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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Back in Jane Austen’s day travel was so difficult and laborious over poorly constructed roads that the majority of the people who lived in that century traveled no farther than 14 miles from where they lived. Most walked, and even so they had to contend with muddy roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains or breathe in choking dust during times of drought. (In cities, dusty streets would be watered down by merchants early in the morning.)

Diana Sperling, a party walking to dinner along muddy roads.

Travel at night was dangerous. Without a widespread means of lighting roads or an organized police force, night travelers were at the mercy of highwaymen. In cities, link boys were paid a half pence to carry a light in front of pedestrians, or for those on horseback and in carriages.

Georgian cast iron light fixtures, Landsdowne Crescent in Bath. Note the cones, which extinguished the light.

Lanterns hung in front of city doors or were carried. In the country, torches hung from trees lining a lane that led up to a house. Balls and parties were planned during the full moon, although a rainy or cloudy night would spoil these well-laid plans.

A link boy lights the way in the city, 1827.

The situation would not change until the Industrial Revolution brought about such life altering inventions as gas lights, macadam roads (whose hard surface facilitated smoother travel), the steamboat, and rail travel.

The perils of overcrowding, 1812

The following descriptions of poor road conditions from Old Country Life, a book published in 1892, describes a time just after Jane Austen’s death, but one that her longer lived siblings would have known. While people’s memories of distant events are often faulty, the emotions they felt tend to stay with them. Here then are some eye witness accounts retold many decades later:

What a time people took formerly in travelling over old roads! There is a house just two miles distant from mine, by the new unmapped road. Before 1837, when that road was made, it was reached in so circuitous a manner, and by such bad lanes, and across an unbridged river, that my grandfather and his family when they dined with our neighbours, two miles off, always spent the night at their house.

Negotiating a muddy road. Image @Roads in the 18th Century

In 1762, a rich gentleman, who had lived in a house of business in Lisbon, and had made his fortune, returned to England, and resolved to revisit his paternal home in Norfolk. His wish was further stimulated by the circumstance that his sister and sole surviving relative dwelt beside one of the great broads, where he thought he might combine some shooting with the pleasure of renewing his friendships of childhood. From London to Norwich his way was tolerably smooth and prosperous, and by the aid of a mail coach he performed the journey in three days. But now commenced his difficulties. Between the capital and his sister’s dwelling lay twenty miles of country roads. He ordered a coach and six, and set forth on his fraternal quest. The six hired horses, although of strong Flanders breed, were soon engulfed in a black miry pool, his coach followed, and the merchant was dragged out of the window by two cowherds, and mounted on one of the wheelers; he was brought back to Norwich, and nothing could ever induce him to resume the search for his sister, and to revisit his ancestral home.

Pack horses. Image @The Rolle Canal Company

Roads were in such a poor condition that transportation over rivers and canals was preferred. If waterways were not nearby, pack horses and carrier wagons carried heavy and fragile items into areas were roads were near to impassible. Carrier wagons were sturdy wagons pulled by oxen and covered with canvas cloth.

Items had to be safely packed before they could be transported. Paper was expensive and cardboard boxes had yet to be invented. Goods were carried in cloth sacks, metal canisters, leather baskets, wood barrels, sturdy trunks, or wooden crates. Additional containers were made of cloth, woven straw, crockery, glass, and tin.

18th century coopers making barrels. Image@Instructional Resources Corporation.

The safe preservation of foods in metal containers was finally realized in France in the early 1800s. In 1809, General Napoleon Bonaparte offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could preserve food for his army. Nicholas Appert, a Parisian chef and confectioner, found that food sealed in tin containers and sterilized by boiling could be preserved for long periods. A year later (1810), Peter Durand of Britain  received a patent for tinplate after devising the sealed cylindrical can. – A brief history of packaging

Fragile items like glass and china received extra protection and were wrapped in cloth or straw. Considering the poor road conditions,  it is a wonder that any of these items survived their long journeys intact. View an image and explanation of a stage wagon in this link.

Reliable forms of old-fashioned transportation still exist in this world. Image@Washington Post

Below is a description of a carrier and his wagon.  (click here to see examples):

It is a marvel to us how the old china and glass travelled in those days; but the packer was a man of infinite care and skill in the management of fragile wares.

Does the reader remember the time when all such goods were brought by carriers? How often they got broken if intrusted to the stage-coaches, how rarely if they came by the carrier.  The carrier’s waggon was securely packed, and time was of no object to the driver, he went very slowly and very carefully over bad ground. – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892

Breakdown of the Christmas stage, a Victorian illustration. Note that oxen are strapped to an empty cart, ready to take on passengers, who are still 10 miles from their destination.

As noted before, people often spent the night when they arrived as guests for dinner. Once a person made the journey to visit relatives, they tended to stay for weeks, even months. Elizabeth Bennet’s visit with Charlotte was of several weeks duration; Cassandra Austen frequently visited her brother Edward for weeks at a time, which is when Jane would write to her.

City streets were crowded and narrow. Thomas Rowlandson. The Miseries of London. 1807. Image @Lewis Walpole Library

“It is of some importance,” said Sydney Smith, “at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvements of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes that have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life—a period of seventy years. I have been nine hours sailing from Dover to Calais before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath before the invention of railroads. In going from Taunton to Bath I suffered between ten thousand and twelve thousand severe contusions before stone-breaking MacAdam was born. I paid fifteen pounds in a single year for repair of carriage springs on the pavement of London, and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk without molestation from one end of London to another; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life. I forgot to add, that as the basket of the stagecoaches in which luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and that even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen were always drunk. I am now ashamed that I was not formerly more discontented, and am utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago.” – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892, p. 216

Paving a macadam road in the U.S., 1823

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Gentle Readers, this is Christine Stewart’s second post about her trip to England this past summer. The author of Embarking on a Course of Study, you will enjoy her reminiscences.The day after visiting Jane’s writing desk and portrait in London, I went to Paris. Yes, for the day. It was there so I popped over to squeeze in what I could – a long, exquisite day of mostly walking and a trip up the Eiffel Tower (okay, more like hobbling because I walked everywhere in Reykjavik and had two days of London walking behind me as well. My ankles looked like I was 85 years old. But it was worth it for the view).

Paris turned out to be a 20 hour day, so I slept in and caught a later train to Winchester and had just enough time to see the Cathedral and the house on College Street where Jane died before catching my bus to Alton (near Chawton) to reach my hotel.Winchester is delightful. Twisty turny streets, archways, alleys tucked between the backs of houses with gates and wooden doors. It felt like one big secret garden to me. I could have wandered for hours.  The sky was grayish when I arrived at the Cathedral – perfect for photographs. I took many pictures of the outside as there were so many interesting vantage points but here’s the main one (to keep reading:  http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Christine Stewart recently took a trip to England. Here are some of her impressions. For fabulous images, click on her blog,  Embarking on a Course of Study.

It’s a funny thing to visit an object used, worn, or created by people you admire, whether historical, literary, political, or religious figures.  There’s an immense satisfaction in standing in its presence. I had been to the Morgan Library in NYC for the exhibit of Austen letters, but there was something about her desk. It was an everyday object that had been important to her writing life. She used it to write amazing novels that outlive and outsell those of her contemporaries.

And I had worked very hard to get there!

I arrived in London just before noon from Reykjavik, where I’d been attending the wedding of a friend, ready to officially begin my Jane Austen Pilgrimage. I had a couple of suitcases and decided to go to the flat of my friend’s new husband to drop them off before venturing out further.

British Library Lobby

So, after getting up at 4 a.m to catch the shuttle to the flybus to the airport, then a plane, three trains, and one cab later (the cab driver called me ‘Luv,’ awesome), I dropped off all my bags and went out again. I then got caught up in taking pictures of the very charming streets as I walked down to the tube station.

That, coupled with the train to King’s Cross/St. Pancras, the tube stop near the British Library, took up another hour, so I arrived after 4:00 p.m. and had to let go of my plan to also go to the British Museum as there just wasn’t enough time before they closed. Oh well, onward! The British Library was easy to find – it’s basically next door to St. Pancras (see the picture, is that an amazing building or what? It’s also a hotel).

Once inside the Library I had a difficult time navigating the floor plan. There are several levels to the front lobby, perhaps I should say landings, and then other floor levels themselves off of the lobby, which are not clear via the map. Perhaps the fact that there is a lower ground, upper ground, and ground floor before you even get to floors 1, 2, and 3 and they are not full levels beneath one another or all reached by one flight of stairs or set of elevators that is the problem!

Eventually I located the Sir John Ritblat Gallery where the Library’s ‘treasures’ are, including Jane’s desk. Unless you know exactly which room the desk is in and what it looks like, and how deceptive the word ‘desk’ is, you will have just as much trouble, so let me tell you exactly what to do.

To read the rest of the post and see the pictures:http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has often contributed posts to this blog. She will be visiting England soon. Lucky Chris! Before leaving, she asks you a question, a quite interesting one:

Next month I’m heading to England for a visit to London, which includes a too-brief pilgrimage to places associated with Jane Austen, including the Jane Austen House Museum, where I’ll be taking a writing class after I tour the house. The JAHM has a blog that you can follow and in catching up on the posts, I read one from April that talks about how much making a pilgrimage to Jane’s house means to most people who visit (myself included; I can’t wait!). One very special surprise, is that some visitors leave a gift or message for Jane that the staff finds later.

“It seems that for many people being in her home is part of an ongoing relationship that they develop with her as not only an author of their favourite books but also as a woman. Recently Isabel and I have found a few gifts and offerings to Jane and the house. I found a carefully made fan of hearts hung on a door handle in The Austen Family room. Each heart has a name of a character from Sense and Sensibility and they rotate to align with different people.”

Isn’t that wonderful? For pictures of the gifts and letters they’ve found, and to leave a comment about what you would leave in Jane’s house were you to visit (and find out what I’ll be leaving – you know I’m going to do it, it’s such a great idea!), go to my blog: Embarking on a Course of Study http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

Chris Stewart
Get to the Heart of Your Writing
Mentoring, Workshops, Editing, Critique: http://www.therealwriter.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChrisStewartTheRealWriter
Poets & Writers Profile: http://www.pw.org/content/christine_stewart

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St. Johns Catholic Church, Richmond, Australia

What are the odds that two Richmonds a world apart would boast two historic churches named St. Johns? St John’s in Richmond was built in 1837 and is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Australia (actually, Tasmania). The structure is situated near the oldest bridge, built between 1823 and 1825 by Australian convicts over the Coal River, and was used by military police and convicts between Hobart and Port Arthur.

St. John's Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia

St. John’s Episcopal Church was built in Richmond in 1741. In 1775, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph and other important Virginia delegates met in the church for the Second Virginia Convention of the House of Burgesses, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech: “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.” The delegates were  so impressed by the speech that they decided to organize a Virginia militia, which led the way to Revolutionary War.

Coincidentally, both St. John churches were built on top of hills.

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Richmond and the River Swale, North Yorkshire

Richmond, Virginia, my home town

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This carriage database discusses the history of the carriage and its uses over time. Included are links to specific makes of carriages, which lead to more detailed information or definition about that type, ie. landau, barouche, mail coach, phaeton, etc. In some instances, images accompany the pages. (Click on reference, then carriage). Update: Something seems to be wrong with the first link to the carriage database. I shall update this post as soon as I find the link again. This link to A Catalogue of Horse drawn vehicles 1896 catalogue of E. S. Annison, Coach Builder, of Hull, features drawings of his carriages and their latest design (late 19th century). Internet Archive provides a downloadable PDF book with images, Carriages and Coaches: their history and their evolution, fully illustrated with reproductions from old prints, contemporary drawings and photographs (1912). This entry in Carriages in Indopediais contemporary and provides links to definitions and information.

Mail Coach, 1827

The Georgian Index features an excellent page on Carriages and their Parts. Highways and Horses, Athol Maudslay, 1888 is an illustrated Google book that discusses carriages and transportation during the Victorian period in great detail. On the fronticepiece, Mr. Maudslay writes :

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