Romance University

More from my post which started at Romance University

Also mentioned in the Romance University article was this question about daily travel distances…

and my list of reference books that discuss travel:

Introduction                                                                                                                                                                      I had originally intended to write an entire treatise about transportation in the Regency Era, and decided 1.) what’s out there already is very good; and 2.) I’m lazy and busy. So what I’ve done is give a quick overview of  what transportation looked like, and plugged in some dates, so you have an idea of what your characters need to do to get around. I contacted the Yahoo Regency group regarding returning hired horses, and got a flood of sometimes contradictory comments, so that is still not completely resolved. I’ll list some websites that I found were helpful at the end of this section.

Coaches themselves, so called because the first were made in Kotze, in Hungary first showed up in the middle of the Sixteenth Century, and were regarded with deep suspicion by the locals, and owned only by nobility. At that time, riding on horseback was the usual mode of transportation, and it was possible to hire a fresh horse at a posting inn, and exchange it for another down the road. This was not for common people, who traveled very little, or walked everywhere, but royal messengers and well-off travelers in a hurry.

The first stage coaches, called flying machines, appeared on English roads in 1657. They were extraordinarily miserable affairs, with no suspension, unpadded benches, often with no windows. The roads were often beyond unusable. Coaches did not travel at night, and both horses and passengers could spend the night recovering from the ordeal, depending on conditions in the inn. All passengers rode inside the coach, as there was no safe place to perch outside. In time, accommodations were made for outside passengers, and there were often more riders on the outside than “first-class” passengers inside. The coachman would pay the toll for all the travelers on the toll road. At the same time, coaches became more comfortable, with suspension systems and padded seats.

The first mail coach’s route was between Bristol, Bath, and London, and began in August, 1784. The trip from London to Bristol took sixteen hours, and an armed guard rode along to protect the mail and the passengers, and the horses were changed about every ten miles. Prior to then, the mail was carried on horseback by post boys, and the vagaries of weather, roads, and highwaymen made the delivery perilous and unpredictable. Four passengers could ride inside these new-fangled coaches, and I found disagreement about passengers allowed on the top, one source said none were allowed, and another said the coaches allowed four. The price was 28 shillings per inside passenger.   The armed guard on the coach also carried the “yard of tin” (a long horn) to alert tollgate keepers to open the gates (they didn’t have to pay tolls) and warn innkeepers to get a fresh team of horses ready for a quick change, in less than three minutes. This, of course, gave the passengers almost no time to refresh themselves at the inns. Postal coaches traveled through the night, which must have made the journey even more exhausting for passengers.

Within a year, mail coaches traveled the length and breadth of England. By 1786, the London-Edinburgh route took sixty hours, schedules were advertised and observed.

Wealthy families had their own coaches, with the coat of arms proudly emblazoned on the door. They also had their own horses, and possibly kept some of their horses at posting inns on the route, so the first few changes would still be to their own, rather than hired horses. And they wouldn’t need to hire a coach, just the horses.

Travelers might also want to hire a coach and horses, which would still have to be replaced regularly by fresh horses. I’m a little fuzzy on how this all works. Most of the teams of horses would have a postboy riding one of the horses, and after they had completed their stage, he could stay with them, and then bring them back to their own posting inn. Or possibly, they would be hired, after rest, by another travelers to pull his coach back to the original inn, again accompanied by the post boy. Or it’s also possible that some of the large inns had agreements between themselves, rather like car rental agencies, so one need only change the horses at a particular  inn, and the horses would be rested, and then sent off again from there. The prices I found, 18th Century, were 27 shillings a day for a landau and horses, and another for a carriage and horses at 15 shillings per day.

A conveyance that I hadn’t been familiar with before is called a “post-chaise” and is perfect for someone travelling alone, or in a small party. There’s room for two, plus space behind for a servant and/or some luggage. There’s no coachman, but rather it’s steered by the postboy riding one of the horses. Here’s a drawing of one from the back:

(from the Historical Hussies site. Though small and cheaper than hiring a carriage, it still was a very expensive way to travel. An undated 18th Century price list mentions one shilling 6 pence per mile, with a tip for the postboy of 3 pence a mile, and the ostler who changes the horses 6 pence per change, a trip could quickly become quite costly. And it’s possible that the post boy, or a corrupt inn-keeper, would notify highwaymen if particularly plump-in-the-pocket travelers were setting off, for easier pickins.

The Canal System
The first modern canal, the Bridgewater Canal, began operation in 1761 (another anniversary, 250 years!) and canal building proceeded rapidly, if not always efficiently, after that. The canals seemed to be less aimed at human transport, but rather reflected the growth of industries in the Midlands. Primary early users of the canals were the coal mines and Staffordshire potteries. The cost of transporting a ton of goods from Manchester to Liverpool by carriage was 40 shillings, but by canal, a mere 12 shillings. The canals had the advantage of being more navigable than British roads during the winter. A large part of the savings was obtained by using far fewer horses  to pull the barges than were needed in pack trains.

The Railway
The origins of the rail system could be found in the coal mines in the Sixteenth Century, as special wooden tracks for transporting coal to the mouth of the mine. During the Seventeenth Century, special wooden tracks were built to convey coal down to the water for easier transport. Along the way, they figured out that having the track higher than the surrounding roadway decreased road debris on the rails, and that putting iron over the wooden rails made them last much longer than bare wood.  The first horse-drawn public railway opened in South London in 1803. Engineers began experimenting with steam-powered locomotives by 1811, but the first steam intra-city railway, between Manchester and Liverpool, began operations in 1830, which puts it well beyond the Regency period. Whew. Let them ride horses.

The Roads
Interest in improving the appalling roads began to bear fruit in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The old method, of people (often young children) in each parish being required to maintain a section of roadway, was a total failure, or moneys collected to be spent on road maintenance almost never reached the correct pockets. Parliament passed a number of bills in an attempt to improve the roads, including a requirement that wheels on the huge transport wagons had to be 9” wide, to prevent narrow gouges in the roads. Most of the early toll roads were in the north of England, or the Midlands, partly to provide easier transportation to the factories there, and also a desire to connect more easily to London. John Metcalfe was put in charge of repairing one of the first toll roads in northern England. Yes, he was blind, but he was excellent at what he did. He went back to the old Roman methods of making roads, making the road surface convex, with drainage ditches on each side, and the base of the road stabilized with stones, or even heather. This sturdy base was then covered with stone and gravel, and was now able to support great weight without collapsig. The ditches kept the roadway from floating away. Thomas Telford and James Macadam continued the development of modern road construction, based on Metcalf’s methods, and that type of road is still referred to as “macadamized.” Major links between the large cities and the stage routes were repaired before the side roads and minor routes.

Steam power
This was an exciting time in the development of steam power, both for land and sea transport. The thought of harnessing sufficient power to move against the tides and currents and winds  was a big incentive to inventors. The early work for steam-powered boats took place in France and Scotland. Robert Fulton’s steamship, the Clermont, first carried passengers betwee New York City and Albany in 1807. In Britain, the Comet first plied the waters of the River Clyde in 1812, followed by a steamship on the River Avon the next year. The Thames was first navigated by steamboat in 1816. Emphasis was on passengers as well as cargo, so your characters could indeed travel this way. Do your research here, as things changed quickly, and details are important.

Accommodations                                                                                                                                                           So, where would the traveler stay for the night? In descending order of elegance, and perhaps cleanliness, there are:

1.)     The Posting Houses. They accommodated the Quality, who were in their own carriages or post-chaises, or gentlemen on horseback, accompanied by servants. Some posting houses might accept passengers from the mail coaches, but not necessarily. But they never would accept someone from a stage coach. Please…

2.)   The Inns. These would take the bulk of the travelers on stage coaches. One traveling pastor, not dressed very well, was treated quite rudely at an inn, shown a room that “resembled a prison for malefactors.” He requested an upgrade, and was invited to leave. He stayed, and had to pay nine shillings for a dinner of a stringy chicken, and had to share a room and bed with a drunken lout who kept his boots on in bed.

3.)    The Hedge-inns. According to the OED, “hedge” is synonymous with “third rate.” These inns would accommodate anyone, including foot travelers and anyone rejected by the higher class inns, for 9 pence to 1 shilling for bed and supper.

At all these establishments, it was common for total strangers to share a room, and even a bed. By the end of the Eighteenth Century, all inns had a common dining room, where guests could eat, and chat, and pass the time. Prior to then, unless one hired a private sitting room, one ate in the kitchen with mine host’s family. Quality folks, when traveling, always hired a private sitting room, and parties that included ladies, when travelling by mail coach, chose a private parlor. Reports on the food available ranged from magnificent and delicious to amazing description of utterly inedible rubbish. There was no “menu” as one big meal was cooked, usually centered around one huge piece of meat, and everyone had the same food. These were also the same establishments where the locals came to drink and visit, so that could make for interesting conversations.

A Final Note                                                                                                                                                                Prior to the Golden Age of Coaching, people in the rural sections of Britain didn’t travel much. Most never traveled more than a few miles from their homes. As travel became safer, and more common, and affordable, there was a sense of decline in rural areas, that the young people would leave, would take the coach to London and hire out as a servant, or would travel to Manchester to look for a job. And to a degree, this was true. This helped increase the urban population that made the Industrial Revolution possible. In addition, the cheap and reliable transport of goods was also a component of the Industrial Revolution, and early 19th Century improvements in transportation fulfilled this requirement.  So even though the coaches all disappeared, their changes to fundamental aspects of British life and society were permanent.

And the horses. While researching this topic, I ran across the old quote, attributed to Bonaventure des Periers, from the late 16th Century, that “England is the Paradise of women, the Purgatory of men (some quotes say ‘servants’) and the Hell of horses.” And alas, this was true. I found another quote, a man boasting that his coachman friend “can whistle louder, hit a horse harder, and tell a bigger lie than any one I ever knew…” and thought the behavior admirable. In the early days, there was such scant regard for the welfare of the horses, enduring the weights of the overloaded carriages and the impossible road conditions, that any horse not yet broken on the route soon became damaged by the treatment. This gradually changed, partly for humanitarian reasons–the RSPCA was founded in 1824, and partly for practical reasons–the condition of coaches and roads improved immensly, and coaches were on such tight schedules that horses had to be changed frequently, rather than forced beyond their abilities. (Though I did find a mention elsewhere that horses who had to run ten miles per hour had considerably shorter lives than the already-short lives of horses who ran just eight miles per hour.) Do with this what you will. One of the most powerful scenes in the wonderful movie “Amazing Grace” showed William Wilberforce (who was one of the founders of the RSPCA) protecting a fallen horse, insisting there was no advantage in beating him further. I can only hope there were many others as valiant as Wilberforce, lifting their voices and arms to protect other suffering horses.

Web sites, in no particular order:

early steamships:

coaching info, from the Georgian Index:

info, including about horses, from Jane Austen’s world, and more links:

more good stuff, and good links, from the Regency Web Ring:


2 Responses

  1. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for novice blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    • Glad you’re enjoying my website. The e-mail address you provided isn’t valid.
      Is there another e-mail address that I can reach you at?

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