 1825.

  Aged 36 years.

  Praises on Tomb Stones are but vainly spent;
  A Man’s Good Name is his best Monument.

  This Stone was erected by his Companions in Friendship.

Less noticed by gossips on old coaching days than the coachmen were,
their ending is more obscure, but it may be supposed that, like those
occupants of the box-seat, many of them settled down as landlords of
small inns in towns they had known when they travelled the road.



  “What’s in a name? Little enough, by the fact that people travel by
  the Thame coach, the Hitchin chaises, and the Crawley stage.”--_Old
  Coaching Essay._

It was not until quite late in the coaching era that proprietors began
generally to adopt the practice of naming their coaches. In early
days there was little or no occasion to do so, for when there were
only two or three coaches on the most frequented roads, no difficulty
existed in distinguishing between them. One might be the old original
stage; another, somewhat better built and more up-to-date, would be
the “Machine”; another yet, fastest of all, the “Fly,” or the “Flying
Machine.” The earliest named coach of which we have any record was the
“Confatharrat” London and Norwich stage, mentioned in 1695. As we have
already seen in these pages, this was an old-time way of spelling the
word “Confederate,” and the coach was one probably owned and run by
a syndicate, who shared the risks and the profits. Before competing
coaches began to multiply and hustle one another in the struggle for
public support, proprietors were content to announce “a coach,” or “a
stage-coach,” to run, and took no trouble to characterise their vehicle
in any more attractive fashion. But when an opposition took the road,
the vehicles so curtly named became “commodious,” “easy,” “elegant,”
and anything else you like in the commendatory kind. The next stage
in this development was to appeal to the sentiment of old customers
and to endeavour to retain their favour, not usually by increased
speed, lower fares, or better accommodation, but by describing an
old-established coach as “the original.” Passengers, who did not lay
so much stress upon sentiment as upon personal comfort, were generally
well-advised to book seats by the new opposition coaches rather than
by the “originals,” which had the defect of being old-fashioned, and
perhaps, in many cases, worn out. Surely in no other business was
rivalry so bitter and unrelenting as in that of coaching, and the
annals of the road afford occasion for a sigh or a smile as one reads
the furious denunciations levelled by one coach-master against another
in their old advertisements. This contention started in the very first
years of the Brighton Road. In 1757 James Batchelor extended his old
Lewes stage to Brighthelmstone (as Brighton then was known). He took
two days to perform the journey. Five years later appeared a certain
J. Tubb, allied in partnership with S. Brawne, with intent to drive
Batchelor off the road. They advertised, in May 1762, a “Lewes and
Brighthelmstone Flying Machine, hung on steel springs, very neat and
commodious,” to do the journey in one day. This presumption aroused
Batchelor, the old incumbent, to extraordinary energy, for, the very
next week, he started a “new large Flying Chariot,” and--reduced his
fares! This reduction of fares seems to have struck Mr. Tubb as an
exceedingly mean and contemptible move, and he rushed into print with a
very long and virulent advertisement in the _Lewes Journal_, desiring
“Gentlemen, Ladies, and others” to “look narrowly into the Meanness
and Design of the other Flying Machine to Lewes and Brighthelmstone in
lowering his prices, whether ’tis thro’ conscience or an endeavour to
suppress me. If the former is the case, think how you have been used
for a great number of years, when he engrossed the whole to himself,
and kept you two days upon the road, going fifty miles. If the latter,
and he should be lucky enough to succeed in it, judge whether he won’t
return to his old prices when you cannot help yourselves, and use you
as formerly.”

To this Batchelor rejoined with an appeal “to the calm consideration of
the Gentlemen, Ladies, and other Passengers, of what Degree soever.”
This appeal was chiefly the time-honoured one, that his coach was
the original, and therefore deserved support: “Our Family first set
up the Stage Coach from London to Lewes, and have continued it for a
long Series of Years, from Father to Son and other Branches of the
Same Race. Even before the Turnpikes on the Lewes Road were erected,
they drove their Stage, in the Summer Season, in one day, and have
continued to do over since, and now in the Winter Season twice in the
week.” The Lewes and Brighton Road seems, however, to have been long
enough and broad enough for both Tubb and Batchelor, for they both
continued until four years later, when Batchelor died, and his business
was sold to Tubb, who took a partner, and himself in due course
experienced the bitterness of a rival on the road, prepared with better
machines, a speedier journey, and lower fares.

About this time, when hatreds and rivalries were seething in the
south on this then comparatively unimportant road, the Shrewsbury
and London road, on its several routes, by way of Birmingham and
Coventry, or by Oxford and Banbury, was, as befitted so important a
highway, the scene of a much keener and more protracted strife between
opposing confederations of coach-proprietors, and in consequence coach
nomenclature grew with the rapidity of melons under a glass frame. It
should be noted here that coaching did not progress evenly all over
the kingdom, but was more advanced on some roads than others. Thus,
although the era of “Machines” and “Flying Machines” did not properly
dawn until after 1750, yet on the Bath Road we already find a “Flying
Machine” in 1667. Just as, nowadays, those people who happen to reside
on a branch line of some great railway are commonly fobbed off with
the secondhand rolling-stock and other offscourings of the main line,
so the inhabitants along the lesser roads had to be content with a
mere “stage-coach,” while the great trunk roads were thronged with
“machines” and “post-coaches.”

In 1753 the Shrewsbury “Long Coach” and “Stage Coach” were started,
and long continued; but from 1764 things changed swiftly. In that
year the “Machine” began. The next spring it had become the “Flying
Machine,” and in 1773 its success had raised up a “New Flying Machine,”
soon re-christened the “New Fly.” To the challenge of this “New Fly,”
fitted, according to its proprietors, “quite in the modern taste”
and with steel springs, the owners of the “original London and Salop
Machine” replied, not only with the boast of being pioneers in days of
old, but (much more to the point) advertised that their conveyance also
was in the modern taste and fitted with springs; and, moreover, pointed
out that the Coventry route, taken by it to London, was shorter than
that by Oxford, taken by the rival firm.

“Machine” seems to have been a favourite description for coaches at
any time between 1754 and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
If the term had any specific meaning at all, and was anything more
than a vague, grandiose way of advertising an ordinary stage, it must
originally have indicated a vehicle just in advance of the usual ruck.
The Bath “Flying Machine” was probably of lighter build than the other
coaches, and the Edinburgh “new genteel, two-end glass coach machine,
on steel springs,” of 1754, was doubtless only a somewhat neater
example of a stage-coach than many then in use on that route.

The next development was the “Diligence,” conveying only three
passengers and going at the express rate necessary to cover the
distance between Shrewsbury and London in one day. It went three times
a week, and charged some four shillings less than the “Flying Machine.”
Rivalries on this road had by this time quite outgrown custom. In 1776
there were three distinct coaches between Shrewsbury and London, but
they could not all pay their expenses, and so were gradually taken off
altogether, or ran less frequently. The “Diligence,” which more than
any other had forced the pace, was itself discontinued.

“Diligence” had now become a very popular name for fast coaches,
as speed was understood in those times. It derived from across the
Channel, where conveyances known by this title had already supplemented
the ordinary slow-going stage-coaches, called _carrosses_; but
the importation of the word into this country in connection with
stage-coaching was absolutely inexcusable, for already our “Post
Coaches” and “Light Post Coaches” had begun to give the travelling
public an idea of quick transit.

The English “Diligence,” as originally built and run upon the roads,
was nothing more nor less than a light coach, to hold three inside
passengers only, facing in the direction the coach travelled. It,
indeed, greatly resembled, if even it was not identical in every
particular with, the post-chaises of that time, themselves built to
hold three persons, and by that measure of accommodation helping to
prove every day and upon roads innumerable the truth of the old adage
which declares that “Two’s company; three’s none.” If, in fact, we come
to the conclusion that post-chaises were sometimes used as “Diligences”
and on other occasions as post-chaises, we shall only be giving the
proprietors of coaches and chaises their due credit of being clever
business men, suiting their stock to the needs of the hour.

Between the appearance of the Shrewsbury “Diligence” and the opening
of the nineteenth century, “Diligences” abounded. The first mail-coach
was a “Diligence.” It is not to be supposed that they were all fast;
and indeed, so early did the impudent slow coaches assume the title, in
order to deceive the public, that it soon became a synonym for laziness
and unpunctuality, and so far were they in many cases from being light
coaches carrying only three passengers, that references to them in the
literature of a hundred years ago mention as many as six, or even eight

The word “diligence” in some subtle manner conveys a very true idea
of these coaches. There is in it something soothing and trustworthy.
In some vague way it radiates a calm atmosphere of plodding virtue
and slow-going innocence, to which your dashing but breakneck
“Tally-ho’s!” and “Comets” are entirely strange. The “mind’s eye,
Horatio,” pictures in the progress of a Diligence a patient toiling
against difficulties, rewarded in the end by the happy issue of
an arrival at one’s inn, weary perhaps with long hours of travel,
but still sound in body; an ending not always so comfortable when
travelling by the swift “Tally-ho’s” and “Comets” aforesaid. Then, too,
when “Diligence” became shortened into “Dilly,” as it very soon was,
the title grew in a sense poetic. The “Derby Dilly,” which, faithful
among the faithless, would appear to have remained really and truly
a Diligence, has in fact been celebrated in verse by no less an one
than Canning, in the lines contributed by him to the _Loves of the

    So down thy hill, romantic Ashbourne, glides
    The Derby Dilly, carrying[F] three insides.
    One in each corner sits and lolls at ease,
    With folded arms, propt back, and outstretched knees;
    While the press’d Bodkin, pinch’d and squeezed to death,
    Sweats in the mid-most place, and scolds, and pants for breath.

    [F] It is worthy of note that these lines are generally
        misquoted. But the misquotations are improvements upon the
        original; as, in fact, the best known misquotations are.
        The usual version runs, “So down thy vale,” and substitutes
        “The Derby Dilly, with its three insides” for the original
        clumsy line, which fails to scan.

Canning’s vivid picture of travelling by Dilly describes in an
unapproachable manner the peculiar defects of its construction.

There were those ingrates who, contemporary with the Diligences, did
not appreciate them very highly. They valued speed more than safety.

“You should have called it the Sloth,” said the traveller at the
Hawes Inn, somewhere about 1790, referring to the “Hawes Fly, or
Queen’s-ferry Diligence,” which then plied between Edinburgh and the
shores of the Forth; “why, it moves like a fly through a glue-pot.”

It is now necessary to turn aside for awhile to contemplate the final
debasement of the Diligence, which in 1835 became, in the hands of
Mr. George Shillibeer, something very like an omnibus. In 1829 he
had introduced a line of public vehicles running from Paddington to
the City, and had himself named them “omnibuses”; but in 1835 he
appeared with a long-distance vehicle which he put on the Brighton
Road and named “Shillibeer’s Improved New Patent Diligence.” By this,
three classes of accommodation were provided: the “Coupé or Chariot,”
to convey three persons, at £1 1s. each; behind it, in a separate
compartment, the “Omnibus,” to hold eight, at 16s.; and the “Exterior,”
as he somewhat grandly named the roof, accommodating an indefinite
number at 10s. each. Shillibeer was a great advertiser, and gave this,
as well as his omnibuses, due publicity. He was inordinately fond of
advertisements cast in a metrical form, and accordingly his tame poet
was made to grind out a set of halting verses which fully describe the
beauty and convenience of his master’s new enterprise:--

    In this age of novelty, railroads and steam,
    And of ships in the air, of which some people dream,
    For the safety and comfort of travellers of sense,
    Shillibeer starts for Brighton a new Diligence.

    This elegant carriage (Shil’s taste is well known)
    has been built by himself, on a plan of his own,
    And the world may be challenged, ’tis no vain pretence,
    For a conveyance to equal his new Diligence.

    At Charing Cross daily, at ten may be seen
    Three grey horses abreast, his trinity team,
    And all will allow he has spared no expense
    For a splendid set-out to his new Diligence.

    First comes the Coupé, just suited for three,
    Where the King, Queen, and Princess Victoria might be,
    For Royalty, even, could take no offence,
    So splendid and handsome is the new Diligence.

    Here seated, as if in a chariot, the fare
    May the prospect survey, and enjoy the fresh air,
    And the ladies in order their ringlets dispense,
    In due form at the glass in the new Diligence.

    Then comes the Omnibus, four on each side,
    In safety and comfort eight persons may ride,
    And in six hours’ time, when started from hence,
    They at Brighton arrive in the new Diligence.

    Through Clapham and Mitcham and Reigate the route,
    By Crawley, and Cuckfield, without any doubt,
    Far the most pleasant road, in every sense,
    To the Royal Clarence Hotel runs the new Diligence.

    As economy now is the rage of the day,
    One guinea a seat is the price in coupé,
    The fare in the omni, sixteen shillings expense,
    Outside, half a sovereign, on the new Diligence.

    I have only to add that the public will find
    Extreme expedition, with safety combined,
    And most civil attention, avoiding offence,
    To the patrons of Shillibeer’s new Diligence.

Poor Shillibeer, however, came to an unfortunate crisis in his affairs
in this very year, when the omnibuses he put on the road between
London and Greenwich had been running in ruinous competition with the
new London and Greenwich Railway, and had brought him so very low,
financially, that he was unable to meet the demands of the Stamp Office
for the duty payable on the vehicles. The Office seized his omnibuses,
and presumably his Diligence as well, for we hear nothing more of it,
and his mellifluous songster no longer enlivened the pages of the
public prints with his rhymes. There was a Diligence on the Brighton
Road in the following year, but it was owned by another firm, who made
a better performance, for their conveyance did the journey in 5¼ hours,
and the fares were much cheaper. Passengers by coupé paid 16s., by
second class 12s., and outsides only 8s.

Meanwhile, “Post Coaches” and “Light Post Coaches” were at the head of
the coaching hierarchy. Introduced long before mail-coaches came into
being, they were then the most expensive and exclusive, as they were
also the speediest, of public conveyances, and ranked next after the
post-chaises. They were expensive chiefly because they provided only
limited accommodation; originally only three or four inside, and one
or two out, with no luggage, except small trunks or parcels. The term
“Post” had no reference to the Post Office, but was intended to give at
once an idea of speed and an approach to that absolute privacy only
obtained by specially hiring a post-horse or a post-chaise. Indeed, the
earliest Post Coaches not a little resembled a post-chaise hired by a
party of friends for the journey. In securing a seat by post-coach, the
traveller, in view of the limited accommodation, mathematically reduced
his chances of meeting and journeying with vulgar and objectionable
characters; while the higher fare tended to produce the same effect by
eliminating all but those who were rich enough to afford the cost, and
were therefore, by an easily understood process of reasoning, likely to
be cleanly and well-mannered. How highly objectionable the company in a
stage-coach might and could be we have the testimony of many travellers
to tell, from Dean Swift to John Wesley and Macready, the actor. Their
trials and experiences are mostly recorded elsewhere in these pages;
but two examples may take their place here to illustrate the reason why
Post Coaches flourished so greatly.

Let us, then, hear Wesley:--

“I went,” he says, “to Norwich (from London) in the stage-coach with
two very disagreeable companions, called a gentleman and gentlewoman,
but equally ignorant, insolent, lewd, and profane.

“_July 21st, 1779._--(From Coventry) I took coach for London. I was
nobly attended: behind the coach were ten convicted felons, loudly
blaspheming and rattling their chains; by my side sat a man with a
loaded blunderbuss, and another upon the roof.”

The felons, “behind the coach,” would ride in the basket, which was
without springs. Their chains would necessarily rattle, and considering
the discomfort of ten manacled men, jammed together, without seats, and
jolted over bad roads, it is not surprising they “blasphemed.”

Macready travelled in 1811 by the Liverpool stage, from Birmingham to
London. He says:--

“I got into the coach; its odours were many, various, and unpleasantly
mingled, and the passengers, a half-drunken sailor and an old woman,
did not impress me with the prospect of a very pleasant journey. The
pace at which the vehicle proceeded made me doubt whether it would ever
reach London, and its creakings and joltings seemed to augur a certain
overturn.” This objectionable conveyance took five hours to accomplish
the eighteen miles between Birmingham and Coventry, and only reached
London at five o’clock the next evening.

But there is no subject upon which it is more rash to generalise than
that of coaching history. One road might be thirty or forty years in
advance of another, and Diligences and Post Coaches mean things very
different in one part of the country from conveyances similarly named,
but of different construction and capacity, running in other districts.
In 1782, for example, there was a self-styled “Post Coach” running
between London, Maidenhead, and Marlow, which certainly did not fully
answer the description given above; although, from the evidence of
the very curious old painting, it still retained a certain elegance,
in spite of carrying outsides, and owning that vulgar appendage, a
“basket,” behind. This Post Coach, which in the contemporary painting
bears its name, starting-point, and place of destination plainly to be
seen, is first heard of in 1773, running daily from the “King’s Head,”
Old Change, at noon. What the fare was to Marlow we have not been able
to discover, but to Maidenhead, distant from the City 31 miles, it was

“Accommodation” coaches abounded all over the country from about 1800.
They were generally slow coaches, with ample room, travelling along the
roads in leisurely fashion, and stopping anywhere and everywhere, to
pick up passengers and luggage. The nearest parallel to them nowadays
is the slow, stopping, long-distance train, which halts at every little
wayside station and sees the express flash by at sixty miles an hour.

Thus far we have recorded chiefly the titles by which types of coaches
were known. We now come to coaches individually named. Early among
these is the “Rockingham,” London and Leeds stage, established in 1781,
and continued until the railway came to Leeds, in 1841. Rockingham was,
indeed, a name to conjure with in Yorkshire, and there were at least
two other coaches with that name running on branch roads from Leeds.
The “True Blue” was the name of the old Leeds, Malton and Scarborough
coach, originating in the same year as the “Rockingham,” and lasting
three years longer. Three others ran between Leeds and Wakefield,
Knaresborough and Selby, and Leeds and Bradford. “True Britons,” too,
were plentiful in the broad-acred county of Yorkshire, where politics
and patriotism kept parties at fever heat and divided even travellers
into parties to such an extent that an ardent supporter of the “Buffs”
would almost rather walk or post than journey by a “Blue” coach; while
a True Blue Tory innkeeper would deny accommodation to a Buff Whig
(supposing in the first instance that the Whig had so far forgotten
what was due to his faction as to seek shelter there) and think nothing
of the custom lost.

In 1784 the “Expedition” coach is first mentioned as running between
London and Norwich, by way of Newmarket and Thetford. The “expedition”
consisted in going 108 miles in 17½ hours, including stops, or a net
running speed of about seven miles an hour.


                    _After J. Pollard._

“Balloon” coaches were first heard of in 1785, when a plentiful
scattering of that name over the country proved how deep an impression
had been made upon the public mind by the balloon ascents of Lunardi
in the previous year. A stone monument marks the spot beside the
Cambridge Road, near Ware, on which that aerial traveller descended
after his first flight in this country; and the coaches long carried
an echo of the wonderment then excited. Coach-proprietors had, indeed,
by this time begun to see the commercial advantage of impressing the
public with a sounding name. Already, by long use and wont, cars had
become blunted by the name of the Flying Machines, which had fallen
unmeaningly upon several generations accustomed to liberally discount
the absurd pretension. No one at this time, it is safe to say, ever
received a mental impression of flying when a flying coach was named.
The name had become a mere convention. The Balloon was therefore a
godsend to coach-proprietors who, in naming their conveyances after it,
succeeded for a while in reviving an outworn figure of speed, and thus
again suggested the idea of their coaches gracefully navigating the
empyrean, rather than painfully staggering along the rutty roads.

The “Defiance” coaches bring us closer to the great Augustan era of
smart coaches and great emulation along the road. The earliest coach of
this name was put on the Leeds and Hull road in 1784, and became the
parent of many more. Extraordinary ingenuity was used in the selection
of “telling” names, supposed to instantly discover the character of
a coach to travellers. The various “Highflyers,” for example, spoke
to sporting men of a speed that might be neck or nothing. The typical
sportsman would book by the “Highflyer,” the “Vixen,” “Spitfire,” the
“Flying Childers,” “Lightning,” or “Rapid,” while the typical parson
would go by the “Regulator,” the “Reliance,” or, best of all, if
opportunity offered, by the “Good Intent.”

It is curious to note in how arbitrary a geographical manner these
names were distributed. It is no use seeking a “Highflyer” in the
history of the Brighton Road. “Highflyers” were Yorkshire products, and
almost exclusively confined to the Great North Road and its affluents.
There, indeed, they were numerous. The old original of the name was
started in 1788, and kept the road between London and Edinburgh until
1840. There were at least six others.

“Telegraph” coaches, however, were not peculiar to any one road or
district. Introduced about 1781 on the Leeds and Newcastle road, there
were two others in Yorkshire, and in 1805 and 1811 “New Telegraph”
and “Telegraph” coaches were on the Brighton Road. In the ’twenties
a “Southampton Telegraph,” a “Manchester Telegraph,” and a “Reading
Telegraph” flourished; while beyond all others in their fame and
exploits were the immortal “Exeter Telegraph,” started in 1826 by Mrs.
Ann Nelson, of the “Bull,” Aldgate, to travel the 173 miles between
Piccadilly and Exeter in 17 hours, and the “Manchester Telegraph” day
coach of 1833, doing 180 miles in 18 hours. Before the advance of the
Great Western Railway brought the “Exeter Telegraph” off the road,
it had cut down the length of the journey by three hours, Coaches
rejoicing in this name--a synonym for speed--were necessarily the
fastest on the road, but they did not, of course, obtain the title from
the electric telegraph, invented only in 1838. It was derived from the
system of semaphore signalling, the quickest method of communication
then known, by which messages were signalled between London and
the coast, from lofty hills even yet marked on the Ordnance maps,
“Telegraph Hill.” Of how inconceivably swift telegraphy would in a
comparatively short time become, the old coach-proprietors could have
had not the remotest inkling, but they did not suffer from excess of
modesty, and had the instantaneous signalling of electricity been known
in their time, it would by no means have deterred them from christening
their coaches in impudent rivalry with it.

[Illustration: THE EXETER MAIL, 1809.

                    _After J. A. Atkinson._

The “Exeter Telegraph” was put on to compete with another, and equally
famous, coach, the Devonport Mail, generally known in coaching annals
as the “Quicksilver.” This celebrated mail started about 1820. Passing
through Exeter, it went on to Plymouth and Devonport, and performed
the whole journey in 21 hours 14 minutes, an average speed, including
stops, of 10 miles 1¾ furlongs an hour. “Quicksilvers,” of course,
became fashionable on other roads after the fame of this performance
had spread.

Our great wars with France and Spain gave coaches a plentiful crop of
titles, taking a higher note than merely that of party. The victory
of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson, in 1805, produced innumerable
“Nelsons,” “Lord Nelsons,” and “Trafalgars,” only rivalled in
popularity by the “Wellingtons” and “Waterloos” ten years later. Even
Blucher was honoured, in a coach named after him. Coach-proprietors, in
fact, were keen to seize the popular incident of the hour, the hero of
the day, or the name of the local magnate, to reflect a certain glory
upon, or bespeak affection for, their enterprises. Even the “Union”
coaches, which were christened in honour of that great political event,
the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, and were from that date to be
found on almost every great road, and in incredible numbers on the
bye-roads, paled their lustre before those named after the naval and
military heroes, or the glorious victories of the hour.

But when the glamour of the great achievements won on land and sea by
generals and admirals and by our soldiers and sailors had waned, as
it speedily did when peace came and the nation was called upon to pay
the bill, it is to be feared that the “Wellingtons” and “Nelsons” did
not run so frequently with a full way-bill as they had done, and that
opportunist coach-proprietors in many cases renamed them in styles that
more exactly fitted the humours of the time. When the comets of 1811
and 1818 appeared, flaming in the heavens, to excite the wonderment
of the learned and to terrify the ignorant, the coach-proprietors
were early in the field to take advantage of the event, and “Comet”
coaches, intended to strike the public fancy with an idea of swift
travelling, appeared on the main routes with amazing unanimity.

The Brighton “Comet,” established in 1815, ran until 1840, when
the London and Brighton Railway was opened. It experienced a good
many mishaps in the course of those twenty-five years. On September
2nd, 1815, when it had arrived at Castle Square, Brighton, and had
discharged most of its passengers, the coachman turned it so sharply
that the front wheels became locked, and in the endeavour to release
them the coach was overturned. The careless coachman was himself
seriously hurt, and a lady, an inside passenger, and a gentleman on
the outside much bruised; but a Mr. Walker, who had just mounted the
coach, had his leg broken. The “Comet” evidently went through Epsom,
for it was there that another accident happened to it in later years.
That coach carried no guard, and the coachman had, therefore, to act
that part, as well as drive. He climbed down to take up a passenger,
and while doing so the horses backed the coach into a bank and caused
it to fall over. A lady travelling outside had her ribs broken. A
third accident was due largely to the interference of a passenger,
who met his death in consequence. The “Comet” had on this occasion
nearly completed its down journey, when, at Patcham, the reins became
entangled in some unexplained manner. A Mr. Schraeder, who was on the
box-seat, travelling to Brighton to join his family, made an effort,
despite the protests of the coachman, to get down to disentangle them,
when he fell between the box and the horses, and the coach ran over
him. The “Comet” ran to the “Swan with Two Necks,” in Lad Lane, and
seems, from Pollard’s spirited picture, to have been an exceptionally
smart coach.

The great era of coaching, with its attendant competition, opened
about 1820, and from that time the “Defiances,” the “Celerities,” the
“Rapids,” “Expresses,” “Reindeers,” “Darts,” “Stags,” and “Antelopes”
increased; while fiercely militant titles, such as those of the
“Retaliator,” the “Spitfire,” “Vixen,” “Fearless,” “Dreadnought,” and
“Invincible” reflected the extraordinary bitterness and animosity with
which that competition was conducted. The reverse of this unamiable
feature is seen in the names--breathing a spirit of goodwill, or at
least of meekness, reliability, and inoffensiveness--of the “Amity,”
the “Live and Let Live,” “Hope,” “Endeavour,” the “Give and Take,”
“Reliance,” “Safety,” “Regulator,” “Perseverance,” “Good Intent,” and
“Pilot” coaches. It is probable that some of these titles were given
by small proprietors, anxious to disclaim rivalry with more powerful
men. Others were intended to secure the patronage of the old ladies and
the timorous, and all those to whom coach travelling, with its many
accidents and hairbreadth escapes, was a disagreeable necessity.

[Illustration: THE BRIGHTON “COMET,” 1836.

                    _After J. Pollard._

To reassure the old ladies of both sexes such coaches as the “Patent
Safeties” were introduced. Many of those so called were neither safe
nor patent, but an exception must be made in the case of the coach
invented and patented in December 1805 by the Reverend William Milton,
Vicar of Heckfield, near Reading. This gentleman, who yearned for a
larger sphere of action than that provided by his rural parish, and
apparently did not find his duties sufficient to occupy his time,
studied the subject, and produced a book in whose pages he sets forth
the design of his coach and its superiority over anything that had
hitherto appeared on the road. His principle not only consisted in
lowering the body of the vehicle upon its axles, so reducing the
centre of gravity, but in addition provided a luggage box in the rear
of the coach, hung so low that it was only fourteen inches from the
ground. His idea was to carry the luggage thus, instead of on the
roof, so rendering it less top-heavy, and indeed, according to his
theory, making the luggage act as ballast, so that the heavier the
coach loaded, the safer it would be. Nor was this all. As a protection
against overturning in the case of a wheel coming off, he provided what
he called a small “idle wheel,” fitted to the axle a short distance
inside each running wheel. In the event of a wheel flying off, the
coach would only dip slightly, and run on the “idle wheel” until the
coachman could bring the whole affair to a stop.

Of course this inventive clergyman found the greatest indifference
among coach-proprietors towards his patent safety coach. His book
reflects the disappointment he felt, and he enlarges upon the folly of
men who had, time and again, been heavy losers in paying compensation
claims by injured passengers, and yet would not try the merits of a
vehicle which would save them in pocket and in anxiety. He at last gave
an order to a firm of coach-builders, had one built to his own design,
and prevailed first upon one of the London and Reading proprietors,
and then the owners of a Stroud coach, to try it. The general feeling
seems to have been that it was safe, but slow, and did not possess
so easy a draught as that of the usual build. To these arguments he
replied by saying that his luggage-box, providing room for more goods
and luggage than carried on ordinary coaches, was generally filled
with heavy consignments sent by the Stroud clothiers, and that the
heaviness of draught was due to that cause. But explanations of weight,
demonstrations of safety, and even the recommendations he had procured
from a Parliamentary Committee, were useless, and Milton’s Patent
Safety Coach was never more than a fugitive occupant of the road.

But still the public, horrified by the increasing number and the
disastrous nature of the accidents that strewed every road with
groaning passengers, were intent upon being carried safely, and so
various attempts were made to reassure them. So many accidents had
happened on the Brighton Road, incomparably the most travelled of all,
that in the spring of 1819 it was thought necessary by a prominent
firm of coach-proprietors to introduce a “safety” coach. This was the
“Sovereign,” an entirely new departure in coach-building. It was at
once larger and lighter than an ordinary coach. “It weighs,” said the
_Brighton Herald_, “only 1500¼ lb.; which is 400 lb. lighter than the
average of coaches built to carry luggage, and 80¾ lb. less than some
gentlemen’s landaus. The different coachmen who have driven it say that
on level ground it runs much lighter than others, and every mechanic
knows that small wheels have the advantage at a hill.” Evidently then,
the “Sovereign” was built with smaller wheels than were usual. It was,
in addition, five inches broader in the gauge of the axletrees, while,
according to the official description, the weight of the body was
“placed five feet lower, so that when the wheels on one side are thrown
off, the axle drags on the ground, and will allow the remaining wheels
to be lifted twelve inches or more before the coach loses its balance.
If a wheel had been thrown off any other coach while going at the rate
of nine miles an hour with two outside passengers, it must have gone
over; but should it take place with the safe coach, it will not incline
on one side so as to make passengers uncomfortable.”

The appearance of this affair was extraordinary. It carried no outsides
on the roof; they were placed in a fore-carriage like the body of a
landau, constructed between the box and the body of the coach. Under
the box was “a spacious lock-up receptacle for the stowage of luggage”;
so it was a “safety” coach in more than one particular, and the local
newspaper was of opinion that “the confidence which manufacturers and
dealers have of their valuable property being secured from wet and
pilfering is enough to secure for it the most decided preference,
independently of its personal safety.” So great was the interest taken
at Brighton in this pioneer of safety coaches that an enormous crowd of
nearly two thousand persons assembled to witness the departure on its
first journey, Sunday, March 21st, 1819. It made the passage to London
in six hours; a speed quite up to the level of the usual performances.

The popularity of the “Sovereign” was so great and immediate that other
coach-proprietors lost no time in having “safeties” built. The next to
take the road was the “Umpire,” in July of the same year, followed by
the “Dart” and “Hero.” These were all swift, as well as safe. A similar
Patent Safety was Matthews’s coach. The proprietor of the “Comet”
adopted it for a time, as shown in the old print engraved here.


The inevitable debasement of the specific term “safety,” and its
general application at the whim of proprietors, quite irrespective of
safety construction, is found beginning in 1821, with the advertisement
of Whitchurch, Best & Wilkins, of Brighton, in which, while the public
were reminded that the firm were the first to run a coach to London
in six hours, returning the same day, stress was laid upon the
fact that this quick service had been continued daily for six years
without an accident. Experienced coachmen, steady horses, and a stern
discouragement of racing had procured this desirable immunity, and so
(the advertisement continued) it was hoped the public would not deem
the proprietors presumptuous in claiming the privilege of calling the
coach, although not a patent, a safety. Alas for these pioneers of
quick transit and sticklers for decent conduct on the road! The firm
very soon decayed, and Whitchurch, the senior partner, was brought to

To follow the history of the “safety” coaches and the pseudo-“safeties”
would be a long business, but it may be said that these specially
constructed vehicles did not long continue, and that the average
stage-coach passenger took the claims of all very much on trust. To
show that he did so we need only quote the anecdote related by “Viator
Junior” in the _Sporting Magazine_ of 1828, at the expense of the
“Patriot” coach, then newly provided with Cooke’s protection reins:--

“Just as Pickett was starting with his ‘Union’ coach out of Holborn, up
comes a pursy old citizen, puffing and blowing like a grampus.

“‘Pray, coachman, is this here the Patriotic Life-Preserver Patent
Safety Coach?’

“‘Yes, sir,’ says Pickett, not hearing above half his passenger’s
question; ‘room behind, sir: jump up, if you please--very late this

“‘Why, where’s the machinery?’ cries the old one.

“‘There, sir,’ replies a passenger (a young Cantab, I suspect),
pointing to a heavy trunk of mine that was swung underneath, ‘in that
box, sir, that’s where the machinery works.’

“‘Ah!’ quoth the old man, climbing up, quite satisfied: ‘wonderful
inventions nowadays, sir. We shall all get safe to Brighton: no chance
of an accident by _this_ coach.’”

The Brighton Road, as already hinted, was in many ways exceptional. It
had exceptionally many Royal associations, reflected vividly enough
in the names of its coaches. Among these was, of course, the “Prince
Regent,” started in 1813, but preceded by the “Princess Charlotte,”
established a year earlier, and followed by the “Regent,” “Royal
George,” “Royal Adelaide,” “Royal Clarence,” “Royal Sussex,” “Royal
Victoria,” and “Royal York.”

Later sporting names for coaches than the “Tally-ho’s” and the
“Highflyers” were such as the “Bang Up,” the “Hieover”--surely no
prudent person travelled by a coach with a name so suggestive of broken
necks--and the “High-mettled Racer,” while the gay young bloods who
drove the crack Windsor coach called it, after the first _danseuse_
of that time, the “Taglioni.” The “Taglioni” was a fast coach, driven
by fast men, and had a picture of Taglioni herself, pirouetting
round on the tips of her toes, painted prominently on the body. But
of all the sporting names, that of the “Tantivy” breathes most the
classic spirit of that sporting age, and called forth one of the
coaching classics, written in regretful anticipation of coaches being
supplanted by railways. The “Tantivy Trot” was written by Egerton
Warburton, of Arley, Cheshire. It was sung to the air of “Here’s to
the Maiden of Bashful Fifteen,” and was an especial favourite with the
brazen-throated young sportsmen of the Bullingdon Club:--


    Here’s to the heroes of four-in hand fame,
      Harrison, Peyton, and Warde, sir;
    Here’s to the dragsmen that after them came,
      Ford, and the Lancashire lord, sir.

    Here’s to the team, sir, all harnessed to start,
      Brilliant in Brummagem leather;
    Here’s to the waggoner skill’d in the art
      Of coupling the cattle together.

    Here’s to the arm that holds them when gone,
      Still to a gallop inclined, sir;
    Heads to the front with no bearing reins on,
      Tails with no cruppers behind, sir.

    Here’s to the shape that is shown the near side,
      Here’s to the blood on the off, sir;
    Limbs without check to the freedom of stride,
      Wind without whistle or cough, sir.

    Here’s to the dear little damsels within,
      Here’s to the swells on the top, sir;
    Here’s to the music in three feet of tin,
      Here’s to the tapering crop, sir.

    Here’s to the dragsmen I’ve dragged into song--
      Salisbury, Mountain and Co., sir;
    Here’s to the Cracknell that cracks ’em along,
      Five twenty times at a go, sir.

    Here’s to MacAdam, the Mac of all Macs,
      Here’s to the road we ne’er tire on,
    Let me but roll o’er the granite he cracks,
      Ride ye who like it on iron.
                Let the steam-pot
                Hiss till it’s hot;
                Give me the speed
                Of the Tantivy trot.

It is a long set of verses, but it should not be difficult, if any
one had the mind to it, to continue them indefinitely. In truth, they
limp not a little, and do not go the swinging pace of the “Tantivy”
itself. But this was the best the old-time enthusiasm for the road
could produce, and that it should have been so popular at coaching
festivities shows that although coachmen, amateur and professional,
were severe critics of other coaching matters, they were sufficiently
indulgent to literary efforts on this especial theme.

Rowland Eyles Egerton Warburton, who wrote the “Tantivy Trot” in
1834, at the request of Charles Ford for something to celebrate the
Birmingham “Tantivy” coach, was regarded by the sporting world as its
laureate. He was the squire of Arley Hall, Cheshire, and the owner of
many fat acres in that county. He outlived the coaching age by many a
long day, and died in 1891 in his 88th year. The last sixteen years of
his life were saddened by the affliction of total blindness.



Journeys by coach were entered upon by our grandfathers with much
deliberation. It was not then a matter of suddenly making up one’s
mind to go somewhere, and going accordingly, with only a few minutes’
preparation. The first step was to book one’s seat, a formality then
absolutely necessary, and in most cases some days before the journey
was proposed to be taken. Only by doing so could one be sure of finding
a place. The nearest modern parallel to this custom is the booking
of passages on ocean steamers; and a relic of it may be observed
every day at every railway station where the name of “Booking Office”
instead of Ticket Office is a survival--like that of the official
railway designation of carriages and passenger returns as “coaches” and
“coaching traffic”--of customs gone, never to return.

The passengers by coach were actually, as the term implies, “booked.”
The booking clerk did not merely give one a ticket in exchange for the
fare. He entered the passenger’s name and all necessary particulars
in a huge ledger, and in this identical manner the first railway
passengers secured their places, until the mere work of entering these
details became too great.

The booking-clerks in coach-offices had their responsibilities, and
were kept up to the highest mark of efficiency by the knowledge that if
they fell into such an error as overbooking a coach on any particular
journey, not only would the proprietors be bound in law to by some
means convey those passengers for whom there was no room, but that the
extra cost of so doing would infallibly be deducted from their wages.
The loss in such cases would inevitably be heavy, but dependent upon
the length of the journey. Mistakes of this kind generally meant that
the extra passengers were conveyed by post-chaise, at anything from
ninepence to a shilling a mile; and it was the difference between these
rates and the coach-fares of from twopence to fivepence a mile that
the clerks had to make good, unless the overbooked passengers were
sufficiently good-natured to wait for another coach.

The usual practice on securing a place was to pay a
proportion--generally one-half of the fare--down, and the other half
on taking one’s seat, as noted in the contemporary doggerel, which

    When to York per mail you start,
    Four-caped, like other men,
    To the book-keeper so smart
    You pay three pounds, in part:
    Two pounds ten before you start:
    Sum total, five-pound-ten.

If you did not put in an appearance, the deposit was, of course,

Dickens, who as a reporter in his early years was very intimately
acquainted with coach travelling and all the manners and customs
connected with it, has left a very picturesque description of a coach
booking-office and its occupants. The first impression received by
the prospective traveller was of his own unimportance. One entered a
mouldy-looking room, ornamented with large posting-bills, the greater
part of the place enclosed behind a huge lumbering rough counter, and
fitted up with recesses like the dens of the smaller animals in a
travelling menagerie, without the bars. At these booking-offices, in
fact, one booked parcels as well as passengers, and into these recesses
the parcels were flung, with an air of recklessness at which the
passenger who might have chanced to buy a new carpet-bag that morning
would feel considerably annoyed.

The booking-office to which Dickens here refers was at the “Golden
Cross,” Charing Cross; but booking-offices were all very much alike,
and were exceedingly dreary and uncomfortable places, resembling modern
offices for the reception of parcels:--

“Porters, like so many Atlases, keep rushing in and out, with large
packages on their shoulders; and while you are waiting to make the
necessary inquiries, you wonder what on earth the booking-office clerks
can have been before they were booking-office clerks; one of them,
with his pen behind his ear, and his hands behind him, is standing
in front of the fire like a full-length portrait of Napoleon; the
other, with his hat half off his head, enters the passengers’ names in
the books with a coolness which is inexpressibly provoking; and the
villain whistles--actually whistles--while a man asks him what the
fare is outside--all the way to Holyhead!--in frosty weather too! They
are clearly an isolated race, evidently possessing no sympathies or
feelings in common with the rest of mankind. Your turn comes at last,
and, having paid the fare, you tremblingly inquire--‘What time will it
be necessary for me to be here in the morning?’ ‘Six o’clock,’ replies
the whistler, carelessly pitching the sovereign you have just parted
with into a wooden bowl on the desk. ‘Rather before than arter,’ adds
the man with the semi-roasted unmentionables, with just as much ease
and complacency as if the whole world got out of bed at five. You turn
into the street, ruminating, as you bend your steps homewards, on the
extent to which men become hardened in cruelty by custom.”

The long-distance coaches--divided into the “day” and “night”
varieties--started very early in the morning, or late in the afternoon.
The midday aspect of such yards as Sherman’s “Bull and Mouth,”
Chaplin’s “Swan with Two Necks,” the “Belle Sauvage,” the “Cross Keys,”
the “Golden Cross,” and others was one of repose, but from unearthly
hours in the forenoon until nine or ten, or from three o’clock in
the afternoon until nine at night, they were the scenes of bustling
activity. Any reference to old coaching time-bills will show that the
majority of the day stage-coaches to places distant a hundred miles or
more from London started about 6 a.m. Thus in 1824, among the coaches
from London to Birmingham, eight are found timed from London between
five and a quarter to eight in the morning; leaving the rest of the day
blank until 3 p.m., when the earliest of the night coaches set out. The
“Sovereign” went in 1824 from the “Bull,” Whitechapel, at 5 a.m. Half
an hour later went the “Crown Prince” from the “Belle Sauvage,” and the
“Aurora,” from the “Bull and Mouth”; followed by the “Courier,” from
the “Swan with Two Necks,” and the “Light Coach” from the “Cross Keys”
and “Golden Cross” at 6. At 6.30 went the “Oxonian Express” from the
“Bull and Mouth”; the “Independent Tally-Ho,” from the “Golden Cross,”
while “Mountain’s Tally-Ho,” from the “Saracen’s Head,” Snow Hill,
left at 7.45. In the same year the three early coaches for Bath left
London at 5, 5.45, and 6.15 a.m. These hours, which we should nowadays
regard as extravagantly early, were necessary if those coaches were to
properly serve the roads they travelled, for even a fast coach, doing
its 9 or 9½ miles an hour, including stoppages, would not reach Bath or
Birmingham before the day had nearly closed.

These unseasonable hours meant, of course, very early rising indeed
for would-be passengers, and not even that hardy generation endured the
infliction without a very great deal of grumbling. But there was no
remedy. It was only a choice of ills, whether you had to be called at
a little after three o’clock on perhaps a winter’s morning for a day’s
journey, or whether you elected to wait until the afternoon, and so,
travelling through the night, were deposited at your journey’s end on
the pavements of Bath or Birmingham, or some other strange place, at
the inhospitable hours between midnight and six a.m.; in which latter
case you would be in that extremely unpleasant position of wanting to
go to bed when the rest of the world was considering the expediency of
getting out of it.

Some, difficult to arouse in the early morn, adopted the heroic
expedient of sitting up all night. Others, like Leigh Hunt and James
Payn, taught by long experience, engaged a bedroom overnight at the inn
whence the coach started, so that they might be on the spot and lie two
hours longer. Even then, as Payn confessed, he often slept too long,
and so, without breakfast, often carrying his boots in his hand, and
in other ways not completely dressed, would dash into the coach at the
very moment of its moving away.

“We have often wondered,” wrote Dickens, “how many months’ incessant
travelling in a post-chaise it would take to kill a man; and, wondering
by analogy, we should very much like to know how many months of
constant travelling in a succession of early coaches an unfortunate
mortal could endure. Breaking a man alive upon the wheel would be
nothing to breaking his rest, his peace, his heart--everything but
his fast--upon four; and the punishment of Ixion (the only practical
person, by-the-by, who has discovered the secret of the perpetual
motion) would sink into utter insignificance before the one we have
suggested. If we had been a powerful churchman in those good times when
blood was shed as freely as water, and men were mowed down like grass
in the sacred cause of religion, we would have lain by very quietly
till we got hold of some especially obstinate miscreant, who positively
refused to be converted to our faith, and then we would have booked him
for an inside place in a small coach, which travelled day and night;
and, securing the remainder of the places for stout men with a slight
tendency to coughing and spitting, we would have started him forth on
his last travels--leaving him mercilessly to all the tortures which the
waiters, landlords, coachmen, guards, boots, chambermaids, and other
familiars on his line of road might think proper to inflict.

“If,” he continued, “there be one thing in existence more miserable
than another, it most unquestionably is the being compelled to rise
by candle-light. If you ever doubted the fact, you are painfully
convinced of your error on the morning of your departure. You left
strict orders overnight to be called at half-past four, and you have
done nothing all night but doze for five minutes at a time, and start
up suddenly from a terrific dream of a large church clock with the
small hand running round, with astonishing rapidity, to every figure on
the dial-plate. At last, completely exhausted, you fall gradually into
a refreshing sleep--your thoughts grow confused--the stage-coaches,
which have been ‘going off’ before your eyes all night, become less
and less distinct, until they go off altogether; one moment you are
driving with all the skill and smartness of an experienced whip--the
next you are exhibiting _à la_ Ducrow on the off leader; anon you are
closely muffled up, inside, and have just recognised in the person of
the guard an old school-fellow whose funeral, even in your dream, you
remember to have attended eighteen years ago. At last you fall into a
state of complete oblivion, from which you are aroused, as if into a
new state of existence, by a singular illusion. You are apprenticed
to a trunk-maker; how, or why, or when, or wherefore, you don’t take
the trouble to inquire; but there you are, pasting the lining in the
lid of a portmanteau. Confound that other apprentice in the back-shop,
how he is hammering!--rap, rap, rap--what an industrious fellow he
must be! you have heard him at work for half an hour past, and he has
been hammering incessantly the whole time. Rap, rap, rap, again--he’s
talking now--what’s that he said? Five o’clock! You make a violent
exertion, and start up in bed. The vision is at once dispelled; the
trunk-maker’s shop is your own bedroom, and the other apprentice your
shivering servant, who has been vainly endeavouring to wake you for the
last quarter of an hour, at the imminent risk of breaking either his
own knuckles or the panels of the door.

“You proceed to dress yourself with all possible despatch. The flaring
flat candle with the long snuff gives light enough to show that the
things you want are not where they ought to be, and you undergo a
trifling delay in consequence of having carefully packed up one of your
boots in your over-anxiety of the preceding night. You soon complete
your toilet, however, for you are not particular on such an occasion,
and you shaved yesterday evening; so, mounting your Petersham greatcoat
and green travelling shawl, and grasping your carpet bag in your right
hand, you walk lightly downstairs, lest you should awaken any of the
family, and after pausing in the common sitting-room for one moment,
just to have a cup of coffee (the said common sitting-room looking
remarkably comfortable, with everything out of its place, and strewed
with the crumbs of last night’s supper), you undo the chain and bolts
of the street-door, and find yourself fairly in the street.

“A thaw, by all that is miserable! The frost is completely broken up.
You look down the long perspective of Oxford Street, the gas-lights
mournfully reflected on the wet pavement, and can discern no speck in
the road to encourage the belief that there is a cab or a coach to be
had--the very coachmen have gone home in despair. The cold sleet is
drizzling down with that gentle regularity which betokens a duration
of four-and-twenty hours at least; the damp hangs upon the housetops
and lamp-posts, and clings to you like an invisible cloak. The water
is ‘coming in’ in every area, the pipes have burst, the water-butts
are running over; the kennels seem to be doing matches against time,
pump-handles descend of their own accord, horses in market-carts fall
down, and there’s no one to help them up again; policemen look as
if they had been carefully sprinkled with powdered glass; here and
there a milk-woman trudges slowly along, with a bit of list round
each foot to keep her from slipping; boys who ‘don’t sleep in the
house,’ and are not allowed much sleep out of it, can’t wake their
masters by thundering at the shop-door, and cry with the cold--the
compound of ice, snow, and water on the pavement is a couple of inches
thick--nobody ventures to walk fast to keep himself warm, and nobody
could succeed in keeping himself warm if he did.

“It strikes a quarter past five as you trudge down Waterloo Place on
your way to the “Golden Cross,” and you discover, for the first time,
that you were called about an hour too early. You have not time to go
back, there is no place open to go into, and you have, therefore, no
resource but to go forward, which you do, feeling remarkably satisfied
with yourself and everything about you. You arrive at the office, and
look wistfully up the yard for the Birmingham Highflier, which, for
aught you can see, may have flown away altogether, for no preparations
appear to be on foot for the departure of any vehicle in the shape of a
coach. You wander into the booking-office, which, with the gas-lights
and blazing fire, looks quite comfortable by contrast--that is to say,
if any place _can_ look comfortable at half-past five on a winter’s
morning. There stands the identical book-keeper in the same position
as if he had not moved since you saw him yesterday. As he informs you
that the coach is up the yard, and will be brought round in about a
quarter of an hour, you leave your bag and repair to ‘the Tap’--not
with any absurd idea of warming yourself, because you feel such a
result to be utterly hopeless, but for the purpose of procuring some
hot brandy-and-water, which you do--when the kettle boils! an event
which occurs exactly two minutes and a half before the time fixed for
the starting of the coach.

“The first stroke of six peals from St. Martin’s Church steeple just
as you take the first sip of the boiling liquid. You find yourself at
the booking-office in two seconds, and the tap-waiter finds himself
much comforted by your brandy-and-water in about the same period.
The coach is out; the horses are in, and the guard and two or three
porters are stowing the luggage away, and running up the steps of
the booking-office and down the steps of the booking-office, with
breathless rapidity. The place, which a few minutes ago was so still
and quiet, is now all bustle; the early vendors of the morning
papers have arrived, and you are assailed on all sides with shouts
of ‘_Times_, gen’l’m’n, _Times_,’ ‘Here’s _Chron--Chron--Chron_,’
‘_Herald_, ma’am,’ ‘Highly interesting murder, gen’l’m’n,’ ‘Curious
case o’ breach o’ promise, ladies.’ The inside passengers are already
in their dens, and the outsides, with the exception of yourself,
are pacing up and down the pavement to keep themselves warm; they
consist of two young men with very long hair, to which the sleet has
communicated the appearance of crystallised rats’ tails; one thin young
woman, cold and peevish, one old gentleman ditto ditto, and something
in a cloak and cap, intended to represent a military officer; every
member of the party with a large stiff shawl over his chin, looking
exactly as if he were playing a set of Pan’s pipes.

“‘Take off the cloths, Bob,’ says the coachman, who now appears for
the first time, in a rough blue greatcoat, of which the buttons behind
are so far apart that you can’t see them both at the same time. ‘Now,
gen’l’m’n!’ cries the guard, with the waybill in his hand. ‘Five
minutes behind time already!’ Up jump the passengers--the two young
men smoking like limekilns, and the old gentleman grumbling audibly.
The thin young woman is got upon the roof by dint of a great deal of
pulling and pushing, and helping and trouble; and she repays it by
expressing her solemn conviction that she will never be able to get
down again.

“‘All right!’ sings out the guard at last, jumping up as the coach
starts, and blowing his horn directly afterwards, in proof of the
soundness of his wind. ‘Let ’em go, Harry; give ’em their heads!’ cries
the coachman--and off we start as briskly as if the morning were ‘all
right,’ as well as the coach.”



There is no consensus of opinion to be found among travellers by coach
on the subject of the joys or sorrows of old-time travel. Everything
depended on the weather, the coach, the other passengers, and upon
the nature of the traveller himself. Sometimes a coach journey was a
misery; at others it was a joy to look back upon. Humourists of the
early and mid-eighteenth century found the subject of coach-travelling
very attractive, and returned again and again to the stock characters
of the braggart and domineering military man among the passengers, who
was really a coward, and the modest, unassuming young man who always
killed or dispersed the highwaymen while the captain, who by his own
account had fought at Ramilies with Marlborough, prostrated himself
on the floor and tried to crawl under the petticoats of the lady
passengers or cover himself with the straw that strewed the floor.
Those humourists could always get a laugh from such accounts, and sighs
of appreciation from the ladies, who all wished they numbered among
their acquaintance such proper young men as Roderick Random, who in
Smollett’s romance performs such prodigies of valour in the “Exeter
Fly” somewhere about the neighbourhood of Turnham Green.

“When I had taken my seat,” says Roderick, after an adventure of the
kind already hinted at, “Miss Snapper, who from the coach had seen
everything that had happened, made me a compliment on my behaviour;
and said she was glad to see me returned without having received any
injury; her mother, too, owned herself obliged to my resolution; and
the lawyer told me I was entitled by Act of Parliament to a reward of
forty pounds for having apprehended a highwayman. The soldier”--who
had behaved in the conventional style of poltroonery--“observed, with
a countenance in which impudence and shame, struggling, produced some
disorder, that if I had not been in such a d----d hurry to get out of
the coach, he would have secured the rogue effectually without all this
bustle and loss of time, by a scheme which my heat and precipitation
ruined. ‘For my part,’ continued he, ‘I am always extremely cool on
these occasions.’

“‘So it appeared by your trembling,’ said the young lady.

“‘Death and the deuce!’ cried he. ‘Your sex protects you, madam; if
any man on earth durst tell me so much, I’d send him to hell in an

“So saying, he fixed his eyes upon me, and asked if I had seen him
tremble. I answered, without hesitation, ‘Yes.’

“‘Damme, sir,’ said he, ‘d’ye doubt my courage?’

“I replied, ‘Very much.’

“This declaration quite disconcerted him; he looked blank, and
pronounced in a faltering voice, ‘Oh! ’tis very well! I shall find a

“I signified my contempt for him by thrusting my tongue into my cheek,
which humbled him so much that he scarce swore another oath aloud
during the whole journey.”

These soldiers, or pretended soldiers--for it would not be fair to
those who warred under Marlborough to assume that such cowardly
ruffians were genuine military men--were found hectoring in every coach
in those picturesque times, threatening to run everyone through the
vitals, and rarely, it is to be feared, meeting with those modest and
self-possessed young demigods who wore all the lackadaisical airs of
an Apollo superimposed upon the brawn and biceps of a Hercules, and
with those biceps always at the service of the ladies at precisely the
psychological moment.

Ladies, strange to say, seem at a very early date to have travelled
unaccompanied by friends or relatives. The way was long, the
discomforts great, and so the politeness and attentions shown them
were proportionately increased. Thoresby, who in 1714 travelled to
London by the York stage with some ladies of sorts, speaks of the
well-established custom of paying for their refreshments on the road,
and mentions, between Grantham and Stamford, that they were “more
chargeable with wine and brandy than the former part of the journey,
wherein we had neither; but the next day we gave them leave to treat
themselves.” So the line was drawn somewhere.

Shergold, who in the coaching era was proprietor of the “Castle
Hotel,” Brighton, and had every reason to know what life on the road
was like, declared, in a very readable pamphlet he wrote, that “a
woman was a creature to be looked at, admired, courted, and beloved
in a stage-coach”; but let the rash modern traveller presume to look
admiringly at the lady occupant of a railway carriage, and it is not at
all unlikely that she will be horribly frightened, and take the next
opportunity of changing into another compartment.

An amusing tale, declared to be true, has been told of the
possibilities of a coach in the love-making sort. It was about 1780
that a young gentleman, anxious to win the good graces of a lady, and
lacking other opportunities, engaged all the remaining inside seats
of the coach between Glasgow and Edinburgh by which he knew she would
travel. He succeeded so well in his enterprise that the lady consented
on the journey to be his bride; but candour compels the admission that
the marriage thus romantically agreed upon turned out a particularly
unhappy one.

The final test of a gentleman in those days was his behaviour at a
stage-coach dinner. It was, if you consider it, a very severe and
unfair test, for it is allowed that politeness generally leaves
starving people at an early stage; and the appetites that coach
passengers brought with them into the dining-room of an inn were
usually very keen. An acquaintance of Constable, the painter, could
find no more striking climax to a list of his virtues than to declare
that he was “a gentleman at a stage-coach dinner.” “Then,” said his
companion, “he must have been a gentleman indeed!”

What, then, did it mean, this gentlemanly conduct? It meant, in short,
that one who could fairly lay claim to it must take some lady of the
party into his care, escort her from the coach into the inn, see to
it that she was provided with dinner, and pay her reckoning, he must
not first attempt to satisfy his own hunger, although perhaps he
was up at five o’clock in the morning, and had only taken a hurried
coach-breakfast at the first stage out.

The gentleman who fulfilled the canons of this time could rarely
hope to get any dinner for himself. On the later coaches, time was
so strictly kept that the coachmen were off to the minute; and the
landlords, who, of course, knew that, were generally suspected of
delaying the appearance of the food so long that not one of the party
could have time to do justice to it. Our gentleman, therefore, often
had the mortification of paying both for the lady’s dinner and for
his own, of which he had not tasted a mouthful. He returned to the
coach as hungry as he had left it, and kept his gentility as warm as
it was possible to do on an empty stomach. A very little of this was
sufficient to wear the nap off the politeness of a Chesterfield, and it
must not infrequently have happened that the person who had been all
courtliness at dinner became selfishness incarnate at tea.

Those who did not come up to the high standard that Constable
attained--and they were in the majority--hurried out of the coach
without the slightest consideration for any one else, and flinging
themselves into the inn, roared out for “dinner, d----d quick”;
or--older travellers and more wary--filled their spirit flasks at the
bar, and made sure of having a meal of sorts by demanding cold ham
or beef, or any of those dishes which the hostelries of that time
possessed in abundance.

Many writers have attempted to describe those coach-dinners, and one
endeavoured to vividly picture them by declaring that they reminded him
more of hounds feeding at a trough than human beings; but none have
equalled the anonymous account quoted here.

“First of all, you had, in winter, to be called before daylight; then
you had to proceed in a rattling hackney-coach (your teeth rattling
to match with the cold) to the office from which the ‘Wonder,’
‘Telegraph,’ ‘Regulator,’ ‘Highflyer,’ or ‘Independent’ started; then
you were hurried over your meals, as the following account will show:--

“‘Twenty minutes allowed here, gentlemen, for dinner,’ exclaims the
coachman, as we drive up to the ‘Bull’ at Smallborough.

“What a scene of confusion ensued! Bells rang, ostlers halloed, waiters
ran, or rather broke into that shambling shuffle whose secret seems
to be known only to those who ‘stand and wait’--at least, no other
creature practises it.

“‘Please to alight, ladies and gentlemen,’ exclaims the landlord,
addressing the four insides; while the ostler, bringing a somewhat
crazy ladder, makes a similar request to the eleven outsides.

“The day has been a miserable specimen: incessant rain, with a
biting easterly wind, giving an inappropriately jocose gentleman the
opportunity of offering facetious remarks upon ‘heavy wet,’ and ‘cold
without.’ You enter the best parlour of the inn, anticipating a warm
welcome and a share in those creature comforts looked forward to in
such circumstances by all. But here the legal axiom, that ‘possession
is nine points of the law,’ is realised to your horror and dismay in a
sight of the first-comers on an earlier coach occupying every seat near
the fire; while a tablecloth covered with fragments, and a disarray
of empty glasses tell a tale of another dinner having recently been
‘polished off.’

“‘Waiter, waiter!’ shriek half a dozen voices in as many keys, and in
accents ranging from the imperious to the imploring. Enters then a
slipshod, soiled being, with watery eyes and apologetic mien. ‘Here,
you, where’s the dinner?’ chorus the starving, half-drenched passengers.

“‘Dinner?’--scratching his head; ’er--well--er: beg pardon, gents, but
the “Independent” was rather late like to-day, and the “Highflyer,” she
were down early, and--er----’ Well, the gist of all these apologetics
was that the company had to wait while the next joint was being dished

“Meanwhile the ‘Independents’ absorbing all the fire are bustled off by
a portly man in a low-crowned hat and a huge caped box-coat, or ‘upper
Benjamin,’ as it used to be called. ‘Gentlemen,’ he roars, ‘time’s up!’
With great to-do of cloaking, shawling, greatcoating, and paying, they
are outside, and we, in the twinkling of an eye, in their fireside
seats, listening to the curses levelled at the ostler by the outsides
for letting the seats get wet. With a precautionary ‘Sit tight,’ they
lurch violently off, and we are left anxiously awaiting the arrival of
that dinner.

“At last it comes: a procession of three--the landlady, parlourmaid,
and waiter--bearing dishes with tin covers. These battered relics
removed, a coarse fat leg of mutton, roasted to a cinder, is unveiled,
together with a huge joint of boiled beef, very much underdone;
potatoes, hot without and hard within, and some gritty cabbage.

“‘Slice of mutton for a lady,’ says the waiter, approaching a stout
gentleman in the act of helping himself to that part of the joint so
highly prized by epicures, called the ‘Pope’s eye.’ The direction of
the knife is instantly changed, and the lady’s plate filled with a
somewhat less desirable ration. ‘Please, sir, a little fat,’ continues
the assiduous waiter, ‘and a little gravy,’ he adds, anxious to earn a
tip from the old stager of the male sex, who thus invariably forwarded
his demands, as coming from a lady. Numerous other applications are
made to the carver, who, disgusted with his place, helps himself to his
coveted delicacy, and requests the waiter, with emphasis, to attend to
the other passengers himself.

“Time flies fast, and especially time devoted to pleasure, and none of
the party are aware how fast the glass has run, until the entrance of
the coachman, informing all concerned that the coach is ready.

“Up starts the stout gentleman. ‘Coachman, the time can’t be up; I’ve
not eaten a morsel.’

“‘Full twenty minutes, sir,’ replies that Jehu.

“‘Abominable,’ continues the first speaker.

“‘Who riseth from a feast with that keen appetite that he sits down?’
quotes a stage-struck attorney’s clerk.

“‘I have,’ mutters the Daniel Lambert of the party; ‘and if Shakespeare
wrote that--well, coach-dinners were not known in his time.’

“Now we do as we saw the ‘Independents’ do before us, and fee the
coachman, scramble for greatcoats, cloaks, shawls and umbrellas, in
addition to ringing for the waiters to bring that brandy-and-water
ordered ten minutes before, but not yet forthcoming.

“Half-crowns and shillings are tendered in payment to the waiter,
who of course has no change: what waiter ever had, when you were in
a hurry? It is a mere additional annoyance that the stage-struck
youth finds this an opportunity of quoting from _Pizarro_, ‘We want
no change, and, least of all, such change as you would give us,’
concluding with the lines of one of Haynes Bayley’s popular ballads:--

    And were I in a foreign land,
    You’d find no change in me.

“Now, at the ultimate moment, the waiter appears with a tray containing
‘one cold, without,’ ‘four hots, with,’ ‘two hots, sugar and no fruit,’
and ‘three with the chill off’--the ‘with’ and ‘without’ referring
to sugar, the ‘no fruit’ applying to lemon. Fortunate now are the
owners of cold beverages, for none but a fire-eater could swallow the
scalding potations that are now left as perquisites to the waiter.
Amid the babel of departure may be distinguished, ‘Please remember the
waiter, sir!’ ‘Didn’t take for your dinner, sir.’ ‘Glass of brandy,
ma’am.’ ‘A basin of soup and a pint of ale gone away without paying!’
‘Chambermaid, ma’am.’ ‘Ostler, sir! I got you some nice dry straw.’

“Away, away. ‘Now, gentlemen, sit fast. Let ’em go, Jem--I’ve got
’em!’ and off goes the ‘Highflyer.’”

Here is another such scene, observed with another pair of eyes, or
imagined by another brain:--

“‘Put the joints opposite the women,’ says the landlord to the waiter
taking in the dinner; ‘they’re slow carvers.’

“Meanwhile, passengers are busy, taking off coats, one, two and three
in succession (those were the days of _bonâ-fide_ ‘great-coats,’
nowadays become lessened, and merely overcoats). Chins appear out of
their many wrappages of silk, and fur caps are bundled into pockets.
Inside passengers eye outsiders with suspicion, while a deaf gentleman
who has left his trumpet in the coach meets an acquaintance whom he
has not seen for seven years, and in consequence of not having that
instrument with him can only shake hands and grimace in return to the
speaker’s greetings:

“‘You find it very warm inside, I should think, sir, don’t you?’ says
the acquaintance.

“‘Thank ye, my good friend; I am rather deaf, but I suppose you are
inquiring after my wife and daughters: they are quite well, thank you.’

“‘Where will you sit at dinner?’ rejoins the acquaintance.

“‘It is two years since I was there,’ replies he.

“‘No: where will you sit, sir? I said.’

“‘Oh! John: he is still in Jamaica with his regiment.’...

“‘Come, waiter, d--n it all, why was not the dinner on the table when
we arrived?’ demands a superfine inside passenger. ‘This is always the
way with your confounded coach-dinners. And what have you got under
there,--goose, eh?’

“‘No; pork, sir.’

“‘What is under that cover?’

“‘Pork too, sir.”

“‘Great heavens! pork again! the country is deluged with pork: who the
devil do you think can dine off pork?’

“‘A couple of ducks coming, sir,’ says the waiter.

“‘Confound your ducks! What with your pork and ducks, you’ll make the
whole inside of the coach reek with onions and vulgarity.’

“‘There’s a cold collation on the side-table, sir, if you prefer cold

“‘Hang your cold collation! have you got any real Devonshire cider in
the house?’

“‘Yes, sir; some very excellent.’

“‘Then bring me a bottle, and a toothpick.’

“‘Now, look here, waiter,’ says one of the diners, ‘there are the
horses out already, and we have not half done yet: blow me if I go
before the half-hour’s up.’

“‘Take any cheese, sir?’ asks the waiter.

“‘No, to be sure, not yet; have you no tarts?’

“‘Why, none, I am afraid, that we can recommend, sir; but there’s some
very nice cold plum-pudding you can have.’

“Enter coachman: ‘I leaves you here, if you please, sir.’

“‘Just as you please; I have no objection,’ says a satirical passenger.

“‘Please to remember the coachman--driven you forty-five miles.’

“‘Yes, but you will recollect you were very impertinent about my wife’s
bandbox;--there’s a shilling, between us, for you.’

“‘Oh! sir, I’m sure I didn’t mean no unperliteness--I hopes you von’t
think nothink about it; it were wery aggravising that the box was
forgot, but I hopes you’ll give me a trifle more--forty-five miles.’

“‘No, no more--so be off.’...

“‘Please to remember the coachman, ma’am--forty-five miles. Leave
you here, sir, if you please--go no further, sir--forty-five miles,

“‘Now, ladies and gentlemen, the coach is quite ready: time’s up,’ says
the guard, entering the room....

“‘What’s dinner, waiter?’

“‘Two-and-three, and eighteenpence--one-and-eightpence--is
three-and-eleven, sir,’ says the cunning waiter, whose artful
arithmetic is decidedly not ‘according to Cocker.’ ‘Yours is
three-and-sixpence, ma’am--two glasses brandy and water. Yours is four
shillings, sir--a bottle of real Devonshire cider, sir.’...

“‘Now, sir, coach is ready--time up; can’t wait,’ roars out the guard.
‘Here, Joe, set the ladder for the lady’; and the passengers are
hurried into their places.”

Not so hurried was that gentleman who on one of these quick-change and
pantomime-rally occasions remained calmly drinking his tea while his
fellow-passengers were jostling each other in their anxiety to regain
their seats.

“You’ll miss the coach, sir!” shouted the landlord in his ear, under
the impression that he was deaf and had not heard the stampeding feet.

“I want a spoon to stir my tea,” said this last-remaining guest: “why
didn’t we have any?”

The landlord glanced hurriedly round--not one spoon of all those that
had been on the table remained. He rushed out to the coach to find who
among the passengers had stolen them; and by the time he had delayed
the coach and insulted everyone, the last passenger, having finished
his breakfast at leisure, came out with the information that they had
been found in the teapot, where, as will by now have been suspected, he
had himself placed them.

There is no generalising on the subject of coach-breakfasts or dinners.
Some inns were famous for good fare, others were notorious for bad
provisioning and worse service; and all were liable to change from
good to ill, or the reverse, according to how they changed hands from
time to time. Sidney Smith, who was under no illusions, and lived well
into the railway age, did not lament the days when he travelled post
from Combe Florey to London--“living for three days on veal-cutlets
and waiters”; but, on the other hand, travellers equally familiar with
the roads were heard lamenting the good and varied fare they had been
used to find, and sought in vain in later days. Lord William Lennox
wrote regretfully of the “plain and perfect” English dinners down the
road, generally consisting, he said, of mutton-broth, rich in meat and
herbs, fresh-water fish in every form, eels--stewed, fried, boiled,
baked, spitchcocked, and water-souché; salmon, the purest butter, green
gooseberries, the earliest cucumbers, saddle of Southdown mutton,
kept to a moment and done to a turn, mutton chops, hot and hot, Irish
stews, rump-steaks tender and juicy, chicken and ham, plum-pudding,
fruit-tarts, and trifle and gooseberry-fool.

Then the produce of the grape! No thin, washy claret, at 18s. a dozen,
no fiery port, one day in bottle, no sherry at 25s. the cask; but fine,
sound vintages, fit for any private cellar.

Other travellers tell less roseate tales. Often they had the sole
choice between ham and eggs, ill cooked, and nothing at all; or, if
the choice was there, the mutton was half-done and stringy, the chops
greasy and cold, and the rump-steaks tough and dry, with everything
else in accordance. If we like to take Thomas Hughes, in _Tom Brown_,
as an authority, however, the breakfasts were really noble meals; for
Tom, going to Rugby, is represented at a table spread with the whitest
of cloths, and rich in cold pigeon-pie, a Yorkshire ham, a round of
cold boiled beef, and a loaf of household bread. On these the guests
made a beginning, but the waiter entered “in an instant” (paragon of
waiters!) with kidneys, steak, rashers of bacon, poached eggs, and
buttered toast and muffins. Tom fell-to with a will, and put away
kidneys and pigeon-pie and coffee until his little skin was as tight as
a drum--little pig!

It is a coach-breakfast that is so well pictured by James Pollard in
the accompanying illustration. The company, with an indescribable air
of having been up all night, are just finishing their meal, and the
polite gentleman in the ample overcoat is trying to induce the two
ladies under his charge to take a little more. It is quite evident
that this has been a more leisured affair than usual, for the yawning
travellers by the fireplace have finished their meal long ago, and a
stout person is being shaved by a barber in knee-breeches, with legs
of a distinctly Lowther-Arcadian type, suggestive of bran and sawdust
instead of bone and muscle. The coachman, appearing hat in hand and
touching his forehead, has come to the end of his stage: he “goes no
further, gents,” and is here to claim his dues. Meanwhile, the guard
outside is lustily blowing his horn, and the empty coach is seen

The scene, in fact, here pictured is the last halt on a long journey;
an opportunity seized by the passengers, not only for a meal, but
for a shave and a general brush-up preparatory to alighting at their
destination. Such scenes were the commonplace incidents to be observed
at Highgate, Barnet, Hounslow, and other stages near London in the
coaching age.

[Illustration: A COACH-BREAKFAST.

                    _After J. Pollard._

Here at least--for there are twelve passengers present--the insides
and the outsides have foregathered, and for once the gulf socially
dividing them has been bridged. This generally impassable gulf was more
marked in the case of the mails than in that of the stage-coaches. The
very superior and exclusive travellers who went in their own chariots
or by post-chaise resorted to well-known hotels and posting-houses on
the roads, whose chaste halls were never profaned by coaches. Even the
superior persons who travelled inside the mails could not hope to win
to those expensive and select abiding-places; but they formed a caste
by themselves, who never willingly sat at meat with the outsides. De
Quincey, who often travelled outside, experienced something of this
contempt, and the recollection seems to have lent eloquence to his
remarks on the subject. It was, he tells us, “The fixed assumption
of the four inside people that they, the illustrious quaternion,
constituted a porcelain variety of the human race, whose dignity would
have been compromised by exchanging one word of civility with the three
miserable delf-ware outsides. Even to have kicked an outsider might
have been held to attaint the foot concerned in that operation, so that
perhaps it would have required an Act of Parliament to restore its
purity of blood. What words, then, could express the horror and the
sense of treason in that case, which _had_ happened, where all three
outsides (the trinity of Pariahs) made a vain attempt to sit down at
the same breakfast-table or dinner-table with the consecrated four? I
myself witnessed such an attempt; and on that occasion a benevolent old
gentleman endeavoured to soothe his three holy associates by suggesting
that if the outsides were indicted for this criminal attempt at the
next assizes, the court would regard it as a case of lunacy or delirium
tremens rather than that of treason. England owes much of her grandeur
to the depth of the aristocratic element in her social composition when
pulling against her own strong democracy. I am not the man to laugh at
it. But sometimes, undoubtedly, it expressed itself in comic shapes.
The course taken with the infatuated outsiders, in the particular
attempt which I have noticed, was that the waiter, beckoning them away
from the privileged _salle-à-manger_, sang out, ‘This way, my good
men,’ and then enticed these good men away to the kitchen. But that
plan had not always answered. Sometimes, though rarely, cases occurred
where the intruders, being stronger than usual, or more vicious than
usual, resolutely refused to budge, and so far carried their point as
to have a separate table arranged for themselves in a corner of the
general room. Yet, if an Indian screen could be found ample enough
to plant them out from the very eyes of the high table or dais, it
then became possible to assume as a fiction of law that the three
delf fellows after all were not present. They could be ignored by the
porcelain men, under the maxim that objects not appearing and not
existing are governed by the same logical construction.”

Humour had a splendid field in coaching, and the literature of the road
is gemmed with twice a hundred good stories and mirth-provoking scenes.
Few things seem to have been more productive of funny stories than the
undue tendency to fatness on the part of a passenger. There is, for
example, the tale of the stupid servant who, having to book two seats
inside a coach for his master, a man of prodigious bulk, to whom one
seat would be useless, returned from the booking-office with the news
that he had secured the only two places to be had--one inside and one

This bears comparison with that other story of the stout man’s revenge.
He, too, was accustomed to book two seats. On one occasion this amiable
eccentricity of his was observed overnight by two waggish fellows who
thought they would play a trick on the fat man. They accordingly booked
seats also, and took care to be seated in them before the man of much
avoirdupois came. They sat facing one another, one back and the other
in front, so that he had indeed two seats, but not, as they necessarily
should have been, together. He asked them very politely to change their
positions, but they refused, although he explained that he had booked
two seats, and his reason for doing so. There the seats were, they said.

But the outraged man of flesh determined to be revenged, and,
looking round at the next stage where the coach stopped, spied a
chimney-sweep, he beckoned.

“Chimley, yer honour?” queried Chummy.

“No: come here. Have you any objection to a ride this morning? I’ll pay
you for a day’s work, and your fare back again.”

“All right, yer honour; I’ll just run home and clean myself.”

“No, no! come as you are, and when in the coach give yourself a good
shake every now and then, to make the soot fly.”

They got in, Chummy acting his part very well, and greatly to the
annoyance and discomfort of the wags, who, however, said nothing. But
when the coach stopped at the next change, and for breakfast, they
asked the man who had been their butt, and was now their tormentor,
how far he was going to take the sweep, as he was not a very desirable

He replied: “I took two seats so that, although corpulent, I should
annoy no one. You prevented me occupying them, therefore I filled
the remaining seat with Chummy, and he goes as far as the end of my
journey. But I will dismiss him if you will agree to what I propose.
When I engaged him, I agreed to pay him for his time, and to pay his
fare home, with all other expenses incurred. He is now at breakfast. If
you agree to pay him, he goes no farther; if not, he proceeds.”

Having listened to this ultimatum, and being completely discomfited,
they accepted these terms, and the sweep was dismissed.

Among the most laughable of old-time skits on coaching miseries is the
following breathless account, in the style of the immortal Jingle. Its
humour is somewhat broad, and indeed all coaching humour was of the
smoking-room rather than of the drawing-room order:--


  “INSIDE.--Crammed full of passengers--three fat fusty old men--a
  young mother and sick child--a cross old maid--a poll parrot--a
  bag of red herrings--double-barrelled gun (which you are afraid
  is loaded)--and a snarling lapdog, in addition to yourself. Awake
  out of a sound nap with the cramp in one leg and the other in
  a lady’s bandbox--pay the damage (four or five shillings) for
  gallantry’s sake--getting out in the dark at the half-way house,
  in the hurry stepping into the return coach and finding yourself
  next morning at the very spot you had started from the evening
  before--not a breath of air--asthmatic old woman and child with
  the measles--window closed in consequence--unpleasant smell--shoes
  filled with warm water--look up and find it’s the child--obliged to
  bear it--no appeal--shut your eyes and scold the dog--pretend sleep
  and pinch the child--mistake--pinch the dog and get bit--execrate
  the child in return--black looks--no gentleman--pay the coachman
  and drop a piece of gold in the straw--not to be found--fell
  through a crevice--coachman says ‘He’ll find it’--can’t--get out
  yourself--gone--picked up by the ostler--no time for blowing
  up--coach off for next stage--lose your money--get in--lose your
  seat--stuck in the middle--get laughed at--lose your temper--turn
  sulky--and turned over in a horse pond.

  “OUTSIDE.--Your eye cut out by the lash of a clumsy coachman’s
  whip--hat blown off into a pond by a sudden gust of wind--seated
  between two apprehended murderers and a noted sheep-stealer in
  irons, who are being conveyed to gaol--a drunken fellow half-asleep
  falls off the coach--and in attempting to save himself drags
  you along with him into the mud--musical guard, and driver horn
  mad--turned over--one leg under a bale of cotton, the other under
  the coach--hands in breeches pockets--head in hamper of wine--lots
  of broken bottles _versus_ broken heads--cut and run--send for
  surgeon--wounds dressed, lotion and lint, four dollars--take
  post-chaise--get home--lie down--and laid up.”

A “humorous” story is told of a coach coming into Dover at night, and
the coachman, “feather-edging” a corner, running into a lamp-post. It
was the period just after Waterloo. A little French count, who occupied
the box-seat, was thrown off, and, falling on his side, had three ribs
fractured. The coachman pulled up and asked a passing sailor to pick
up the unhappy passenger. The half-drunken tar, seeing a heap of limp
clothes on the pavement, said, “There’s no gemman here--on’y a lot of
coats.” At that moment the Count groaned, “Oh! by gar! I brake tree
rib.” “Damn your eyes!” roared the sailor, “you’re a Frenchman, are
you? Lie there and be damned,” and so went on his way.

I think the brutality of this tale is even more noticeable than
its humour, but it is distinctly redolent of the age when people
only laughed on seeing others placed in a painful or uncomfortable
position. When no one was hurt there was no humour, according to the
notions of that time--a time when to crush a man’s hat over his eyes
was exquisitely funny, and for half a dozen lusty Toms and Jerrys to
overturn a decrepit old watchman was a screaming farce. It is, by the
way, significant that that was the era when screaming farces held the
theatrical stage, and the rough-and-tumble of the harlequinade was
at its zenith. The practical joker was then prominent, and the more
“practical” (_i.e._ the more wantonly cruel and injurious) the joke
the more it was applauded. If the victim ever thought of resenting
a witticism of this kind, he was, in the cant of that period, “no
sportsman,” and behind that formula the blackguard jokers screened
themselves. If they had not very carefully, for their own protection,
erected that obligation to “take a thing in good part” which stayed
the heavy hand of revenge, it is quite likely that some of these
humourists would have been very severely mauled. The amazing thing is
that the victims agreed to that convention, and allowed themselves to
be harassed with impunity.

Practical joking affected every class. One of the old borough members
of Parliament--Francis Fane, who began his long Parliamentary career in
1790--was a practical joker of the most desolating kind. Travelling by
coach to London along the Exeter Road on one occasion, he saw, from his
seat inside, the coat-tails of one of the outside passengers--a barber,
of Dorchester--hanging down. This gave him the pleasing notion of
cutting open the pocket and extracting its contents, which happened to
be a bulky parcel of banknotes the unfortunate shaver had had given in
his charge. The extraordinary cruelty of the practical jokers who made
existence a burden to their victims a hundred years ago promised Fane
to gloat over the barber’s terror when he found the notes gone, and
only to restore them when his enjoyment could be carried no farther.
As some amends, he entertained his victim at the White Horse Cellar on
the eve of the barber’s return to Dorchester; but his practical joking
was not yet complete, for, taking excellent care that his victim should
be fully charged with liquor, he hustled him into the night coach for
quite another Dorchester--Dorchester, Oxfordshire--where he was duly
set down the following morning.


Some detailed notice of the Palmer family will have interest here.
Mischance long ago destroyed many genealogical documents relating
to John Palmer’s ancestors, but family tradition still points to
the “John Palmere” who, in 1384, represented Bath in Parliament,
as a distinguished forbear. Of ancient and honourable origin, the
matrimonial alliances of the Palmers are found among the old county
families of Somerset and Wilts. The postal reformer’s mother was one
of the Longs, to this day seated in the latter county. She and her
husband, John Palmer the elder, lie at Weston, two miles from Bath, and
in the village church their memorial tablets may yet be seen.

A tradition tells how the reformer himself might have become a Long,
had he desired. His kinsman, Walter Long, who died unmarried at the
age of ninety-five, proposed to make him heir to extensive estates in
Wilts, on condition that he assumed the name; but, with the pardonable
arrogance of one who owned an ancient and honourable ancestry, Palmer
declined, and satisfied his pride even though he relinquished a

He received his education at Colerne, Wilts, and at Marlborough Grammar
School. Of his three sons, John proceeded to Cambridge and took holy
orders; Charles and Edmund, educated at Eton, went respectively
into the Army and Navy. It is curious to note how strong has been
the military tradition in the family. Charles became Colonel of
the 10th (Prince of Wales’s) Hussars, following upon the scandal
which discredited the former Colonel of that regiment, many of whose
officers, charged with cowardice before the enemy in the Peninsula,
were transferred to other regiments, and became known as the “Elegant
Extracts.” Their places were filled by officers from other sources, and
the 10th Hussars thereupon acquired the title of “Prince’s Mixture.”
Colonel Palmer subsequently rose to the rank of general officer.

Edmund was that distinguished captain in the Navy who, when in command
of H.M.S. _Hebrus_ in 1814, captured the French frigate, _L’Etoile_,
the last of the enemy’s ships to be taken at the end of the long war.
His son, Colonel Edmund Palmer, R.A., has himself carried on the
tradition, and given sons of his own to the service of his country.
His son Edmund fell to the bullet of an Afghan hillman, after he had
captured a tower in one of the passes of that distant country whose
sun-baked rocks have been stained with the blood of many a gallant
Englishman. John Jervis Palmer, his brother, captain in the Egyptian
Army, died of pneumonia at the frontier post of Wady Halfa, looking out
across the parching sands of the Soudan.

_Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained. Typographical errors in posters have been
transcribed as-is.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

Superscripted letters, including the abbreviations for shilling and
pence, are shown here as normal letters, preceded by a circumflex: ^s.
Some of them were printed in italics, but for readability, that is
not shown here.

contains an Index to both volumes.

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