On the 9th April 1657 an advert appeared in Mercurius Politicus, a London Newspaper. A public coach service was about to start running between London and Chester. The 190 miles would take four days, and a passage cost 35 shillings.
Prior to this, anyone who needed to make a long journey through England would have had to walk or go on horseback, unless he was exceedingly rich, had his own private carriage, and the many servants necessary to support a journey.
Most of the new coach's passengers would have been travelling between London and Dublin. It was Chester's importance as a port that singled it out to be the terminus of this new form of public transport. Chester was the main port for travel between England and Ireland. Henry Cromwell was trying to improve relations between the two countries. More people were travelling between them.
The timetable for this first coach was a little optimistic: adverts two years later show that it was now taking five days for the journey. However, the coach service was a success and so other routes started operating, linking London with other major towns in the country.
At this time most main roads in England were just wide strips of land through which travellers had to pick a way as best they could. The good road surfaces left behind by the Roman civilisation eleven hundred years earlier had disintegrated though lack of maintenance. In winter the roads became a quagmire so travel was best reserved for the summer.
These were the earliest public coaches, the forerunners of the crack coaches of the Great Age of Coaching. They were successful financially but they plied their routes at a slow pace: as fast as the horses could do the journey. This was not very fast for two reasons: the roads remained poor and the same horses had to pull the coach over the whole of its route.
And added to these issues a series of wars - and the high taxes that resulted from them - had led to conditions in which highwaymen and smugglers flourished so travellers dared not venture out at night for fear of highway robbery. Coaches travelled only in daylight.
This situation remained very much unchanged for almost a hundred years . . . but things were about to change.
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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