Travel in the Coaching Age

Coaching reached its height in the early to mid 1800s when literally hundreds of coaches covered thousands of miles, travelling through day and night in all weathers, and interconnecting with each other in a way that we would find completely familiar.

This may come as a surprise because we tend to imagine that efficient long distance travel only began with the railways. In reality, the railways adopted a system that was already very sophisticated and moved it onto steel rails . 

If we ever pause to give the Coaching Age a thought, perhaps when we visit a former coaching inn like the Bell at Stilton or the George at Stamford, we probably imagine the occasional coach trundling in to change horses. 

The reality was very different. These two inns on the Great North Road saw forty coaches a day passing through them – twenty up and twenty down! The Great West Road was the same, with fifty coaches a day passing through Hungerford, stopping to change horses at the town’s coaching inns.

Coaching inns were noisy bustling places, especially between 11am and 3pm during the day, and believe it or not, between 10pm and 3am at night!

Many coach routes converged on London and altogether 342 coaches departed from or arrived into in London every single day. They travelled in all directions and for very long distances. They set out, not from great railway termini like today, but from Inns across the city. Those travelling west stopped to pick up passengers at the Gloucester Coffee House in Piccadilly.

There was no photography in those days but we do have this eye-witness painting by James Pollard which captures the scene.

It was a world of travel very similar, yet very different from the one we know today. It was exciting and glamourous – but definitely a lot less comfortable. 

The equivalent of first class was sitting inside the coach, but it was cheaper to ride on the rooftop seats for a lower price, so there was always a ready supply of outside passengers. However, this put you at the mercy of the weather.

We can only imagine what it have been like, travelling on one of these long-distance coaches. In our mind’s eye we might see one of them trotting along at five or six miles an hour, stopping every few hours at inns for leisurely meals while the horses were changed. 

The reality was very different. Speed and timekeeping were of the very essence, especially for the mail coaches. Fortunately, we have several eye-witness accounts of what it was like to travel by coach in the 1800s and you’ll find them in this section.

Next: Where Could You Go?

Section 2:

The Age of Coaching

Introduction

‍ The world of long-distance coach travel

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

Travel in the Coaching Age
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 Coaching Inns

We’re familiar with railway termini but what were the departure points like in the Age of Coaching?

Famous London Coaching Inns

‍ Here are most of the coaching departure points in London, together withe here you could travel to from each one

Inns and Politics

An example of how politics influenced attitudes in some inns along the road

The Battle of Barnet

Not a war, just passengers trying to grab a bite to eat on the road

The Coachmen

‍ Coach drivers were an elite group, but as the coaching age declined, they lost their importance

Shouldering

Illegal, but overlooked by the proprietors, this was a coachman’s perk

William Chaplin

William was one of the most successful coach proprietors - and he survived the move to railways

Accidents

Coach travel was not without risk. Here are some reported  coach accidents

The Royal Mail

The story of the Mail Coaches, how the mail evolved and what they were like

Title

text


______________________

Go to Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Go to the Age of Coaching

The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them

Go to the Roads

Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history.  Coach travel was very difficult until they improved

Go to The Coaches

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed

Go to Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website

Background

Sources and information about how I came to create this website