Questions about Travel Times

Kathryn and I had an interesting discussion about travel times in Regency England. She wrote:

Hello! I was referred to you by Eloisa with a question.  Though it is possible that I might find the answer to this question in one of the titles mentioned above I figure I will ask any way! How do you calculate the traveling time (via coach, horseback or ship) for your authors? Is there a website that has a such a calculator on it or something to that effect? I was very curious how one goes about finding that information. Thank you!

And I wrote back:

Thanks for the good question.
Mostly, I punt. I look up the two cities the character is traveling between in Google maps, get directions, and figure the mileage that way. (If you have a Regency-era setting, all the travel distances were still in miles, so no need to do complicated metric calculations.) I figure 20-30 miles a day, for a carriage traveling, with servants, luggage, etc. In addition, I presume roads were in better shape nearer London, and travel times would be extended from someplace in the middle of nowhere. For a man or couple of men traveling on horseback, willing to change horses at every posting inn on the way, the daily distance could be greatly increased–remember Dick Turpin’s ride to York in one day. But for a middle-aged man, riding his own horse, and not changing horses, his daily distance would be closer to that of a private carriage .
Roads got a lot better as time progressed. The real progress started with when Telford and McAdam began their road improvements. so use that, depending on the date you’re working with. Even before McAdam, the popularity of stage coaches and post coaches necessitated some attempts to maintain and improve the roads.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the books I’ve mentioned in my travel section, though I was looking at the Margetson book, and found some very interesting bits of information about stage coaches, the public transportation of the day. For instance, by the late 1700s, one could reach Bath from London, a distance of almost 120 miles, in seventeen hours by stage coach. Also, a circular from 1799 boasts that the new post coach that sets out from London every evening except Saturday, arrives in Carlisle, in northern England, in three days, and in Glasgow in just four days. The stage coaches traveled at night, and their stops to change horses at the posting inns were very brief. The poor passengers were not allowed to bring food into the coach, but didn’t have enough time to eat at the inns while the horses were being changed, so it was not a comfortable ride. Servants or tradesmen might travel by the stage coaches, but probably not the higher classes, unless there was a good reason demanded by your plot. Unlike today’s Greyhound schedules, arrival times were not predicted to the minute for the coaches. All sorts of random events could affect travelers, such as highwaymen, mechanical breakdowns, lamed horses, bad weather, etc.
For travel within a city, say, London, then you have new factors. What time of day was the journey? How far apart were the destinations? By the river? By the roads? On foot, in a hackney, on horseback? I think five miles an hour would be an adequate travel time within a City, at least if not on Market Day.
I’m not sure about travel by water. These were still the days of sail (though steam engines were starting to appear in the Thames around then) and hence, dependent on the wind, or lack of wind. I usually figure around one night with a good wind for the Calais to Dover smuggling run, but anything else would take a long time. It might well take a couple months to cross the Atlantic from England to the United States.
I think trying to imagine travel times is especially difficult for modern readers. We are so utterly accustomed to, and dependent upon, totally reliable mechanized transportation that it’s hard to imagine how unreliable and unmechnized it all was two centuries ago.
Be sure and go to my Romance University tab for more information about travel in Regency times.

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles

On Friday, August 1st, a group of attendees at the RWA went on a very special roadtrip. We were escorted by the charming and knowledgeable writer and Beau Monde program coordinator Kalen Hughes to visit a tiny lace and textile museum/retail shop in Berkeley, the Lacis Museum. Kalen directed us through the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system, including dealing with one particularly balky ticket machine. We arrived in Berkeley, and it was strange to see open space, and parking lots, and low-rise buildings after our days in downtown San Francisco. Upon entering the museum, we immediately scattered to study the fabulous exhibits. I was fascinated by the marvelous displays–antique thimbles, bobbin lace, shown mid-weave, perfectly preserved Georgian clothing. We were then given a tour by Erin, the manager of Lacis. It was wonderful being in such erudite company with similar interests, and we had spirited debates about the development of fichus, the origins of the spencer jacket, and differences between Regency and modern muslin fabrics. Kalen, alas, had to leave for another appointment, but we managed a few purchases, and a geographically-savvy tour member got us safely back to the hotel. On the way, we had a spirited, okay, heated, discussion of the merits of various Pride and Prejudice films. The universal decision was that Wickham had to be gorgeous, perhaps even more gorgeous than Darcy, in order for him to cause as much trouble as he did.

I did get some photos of some of the clothing Erin showed us, and they’re posted on my Flickr site. Feel free to check them out. I especially loved the 18th Century waistcoats. The design and handwork was truly incredible.

Here’s the web-site for Lacis:

Admittance to the museum is free, but rest assured you’ll find something to purchase.

And here’s Kalen’s web-site. Her information and links for Georgian and Regency costumes are fabulous. You could dress all the characters in your book from this information. It’s amazing!


Find out how Joanna responded to these:

p 239. & elsewhere “front room.” It’s in OED, but in early reference simply indicates the more attractive rooms in the front of a structure, probably for public use. I don’t think it refers to the large gathering place in a contemporary house. “Sitting Room” or even “parlor” would be a workable substitute for that.

page 249: Turkish robe; did you find that somewhere? I found an early 20th century reference to Turkish toweling, but not to a robe. “chenille” wouldn’t work, either..

p 242: “land mines” 1890 in OED; seems to indicate a sophistication of mechanized warfare not available in early 19th century. Did you find it in your research?

p. 249: “bedspread” per OED, orig US, 1845; anything else would work, sheet, coverlet, blanket, quilt, etc.

p. 263: “linden tree” more commonly called “lime tree” in Britain. (I learned this the hard way, trying to find a tree that bloomed in late summer.)

p. 275: “suicide” as a verb, 1841, sounds very contemporary and edgy.

read Joanna Bourne’s blog entry:


While I was growing up, I was very interested in my mother’s German forebears, and much less so in my father’s French Canadian family. I did have the foresight to study French in high school, and, unlike every math or science class I ever took, I’ve retained most of the French I studied, except for the subjunctive tense.

My interest in Things French (Les Choses Francais) emerged when my son began kindergarten at a French Immersion school. At the same time, one of my brothers became interested in genealogy, and shared his information with me. It was fascinating to discover that Drouin is a common surname in Quebec (I’d only met two Drouins that weren’t family) and even more so, that they could all be traced back to Robert Drouin, from Normandy, France, who had emigrated to Canada (then New France) with the first batch of permanent settlers, not the usual soldiers, trappers, or missionaries. Robert’s marriage license to his first wife (who died, alas, very young and exhausted by childbearing) was the first marriage license issued in Canada. Even more exciting was the information that the house in Normandy where Robert had been born was still standing.

After my son graduated from middle school, he visited France with some of his class, and stayed with a most charming French family, the Passelergues, near Le Mans. He returned, enraptured with French customs and colors, and, especially, French food. I began an e-mail correspondence with Monsieur Passelergue, as he was fascinated by everything American, rather like Ron Weasley’s father’s obsession with muggles, and we became penpals, sharing ideas while correcting each other’s grammar and spelling. When they invited us to visit them in France the next summer, we did, and I truly loved every minute of it. No church was too old, no historical reference too obscure, no village too small for my enraptured attention. They took us to Robert Drouin’s house, the Normandy D-Day beaches and Chartres Cathedral among many such delights. They loaned bicycles to my husband and me, and we played “steeplechase”: spotting a church spire in the distance, pedaling to it, drinking cafe au lait outside at a bar, and then exploring the village, and, if I was lucky, an ancient unlocked parish church. Our hosts taught me to drink kir, corrected my French (which improved immeasurably) and even showed me how to cook, and eat, escargots.

Then, last year, I found out that a tour group was planned to return to Robert’s natal village in Normandy, Le Pin La Garenne, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his birth. (As was usual then, no exact record exists of his birth date, but his baptism, in August, 1607, was duly noted in the parish register.) It was the trip, literally of the century, or perhaps four of them, so of course I joined up for my fist big solo adventure. I was the only traveler from the United States, all the others were from Canada, though some stateside Drouins joined us for the fetes. I traveled first to Quebec and spent a few days in Quebec City and Montreal, and then joined my relatives for the flight to France. What followed were two weeks fantastic beyond description. The history, architecture, culture, food–were all as fabulous as I found them two years before. And this had an additional bonus–I made the trip with my family, my cousins. I had truly come home.

Also regarding genealogy, the French Canadians have made it into a cottage industry, and since the initial population of French Canada was quite small, we’re all related in several ways, and have the intersecting family trees to prove it. In researching the ancestors of my grandmother, Nellie Pluff, we were intrigued that her grandmother, Marie duBois, apparently had no family at all. There’s not one relative attached to her name in any genealogy chart I’ve seen. My grandmother always claimed that her grandmother was a full-blooded Native American, and I can only presume that was Marie, whose ancestry, however admirable, was never written down. Marie’s name was later anglicized to Marie Woods, the literal translation of “duBois,” but she also passed down an important physical trait. My grandfather, John Drouin, was fair-haired and blue-eyed. But my grandmother, all her children, and all her grandchildren all have the typical coloring of a Native American. My father’s profile was exactly that shown on the Indian head nickel. Our hair color ranges from medium brown to black, our eyes are brown to almost black, our skin color ranges from ivory to copper. As a final note of coincidence, the charts show that Robert Drouin’s mother was also named Marie DuBois, though she never left the Perche region of France. So I have two ancestor named Marie duBois on my family tree, three hundred years, and one continent, apart.

I’ll post links to the Association Drouin and photos of the fete in the future.

Final Notes

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

Well, it’s been a marvelous week. I’ve enjoyed all the questions and comments from everyone. I’ll check back over the next couple days to see if there are any more questions, comments or solutions to the final research question, before posting the answer. Congrats to all who attempted and/or succeeded on the research projects. It was really fun reading your responses, and sharing in your enthusiasm.

I have a confession to make: not only am I not an MLS librarian, but I have an expert whom I consult when I am well and truly stymied. I turn to author Carola Dunn, who lives nearby. We have a deal: I help her with word origins and usage, and buy her lunch, and she answers my headscratcher questions and corrects my shaky French translations. Carola is currently writing a series of delightful mysteries set in England in the 1920s, and also has written over 30 intriguing (and very well researched) traditional regencies now available as e-books at Carola and I were the only people in the theater, and probably in the state of Oregon, who watch the marvelous movie “Amazing Grace,” and grew noticeably perturbed at the presence of the king’s son in the House of Commons.

There’s one more web site that I’d like to share:
It’s a treasure trove of equine information, including all the winners of all the big races in England, information about all the famous British racehorses, bits about the big racing stables, and so on. There’s probaby more, such as information about racing in America, that I haven’t even found yet.

Two final notes: as a personal plea, if you have the inclination, and the health, please consider contributing at your local bloodbank. It would be a most precious gift to someone.

And finally, to all you EJ fans impatiently waiting for An Affair Before Christmas. It is well worth your wait. It is that good. I read many parts of it a dozen times, not because they weren’t perfect, but because they were utterly perfect. We are all in for such a treat.

Thanks for everything, and
Best Wishes

Next research project

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

Franzeca -you put it very succiently (succinctly–ed.) (spelling?) – when researching it really is in how you ‘frame the question’. You’ve worked in a public library for 20 years? Wow! That’s one of my favorite places. What was the most interesting research project you’ve had to tackle?”

There’s an incredibly bright librarian at my library (truth in disclosure, I don’t have an MLS.) But he knows just about everything, and even worse, is perfectly nice about it. About once a year, I manage to find an answer that’s stumped him, or at least get to the answer before him. And I cherish the moment for the next year, and my next rare victory.

He wasn’t here for this triumph, but was clueless when I told him the question. I happened to remember the book, and the name, that answered this. Now you give it a try. Maybe you should write the answer as a spoiler, in white font that has to be highlighted to be read, so others can still search on their own.

(real question) On whom did Defoe base his story of Robinson Crusoe? And what book would you recommend on the subject?
(Bonus points if you manage not to use “Robinson Crusoe” in your search.) (And no points if you don’t have a book title.)

Do you have any questions you want this amazingly bright, intuitive group to tackle? Is there some stickler in your WIP that you need us to work on? Can we practice our research skills for your benefit?


(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

We’ve all got the drill down for physical accuracy in our romance novel depictions—the Regency hero with the Brutus hair cut, champagne-polished Hessians, matched grays pulling the high-perch phaeton. Our heroine is fashionably immaculate in a high-waisted dress and carries a reticule. (Why do all heroines have tiny feet, and curly hair that always behaves? I think there is a serious dearth of Bad Hair Days in romances.) Medieval heroes are formidable swordsmen and ride thundering stallions. And so on.

But what about other aspects of accuracy, social and psychological? How much accuracy to you want to read about, and how high a priority is it in your wip? And how much work are you willing to do to get there?

I think this is more of an issue with Medievals than Georgian and Regency-set romances. The low status of women, the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church, the scarcity of education, and the frequent, unpredictable, and deadly ravages of war, plague and famine (those horsemen were spot-on) make any glamorous depiction of the Middle Ages wildly optimistic. How would a heroine do in a society that debated if women had souls? There seems to be fewer Viking-era romances being written these days. This is probably a good idea, as life was even more difficult in those days.

Even Regencies present a somewhat idealized era. Remember that even the great Mr. Darcy had to ask Mr. Bennet for Elizabeth’s hand—she could not make that determination herself. Animals were still seen as tools, as chattel, and even though there must have been instances of great affection between human and pet, the casual cruelties, the working to death of animals, the bear baitings, were still very common, though it would be completely unacceptable for a leading character in a romance to condone such activities. The ruling class of Regency England was largely Tory, and extremely conservative. These were the days of the Enclosure Movements—families forced off land that their ancestors had tilled for generations—to be replaced by profitable sheep-raising enterprises. Many of the upper classes desperately feared change, and felt the ruthless suppression of the lower classes was necessary to preserve their life of privilege. How would that play in a romance?

Where do you stand on this? How much does the “entertainment” factor trump a grimly realistic portrayal of an era? How many female spies could have operated in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars? Do you think a “wallpaper” setting is adequate, or do you feel that your story needs to be set within an accurately-portrayed society? Can an incandescent love story shine brightly within a harsh era, and still be believable? Do you have to read Catherine Cookson to really see what life was like for the working class, or can you, Jane Austen-like, ignore poverty, war, struggling lower classes, and natural disasters?

Where’s your balance? And how do you get there?