« AnteriorContinuar »
PERHAPS there are only a few of our young readers who have not seen the railway train go sweeping by, faster than a horse could gallop. They will be amused, and perhaps surprised, on reading what follows from one of Chambers's Tracts.
"Notwithstanding the introduction of stage-coaches in the seventeenth century, they were placed only on the principal roads, and nsed almost exclusively by persons of refined taste and wealth. The popular mode of conveyance continued for at least a century afterwards to be by stage-wagons; these were very large and cumbersome machines, drawn by six or eight horses, and devoted chiefly to the carriage of goods to and from the metropolis. The only part of the vehicle which afforded accommodation to passengers was the 'tail' of thə wagon, as it was called—a reserved space with a hooped-up cover at the hinder part of the machine; and here, sitting upon straw as they best could, some half-dozen passengers were slowly conveyed on their journey. The chance attacks of highwayman and other incidents which occurred to the occupants of the wagon, also their adventures at the inns where they slept for the night, are graphically described by the old writers.
In a pamphlet called the 'Grand Concern of England explained,' published in 1673, the writer very gravely attempts to make out that the introduction of coaches was ruining the trade of England. The following is an example of his mode of reasoning :- Before the coaches were set up, travellers rode on horseback, and men had boots, spurs, saddles, bridles, saddle-cloths, and good riding-suits, coats, and cloaks, stockings and hats, where by the wool and leather of the kingdom were consumed. Besides, most gentlemen when they travelled on horseback used to ride with swords, belts, pistols, holsters, portmanteaus, and hat-cases, which in these coaches they have little or no occasion for. For when they rode on horseback they rode in one suit, and carried another to wear when they came to their journey's end, or lay by the way; but in coaches they rode in a silk suit, with an Indian gown, with a sash, silk stockings, and beaver hats men rode in, and carried no other with them. This is because they escape the wet and dirt which on horseback they cannot avoid ; whereas in two or three journeys on horseback, these clothes and hats were wont to be spoiled; which done, they were forced to have new very often, and that increased the consiimption of manufacture. If they were women that travelled, they used to have safeguards and hoods, side-saddles and pillions, with strappings, saddle or pillion cloths, which, for the most part, were laced and embroidered; to the making of which there went many several trades, now ruined.' But
the writer has other reasons to urge against coach-travelling. 'Those who travel in this manner,' he observes, “become weary and listless when they ride a few miles, unwilling to get on horseback, and unable to endure frost, snow, or rain, or to lodge in the fields.' Besides, he asks, ' what advantage it can be to a man's health to be called out of bed into these coaches an hour or two before day in the morning — to be hurried in them from place to place till one, two, or three hours within night; insomuch that, after sitting all day, in the summer-time, stifled with heat and choked with dustor in the winter time, starving or freezing with cold, or choked with filthy fogs, they are often brought into their inns by torchlight, when it is too late to sit up to get supper, and next morning they are forced into the coach so early that they can get no breakfast ?' These somewhat amusing remonstrances against coach-travelling, which, bad as it was, had the merit of being an advance on what preceded it, ought to afford a caution to the opponents of improvement.
The length of time consumed in journeys by even the best kind of carriages of past times is now matter for surprise. The stage-coach which went between London and Oxford in 1661, in the reign of Charles II., required two days, although the distance is only about sixty miles. In 1669 a great acceleration took place, and the distance was performed in thirteen hours—that is from six o'clock in the morning till seven o'clock in the evening — which was reckoned a great feat. Within our memory, six hours were required in this journey by stage-coaches. The distance is now done by the express on the Great Western Railway in an hour and twenty minutes !
So shockingly bad were the roads, that in 1703 when Prince George of Denmark went from Windsor to Petworth to meet Charles III. of Spain, the distance being about forty miles, he required fourteen hours for the journey, the last nine miles taking six. The person who records this fact says, that the long time was the more surprising, as, except when overturned, or when stuck fast in the mire, his royal highness made no stop during the journey.
In 1742 stage.coaches must have been more numerous in England than in Charles II.'s time; but it does not appear that they moved any faster. The journey from London to Birmingham, 116 miles, then occupied nearly three days, as appears from the following advertisement: The Lichfield and Birmingham stage-coach set out this morning-Monday, April 12, 1742—from the Rose Inn, Holborn Bridge, London, and will be at the Angel, and the Hen and Chickens, in the High Town, Birmingham, on Wednesday next, to dinner; and goes the same afternoon to Lichfield. It returns to Birmingham on Thursday morning to breakfast, and gets to London on Saturday night; and so will continue every week regularly, with a good coach and able horses.' Thus the whole week was occupied in a journey to and from Lichfield by Birmingham, an entire space of probably not more than 240 miles—that is, at an average of forty miles a day.
The stage-coach journey from London to Bath, in 1748, occupied from the morning of one day to the evening of the next, a night being spent on the road, although the whole distance travelled was only 108 miles. So slow were improvements, that within the last forty years the journey by stage to Bath was accomplished in not less than fifteeen hours; forty-six years ago, a lady left London on Monday afternoon at two o'clock, and arrived in Exeter, 193 miles, on Wednesday evening at seven o'clock—a period of fifty-three hours. The coach stopped one night on the road, so that the actual time in travelling was about forty hours. At present, the journey is performed by the express-train in less than five hours !
It is now about a hundred years since a stage-coach was started to run between Edinburgh and London. Previous to that event, when there was no regular conveyance, the Edinburgh newspapers occasionally presented advertisements, stating that an individual about to proceed to the metropolis by a postchaise, would be glad to hear of a fellow-adventurer or more to lessen the expenses for mutual convenience. However, before 1754, there was a stage-coach between the two British capitals. In the 'Edinburgh Courant' for that year it is advertised that—'The Edinburgh stage-coach, for the better accommodation of passengers, will be altered to a new genteel two-end glass coach machine, hung on steel springs, exceedingly light and easy, to go in ten days in summer, and twelve in winter; to set out the first Tuesday in March, and continue it, from Hosea Eastgate's, the Coach and Horses in Dean Street, Soho, London, and from John Somerville's in the Cannongate, Edinburgh, every other Tuesday, and meet at Burrowbridge on Saturday night, and set out from thence on Monday morning, and get to London and Edinburgh on Friday. In winter, to set out from London