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Posts Tagged ‘Regency Transportation’

Another book review so soon on this blog? Well, yes. This book from Shire Publications, Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs by Trevor May, is short, just 32 pages long, but it  is filled with many facts and rare images of interest to lovers of history. In Jane Austen’s day most people walked to work, town, church, and market square, or to their neighbors. Six miles was not considered an undue distance to travel by foot one way. The gentry were another breed. They either owned their own carriages or hired a public horse cab. These equipages were available as early as the 1620′s.

Hackneys, or public carriages for hire made their first significant appearance in the early 17th century. By 1694, these vehicles had increased to such a number that a body of Hackney Coach Commissioners was established in London. The commissioners dealt out licences, which was a bit of a joke, for a mere four inspectors were responsible for over 1,000 vehicles.

Hackney Coach 1680

Most of these licensed hackney coaches were purchased second hand. All that an enterprising person needed to establish his own hackney coach business was enough money for a used carriage and three horses, two that worked in rotation, and one that could be used as a replacement in case of injury or illness. The death of a horse could lead to a cab owner’s financial ruin. Another important ingredient was housing for the horses.

Hackney Coach 1800. Image @Wikimedia Commons

By, 1823, the lighter horse cabs began to replace cumbersome hackney coaches in great quantity, and by the mid 1830′s, the hansom cab set the new standard for modern horse cabs. Aloysius Hansom, an architect, designed the first carriage. When Hansom went bankrupt through poor investments, John Chapman took over, designing an even lighter, more efficient cab, one whose framework did not strike the horses on their backs or sides whenever a carriage ran over an obstacle in the road.

Hansom Cab

Commercial cab firms tended to be small, even as late as 1892. Only one or two proprietors provided a large number or variety of equipages, like Alfred Pargetter, whose concern advertised removal carriages, cabs, and funeral coaches for hire. While cabs were licensed, their drivers were not and the road could present a dangerous obstacle course. The video clip below shows how adroitly horses and carriages managed to avoid each other with seemingly few rules (mostly towards the end of the clip). Notice how some lucky individual horses pulled relatively light loads compared to other horses forced to pull heavy carts.

These two video clips, one from 1903 and the other from 1896 (unbelievable!) show the end of an era, for by 1914, motorized vehicles were rapidly replacing the horse-drawn cart.

I recommend this book to anyone with an insatiable appetite for a pictorial history on a particular topic. Trevor May is an expert on the Victorian era, and he has managed to squeeze more information about horse-drawn cabs in this short book (more a thick pamphlet) than I have read before. The images are simply splendid.

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White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

In today’s insulated world, we can only imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the animals that inhabited Regency London alongside humans. Cows were confined inside small city dairies or allowed to graze in public parks ready to be milked at a moment’s notice. Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep were driven from the countryside through the streets to Smithfield market to feed the masses. Considering that a “horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day”, crossing sweepers were kept perpetually busy clearing the streets of dung, for by the end of the 19th century, over 300, 000 horses lived and worked in London. Despite the sweepers’ best efforts, the streets were covered in horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere.* Not a pretty image of a time that we tend to view with nostalgia.

Town planners had to take the lodging of horses and animals into account when designing new squares and terraces, which was no small effort, for stabling these animals and feeding them straw made an enormous demand on urban spaces.

The direct and indirect energy cost of urban horse-drawn transport–in terms of feeding, stabling, grooming, shoeing, harnessing, and driving the hourses and removing their wastes to periurban market gardens–were among the largest items on the energy balances of late-nineteenth-century cities. - Energy in World History, Vaclav Smil,  p. 132

In terms of urban transportation, horses reached the peak of their importance in hauling goods and transporting people between 1820 and 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly displaced by electric streetcars, automobiles, and buses. The cost of stabling and feeding horses was enormous and most Londoners walked. Those who could afford the luxury of stabling their animals and maintaining their carriages paid a steep price.

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

The difficulty and cost of horses and their stabling encouraged walking, which helped to keep the city small and dense. The limited travel span of the horse and cart further restricted urban expansion by constraining the outward movment of industry. An idea of the costs to households of private horse-based transport can be seen in the mews of the more expensive nineteenth-century West End neighbourhoods. Solely designed to house horses, carriages and livery servants, these back passageways behind the grand houses took up considerable space; whilts working horses ate prodigious amounts of feed, and livery men were often some of the best paid domestic staff. – An economic history of London, 1800-1914, by Michael Ball, David Sunderland, p. 229

Coaching houses and mews not only had to be located close enough to dwellings for convenience, but they needed to be tucked out of sight , especially in the tony West End (see image below).  These photographs of Garrett Street Stables in Islington, London demonstrate how horses were traditionally kept. The site also tallies the numbers of horses that have been stabled at that location since 1750. While these animal were housed in a well maintained stable, one can only imagine the conditions for animals who were unlucky enough to be owned by those who could barely eek out a living. Costs for maintaining horses and a carriage in London were astronomical and reserved only for the rich if they could find a convenient space to house them. If one purchased a horse, one had to find stables, as Georgette Heyer reminds us in The Grand Sophy, when Sophy shows up in a new phaeton drawn by a pair of horses:

‘Don’t hesitate to tell me which of my mother’s or my horses you would like me to remove from the stables to make room for these!’ begged Mr. Rivenhall, with savage civility. ‘Unless, of course, you are setting up your own stables!’

Gower Mews, since 1792

Gower Mews, since 1792

Relying on a carriage for transport, however, required significant wealth. They were expensive to buy and maintain, needing as they did stabling for the horses and liveries for the coachman and grooms. Even renting a carriage and pair (two horses) with a coachman cost £200–£300 a year (£10,000–£20,000 today). The two-wheeled carriages with one horse (the Ferraris of their day) were called ‘bankrupt carts’ by the Chief Justice ‘because they were, and are, frequently driven by those who could neither afford the Money to support them, nor the Time spent in using them, the want of which, in their Business, brought them to Bankruptcy’. Stabling your own horse, particularly in a city, was harder than finding a parking space today. Just feeding a horse cost £30 a year – more than feeding the groom, in fact – while the coachman’s liveries cost more than his annual salary.

On a practical level, coaches also took some time to prepare and had to be ordered several hours before they were needed. They were therefore more useful for displaying one’s wealth than for surveying one’s estate. They were necessary on long journeys, of course, or when carrying large loads, but otherwise riding a horse or a mule was much the quickest and cheapest option … – Regency House Party, Channel 4 History

The costs of keeping a horse in London are still enormous. Economist Brad DeLong estimates that with exercise, stabling, grooming, shoeing, and other facilities it costs £30,000 to maintain each horse per year, which is considerably more than driving and maintaining a car.


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Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

At the height of 19th century coaching days Northallerton in North Yorkshire had four inns that catered to travellers – the Black Bull, the King’s Head, the Old Golden Lion and, the largest, the Golden Lion. Horses that pulled the public coaches suffered mightily for the sake of speed. In a previous post I had already discussed that if forced to run at breakneck speed, coach horses did not last longer than three years. Recently I ran across this description:

The Highflyer changed horses at the King’s Head but the horses belonged to Mr Frank Hirst. This coach was driven by a coachman called Scott, a very big fellow of the Old Weller type who had to be hauled into his seat and nearly broke the coach down. The Express also stopped at the King’s Head but the horses that worked this coach stood at the Waggon and Horses and belonged to Mr Hall of Northallerton. The Wellington London and Newcastle coach changed horses at the Golden Lion and was horsed by Mr Frank Hirst. At one time it was driven by Ralph Soulsby, who was a terror to drive, and it is on record that once during a period when the Wellington was running in opposition he succeeded in killing three out of his four horses on the short stage seven miles from Great Smeaton to Northallerton. Opposition coaches were terribly hard on horseflesh; they used to gallop every inch of the road up hill and down dale, and Soulsby’s third horse dropped dead just opposite the church, and he finished his journey to the Golden Lion with but a single horse. When the railway began to supersede the road and coach after coach began to fall away, the Wellington still held on until it at last stood alone. One of the oldest and first coaches on the road, it had withstood the tide of opposition through all time until it remained the absolute last regular coach running on this section of the Great North Road. The old coaching days in Yorkshire By Tom Bradley

Coach and four

Coach and four

Horses were chattel and the general attitude towards beasts of burden during the Regency Era was one of exploitation. Fresh teams of horses were kept ready to replace an exhausted team that had just run the previous stage of a journey. These teams were contracted to stage lines or the Royal Mail. Other horses were available to be leased by individuals. Crack teams of hostlers prided themselves in changing mail coach teams in as little as three minutes. The combined refinements in coach design, and in road construction and maintenance allowed the heavy coach horses to be replaced by teams of faster half-bred or pure Thoroughbred horses. The luxurious coaches of the wealthy pulled by warmblooded horses or Thoroughbreds seemed to fly down the better roads at the unheard of speed of ten miles per hour. *

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

It wasn’t until 1821, that Colonel Richard Martin, MP for Galway in Ireland, introduced the Treatment of Horses bill. This piece of legislature was greeted by laughter in the House of Commons. The first known prosecution for cruelty to animals was brought in 1822 against two men found beating horses in London’s Smithfield Market, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century. They were fined 20 shillings each. Colonel Martin’s “Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill,” or “Martin’s Act”, as it became known, was finally passed in 1822 and became the world’s first major piece of animal protection legislation. Not much changed for working horses, however.  After a coaching horse’s usefulness ended, they were sold to labor for others**:

Mrs Mountain of the Saracen’s Head kept some 2,000 horses in her stables for the routes she served. Lord William Lennox sometime later estimated that it took some 2 pounds per week to keep coach horses. It is also estimated that the life of a coach horse was some three years. After that they were sold for they still had significant working life left. It was the nature of coaching with the strain of pulling a coach weighing more than 2 tons for an average of 10 miles at a speed of some 12 miles per hour 2 days out of 3.  Farm work seemed easy by comparison. – Coaching Inns

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

A society that lacked adequate social service systems to take care of the poor did not place a high priority on the ethical treatment of animals. Cockfighting, bear baiting, and dog fights were common”betting” sports prevalent during the Regency Period. A retired coach horse would have an easier life plowing a farmer’s field than pulling a coach. Accidents were frequent, but horses were seldom given a break, forced to struggle through blizzards and quagmire after passengers alighted and luggage was taken off to lighten the load. Not every horse led a harsh life. The following excerpt describes a private, more benevolent owner, the Rev. George Bennet, Jane Austen’s father, whose horses pulled heavy carriages over poor roads:

Coach stuck in snow

Coach stuck in snow

A carriage and a pair of horses were kept. This might imply a higher style of living in our days than it did in theirs. There were then no assessed taxes. The carriage, once bought, entailed little further expense; and the horses probably, like Mr. Bennet’s, were often employed on farm work. Moreover, it should be remembered that a pair of horses in those days were almost necessary, if ladies were to move about at all; for neither the condition of the roads nor the style of carriage-building admitted of any comfortable vehicle being drawn by a single horse. When one looks at the few specimens still remaining of coach-building in the last century, it strikes one that the chief object of the builders must have been to combine the greatest possible weight with the least possible amount of accommodation. – Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, Description of life at Steventon

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

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The 18th Century Sedan Chair

The 18th Century Sedan Chair; Image from Georgian Index

After the fire of London, in 1666, the streets were impassable, and so people of quality went on their business or pleasure in sedan chairs.They became in time such a nuisance as to obstruct the highways. – The History of Dress, The New York Times, 1884,

Modern young miss transported with her feather headress intact

Young Georgian miss transported across town with her headdress feathers intact. Click on image for larger view.

Sedan chairs were a major mode of transportation through London’s narrow streets and along Bath’s steep lanes throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and early part of the 19th century. Strong chair carriers could transport passengers down winding passageways much faster than a carriage, which had to make frequent stops in congested traffic. The chair was named after the town of Sedan in France where it was first used. By 1634, they had been introduced to London as vehicles for hire, and their popularity quickly spread to France and Scotland, as well as the rest of Europe.

These portable covered chairs, used in one form or another in other cultures since ancient times, sported side windows and a hinged door at the front. Sedan carriers inserted long wood poles into metal brackets on either side of the chair. The poles were long and springy and provided a slightly bouncy ride. They were arranged in such a manner that the chair would remain in a horizontal position as the carriers climbed up steps or steep slopes. Passenger entered and exited between the poles if they remained in place.

Early 18th c. gilt and wood Sedan chair; painted panels attributed to Charles Antoine Coypel

Early 18th c. gilt and wood Sedan chair; painted panels attributed to Charles Antoine Coypel

Sedan chair, 1760, made for the Countess of Spencer

Sedan chair in entrance hall of Althorpe House, made for the Countess of Spencer in 1760.

Chairs for the wealthy were richly carved and decorated, and stood inside the entrance hall to be used at the owner’s convenience. Footmen would summon hired carriers, who would take patrons to their destination. For the more ornate Sedan chairs, painters would create beautiful scenes on panels mounted on the sides, and many were extravagantly upholstered in silk on the inside. The less affluent hired plainer, leather covered chairs. (See 1700 image.)

Plain leather covered sedan chair, 1700. Notice the metal brackets.

Plain leather covered sedan chair, 1700. Notice the metal brackets.

Sedan chair in the Pump Room

Sedan chair in the Pump Room

Sedan chair houses were available throughout the city of Bath, as shown in the image lower down in this post, although they were also kept in hallways by those who owned them. A rather plain Sedan chair was on display underneath the stairs in the hall of No. 1 Royal Crescent when I visited Bath. One feature that made the chair so popular in Bath – a city in which invalids were transported for healing sessions to the hot mineral baths – is that the vehicle was narrow enough to be carried up the stairs and taken into the bedchamber. Once an invalid entered the chair, he or she would stay inside, unexposed to outside air. The chairs could be carried inside to the baths or to the Pump Room, as you can see in this illustration by Rowlandson, who shows a man on crutches emerging from a Sedan chair.

Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Pump Room

Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Pump Room

Because these portable chairs could be carried inside buildings, people could be transported around the city without being identified. This made it easier for people who were evading the law to go about their business, or for public personages to carry on trysts. Links-boys would light the road at night, and they waited until they were needed again to light the way back. As the painting below shows, accidents did happen!

Rowlandson, Sedan chair breaking down

Rowlandson, Sedan chair breaking down

“At Bath, Tunbridge Wells, and other fashionable places, chairmen plied in the streets as cabs and hansoms now do. Occasionally they were used by spendthrifts, who were anxious to avoid the tipstaves, as they could enter them in their own houses and be deposited in that of a friend. However, it does not appear that the Sedan chair was always a safe refuge against arrest for debt, as in one of Hogarth’s prints the tipstaves are seen to be laying hold of one they were in search of, just as he was about to descend from his supposed place of security. One of the best caricatures of the day represented an Irishman being carried through the streets in a Sedan chair by two burly men, with his feet touching the ground, some wag having taken out the bottom of the Sedan, and the chairmen, aware of the practical joke, selecting the dirtiest part of the road.” NY Times, 1875, Old Coaches and Sedan Chairs

A Rake's Progress, Hogarth, Sedan Chair

A Rake’s Progress, Hogarth, Sedan Chair

As previously stated, Sedan chairs for hire were common in London. Chairmen wore a uniform, were licensed to carry passengers, and had to display a number, like today’s taxi drivers. Three hundred chair permits were issued in London and Westminster in the early 1700′s. A similar system was later used in Scotland, where a fare system was established in 1738. A trip within a city cost six pence and a day’s rental was four shillings. It cost £1 1 shilling to hire a sedan chair for a week. The chairs were available around the clock, but after midnight the chairmen would be paid double the fare.

Sedan chair house in Barh, Queen's Parade Place

Sedan chair house in Bath, Queen’s Parade Place

Sedan chair houses, or stations, were common in cities were they were used. Only two examples of these houses remain today in Bath:

“Continue along Gay Street and turn first left into Queen’s Parade Place. On either side of an opening are the only examples of sedan chair houses in Britain. Here chairmen would rest before carrying passengers to their destinations. They were notoriously rude and unscrupulous often locking their passengers in the chair until they had paid the exorbitant fare! Beau Nash licensed them and set reasonable fares. Their demise came when a local man invented the “Bath chair,” a 3 wheeled vehicle.”  From eu-journal, 011

1840, wheeled Bath chairs outside of the Pump Room

1840, Wheeled Bath chairs outside of the Pump Room

The Sedan chair fell gradually into disuse. Horace Walpole bemoaned their waning popularity as early as 1774, and by the mid-19th century three-wheeled Bath chairs had taken their place.

“The chairmen were fine, robust men; they had little regard for foot passengers, and considered the pavement their own exclusive property. It was rather an amusing sight to witness how the men trotted off, when a chair was required, racing to be first for hire. After a time Sedan chairs got out of fashion, except at Bath, Cheltenham, and Leamington, where they wer in favor for many years after they ceased to exist in the metropolis. – Old Coaches and Sedan Chairs, NY Times, october 17, 1875

Chairmen huffing and puffing in Cranford

Chairmen huffing and puffing in Cranford

While the Sedan chair had gone out of fashion by the mid-19th Century, it played a crucial part in the recent mini-series, Cranford. One of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie showed two chairmen trying to keep apace with Miss Pole, a spinster, and Mrs. Forrester, whose cat had ingested lace, as they ran into the village seeking help. The men huffed and puffed as they carried their heavy load with Mrs. Jamieson inside, and staggered into Cranford.

More information on Sedan chairs:

UPDATE: Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide has published a sedan chair post that links to mine!

Robert Adam's Design for a Sedan Chair for Queen Charlotte, 1775. Click for a larger image.

Robert Adam Neoclassical Design for a Sedan Chair for Queen Charlotte, 1775. Click on image for a larger view.

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A GENTLEMAN AND A LADY travelling from Tunbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast which lies between Hastings and Eastbourne, being induced by business to quit the high road and attempt a very rough lane, were overturned in toiling up its long a scent, half rock, half sand.The accident happened just beyond the only gentleman’s house near the lane a house which their driver, on being first required to take that direction, had conceived to be necessarily their object and had with most unwilling looks been constrained to pass by.He had grumbled and shaken his shoulders and pitied and cut his horses so sharply that he might have been open to the suspicion of overturning them on purpose (especially as the carriage was not his master’s own) if the road had not indisputably become worse than before, as soon as the premises of the said house were left behind expressing with a most portentous countenance that, beyond it, no wheels but cart wheels could safely proceed.The severity of the fall was broken by their slow pace and the narrowness of the lane; and the gentleman having scrambled out and helped out his companion, they neither of them at first felt more than shaken and bruised. But the gentleman had, in the course of the extrication, sprained his foot; and soon becoming sensible of it, was obliged in a few moments to cut short both his remonstrances to the driver and his congratulations to his wife and himself and sit down on the bank, unable to stand. – Jane Austen, Sanditon, Chapter One

At the end of the 18th century and early in the 19th century, the roads in England began to improve vastly over the rutted, dirt tracks that slowed lumberous carriages and that turned into quagmires on rainy days. In those days travel on rural, unimproved roads was laborious. When encountering a steep upgrade, passengers often had to get out of the carriages to lighten the load for the horses or to help push. As with today, accidents on the road were not uncommon. Even with road improvements, passengers sitting outside of a coach were in danger of being flung from their perch and killed.

Information From Highways and Horses, Athol Maudslay

Road improvements began on a large scale in the early 19th century. Engineers placed emphasis on good drainage and thick stone foundations, widening roads, and reducing gradients. However, macadamised roads, which are used to this day, did not come into widespread use until 1816, only a year before Jane Austen died. The custom before then, was “simply to spread a layer of broken rock and gravel on the cleared foundation of earth, which was often lower than the fields on either side. The narrow treads of the farmers’ wagons cut ruts in the soft road, and the hooves of animals further disturbed it. At bad places, everyone took a route that seemed the best at the time, creating a wide disturbed mess.” (Coaching Days and Road Engineers)

As those who live in rural areas today still know, well-drained and crushed stone macadamized roads are not fool proof. They must be graded regularly, or ruts and depressions develop, creating a tough situation for travel:

“Where there is much traffic as in towns macadamised roads get worn into innumerable holes causing the greatest discomfort to persons driving over them I refer to the granite made roads as with those made of a softer stone this discomfort is not felt It was on this account that a road was being taken up at Tunbridge Wells while I was staying there which is mentioned in the chapter on Road Construction and Maintenance The road on the Thames Embankment between Northumberland Avenue and St Stephen’s Club was a striking instance of this peculiarity The whole roadway was one mass of depressions causing the wheels of one’s carriage to fly about in all directions this could of course be remedied by picking up the roadway and laying it afresh but it is no doubt in consequence of the hardness and unyielding nature of the granite that this happens. Highways and Horses By Athol Maudslay


Read more about the topic in these links:

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The life of a stage coach horse during the Regency era was not easy. Roads, though much improved over previous centuries, could be filled with mud and ruts that impeded progress. Generally one horse could pull a wheeled vehicle six times its own weight. Therefore, a carriage horse weighing from 1200 lbs to 2300 lbs is able to pull from 7200 lbs to 13,800 lbs. Multiply this number by four or six, and you have team that can pull a substantially sized vehicle. However, tired horses had to be replaced about every ten miles or so, and “the average life of a horse pulling a coach at about eight mile per hour was six years; at ten miles per hour or over, possible on good roads, a horse lasted three years.” (The Prince of Pleasure, J.B. Priestley, p 151-152)

Charles Dickens provides a vivid account of horses dragging a carriage out of mire and muck:

there is another hole and beyond that another bank close before us. So he [the coachman] stops short, cries to the horses again, “Easy, Easy, den”, “Ease Steady, Hi”, “Jiddy”, “Pill”, “Ally”, “Loo”, but never Lee until we are reduced to the very last extremity and are in the midst of difficulties, extrication from which appears above all but impossible. And so we do the ten miles or thereabouts in two hours and a half, breaking no bones, though bruising a great many, and in short getting through the distance like a fiddle. (Charles Dickens’s works. Charles Dickens ed. [18 vols. of a 21 vol. set … By Charles Dickens, pages 78 & 79.)

One would hope that each time the horses struggled the passengers got out of the coach and removed the heavier belongings, so that the horses’ efforts were eased. This illustration of horses pulling a carriage through snow shows that the passengers have disembarked, but that the coach is still laden with cargo.

Inns, ostlers, fresh teams of horses, stables, postillions, and blacksmiths supported travel throughout England, and rivalry for passenger business became intense. At one time, “the Whetstone toll gate, at its height, recorded no less than 130 stagecoaches a day passing through.
The Mitre Inn, depicted above, dates from around 1630. It remained a coaching inn until 1926.

In a related post, read about the crossing sweepers, who in the early part of the century before macadamized roads became widespread, kept passages free and clear of ruts, as well as horse dung.

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“Besides this excellent convenience of conveying letters, and men on horseback, there is of late such admirable commodiousness, both for men and women of better rank, to travel from London to almost any great town in England, and to almost all the villages near this great city, that the like hath not been known in the world, and that is by stage coaches, wherein one may be transported to any place, sheltered from foul weather, and foul ways, free from endamaging one’s health or body, by hard jogging or over violent motion, and this not only at a low price, as about a shilling for every five miles, but with such velocity and speed, as that the posts in some foreign countries, make not more than a mile a day; for the Stage Coaches called Flying Coaches, make forty or fifty miles in a day, as from London to Oxford, or Cambridge, and that in the space of 12 hours, not counting the time for dining; setting forth not too early, nor coming in too late.”


Text from The World in Miniature, a series of volumes created for the publisher Rudolf Ackermann, and written by W.H. Pyne. Illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, Augustus Pugin, and W.H. Pyne.

Text, p 98-97, The World in Miniature: England, Scotland, and Ireland, edited by W.H. Pyne, containing a description of the character, manners, customs, dress, diversions, and other peculiarities of the inhabitants of Great Britain. In Four Volumes; illustrated with eighty-four coloured engravings, Volume 1, London, 1827, Printed for R. Ackermann, Repository of Arts, Strand.

Click below for more about this publication:

  • The World in Miniature: Click on the topics, such as stagecoach, the bishop, or the milk woman, to read about those topics.

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During the Regency Era, a lady would never go out in a carriage and be seen in public without wearing the proper dress.

This is a carriage costume from November, 1819, as illustrated in La Belle Assemblee (Image from the University of Washington digital library.) The pink pelisse was made of figured gros-de-Naples and trimmed with the fur of an American grey squirrel. Click here to view more carriage dresses.

Two ladies in a high perch phaeton. The owners of these sporty, open-air and lightning fast carriages actually drove the vehicle, as there was no place for a coachman. Phaeton seats were built high off the ground, the sides of the vehicle were open to the elements (a top could be pulled over as a screen from sun or rain), and the back wheels were larger than the front wheels.

However, these light, airy, well-sprung vehicles were prone to tipping over when turning around corners too fast, thus a driver had to be skilled in order to move at high speed. The phaeton, therefore, was extremely popular with the rakish set.


Read more about transportation during the Regency Era at:

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The Science and Society Picture Library is filled with magnificent illustrations and photographs of interest to historians. This link leads to these images, including carriages, cabriolets, phaotons, landaus, and more. Type the name of the vehicle you are searching for in the search bar, such as landeau or phaeton or barouche. Corresponding images will pop up.

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When Sir Richard, The Corinthian in Georgett Heyer’s novel of the same name, escorts his young charge, Pen, to her childhood home, he is boxed inside a public carriage with an assemblage of memorable characters. Jane and Georgette refer to Postillions as a matter of course whenever their heroes and heroines travel. I found the following definition from a public British site:

In practice the Postillion was the man with spare horses held in a stable by the difficult spots in the road, to help speed the mail and passenger coaches on their way. This would generally develop into a break-point in the journey for the driver and passengers to pause on their journey, eat, refresh themselves etc. Over time this would develop into a Coaching Inn, Services.”

Read my other articles on this topic. Click here.

For more details about public travel, click on this link to the History of Coaching, from the Regency Collection.

For more about the conditions of England’s roads during this era, click on Coaching Days and Road Engineers by J. B. Calvert.

Regency Transportation includes illustrations of carts, coaches, carriages, horses, chariots, dog carts, phaetons, curricles, and more.

Carriages in Regency and Victorian Times includes a detailed description of the vehicles in an article by Ellen Micheletti.

This link to the Hackney Horse Society includes a short historical description.

Question:
I am setting a novel in 1784 England. My lead character is to take a hackney coach from London to Yorkshire in June. I am hoping to find out how long this trip would take and what towns she would pass through. Thanks for your help.

Answer:
1784 was just before the highly improved mail coaches were introduced on the main routes across Great Britain. They cut travelling times by nearly half. The London-York route in 1784 would have taken about three days, leaving London early on the first day and arriving in York late on the third day about 60 hours later. Overnight stops would have been made at such towns as Royston, Grantham or Doncaster depending on the distance travelled. By the 1780s roads had improved thus allowing for a quicker journey, but this was offset by the fact that the improvements in the roads were paid for by turnpikes. These basically were tollgates on selected turnpike roads which every vehicle had to stop at and pay a toll for the upkeep of the road, so journey times were lengthened by stopping at these turnpikes. Horses were changed every ten miles or so and there were lunch stops, so the journey was far from smooth, there were many stops along the way. If you had set your novel a few years later then the mail coaches would have been running on the Great North Road from 1788. These were faster carriages that passed straight through the turnpikes without stopping by paying the toll in advance and sounding the posthorn to warn the turnpike keeper to open the gate to let the carriage through. The same journey in 1788 took about 40 hours with one overnight stop. You could mention such towns as Huntingdon, Stamford, Newark and Pontefract in addition to those already mentioned.My home town was a coaching town on the London-Liverpool and London-Holyhead (for ferries to Ireland) routes. The old coaching inn is still standing. If your character ever travels that route I can give you the name of the landlord in the 1780s for extra authenticity! Mark Smith, All Experts

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