THE COACHING AGE

‍Before Coaches

‍After the Romans withdrew from Britain, the roads they’d built deteriorated for hundreds of years as the country descended into warring tribes and suffered repeated invasions. It wasn’t until the 1300s, well after the Norman Invasion of 1066 that the whole country was both united and relatively stable. 

‍In those days, the countryside wasn’t enclosed into the patchwork of fields that we know, so roadways were nothing more than wide tracts of land where travellers squabbled for the least muddy and rutted patches. Most people never travelled far beyond their village.

‍There are one or two references to coaches from as early as the 1300s, but the only really viable wheeled transport was the heavy cart used for goods over short distances.

‍When people did need to travel, perhaps to visor the local town market, they simply had to walk unless they were very rich and could afford a horse. Even Royalty travelled on horseback. Coaches, such that they were, had no springs and no glass windows. They were very uncomfortable vehicles to travel in.

‍By the middle of the 1500s however, things had improved somewhat and the first Stage Waggons began to appear.  They were designed to carry goods but from the very first, peasants would hitch a ride in them, sitting amongst the goods being carried and so becoming the first “coach” travellers.

‍These waggons were hauled by teams of six or eight horses to get through the mud and ruts and they were led by men who generally walked alongside the waggon.

‍Their average speed was a slow walking pace - perhaps two or three miles an hour and despite their name they rarely changed horses. Also, they only travelled during the daytime.

‍In the 1600s, improved waggons, called “Flying Waggons” were introduced. They travelled at four or five miles an hour. which was extremely fast by the standards of the day. ‘Flying’ meant fast back then, just as it does today. It’s all relative.

‍It wasn’t until 1657 that  the first stage coach service began. It ran between London and Chester and was pulled by a team of four horses. The journey took five days each way and it travelled at eight miles an hour. This high speed was achieved by changing horses from time to time. By putting in a fresh team before setting off again, the journey could proceed. Even so, long distance travel was a long and slow process, not to be undertaken unless really necessary.

‍This was, however, the beginning of the “Age of Coaching” and it flourished right up until the first railways were built. Then, as each railway opened, travellers deserted the coaches in favour of the far more comfortable and efficient trains.


‍Next: Beginning to End

‍Section 1 Menu

‍The Age of Coaching
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‍Before Coaches

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‍Beginning
to End

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‍Coaches to All Parts
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‍London to Stamford

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‍Driving a Mail Coach
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‍Two Short Videos
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‍Then and Now

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‍An Incident at Wansford

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‍Charlies and Hackneys

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‍The Peacock at Islington

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‍Perils by Water

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‍London Coaching Inns

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‍Some famous London Inns

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‍Go to Section 1

‍Tales of the Road


‍Go to Section 2

‍History of Roads


‍Go to Section 3

‍History of Coaches


‍Go to Home Page

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