This is the main section, drawn from books written in the late 1800s. Here are readable memories and cameos, written by people who actually experienced long distance travel by stagecoach and mail coach.
People did not always travel as we do and the state of the roads in Britain partly follows and partly prevents - or encourages - travel.
The coaches in these pages are the pinacle of pre-industrial design. Made of wood with some hand-forged ironwork, they use horses for motive power. They may look old-fashioned to our post-industrial eyes, but at the time they were state-of-the-art and very efficient.
Before the railways, there was another great age of long distance travel that we know little about. Its high point came in the mid-1800s. State-of-the-art technology combined with a network of timetabled routes allowed travellers to journey across Britain for business, education or pleasure like never before. For the price of a ticket, you could journey from London to Stamford, York and Edinburgh; to Glasgow, Exeter and Bristol; and even to Holyhead and across to Ireland - just as we do today!
It all came to a sudden end when the railways offered a better way to transport people, goods and mail. As each railway opened, the coach route that served it ceased almost overnight.
I’ve been intrigued by stage coaches for a long while but never looked into the subject until recently, when two things prompted me to have a closer look.
The first was Stamford’s Georgian Festival in 2019 when the coach in the photo at the top of this page was offering rides through Burghley Park. Of course we booked one and, for the first time, experienced what it’s like to travel on top of a real stage coach. We were “outsides” as they were known back in the day.
The second was a friend happening upon a copy of an old book called “Coaching Days and Coaching Ways”, written by one W. Outram Tristram in 1878. It was an attempt to capture some living memories of the coaching age before everyone involved had died and their memories were lost forever.
So I began to investigate, spurred on by our ride through Burghley Park. It had been lovely, trotting along for ten or fifteen minutes on a sunny day . . . but it made me want to know more about what it must have been like spending twelve hours at full speed, in all weathers, day and night, as our great great grandfathers did.
The reality surprised me. The Coaching Age was a world every bit as glamourous and exciting as the Railway Age that we’re so familiar with - just a lot less comfortable!
Much familiar railway terminology comes directly from the coaching age. Things like timetables, routes, speeds and timings were all adopted by the railways from the world of coaching. Even the use of “up” for services to London and “down” away from London, was simply adopted, not created by the railways.
Coaches ran to all parts of the country and intersected with other services. They kept to and kept tight timetables over long distances. Horses were changed every ten or so miles with an efficiency not dissimilar to Formula 1 pit stops.
The fact that we know so little about it all is partly because it has slipped just that bit further back beyond living memory but also because it pre-dates photography and film making.
This website is an attempt to capture something of the flavour of the time. It’s a fascinating story and I hope it will interest you and much as it has me.
There are three sections:-
Section 1: Travel in the Coaching Age
This is the main section, largely drawn from several books written in the late 1800s. Here are readable memories and cameos, written by people who actually experienced long distance travel by stagecoach and mail coach.
Section 3: History of Coaches
Coaches in the 1800s represent the pinnacle of pre-industrial design. Made of wood with some hand-forged ironwork, they use horses for motive power. They may look old-fashioned to our post-industrial eyes, but at the time they were state-of-the-art and very efficient.