Living Memories

Introduction: Real life stories of travelling by coach.

This section is drawn from a series of books which were written in the late 1800s. Coach travel was already a thing of the past, having ended with the coming of the railways, but a nostalgia for the old coaching days had appeared.

Many people bought their own coach and learned how to drive a team of four horses. A few scheduled coach services even restarted. The London to Brighton was one of these. But, unlike today’s heritage railways, there weren’t enough passengers to make them pay and they stopped running.

Several people, who had actually travelled by coach in their younger days, decided to capture their memories before they died. Their stories are probably a little rose tinted, but they are real living memories, a priceless resource which had become lost in dusty old books. 

Now, these wonderful books can be accessed online.

Here’s the introduction from one of these books:-

“In these days of revived Coaching, when everyone yearns for a trip ‘down the road,’ I trust I shall not be thought presumptuous in offering a sketch and a few anecdotes of old times.

My coaching days are over, but when I hear the sound of the horn, or see a coach go past, I remember the days when coaches were in their glory.

There are very few of us left who have travelled by coach all day and all night, through wind and rain, frost and snow, and have experienced both rough and smooth. I can safely say that, pleasant as it was, it was often hard work and not without danger. 

I write this book for the amusement of the present generation to tell them how their poor old fathers and grandfathers used to see and hear things that are now gone forever. 

I wish I had the skill of a fine author so that I could put all I wish to say into better language, and to describe the incidents of the Road in a more exciting way, but having neither the skill nor the wit, I must ask you to be ‘kind readers,’ and to be indulgent. 

I daresay some will delight in picking my work to pieces, but when you consider that although I was educated at Eton, I did not learn much there but mischief, and that although my education was supposed to be finished at Cambridge, I did not learn much there but how to drive coaches, they must not expect to get water out of an empty pitcher.”

V. T. C. Birch-Reynardson, 1888

Read the original here.

Next: London to Stamford

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