Everyone who knows the North Road is familiar with the bridge at Wansford which is an awkward one, being very old and narrow.
One fine summer's evening, my two brothers and I were returning from school in London at the end of the summer term. We pulled up at the Haycock Inn in Wansford, which was kept by Mr Percival at the time. He horsed the coach and was quite young when this incident happened.
A very smart team of four red roans was put into the harness and Young Percival himself got up onto the box. The horses were quite showy and pretty fresh and things did not go according to plan.
First of all, they didn’t start very well and Percival, being more full of valour than skill, ‘dropped into them,’ * which made matters worse.
Then, when they reached the bridge - only fifty yards away - the horses wouldn’t face it.
What possessed them as they faced the bridge I know not, but they whipped round all of a sudden, and after playing sundry antics — and a most nervous performance it was — we found ourselves back at the door of the Haycock with the horses’ heads pointing to London instead of to Stamford!
How we got there without the coach being turned over no-one could ever make out. According to all the rules of accidents, and one may almost say of common sense, this was a case in which we ought to have been upset.
Young Percival, with most praiseworthy pluck, proposed to ‘tackle them’ again, but Old John Barker, an experienced driver, said, “Come, come, old friend, this will never do. You'll have us over. I’m sure you will — I'm sure you’ll have us over.”
And so he took the whip and reins and waited a short while at the door to give the horses time to come to their senses. To a certain extent, they had lost in the ‘skrimmage’ and so, after a short while, we started afresh. Under the guidance of Old John we made it safely over the bridge and reached Stamford without further incident. But it was a real touch-and-go business and I only wonder we were not all ‘spilt.’
- C Birch Reynardson, 1888
* “Dropped into them” is the phrase used by the author. I’m told by an elderly farmer that it means using the whip and is apparently unwise with fresh horses.
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