THE COACHING AGE

‍Then and Now

‍In this modern time, the steam engine has replaced the four horses. The grimy driver and fireman have replaced the coachman. And the conductor in his blue coat has replaced the guard in red, with his hat and cockade and his long mellow horn. How different was its sound compared with today’s shrill steam whistle.

‍Admittedly, the railway carriage is large and commodious with comfortable padded seats and windows that fit tight. It even has a lamp in the roof and comfortable foot-warmers of tin or zinc filled with hot water to warm the feet of the passengers as they fly along at forty miles an hour.

‍What a difference from former days, when the stage coach, with its “four in and twelve out”, started on its journey of perhaps several hundred miles at six o'clock in the morning! I used to make such a journey as a young boy, when, with a heavy heart, the holidays had ended and it was time to return to school. My journey took me from Stamford to London where I attended the dreaded Charter House School for Boys.

‍Let me tell you what it was like, boarding the coach after the Christmas holidays, returning to school on a frosty morning . . .

‍“The snow is on the ground and the wind is piercingly cold. It’s freezing hard and as dark as pitch, except for the stars in the sky which shine bright like diamonds. It’s six o'clock in the morning - or “a.m.” as they call it these days - in the month of February 1824, and we shan’t reach the “George and Blue Boar,” in Holborn, London, until about nine o'clock tonight.

‍My two friends and I are now mounting on to the ‘Regent’ coach at The George in Stamford. We’re on our way back to school in London, wrapped in our long drab great-coats. The coach is piled up with luggage and you wonder how it can ever reach its destination without breaking down or being upset.

‍We three little fellows have climbed up to our seats on the roof of the coach. One of us sits on the box with the coachman and the other two sit behind. We all declare manfully that we’re not cold and we never feel the cold. We have each got some nicely trampled straw from the stables and have shoved our feet into it. 

‍It’s all a far thing from the hot foot-warmer that you have today, but we feel as cheery as possible in the circumstances. Luckily, this is a fine morning for the time of year and there is no snow or rain.  When that happens, when it rains from six in the morning until the arrival of the coach at nine at night, your coats, hats, and very flesh become wet through to the bone. On those occasions it is indeed misery, or the next thing to it . . . but even then everyone is kept alive and in a fairly a merry mood by the incidents on the road and the coachman who is invariably a good natured kind of fellow who jokes with every one along the way in spite of the weather. The guard, too, is usually a cheery fellow and brightens the mood with the sound of his “mellow horn”. It’s often called his “yard of tin,” for in old times it was made of tin, and was about a yard long.”

‍Such was the travelling in former days. The pace now no doubt is greater, the comfort is greater; but with all this the fun and interest, as well as the incidents, of the road are gone for ever. We three little boys in our long drab great-coats are now old men. The coachmen are dead — the guards are dead.  And the Mail Horn’s sound is heard no more.

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