Hackneys and Charlies

Can anyone be alive in this year of 1874 who can lay his hand upon his heart and swear that he has ever seen a real live ‘Charlie’ in his watch-box with his horn lantern and his rattle? And is there anyone left who has been in a real old hackney coach before anything in the shape of a taxi cab existed? 

Believe me, I have both seen the real old Charlie with his horn lantern in his watch-box and his rattle stuck in his belt, and I have also ‘ridden’ in a real old hackney coach, with its pair of worn-out dog horses smelling of ‘King Froust’ . . . and sometimes, I fear, they smelled of ‘subjects’ taken by the ‘body-snatchers’ from some churchyard to the hospital for dissection. The hackney coach was just the thing for the transport of these. 

Often, too, as a boy at that little-loved place called ‘The Charter House,’ have I and others let down our nightcaps (for everyone wore white nightcaps with a tassel to them in those days) to the old Charlie at the corner of Wilderness Row, to buy for us tarts, plums, apples, and other contraband eatables, which could only be procured by stealth. And when it came to stealth, there was no better means than your nightcap and a string let down from the window with a sixpence in it for the Charlie’s trouble. 

But few in these days can call to mind a real foggy morning in London in winter under the influence of such lamplight as there was then.

Gas was in its infancy, and oil lamps were still burning in most parts. Can you imagine having only oil lamps in a thick London fog in the middle of winter? And only the occasional Charlie (more often than not asleep in his watch-box) to protect the British public! ‘Bobbies’ had not been created in those remote days. 

- C Birch Reynardson, 1888

Next: The Peacock at Islington

Section 1:

Living Memories

Introducing the real life stories collected in the late 1800s

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?

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.

Perils by Water

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


The people who could afford to travel were educated in - among other things - Latin!

Red Kites

Yes, they were common in the early 1800s. They’d all gone by the 1880s. Attitudes were different then!

The Cost of Travel by Coach

What did it cost to make a long distance coach journey?

The Desire to Drive a Coach

Young gentlemen often fancied themselves as coachmen. Unlike today, you could often ‘have a go’ with the reins.

Two Short Videos
Although we have no films from the time, modern producers have imagined coach travel for us.

The Peacock at Islington

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

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 Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Go to the Age of Coaching

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

Go to the Roads

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

Go to The Coaches

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

Go to Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website


Sources and information about how I came to create this website