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.
History of Coaches
Very Early Coaches
In the Middle Ages, coshes were extremely rare.
The first wheeled transport was the Stage Waggon.
As time went on, roads and speed improved - a little.
First Stage Coach
Stage coaches began to appear in the 17th century.
Coach travel improved over the next 190 years.
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.