The world of long-distance coach travel
The first roads
The Celts were trading across Europe and although nothing remains of their roads, they must have followed fixed routes
The Romans built roads, famously straight. These are the first roads that we in England are familiar with
After the Romans left, our roads fell into disrepair. Find out what happened
After the dissolution of the monasteries, even the church’s work ended
During the Stuart period the first beginnings of improvement appeared
The first proposal to improve Britain’s roads
The first person to take active steps to improve the roads
As pressure for improved transport links grew, this engineer made a real difference
Perhaps the most famous roadmaker, His method is still essentially in use today
Britain’s roads at last allow fast long-distance 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
Sources and information about how I came to create this website
Home Page of the Coaching Website
But change was in the wind. Oliver Cromwell’s son, Henry Cromwell, was sent by his father to Ireland, on a mission to improve relations between the two countries. As a result, more people were travelling between England and Ireland. They rode on horseback but there was a growing opportunity for some form of public transport.
A proposal to make road users pay for the upkeep of the roads was put before Parliament in the 1620 but was rejected. It did, however, pave the way to the Turnpike Acts which did this very thing from the late 1600s onwards.
In 1657, an enterprising businessman decided to set up what is probably the first timetabled coach service in Britain. It was hard and unsprung and the roads were dreadful. It ran between London and Chester, which was the main port of departure for Ireland at the time, and it was pulled by horses who made the entire journey and so had to be fed and rested regularly.
The service was scheduled to take five days for the journey which is an average speed of just two miles an hour; less than walking pace!
Amazingly, the coach was a commercial success and other coach services began between other major towns. It was the first sign of a change in the wind.
Other changes were also beginning. The first Turnpike Act was passed in 1663. It covered the North Road (via Royston) which joined the Great North Road at Alconbury Hill and it authorised toll-gates along the route, which travellers would pay to pass through, the proceeds being used for the improvement and upkeep of the road.
This first coach service, together with the turnpikes system for funding road improvement were the beginning of a process that takes us to the modern day.
The stage was now set for travel in England to improve out of all recognition over the next three hundred years.
The Stuart monarchs - James I, Charles I, Charles II,
James II, William II, Anne II and Anne