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So far back as 1556, the “Swane with ij Nekes at Mylke Street End” was known, and was then the property of the Vintners.  In the coaching era it is best remembered as the headquarters of the great William Chaplin’s huge coaching business.  Chaplin succeeded William Waterhouse, who had established himself here in 1792, issuing a curious token bearing the representation of a mail-coach on one side and that of the Double-Necked Swan on the other, with the legend, “Speed, Regularity, and Security.  Payable at the Mail Coach Office, Lad Lane, London, W.W.”

Lad Lane was until recent years the name by which this part of Gresham Street was known, while the inn itself was generally called by the coaching fraternity the “Wonderful Bird.”

Chaplin had in early days been a coachman himself.  His career would have delighted that sturdy moralist, Hogarth, painter of the successful career of the Industrious Apprentice, for from that useful but humble position he rose to be the largest coach-proprietor in England, Deputy-Chairman of the London p. 17and Southampton (now London and South-Western) Railway, and Member of Parliament for Salisbury.  He is said to have accumulated half a million of 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.  He was an entirely level-headed man, and, seeing at an early stage that railways must succeed, threw in his lot with them.  Railway directors were exceedingly anxious to win over the coaching proprietors, and to induce them to withdraw from the road, so that with no coaches running the public should of necessity, whether they liked it or not, be compelled to travel by rail.  Chaplin sold off his stock before the oncoming railways depreciated it, and, joining Benjamin Worthy Horne, of the “Golden Cross,” Charing Cross, founded the great carrying firm of Chaplin and Horne, which enjoyed the exclusive agency for the London and Birmingham Railway.  There can be little doubt, although it was p. 18denied by the early officials of that line, 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.  Before that time had come, coaches issued from Chaplin’s yard for many places on the north-western roads: the Carlisle Royal Mail; the Birmingham Royal Mail, “Courier,” and “Balloon Post Coach”; the Chester “New Coach”; Coventry “Light Post Coach”; Liverpool Royal Mail; Holyhead “New Mail” and a stage-coach without any particular name; and the Manchester Royal Mail, “Defiance,” “Regulator,” and “Prince Saxe-Cobourg.”  The “Spread Eagle” in Gracechurch Street has also disappeared.  It was at one time a house of Chaplin’s, and was afterwards owned in succession, together with the “Cross Keys” next door, by Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Mountain.

Next: To Be Decided

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.

Where Could You Go?

A list of destinations which is remarkably familiar to the modern day traveller.

London to Stamford

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.

Then and Now

Comparing rail and coach travel in 1888!

An Incident at Wansford

Things didn’t always go smoothly and this amusing incident took place on the Great North Road.

Charlies and Hackneys

A recollection of life in London before taxi cabs, policemen and even electricity.

The Peacock at Islington

The northern coaches all stopped here to pick up passengers. The scene was amazing.

Perils by Water

One of the many hazards that could be encountered was flood water. This is near St Neots.

London Coaching Inns

A description of the London termini from which coaches ran

Some famous London Inns

A list of London coaching inns and where you could travel to from each.


Go to Section 1

Tales of the Road: This section tells what was it like to travel by stage coach in the mid 1800s.

Go to Section 2

Travel in England is inseparably connected to the state of our roads. This section looks at the history of British roads.

Go to Section 3

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. This section looks at how coaches developed.

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