Monday, January 09, 2012

Essex Coaching Days

Essex Coaching Days by J.Elsden Tuffs
 A good friend of mine, knowing my interest in the Regency, sent me a wonderful little book called "Essex Coaching Days". As I live just outside Colchester this was an ideal gift.
I thought I'd share a few nuggets of information with you.
Firstly a little  about the coachman himself: a typical coachman would have had to be a rugged individual as he spent his entire life been buffeted by the elements.He expected his tip, as did the guard, at the end of each stage. (This must be why taxi drivers make the same demand.)
The coach route was usually in three "grounds".  The first section, called the "upper", the next section called the "middle" and the final stretch was the "lower". The upper and  the lower provided the biggest tips so the middle ground was never very popular with coachmen.
Tuffs provides an amusing quote from John Wesley who travelled from London to Norwich  in 1779. "I went to Norwich in a stage-coach with two very disagreeable companions, called a gentleman and  gentlewoman, but equally ignorant, insolent, lewd and profane."
Essex coaching map.
The outside passengers were at risk not only from the elements but also schoolboys with pea-shooters. If the coach overturned in a snowdrift, or was held up by foot-pads,  these unfortunate individuals were targeted first. Outside travellers also ran the risk of freezing to death. Inside was almost as bad; "the windows were hermetically sealed and the atmosphere fit to choke in," is the way Tuff describes it.
In the winter extra horses were often needed to get the coaches up a particularly difficult hill. For instance, Brentwood hill, on the London side, was somewhere passengers were often asked to walk. Also an additional couple of horses would sometimes be harnessed to help drag the coach forward. A postilion would ride the nearside one.
Another drawing form Tuff's book.
The journey from London to Colchester took six hours and that was considered fast. Coaches were uncomfortable, often dangerously overcrowded, and expensive. To travel by public transport 200 years ago one would have to have been resolute and fit.
Mind you, on more than one occasion it has taken me several hours to get from Liverpool Street to Colchester because of problems on the trains. The A12, more or less the same route  the stage coach would have used, is notorious for accidents and delays. On occasions you still have to be tough and determined to get from Colchester to London nowadays.
best wishes
Fenella Miller


Louise Allen said...

Fascinating stuff! For anyone interested in the days of coaching the books bC G Harper published at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20thc are also a fascinating source. He covered all the main coaching routes and they are packed full o annecdote

Jo Beverley said...

Good blog, and that book's a lovely find. I always have an eye open for such things.

I was directed to this blog by a commenter on mine of today at Word Wenches, about the state of roads in the 18th century, so we can cross-pollinate a bit!



Fenella J Miller said...

Jean Fullerton found it somewhere and sent it to me. It cost 7/6d - so must be at least 45 years old.
It's now falling apart but still readable- thank goodness.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Interesting post, Fenella!

I have a very useful copy of a map of daily postal service routes in the England and Wales from 1756. It's great for when you want your heroine to go from A to B and need to know which route she would have taken and where the coaching inns were. Not to mention where she might be held up by highwaymen etc!

Fenella J Miller said...

Elizabeth -I shall know who to ask for directions when I write my next Regency.