‍The Desire to Drive a Coach-and-Four

Desire to Drive a Coach and Four

From Down’ the Road by VTS Birch-Reynardson

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: To Be Decided

Section 1 Menu

The Age of Coaching
Introducing a world of horse-drawn public transport

Beginning to End
How long did the Great Age of Coaching Last?

Coaches to All Parts
The world of coach travel - surprisingly familiar; just slower and wetter.

Where Could You Go?

A list of destinations which is remarkably familiar to the modern day traveller.

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?

Two Short Videos
Although we have no films from the time, modern producers have imagined coach travel for us.

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.

The Peacock at Islington

The northern coaches all stopped here to pick up passengers. The scene was amazing.

Perils by Water

One of the many hazards that could be encountered was flood water. This is near St Neots.

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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Tales of the Road: This section tells what was it like to travel by stage coach in the mid 1800s.

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Travel in England is inseparably connected to the state of our roads. This section looks at the history of British roads.

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Wheeled transport evolved over many years. This section looks at how coaches developed.

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