Coaching reached its height in the early to mid 1800s when literally hundreds of coaches covered thousands of miles, travelling through day and night in all weathers, and interconnecting with each other in a way that we would find completely familiar.
This may come as a surprise because we tend to imagine that efficient long distance travel only began with the railways. In reality, the railways adopted a system that was already very sophisticated and moved it onto steel rails .
If we ever pause to give the Coaching Age a thought, perhaps when we visit a former coaching inn like the Bell at Stilton or the George at Stamford, we probably imagine the occasional coach trundling in to change horses.
The reality was very different. These two inns on the Great North Road saw forty coaches a day passing through them – twenty up and twenty down! The Great West Road was the same, with fifty coaches a day passing through Hungerford, stopping to change horses at the town’s coaching inns.
Coaching inns were noisy bustling places, especially between 11am and 3pm during the day, and believe it or not, between 10pm and 3am at night!
Many coach routes converged on London and altogether 342 coaches departed from or arrived into in London every single day. They travelled in all directions and for very long distances. They set out, not from great railway termini like today, but from Inns across the city. Those travelling west stopped to pick up passengers at the Gloucester Coffee House in Piccadilly.
There was no photography in those days but we do have this eye-witness painting by James Pollard which captures the scene.
It was a world of travel very similar, yet very different from the one we know today. It was exciting and glamourous – but definitely a lot less comfortable.
The equivalent of first class was sitting inside the coach, but it was cheaper to ride on the rooftop seats for a lower price, so there was always a ready supply of outside passengers. However, this put you at the mercy of the weather.
We can only imagine what it have been like, travelling on one of these long-distance coaches. In our mind’s eye we might see one of them trotting along at five or six miles an hour, stopping every few hours at inns for leisurely meals while the horses were changed.
The reality was very different. Speed and timekeeping were of the very essence, especially for the mail coaches. Fortunately, we have several eye-witness accounts of what it was like to travel by coach in the 1800s and you’ll find them in this section.
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.
A list of destinations which is remarkably familiar to the modern day traveller.
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.
Comparing rail and coach travel in 1888!
Things didn’t always go smoothly and this amusing incident took place on the Great North Road.
A recollection of life in London before taxi cabs, policemen and even electricity.
The northern coaches all stopped here to pick up passengers. The scene was amazing.
One of the many hazards that could be encountered was flood water. This is near St Neots.
A description of the London termini from which coaches ran
A list of London coaching inns and where you could travel to from each.
Tales of the Road: This section tells what was it like to travel by stage coach in the mid 1800s.
Travel in England is inseparably connected to the state of our roads. This section looks at the history of British roads.
Wheeled transport evolved over many years. This section looks at how coaches developed.
Home Page of the Coaching Website.