Posts Tagged ‘Regency Transportation’

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

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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.

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  • 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.

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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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