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.
- Read more about travel during this era in my archived posts. Click here to view them.
- Coaching Ways and Days: The Stage Coach
- Road Transport Before the Car, page 37-50
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.