The coachmen are gone. The horses are gone. The call of the coach horn is gone. Even the coaches themselves have gone, leaving behind a nebulous memory of a time long ago, a vague understanding that once there was a different way to travel. What can it have been like to travel in those far off days?
I’ve been interested for a long time by stage coaches but I’ve never looked into the subject until recently when two things happened. Firstly the coach in the photo at the top of this page was giving rides in Burghley Park as part of the Stamford Georgian Festival (so we booked a ride). And secondly, coincidentally, a friend came across a copy of an old book called “Coaching Days and Coaching Ways”, written by one W. Outram Tristram. It was written in 1878 and was an attempt to capture some living memories of the coaching age before everyone involved had died and they were lost forever.
So I began to investigate, spurred on by the enjoyment of riding through Burghley Park, sitting on top of a genuine stage coach, just as people did before the railways came. It was lovely, trotting along for ten or fifteen minutes . . . but it made me want to know more about what it must have been like spending twelve hours at full speed in all weathers as our great great grandfathers did.
The reality surprised me. I discovered several more books written in the late 1800s and they describe a world every bit as glamourous and exciting as the Railway Age that we’re so familiar with. Coaches ran to all parts, to tight timetables, and over long distances. Horses were changed every ten or so miles with an efficiency reminiscent of Formula 1 pit stops. Times were kept and speeds set.
The fact that we know so little about it all is partly because it has slipped just that bit further back beyond living memory and also because it pre-dates photography and film-making.
This website is my attempt to collect a readable set of cameos which will hopefully ultimately present a vivid overview of the Great Age of Coaching.
Let’s begin with one author’s introduction
He describes his reasons for writing his book in 1875.
Coaches to all Parts
We imagine the occasional coach-and-four trotting up to an inn to change horses. The reality was very different. Many coaches departed from inns in every major city and they travelled extremely long distances.
Driving a Mail Coach
What was it like to actually drive a stage coach or mail coach? A gentleman coachman describes driving the Holyhead Mailcoach.
From London to Stamford
And what was a passenger’s experience? Here is a description of the first stage of a journey from London to Stamford.
Two short videos
These two clips give a glimpse of life in the coaching era, albeit as filmed by 20th century filmmakers.
These are the five books I’ve drawn on to capture a taste of the coaching age. They’re out of copyright and available online.
Section 2 - Roads