THE COACHING AGE

An Incident at Wansford Bridge

‍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, at the time of this incident, was quite young.

‍A very smart team of four red roans was put into the harness and Young Percival got up onto the box. They 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 - which is only about 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 at the door of the Haycock Inn, from which we had just departed, 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, and 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.’ 

‍* “Dropped into them” is the phrase used by the author. It must have been familiar at the time, but we shall have to guess at its precise meaning.

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