Stage-coaching had evolved into a number of specialist services, targeted at different needs and pockets. These included:
• Mail-Coaches, the elite stage-coach service, travelled non-stop (other than to change horses). They were fast and expensive. Their primary purpose was to carry the Mail, but they also carried a few "premium" passengers to help defray expenses. To travel "by the Mail" was a luxury few could afford.
• Post-Coaches tried to match the speed and luxury of the Mail-Coach. They carried a limited number of passengers, and parcels, but no mail.
• Ordinary Stage-Coaches tried to keep fares as low as possible (although still not cheap) by packing in as many passengers as the law would allow.
All the above coaches had grand names and ran to fixed schedules, usually daily, although some, particularly to destinations in Wales, did not run on Sunday.
• Market-Coaches ran short distances, usually terminating in the local town. They ranged from coaches running one day a week (market-day), to those running frequent shuttle services between two adjacent towns, Stockport and Manchester for example.
• Post-Chaises were the period equivalent of taxies. They carried two or three passengers wherever and whenever the hirer wanted, usually on short journeys, but some very wealthy passengers travelled long-distance by Post-Chaise to avoid having to rub-shoulders with others.
• Packet Boats carried passengers along rivers and canals, and across seas. Those on the rivers and canals were powered by horse or steam and operated to fixed schedules. They were slower than coaches, but less expensive and more comfortable. At sea, steam was being introduced on the shorter routes, but longer distances still sailed (when the wind allowed).
• Ferries carried passengers across rivers. Some new steam ferries on the broader rivers operated to fixed schedules, but most hand and wind-powered ferries on smaller crossings ran on-demand.
• A network of Carriers connected local villages and towns. They primarily carried goods, but would carry passengers if required. They were the least expensive mode of transport, but were slow and operated to a rather vague timetable. Walking was faster, so only the infirm or those accompanying valuable goods went by carrier.
On main roads there were inns every eight or ten miles. Their main function was to provide fresh horses for coaches and post-chaises. It took just two minutes to change a team of four, then the coach was off on its next eight-mile stage. If spare time was available a stop may have lasted a little longer, giving passengers time to take refreshments and to make themselves comfortable, but a twenty-minute stop was a rare luxury on a stage-coach journey.
Horses were usually owned by an innkeeper and hired by the double mile (out and return). For a horse, an eight or ten mile stage was half a day's work. It then spent a short time eating and resting before drawing a coach travelling in the opposite direction, thus returning to its home stables. It usually rested on alternate days.
Coachmen (coach drivers) usually did about fifty miles before another took over. They expected a hefty tip from each passenger, and harassed those who did not give to expectation. Some coaching adverts listed the number of drivers for a given journey. This gave passengers an indication of the amount they would have to expend on tips.
Most coaches carried a guard. He also expected a tip. He usually stayed with the coach for the whole of its journey. On routes lasting 24 hours, the guard may not have been very alert by the end of the journey.
Most coaches carried four passengers inside, a few carried six. Earlier, outside passengers sat on the roof itself, but by 1830 seats were provided at that level. The law limited the number of outside passengers: in 1830 twelve were allowed on an ordinary stage-coach, but only one on a mail-coach, and many fast post-coaches voluntarily restricted themselves to none or just two.
The authorities tried hard to enforce the load limits and, near London, some men made a living as paid informers (they received a share of the fines). In the country, no doubt, a certain amount of overloading went unnoticed. One of the pressures to overload came from a standard practice in the stage-coach industry: when a coach picked up an unscheduled passenger by the road-side, the driver usually pocketed the fare.
The world of long-distance coach travel.
Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches
The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them
Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history. Coach travel was very difficult until they improved
Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed
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