William Chaplin

Section 2:

The Age of Coaching


‍​The world of long-distance coach travel

An Early Advertisement

A coach advertisement from 1706

Beginning to End
How long did the Great Age of Coaching Last?

Two Coaching Periods
The age of coach travel falls into two distinct phases

The First Coaching Period
Coaches in the early period were uncomfortable, slow and dangerous

The scourge of the early coaching industry, these robbers eventually disappeared

The change from the early period to the late happened because life in Britain was altering

The Second Coaching Period
This is the Great Age of Coach Travel - surprisingly familiar; just slower and wetter

Facts and Figures
A look at prices, costs and numbers involved in coaching

Different Ways to Travel
There were stagecoaches and mail coaches, and more besides


The list of places you could go to is remarkably familiar to the modern traveller

London Coaching Inns

We’re familiar with railway termini but what were the departure points like in the Age of Coaching?

Famous London Coaching Inns

‍​Here are most of the coaching departure points in London, together withe here you could travel to from each one

Inns and Politics

An example of how politics influenced attitudes in some inns along the road

The Battle of Barnet

Not a war, just passengers trying to grab a bite to eat on the road

The Coachmen

‍​Coach drivers were an elite group, but as the coaching age declined, they lost their importance

An Industry at Full Gallop

‍​The first half of the 19th century saw coaching at its peak

Inns, Drivers & Passengers

‍​Who were the travellers and who owned the horses and coaches? Find out here

One Coach Proprietor

William Chaplin was one of the most successful coach proprietors - and he survived the move to railways

Swan With Two Necks

One of Chaplin’s Inn has an unusual name which comes from history

The Cost of Coach Travel

We complain about rail fares but coach fares were far higher

Cost to Proprietors

What did it cost to run a coaching business?

The Value of Money

To understand coaching prices you must compare them with present day values


Coach travel was not without risk. Here are some reported  coach accidents

The Post Office

This is the story of the Mail Coaches, how the mail evolved and what mailcoaches were like


A set of possible journeys that you might wish to make

Death by Steam

The railways effectively killed the coaching industry very quickly. Here’s what happened 

Inns Become Booking Offices

City inns had to change when the coaching trade dried up. Here’s how they coped


Part 1: Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Part 2: The Age of Coaching

The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them

Part 3: The Roads

Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history.  Coach travel was very difficult until they improved

Part 4: The Coaches

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed


Sources and information about how I came to create this website

Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website

As far back as 1556, an inn called the “Swane with II Nekes” at “Mylke Street End” in London was well known. It was the property of the Vintners Company. Later, in 1792, a coach proprietor named William Waterhouse established himself there and ran coaches to and from the inn. He issued a curious token which bore the representation of a mail coach on one side and that of the Double-Nicked Swan on the other, together with the legend, “Speed, Regularity, and Security. Payable at the Mail Coach Office, Lad Lane, London, W.W.”

At the height of the coaching era however, the Swan with Two Necks was best remembered as the headquarters of William Chaplin’s huge coaching business. In his time, the inn itself was generally referred to by the coaching fraternity as the “Wonderful Bird.”

Chaplin had been a coachman himself in his early days but rose to be the largest coach-proprietor in England and later became Deputy-Chairman of the London and Southampton (subsequently the London and South-Western) Railway, and Member of Parliament for Salisbury. He is said to have accumulated half a million pounds in money.

Twenty-seven mails left London every night, and of these Chaplin horsed fourteen for various distances.  Very many stage-coaches were in his hands, and at the height of the coaching era he is said to have owned nearly two thousand horses.

Coaches set out from Chaplin’s yard for many places on the north-western roads: the Carlisle Royal Mail, the Birmingham Royal Mail, the “Courier,” and the “Balloon Post Coach”, the Chester “New Coach”; the Coventry “Light Post Coach”, the Liverpool Royal Mail, the Holyhead “New Mail”. There was also a ‘stage-coach without any particular name’, the Manchester Royal Mail, the “Defiance,” the “Regulator,” and the “Prince Saxe-Cobourg.” All this coaches issued forth from the Swan with two necks each day and their return services arrived back at the inn.

He was an entirely level-headed man and he recognised at a very early stage that railways must inevitably succeed, so he threw in his lot with them. Early railway directors were very anxious to win over the coaching proprietors, and to induce them to withdraw from the road, so that with no coaches running the public would, whether they liked it or not, be compelled to travel by rail. In those very early days, it was not at all obvious that people would choose to travel by rail - which was seen as dangerous - in preference to the familiar coaches.

Chaplin saw the writing on the wall and sold off his stock before the eventual success of the railways depreciated it and he joined with Benjamin Worthy Horne of the “Golden Cross” inn at Charing Cross, London, to create the great carrying firm of Chaplin and Horne, which enjoyed the exclusive agency for the London and Birmingham Railway.

There is little doubt - although it was hotly denied by the early officials of the railway - that Chaplin and Horne were really bought off the road, and the sum of £10,000 has been mentioned as the price of their withdrawal. He was an astute businessman and succeeded where many others failed to adapt. They clung on to the old ways and to their coaching businesses until bankruptcy forced them to close. There’s a moral here for modern businesses who face competition for changing shopping habits as the Internet alters the way so many things are done.

Next: The Swan with Two Necks