THE COACHING AGE

‍London to Stamford as Written

‍This is an alternative account of the journey from London to Stamford. I have left exactly as written and you’ll notice how writing style has changed between 1875 and today. The Peacock at Islington is described again as is Barnet but there is interesting extra detail that you may enjoy.

‍But few in these days can call to mind a real foggy morning in London in winter under the influence of such lamplight as there was then. Gas was in its infancy, and oil lamps were still burning in most parts. Only fancy oil lamps in a thick London fog in the middle of winter! and only here and there a Charlie, who was oftener than not asleep in his watch-box, to protect the British public! ‘Bobbies’ were not born in those remote days. 

‍We have chartered a hackney coach overnight, for which, being wanted very early in the morning, we have to pay an extra fare as a matter of course. We will proceed from Harley or Wimpole Street, the most fashionable streets in those days. We make the best of our way to the ‘George and Blue Boar,’ Holborn, from whence the ‘Regent’ coach starts at six o’clock. There is a thick fog; and, after groping along in nearly outer darkness for an indefinite length of time, we at length turn into the yard, and find the horses ‘put to.’

‍Piles of luggage are being placed on the top and into the fore and hind boot of the coach. Where the luggage for ‘four in and twelve out’ used to go I will leave you to make out, for I never could. But go it did; and, having stowed our load away, we go out of the yard, down Holborn Hill, to the left up Cow Lane, through Smithfield, and make the best of our way to the ‘Peacock’ at Islington, meeting droves of bullocks, sheep, and all sorts of conveyances coming from Smithfield. But we have arrived safely, neither upsetting anyone nor being upset ourselves. At this I often wondered, for the steam from the horses, the breath from the horses, the cattle, and the sheep, added to the dimness of the lamps and the dense fog, turned everything into worse than darkness. You might as well have looked inside a stewpan for anything that could be seen. ‘Darkness in fact was visible.’ Everything else was invisible through the darkness of early morn and the fog. 

‍Having achieved the ‘Peacock’ at Islington, a sight only to be seen there, and in those days, awaits us. A noise, I will call it a ‘sonus quadrupedans,’ assails your ears, as coach after coach comes up. All coaches going anywhere north called there; and, as they came up the old hostler, or a man whoever he was, with a horn lantern, called out their names as they arrived on the scene. Up they come through the fog, but our old friend knows them all. Now ‘York Highflier,’ now ‘Leeds Union,’ now ‘York Express,’ now ‘Rockingham,’ now ‘Stamford Regent,’ now ‘Truth and Daylight,’ and others which I forget, all with their lamps lit, and all smoking and steaming, so that you could hardly see the horses. Off they go. One by one as they get their vacant places filled up, the guard on one playing ‘Off she goes!’ on another, ‘Oh, dear, what can the matter be;’ on another, ‘When from great Londonderry;’ on another, ‘The flaxen-headed ploughboy;’ in fact, all playing different tunes almost at the same time. The coaches rattling over the stones, or rather pavement — for there was little or no macadam in those days; the horses’ feet clattering along to the sound of the merry-keyed bugles, upon which many of the guards played remarkably well, altogether made such a noise as could be heard no- where except at the ‘Peacock’ at Islington, at half-past six in the morning. All this it was curious to hear and see, though not over pleasant in a dense fog, particularly if it were very cold into the bargain, with heavy rain or snow falling. It was a miserable look-out for those who had to sit it out till they reached York, or some place, perhaps, two or three hundred miles from London. One dares hardly think of such things happening to a friend, on an empty stomach, at six o’clock on a winter’s morning. Still, we have gone through it; and ‘here we am again,’ as the clown says in the pantomime, not very fresh, it is true, with a good deal of the snow still clinging about the hair and whiskers, but quite as well as can be expected under all circumstances. On we go in the fog, the steam rising from the horses as if one were sitting over one of Barclay and Perkins’s largest brewing coppers, till we get about to Highgate Archway. Then morning begins to break, and the fog to clear off. On looking round, if you are not too cold and too wet to do so, you see London about four miles off, below you, in such a yellow fog and smoke as no artist I believe has attempted to paint.

‍At Barnet, the first change, things look a trifle better; and, pulling up at the inn, Tom Hennesy, of the ‘Regent,’ and George Cartwright, of the ‘York Express,’ exchange greetings; and having had a glass of rum-and-milk, off we go again, the ‘Regent’ to Stamford, and the ‘York Express’ through Stamford to York; the ‘Regent’ being due at Stamford at eight the same evening, and the ‘York Express’ due at York about twelve hours afterwards. On a fine day in winter the journey used to be quite long enough, but in rain or snow it was almost too long; and often have I thanked my stars on arriving at Stamford, wet through, and cold to my very bones, that I had not to go on to York.


‍Next: Perils by Water

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.

Go to Section 3

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

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