Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

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.

Click below for more about this publication:

  • 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.

Read more about transportation during the Regency Era at:

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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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When Sir Richard, The Corinthian in Georgett Heyer’s novel of the same name, escorts his young charge, Pen, to her childhood home, he is boxed inside a public carriage with an assemblage of memorable characters. Jane and Georgette refer to Postillions as a matter of course whenever their heroes and heroines travel. I found the following definition from a public British site:

In practice the Postillion was the man with spare horses held in a stable by the difficult spots in the road, to help speed the mail and passenger coaches on their way. This would generally develop into a break-point in the journey for the driver and passengers to pause on their journey, eat, refresh themselves etc. Over time this would develop into a Coaching Inn, Services.”

Read my other articles on this topic. Click here.

For more details about public travel, click on this link to the History of Coaching, from the Regency Collection.

For more about the conditions of England’s roads during this era, click on Coaching Days and Road Engineers by J. B. Calvert.

Regency Transportation includes illustrations of carts, coaches, carriages, horses, chariots, dog carts, phaetons, curricles, and more.

Carriages in Regency and Victorian Times includes a detailed description of the vehicles in an article by Ellen Micheletti.

This link to the Hackney Horse Society includes a short historical description.

I am setting a novel in 1784 England. My lead character is to take a hackney coach from London to Yorkshire in June. I am hoping to find out how long this trip would take and what towns she would pass through. Thanks for your help.

1784 was just before the highly improved mail coaches were introduced on the main routes across Great Britain. They cut travelling times by nearly half. The London-York route in 1784 would have taken about three days, leaving London early on the first day and arriving in York late on the third day about 60 hours later. Overnight stops would have been made at such towns as Royston, Grantham or Doncaster depending on the distance travelled. By the 1780s roads had improved thus allowing for a quicker journey, but this was offset by the fact that the improvements in the roads were paid for by turnpikes. These basically were tollgates on selected turnpike roads which every vehicle had to stop at and pay a toll for the upkeep of the road, so journey times were lengthened by stopping at these turnpikes. Horses were changed every ten miles or so and there were lunch stops, so the journey was far from smooth, there were many stops along the way. If you had set your novel a few years later then the mail coaches would have been running on the Great North Road from 1788. These were faster carriages that passed straight through the turnpikes without stopping by paying the toll in advance and sounding the posthorn to warn the turnpike keeper to open the gate to let the carriage through. The same journey in 1788 took about 40 hours with one overnight stop. You could mention such towns as Huntingdon, Stamford, Newark and Pontefract in addition to those already mentioned.My home town was a coaching town on the London-Liverpool and London-Holyhead (for ferries to Ireland) routes. The old coaching inn is still standing. If your character ever travels that route I can give you the name of the landlord in the 1780s for extra authenticity! Mark Smith, All Experts

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