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 your feet as you 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.”
- C Birch Reynardson, 1888
Introducing the real life stories collected in the late 1800s
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?
Comparing rail and coach travel in 1888!
Things didn’t always go smoothly and this amusing incident took place on the Great North Road.
A recollection of life in London before taxi cabs, policemen and even electricity.
One of the many hazards that could be encountered was flood water. This is near St Neots.
The people who could afford to travel were educated in - among other things - Latin!
Yes, they were common in the early 1800s. They’d all gone by the 1880s. Attitudes were different then!
What did it cost to make a long distance coach journey?
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 northern coaches all stopped here to pick up passengers. The scene was amazing.
A description of the London termini from which coaches ran
A list of London coaching inns and where you could travel to from each.
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
Home Page of the Coaching Website
Sources and information about how I came to create this website