Methods of Travelling
Once having reached an English port, the aim of all travellers was to leave it as soon as possible. There were several means available. English people of the upper classes generally travelled in their carriages, drawn by their own horses, or when posting had been established, by post horses. A wealthy foreigner sometimes adopted this form of travel. Count Kielmansegg hired a landau and horses in London, for a tour through England. For this he had to pay 27s. a day; but before they got to Oxford the roads had become so bad that the coachman insisted on turning back. The count being a foreigner and unable to cope with recalcitrant Englishmen, meekly hired two post-chaises, and made his way with his party to the University City, his servants riding on behind him.
Sophie de la Roche, a German in spite of her name, had a pleasanter experience. She hired, also in London, "a pretty carriage for three drawn by two horses and a friendly coachman" for 15s. a day; but then nothing tiresome ever seemed to happen to Sophie. She was full of the praises of England, and no one apparently had the heart to disappoint her.
This method of travelling was not usually adopted by those who had just arrived from the Continent. It was very expensive and required a fuller knowledge of English, and of current coaching slang than the newcomers generally possessed.
The hardy Englishman frequently travelled on horseback. It was a pleasant and independent way of going in summer and if the weather were good. Bad roads and miry patches could often be avoided by taking cuts across fields or over heaths, one saw the country at one's leisure and saved the money for coach hire. On the other hand a man riding alone was liable to be attacked by highwaymen. He must know the language and the roads or he might go far out of his way and find himself benighted in a bog. He would be obliged to send all the property, which he could not cram into two saddlebags, by the stage waggon or by sea, with the risk of never seeing it again.
"The English traveller on horseback" says Meister "displays an extraordinary degree of resolution. We see more wooden legs here than in any other country."
This was possibly an aspersion on English horsemanship. Owing to bad roads and furious driving there were probably more accidents to coaches and post-chaises than to riders on horseback.
Be that as it may, the foreigner arriving at an English port, generally looked around for some other method of transport. Perhaps he consulted the landlord, and if he were staying at a really first-class inn, which catered only for the quality, his host would assure him that no gentleman travelled except by post-chaise. This method of conveyance became common about the middle of the century. The chaise usually held two persons, with a dicky behind for the servants; it was lighter than the old lumbering coaches and went at a faster pace. There was no coachman and the horses were driven by a post-boy who rode on one of them. These post-boys were usually grown men, some of whom were quite elderly and had been in that employment for years. Theirs was a hard life, exposed to wind and weather, contending with bad roads, tired horses and the vagaries and stinginess of passengers. No wonder that there were many complaints about them, that they were often surly, frequently drunken and sometimes in league with the highwaymen who infested the roads. These bandits would often have post-boys in their pay, and if a particularly wealthy-looking guest was leaving the Angel or the George, word would be sent by an underling of the stable that a gentleman worthy of their attention would be travelling up the London road at such and such an hour on the following day.
The post-boys generally wore a uniform, perhaps of green with gold braid and a cocked hat, though Moritz speaks of the one he had, who "wore his hair cut short, a round hat and a brown jacket of tolerable fine cloth with a nosegay in his bosom". They expected to be given a tip of 3d. a mile. This, with the 1s. 6d. a mile charged for posting and 6d. to the ostler when the horses were changed, made such a mode of travelling very expensive. Indeed when we consider the value of money, and that prices have risen enormously for most commodities during the last 200 years, we may conclude that a journey was then about the most expensive thing a man could undertake.
The stage-coach was certainly cheaper. The charge was 2d. or 3d. a mile with tips at the end of the journey to guard and coachman. In his own country the foreign traveller had been accustomed to the stage-coach or diligence and it was by this means that he usually journeyed to his destination.
The stage-coaches were heavy, lumbering vehicles. In the earlier days of the century they were generally covered with dull black leather, studded with nails, the frames and wheels being picked out with red. The windows were then covered with boards or sometimes with leather curtains. Pastor Moritz, who came to England in 1782, found a coach of this description still upon the roads, and having a taste for fresh air and sunshine he complained of a fellow traveller, a farmer "who seemed anxious to shun the light and so shut up every window he could come at".
It was not the light to which the farmer objected — no one in England minded light, but they did most strongly object to the air which came through a window. This, as was well known, was most prejudicial to health and nearly everyone would have agreed with Mr. Woodhouse on that subject.
The coaches of the early eighteenth century were entirely devoid of springs. They lumbered along at four miles an hour or even less, drawn by three horses, "unicorn" as it was called, and a post-boy sat on one of the pair.
Misson, a French traveller who visited England in 1719, tells us of
"the coaches that go to all the great towns by moderate journeys, and others which they call flying-coaches that will travel twenty leagues or more; but these do not go to all places".
At that date these flying-coaches were not common, nor was their speed in any way excessive.
The old stage-coaches were certainly better than anything of their kind to be found on the Continent.
"These" quoting Pastor Moritz again "are at least in the eyes of a foreigner, quite elegant, lined in the inside and with two seats, large enough to accommodate six persons; though it must be owned when the carriage is full the company are rather crowded."
He was to find one stage-coach that had twelve to fifteen people on the top. This crowding of the coaches was a common complaint. They were built to carry four passengers in comfort inside and not more than six were supposed to ride on the top. Then there was the basket or rumble tumble. This was described in an advertisement in the London Evening Post of 1751 as
"a conveniency behind the coach for luggage and outside passengers".
We may see this basket with an old woman sitting in it in Hogarth's picture of the Inn Yard. Poor Pastor Moritz did not find it a conveniency. Tired of crouching on the curved roof of the coach, hanging on to a small, wooden handle, he prepared to slip down into the basket. "A blackamoor", his fellow-passenger, tried to dissuade him, pointing out that he would be half killed; but he was so uncomfortable where he was that he resolved to risk it. At first, as they were going uphill, he was fairly comfortable, indeed he was nearly asleep, when the coach began to go downhill and all the bags and parcels fell upon him. He was so much bruised and shaken that he was glad to climb back to insecurity on the roof. "The getting up there alone" he said "was at the risk of one's life" and yet, he tells us, women sometimes rode on the tops of coaches. It had "frightened and distressed him to see them getting down". This getting up and down had to be done in the street, for no coach could then have passed through the archway into the inn yard had it carried outside passengers. Later on, when seats were made for outside travellers, the newer inns built arches sufficiently high to accommodate them. The reason, of course for travelling in this extreme discomfort, was that it was cheap. The outside only paid half the price of an inside seat and he could, if he preferred it, travel in the basket for the same sum. If, driven by rain, snow or extreme discomfort, he wished to change and go inside, he could only do so if one of the insides agreed, and he was then put next to his benefactor.
In 1783 Richard Gammon introduced a bill into the House of Commons to regulate the number of outside passengers — only six might be carried on the roof and two on the box of a three- or four-horsed coach, and on a pair-horse stage only three on the roof and one on the box. " All Gammon !" infuriated coachmen and coach proprietors exclaimed. Did they not already pay a tax of £5 a year and a halfpenny a mile? The act was a dead letter.
In 1734 one of these new conveyances advertised itself as "The Newcastle Flying Coach". This marvel actually did the whole journey to London
"in nine days, three days sooner than any other coach that travels the road, for which purpose eight stout horses are stationed at proper distances".
Hitherto the coach had gone perhaps twenty-five miles or as far as the unicorn could be induced to draw it, and then had stopped to rest. The passengers stayed at their inn and continued the journey the following day when the horses were thought to be sufficiently refreshed. Now, by changing horses, the journey could be done more expeditiously. Coaches too began to improve, glass replaced boards and leather curtains in the windows and the vehicle was called a glass-coach. Later still the coaches were fitted with springs. This was not always an unmixed blessing. The mail-coaches, of which we shall speak presently, were hung so high that their motion was often intolerable. The landlady of the New London Inn, Exeter, declared that the passengers arriving there in the mails were generally so ill that they went at once to bed without ordering any supper, which was not to the advantage of her house.
"Unless" she said "they go back to the old-fashioned coach hung a little lower the mail-coaches will lose all their custom."
These old coaches had no springs, and what the jolting over those bad roads must have been we cannot conceive. People complained about them, delicate women would not travel in them, the poet Cowper, a timid man, begs for his friends' prayers as he is about to take a journey. Then a few people began to consider improvements. "Friction annihilated" was painted on the axle-box of the "Improved Birmingham Coach" in 1758, which had it been true might have proved even more reassuring than the "sat cite si sat bene" which was painted on the door of the Newcastle-London Fly. Then the stage-coach which went from Dean Street, Soho, to Edinburgh in ten days in summer and twelve in winter, advertised that it would
"for the better accommodation of passengers be altered to a new genteel two-end glass-coach machine being on steel springs and exceedingly light".
Pace was accelerated. Moritz declared it was more like flying than driving and a Dutch traveller from Great Yarmouth to London was so terrified by the speed that he put his head out of the coach window, yelling continuously in his own language, "I must get out, I must get out." Another traveller remarked "The postillions drive with such speed that it gives me a singing in the ears".
The Mail And Its Guards
John Palmer of Bath had, according to de Quincey,
"accomplished two things very hard to do in our little planet. He had invented mail-coaches, and he had married the daughter of a duke."
The first of these mail-coaches set out in 1784, and the Palmer family did very well out of them, amassing what was then the enormous fortune of £100,000. Before this date the mails had been conveyed by post-boys on horseback. This system was most unsatisfactory. Over-ridden horses fell lame or ill, the temptation to linger with a mug of beer over the ale-house fire was too great to be resisted, on lonely country roads the boys were sometimes set upon and robbed. So many letters never reached their destination that correspondents hesitated to use the post. They bribed the driver of a stage-coach to convey letters, though this was against the law, or they entrusted them to travelling friends. Palmer realized that the two requisites for the carriage of letters were speed and safety. The following is the advertisement which he issued in 1784:
Whatever respect and attention they may have paid the passengers, the armed guard of the mail-coach could be a terror on the roads. Pennant writing in 1792 declares that
"these guards shoot at dogs, hogs, sheep and poultry as they pass the road, and even in towns to the great terror and danger of the inhabitants".
On one occasion a guard went so far as to shoot a toll-keeper.
Coachmen and Common Informers
The old stage-coaches had no guards. The coach man, indeed, possessed a blunderbuss concealed somewhere in the box, but he did not often use it. The post-office appointed and paid the guards of the mails and provided them with cutlasses and a blunderbuss which had a folding bayonet attached. The sight of such things was apt to go to a man's head, and if there were no highwaymen to shoot he aimed at a cock or a hog, occasionally he hit. These men had low wages, they depended on tips or more questionable sources for in come. Parcels and letters were put into their hands and not into the post and they would deliver them for less than the post-office charged. This was generally winked at by the mail-coach superintendents. One of these declared that he had no objection to a guard conveying a joint of meat, and
"such a thing as a turtle tied to the roof directed to any gentleman once or twice a year might pass unnoticed, but for a constancy cannot be suffered ".
He did protest, however, when a guard used a mail-bag for carrying fish or put 150lb. of meat and ice into the coach-box. It was, he considered, a little too much, people were complaining of an ancient and fish-like smell. By these means guards did fairly well and on good routes might make £400 or £500 a year. Some coachmen made as much or more, others, drivers of stage-coaches on out-of-the-way routes, fared very badly. The night coaches were the worst of all. In early days, as we have said, there had been no night travelling. Coach passengers were dragged out of their beds at five in the morning and deposited, shaky and tottering, at an inn at nine o'clock in the evening. Then night coaches were put on the roads. Anything was considered good enough for them, horses with the staggers, harness in decay, cushions with the moth in them, wheels which came off. No one travelled by a night coach if he could help it and the unfortunate driver sometimes made no more than 12s. a week. Two shillings or half a crown was the usual tip to a coach man.
"How much do you expect?" said an innocent passenger to a coachman. "Gents generally gives me a shilling, fools with more money than brains two and six" was the honest, if caustic, reply.
Few would have dared give as little as a shilling, though Dr. Johnson scolded Boswell for giving as much. Coachmen were not to be trifled with, as they sat up aloft on the box seat, clad in many caped coats and fancy waistcoats, sipping brandy and water brought from the inn by obsequious attendants. In the eyes of sporting youth there was something glamourous about them, even if they reeked of spirits and had filed off their front teeth to be the better able to deal with the whip-cords, which they always carried in their mouths. Many a young man paid extra for a seat beside the coachman and would gladly give a guinea to be allowed to drive a good four-in-hand along a smooth road. A coachman was liable to a fine of from five to ten pounds for allowing passengers to drive and the common informer, who was so rife in the eighteenth century, was often lurking behind a hedge. These common informers were common pests. They were of course remunerated by the fines extracted from their victims, and some of them actually formed themselves into societies or, one might say, unlimited companies with their spies on every road and attorneys in their pay. Still the coachman, with that reckless disregard of the law and its consequences so characteristic of the age, would often pass the ribbons into other hands, smoke a pipe or take snuff and talk horses, while the young man who had slipped speedily on to the box seat had realized his ambition. We do not know whether he paid the coachman's heavy fine if the matter ever came into court. The men who drove the mail-coaches were a brave, hardy race, many of them great characters. It is pleasant to think that Mr. Weller, senior, must have driven a coach over the roads of the eighteenth century. Another driver, William Salter, drove the Yarmouth stage-coach and has his epitaph in the churchyard of Haddiscoe, near Lowestoft:
Here lies Will Salter, honest man
Deny it Envy if you can
True to his Business and his Trust
Always punctual, always just
His horses, could they speak, would tell
They loved their good old master well
His uphill work is chiefly done
His Stage is ended, Race is won
One journey is remaining still
To climb up Sion's holy Hill
And now his faults are all forgiven
Elija like drive up to Heaven
Take the Reward of all his Pains
And leave to other hands the Reins.
On a fine summer's day on good roads and when seats had been provided, a drive on the top of a coach could be extremely pleasant. Even the names of the vehicles were exciting. There were Telegraphs, Highfliers, Balloon coaches, Defiances and more sober-sounding Hopes, Perseverances, Regulators and Good Intents. On May Day they would be decked with flowers, with holly at Christmas and for a victory with laurel. As the coach drove into a town or village the guard would play a tune on his horn. The inhabitants could set their clocks and watches by the mail-coaches for they kept excellent time. Coachmen were fined if they were late and at the end of the century often carried a chronometer in a leather case. The stage-coach drivers never bothered about punctuality.
The Stage Coach
In 1737 there was a coach which advertised that it went from London to Exeter in three days; but everyone knew that it took about six. The mail-coaches, towards the end of the century, might do as much as seven miles an hour on tolerable roads; but the stages did three or four and on bad roads and in bad weather even less. Then the stage-coaches had to stop, or at least slow down at every toll-gate, while the mails, their guard playing Arthur O'Bradley or Blackeyed Susan on his horn, dashed through the gates without paying a groat. Elizabeth Carter, who was fond of taking country walks, had on one occasion resolved to meet a coach at an inn and take it part of the way home. When she reached the inn she found it had already passed; but by walking quickly she was able to catch it up. A stage coachman would generally make room for a chance passenger and put the fare into his own pocket. In the ordinary way it was necessary to secure a seat beforehand, have the name entered in a book and pay down a proportion of the fare. The place where this was done was called a booking-office and the name has persisted into the railway era and down to our own time.
Nearly every foreigner expressed surprise and delight at the comfort of English travel. It must have compared favourably with his own. Englishmen were less enthusiastic. They complained bitterly of being jolted to death, overcharged, cramped and pressed, insulted by the coachman and of the excessive cold in winter. Coach proprietors did what they could. "There was enough straw round my feet to conceal a covey of partridges" one ungrateful passenger remarked. In the early days many coaches laid up for the winter, emerging again on the first of May. When the coach climbed a hill, the male travellers got out and walked. Sometimes they condescended to exchange a few words with the outsides, letting it be known that they would not speak to such low fellows when they came to their inn. The behaviour of the travelling Englishman is well described by Count Kielmansegg.
"The first sight of people of different classes and sexes, who are perfectly unknown to each other, occasions, at the outset, deep silence, as nobody knows what to make of his neighbour or how to begin a conversation. At last someone begins to talk of the road and the weather; this gradually brings up other subjects, such as how long one is on the road etc. A political discussion is sure to follow especially with English people."
The Count, when he wrote thus, had just been subjected to a vexatious delay at Godalming, as the Duke of York and Prince Charles of Mecklenburg had taken all the horses from the inn. He had had to travel in a "flying-machine" which he evidently considered beneath his dignity, though he was consoled by finding a Captain Campbell of the East India service, who was related to the Duke of Argyll, reduced to the same extremity.
This flying-machine probably resembled the one described as follows:
"The Colchester Machine seating 6 persons inside, in front outside behind the coachman four more, and at the back, where the trunks usually go, as many again within a neat enclosure with benches, while eight people were sitting above on deck, their feet dangling overboard, holding fast by their hands to screwed in brass rings."
The machine certainly never flew. It was indeed a glorified specimen of the stage-waggon. This vehicle was an immense cart with benches inside covered by a canvas or leather hood. It was drawn at foot's pace by eight strong horses and the waggoner walked at their in heads. It never did more than two miles an hour and only travelled in the day time. Generally the same team of horses pulled the waggon through all its journeys; but the flying waggons changed horses. There was the Shrewsbury Flying Waggon which began flying from Shrewsbury to London in 1750. This took five days to travel 152 miles. These heavy waggons cut up the roads, and after 1766 they were compelled to have wheels not less than sixteen inches broad and a bonus was given to those which were over two feet in breadth. A few years later James Sharpe of London made waggon wheels so broad that they rolled the roads, and the vehicle was known as the rolling waggon. People travelled in these slow-moving, uncomfortable carts because they were cheap. The charge was 1d. or 1½d. a mile, whereas the stage-coaches charged 3d. or 4d. a mile.
Travellers, who went in their own carriages, could take as much luggage as the vehicle would hold and the horses could draw. Sometimes, distrustful of inn furnishings, they conveyed their own mattresses and bed linen and even canteens of plate. The coaches had to limit the amount of luggage which passengers might take with them. Fourteen pounds weight was usually carried free; anything over this amount was charged a penny a pound and heavy luggage was refused. The cost of carriage by the waggon was very high; 40s. a ton would have been charged for the carriage of goods between Manchester and Liverpool, though they could be sent by water for 12s.
"A traveller on foot in this country" says Pastor Moritz "seems to be considered a sort of wild man or an out-of-the-way being, who is stared at, pitied, suspected and shunned by everybody that meets him."
Moritz did not suffer from this treatment merely because he was a foreigner. Richard Warner, an English clergyman, who was so eccentric as to go on walking tours, met with gross rudeness from inn-keepers and jeers and missiles from small boys. It was supposed that no man of substance would ever walk, except with a gun over his shoulder, and that everyone who tramped the roads was either a footpad or a pauper. The roads were generally in such a bad state that walking could not have been pleasant and there was always the danger of attacks from footpads. It was not till the early nineteenth century when the highways were improved and robbers were less numerous, that walking became the pleasure and pastime of all classes.
Coaches were forbidden to travel on a Sunday, though the law was sometimes disregarded. So little travelling was there, however, that highwaymen did not consider it worth while to go out on Sundays. Grosley, marooned at Dover with a number of other passengers, found coachmen willing to drive them to London.
"The great multitude of passengers" he says "with which Dover was then crowded, afforded a reason for dispensing with a law of the police by which public carriages are in England forbid to travel on Sunday. I myself set out on a Sunday with seven more passengers in two carriages called `flying machines'. These vehicles, which are drawn by six horses, go twenty-eight leagues a day from Dover to London for a guinea. Servants are entitled to a place for half the money, either behind the coach or on the coach-box, which has three places. The coachmen, whom we changed every time with our horses, were lusty, well made, dressed in good cloth. When they set off or were for animating the horses, I heard a sort of periodical noise, resembling that of a stick striking against the nave of the forewheel, customary with English coachmen to give their horses the signal for setting off."
By 1777 Messrs. Pickford had already started a career which has lasted to the present time, as the following advertisement in Prescott's Manchester Journal will show:
"This is to acquaint all Gentlemen and others that M. Pickford's Flying Waggons go to London in Four Days and a Half. M. Pickford will not be accountable for any Money, Plate, Watches, Jewels, Writing, Glass, China, etc. unless entered as such and paid for accordingly."
It was not only the poor who travelled by these stage-waggons or caravans as they were sometimes called. Middle-class persons, especially women travelling alone, often preferred them. The highwaymen scorned them as beneath their notice. It is true the waggons carried goods and luggage, but these were usually heavy, bulky articles, too big and weighty for the coaches. It is probable, as Messrs. Pickford's advertisement suggests, that some people entrusted plate, watches and jewellery to their care. Highwaymen on horseback could not remove anything big or heavy, nor could they spend time examining luggage, it would have been too risky. Their policy was to snatch watches, jewellery or purses from the unlucky travellers, and then ride hastily away. The foreign visitor would not use the waggon except in cases of necessity like Count Kielmansegg or when, like Pastor Moritz, he had to consider ways and means. If he did not travel by it he probably dispatched his heavy luggage in it or, from a port, there were often facilities for sending it by sea, from inland towns by river and by the canals which intersected England. Much merchandise was carried by water, since the rivers had been deepened and supplied with locks, and Brindley had begun to make canals. This water traffic, as Dr. Trevelyan points out, led to a great increase in foreign trade, and consequently, we may infer, in the number of foreign travellers in England.
Travelling by water had its dangers and discomfort. "Gott sei dank!" von Uffenbach ejaculated when he came safely up the river from Greenwich. He tells us that when he got to London Bridge he
"got out and walked, leaving the boatmen to row through alone, for the stream is so strong that boats are often upset there".
De Saussure writes that there were 15,000 boats to be hired on the Thames in London. The inhabitants liked this method of transport. There might be some danger at London Bridge, and there were sometimes collisions on the congested waterway; but on a fine day it was easy and tranquil, the passengers by boat glided pleasantly along, avoiding the cobbled streets, the ruts and pitfalls of suburban roads, the attentions of highwaymen.