Accidents—when they happen—are beyond comparison more fearful on the railway than ever they were on the coaches; but they are rare indeed when it is considered how many trains are run. Coaching accidents were frequent, but just because they seldom ended fatally they do not figure so largely in coaching p. 41annals as might be expected. A dreadful accident, however, happened in 1805 to the Leeds “Union” coach, owing to the reins breaking and the horses dashing the vehicle against a tree. This occurred at a point about half a mile from Ferrybridge. William Hope, the coachman, and an outside passenger were killed, and many others seriously injured. The jury imposed a deodand of £5 on the coach and £10 on the horses.
In later years, an almost equally serious disaster happened to another Leeds coach, the “Express.” It was racing with the opposition “Courier,” which had been stopped at the bottom of the hill for the purpose of taking off the drag, and in the effort to pass was upset, with the result that a woman was killed on the spot, another was laid up for a year with a broken leg, and other passengers were more or less injured. Probably because of the evident recklessness displayed by the coachman, a deodand of £1,400 was laid on the coach. The mail-coaches were not so often involved in disasters as the stages. They had not the incentive to race, and smashes arising from this form of competition were infrequent. But other forms of accident threatened them and the stage-coaches alike. There were, for instance, fogs, and they were exceedingly dangerous. Penny, an old driver of the Edinburgh mail, was killed from this cause. Starting one foggy night, he grew nervous, and asked the guard, a younger and stronger man, to take the reins. He did so, and drove up a bank. The mail was upset, and Penny was killed.
Snow and frost were the especial foes of the mails on the northern stretches of the Great North Road, just as widespread floods were in the Huntingdonshire and Nottinghamshire levels, by Ouse and Trent; so that no mail-coach was completely equipped which did not in the winter months carry a snow-shovel.
But it was not always the north-country coaches that felt the fury of the snowstorms. The famous storm of December 1836 blocked all roads impartially. p. 42The Louth mail, which left the Great North Road at Norman Cross, had to be abandoned and the mails transferred to the lighter agency of a post-chaise, while numerous others were buried in the snow as far south as St. Albans.
The earlier and later periods of coaching were productive of accidents in equal degrees. Stage-coaches may be said to date, roughly, from 1698, and continued as lumbering, uncomfortable conveyances until competition with the mails began to smarten them up, soon after 1784, when their second period dawned. Stage-coachmen of the first period were well matched with their machines, and not often fit to be trusted with any other cattle than a team of tired plough-horses. Their want of skill generally caused the accidents in those days, and the efficiency of others was affected by the conditions of their employment. The “classic” age had not arrived, and bad roads, ill-made coaches, and poor horses, combined with long hours of driving to render travelling quite dangerous enough, without the highwaymen’s aid. Coachmen drove long distances in those days, and sometimes fell asleep from sheer weariness—a failing which did not conduce to the safety of the passengers. But the old coach-proprietors did not do the obvious thing—make the stages shorter and change the coachman more frequently. No; they contrived a hard, uncomfortable seat for him which rested on the bed of the axletree in such a manner as to shake every bone in his body, and to render repose quite out of the question.
Section 1 Menu
The Age of Coaching
Introducing a world of horse-drawn public transport
Beginning to End
How long did the Great Age of Coaching Last?
Coaches to All Parts
The world of coach travel - surprisingly familiar; just slower and wetter.
A list of destinations which is remarkably familiar to the modern day traveller.
What was it like to travel by coach on a winter’s day. Come on the first stage of a journey from London to Stamford.
Driving a Mail Coach
Mail coaches were the high speed elite. What was it like to drive them?
Two Short Videos
Although we have no films from the time, modern producers have imagined coach travel for us.
Comparing rail and coach travel in 1888!
Things didn’t always go smoothly and this amusing incident took place on the Great North Road.
A recollection of life in London before taxi cabs, policemen and even electricity.
The northern coaches all stopped here to pick up passengers. The scene was amazing.
One of the many hazards that could be encountered was flood water. This is near St Neots.
A description of the London termini from which coaches ran
A list of London coaching inns and where you could travel to from each.
Tales of the Road: This section tells what was it like to travel by stage coach in the mid 1800s.
Travel in England is inseparably connected to the state of our roads. This section looks at the history of British roads.
Wheeled transport evolved over many years. This section looks at how coaches developed.
Home Page of the Coaching Website.