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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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