The Desire to Drive a Coach-and-Four

“I was a very little fellow when I first took the notion that I should like to be able to drive. As far as my memory serves me, it was in the year of grace 1823 or 1824, when I was a little chap at that horrible of all horrible places called a ' seat of learning,' the ' Charter House.' In those days it was a regular prison, and in the dirtiest part of London, and close to Smithfield. The unfortunate boys never wore hats, went bareheaded, and generally looked as if their fathers must have been chimney-sweeps. In winter, as a general rule, the playground was some inches deep in black sludge. Wet through and cold as we often were, such a thing as a change of raiment was unknown. There were always a lot of big bullies who would not let a poor little wretch warm himself at the fire; and, if they caught you there, the chances were they half roasted you, which was performed by toasting your miserable little 'Hinder end' before the fire, till it was too hot for manipulation, and then scraping it down with a Latin or Greek grammar, or with that more important work called a ' Gradus.' After having been bullied and knocked about, roasted and toasted, tossed in a blanket till I touched the ceiling and burst a hole through the blanket, and was nearly killed by coming in contact with the floor of the long bedroom in which some eight or ten of us slept, I was taken home very ill and was supposed to be going to die. 

This, however, I did not do; and, much to my delight, was taken away from the horrible prison and sent to that seat of sound learning and religious education called Eton. 'Floreat Etona' is its motto, and I believe no one who was educated there has ever regretted that part of his education. 

As I travelled to and from school I made up my mind that there was nothing like a coach and four horses, and the idea of being some day able to drive four horses was the height of my ambition. I believe I used to dream of the coach and horses and the old fat coachman into whose charge I used to be given at Stamford, and by whose side I used that dignified situation, ' the box-seat.' He was a good, kind old man, nearly as big as Daniel Lambert; a good, though not at all a swell coachman, but strong as the ' mighty man of Gath,' and as safe as the bank. 

I well remember it was quite a privilege to be allowed to unbuckle his reins as he got within a few yards of his change. 

He drove the ' Regent ' coach, which ran from Stam-ford to London for many years. He was the first man that ever put reins into my hand, and seemed to take a pride in teaching me the ' gentle art.' I had therefore a great regard for him. He hurt his foot in getting off the coach one day, and things went wrong with him. After a time mortification set in, and he died, regretted by all who knew him. Poor old John Barker, for that was his name, ' requiescit in pace ' in St. Michael's churchyard at Stamford, from which town he had driven to Huntingdon pretty nearly every day but Sunday for more than twenty years. 

The ' Regent,' though not a fast coach, was always well horsed by Mr. Whincup of the ' George Hotel ' at Stamford.” 

Next: What, drunk again you lazy old rascal?

Section 1:

Living Memories

Introduction
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.

Latin

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.

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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

Background

Sources and information about how I came to create this website