Before the railways, there was another great age of long-distance travel that we know little about. Its high point was the first half of the 19th century when state-of-the-art technology culminated in a network of timetabled routes that allowed you to travel anywhere in Britain just as we do today.
The Age of Coaching came to an abrupt end as the railways were built. As each line opened, travellers changed their allegiance almost overnight. In fairness, one can hardly blame them; a railway carriage is a much swifter and more comfortable proposition that the outside of a coach.
I’ve been intrigued by stagecoaches for a long while. It’s the way the passengers sit up on top, perched wider than the coach itself. They look as if they might fall off at any moment. What must it have been like, travelling hundreds of miles in all weathers on a vehicle like that?
I’d never really 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. During the festival, a stagecoach was offering rides through Burghley Park, so of course we booked a trip and, for the very first time, climbed up onto those roof seats and experienced what it’s like to travel on top of a real stagecoach. We were “outsides” as they were known back in the day.
The second was my good friend, Paul Springford, happening upon a copy of an old book called “Coaching Days and Coaching Ways”, written by one W. Outram Tristram in 1878. The book 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 to spend twelve hours at full speed, in all weathers, day and night, as our great great great grandfathers did.
The reality surprised me. The Coaching Age was a world every bit as organised 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 by the railways. They didn’t invent the terminology.
Coaches ran to all parts of the country and intersected with other services. They ran to tight timetables over long distances. Their 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.
The story behind this website and
Books written in the late 1800s
One of the books
This London to Stamford journey as it was written. Enjoy the style of language and additional description of the Peacock at Islington
A summary of the Coaching Age from early to late
Websites about the coaching age.
Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches
The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them
Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history. Coach travel was very difficult until they improved
Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed
Home Page of the Coaching Website
Sources and information about how I came to create this website