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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

More on the topic:

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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 :

Share/Bookmark// More about the topic on this blog:

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Sea – Ship – drowned – Shipwreck – so it came,
The meek, the brave, the good, was gone:
He who had been our living John
Was nothing but a name. – William Wordsworth

The Shipwreck, 1805, Turner

The Shipwreck, 1805, Turner

In 1805, John Wordsworth, a captain employed by the East India Company and younger brother of the poet William Wordsworth, died along with 2/3  of his crew on board the Earl of Abergavenny only 1 1/2 miles off the shoreline of Weymouth in shallow waters.  John was anxious to sail from Portsmouth, for he had invested a large sum of his own money in this trip, intending to make a fortune for himself and his family, including his brother William.

Loss of the Abergavenny

Loss of the Abergavenny

The ship, headed for India and China, carried valuable goods  such as books, lace, perfume and silver for trade, and was worth an estimated £270,000. (John’s investment represented only a tiny portion of the whole.) The Earl of Abergavenny encountered bad weather and hit an underwater shingle bank off Portland, and was “badly holed.” Taking in water, the ship was unable to reach a safe haven. Most of those who died, did so from drowning or the cold. It was surmised that John Wordsworth did not try to save himself, but clung to the ropes and drowned with his ship.

Rowing to the Rescue, Shipwrecked Sailors Off the Northumberland Coast

Rowing to the Rescue, Shipwrecked Sailors Off the Northumberland Coast

Rescuing those in distress was a perilous venture, for storm conditions made it extremely dangerous for rescuers to set out. While sea rescues were dangerous, there was a cost benefit for the local citizens, for many of the ships carried precious cargo. Once the crew had been saved, the locals could plunder the bounty after the storm had subsided, which many did. A breed of dog known as the Portland Newfoundland Sea Dog or Rescue Dog (which died out in the 19th century), was trained to rescue people in danger of drowning.

Portland Sea Dog: "portrait of a dog which brought 3 barrels of spirits out of the sea."

Portland Sea Dog: "portrait of a dog which brought 3 barrels of spirits out of the sea."

Jane Austen would most likely have heard of the loss of The Abergavenny, as well as the story of another famous tragedy, that of the Halsewell, which foundered in Weymouth Bay in 1786. This wreck was especially poignant, for the captain died along with his two daughters.

Loss of the Halsewell, Wilkinson

Loss of the Halsewell, Wilkinson

Over a hundred perished in the wreck, including the Captain, his two daughters and nieces, and the First Officer, his nephew. Another 60 seamen and soldiers, who managed to reach the cliffs, died of cold or were washed into the sea. About 70 were rescued from the cliffs. – The British Library

The tragedy, with the deaths of so many, including the women (who had joined the voyage probably in search of marriage), excited the keen interest of the public. Two ship’ officers wrote an account, which sits in the British Library. Read portions of the account in this link.


Georgian Housing development 1789

The waters off East Sussex were known for their treacherous conditions, and over 1,000 ships have wrecked in the area. Strong undertows and currents, shingle banks, and unexpected storms combine to make the area deadly.

As John Meade Faulkner wrote in his classic tale “Moonfleet” in 1898, “And once on the beach, the sea has little mercy, for the water is deep right in, and the waves curl over full on the pebbles with a weight no timbers can withstand. Then if the poor fellows try to save themselves, there is a deadly undertow or rush-back of the water, which sucks them off their legs, and carries them again under the thundering waves. It is that back-suck of the pebbles that you may hear for miles inland, even at Dorchester, on still nights long after the winds that caused it have sunk, and which makes people turn in their beds, and thank God they are not fighting with the sea on Moonfleet Beach”

Hurricane and storm surges make the area dangerous for the citizenry as well. In 1824, a storm surge swept over the shingle spit on which a Georgian housing development (pictured above) sat, and swept away parts of villages. There was extensive damage as is indicated in the image below.*

Hurricane Map, 1824

Hurricane Map, 1824

Luworth Cove, Dorset

Luworth Cove, Dorset

More Information on the Topic

JMW Turner: The Shipwreck, 1805

East Devon and Dorset World Heritage Site

Grace Galleries: Images of Shipwrecks

Dove Cottage, The Wordsworth Museum

*Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England.

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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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Bianconi Coach

Bianconi Coach

Have you ever heard of Charles Bianconi? The Irish probably have: Bianconi revolutionized public transport in Ireland in the early 19th century. An immigrant in 1802 from Costa Masnaga, Italy, he founded a network of coaching routes  that covered Ireland from Belfast to Cork from a terminus that began at the Hearn Hotel in County Tipperary on July 6th in 1815. The first Bianconi carriage was a two-wheel horse drawn cart that carried three or four passengers.  The new venture, known as the  Bianconi Coach Service for private passengers,  made the 30-year-old immigrant the ” King” of the Irish roads.

Charles Bianconi

Charles Bianconi

Bianconi quickly expanded his fleet  to 900 horses and  67 coaches.

Travel on one of these “Bians” as they were to become known, cost one-penny farthing a mile. Such demand was there for his transport that over the next 30 years a huge network of communications were established, with Clonmel, Co Tipperary as its hub. Huge employment was also now created from this growing transport business. The year 1833 saw the “long car” go into production from his coach building premises in Clonmel which enabled him to carry up to twenty passengers, plus cargo and mail deliveries for both  British and Irish Post Offices. Here in Thurles, his depot was situated in O`Shea`s Hotel which today trades as McLoughneys, a ladies clothing boutique. The stables where he fed and changed his horses between journeys still exists, relatively unchanged, to this very day and  are situated at the rear of Ryan’s Jewellers shop, Liberty Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.The advent of railway in 1834 brought home to Bianconi the realisation that his coaching business had now only a limited future. He immediately began to buy shares in the different rail lines as they were being built. He began to sell his coaches and long carts to his employees who had worked for him. – Thurles Information

Bianconi Coaches in front of the Hearn Inn

Bianconi Coaches in front of the Hearn Hotel

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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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