The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

dust jacket

The following post is the thirteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!

Note: Comment to enter the contest for Susana’s September Giveaway, a lovely necklace from London’s National Gallery (see photo at right).

“Rich crowds of historical figures”

One can almost imagine Mr. Tristram trembling with anticipation to relate to us the countless numbers of historical personages who passed along this timeworn route—so many that he skips over the Romans and barely mentions the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. In fact, he admits

And here I may perhaps remark with advantage—to myself (in case it may appear that I am on a history bent rather than on coaching)—that the purely coaching record of the Dover Road is a thing only to be touched on briefly. For in point of fact it is “thin”, as dramatic critics would say, in the extreme.

dover road

Deptford: Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Sayes Court

In 1581 Elizabeth I traveled along a turnpike that ran from New Cross to Deptford to board Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind, that circumnavigated the globe. Apparently it was later

converted into a sort of dining-house for London visitors; in which case all I can say is that I hope that they recollected in what sort of sanctuary of heroism they were dining, and drank the health reverently of the great man who made English commerce possible, and so, indirectly, enabled them to pay the bill.

Replica of the Golden Hind

Replica of the Golden Hind

It was in Deptford that “the greatest perhaps of our Elizabethan dramatists was killed here in a tavern brawl.” Our author goes on about Christopher Marlowe‘s birth at Canterbury and insinuates that “the greatest of our poets is unrepresented in our pedantic Pantheon,” that other lesser poets were honored with slabs of marble while he only with an unmarked grave in the churchyard at St. Nicholas’s Church in Deptford. As to that, I feel I must add that had he not died at the age of thirty (under circumstances that are murky at best), his achievements might have been unequalled even by Shakespeare or Cervantes. And that a memorial window in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey was laid in for him in 2002, which must have given great gratification to all Marlowe devotees.

Memorial window to Christopher Marlowe, Poets' Corner, Westminst

Sayes Court, known for its exquisite gardens, was the setting for “some of the most brilliant scenes in Kenilworth” by Sir Walter Scott. Kenilworth is the story of a secret marriage between Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and Amy Robsart. Click here to download this classic for free on your Kindle.

Set in 1575,

the tragic series of events begins when Amy flees her father and her betrothed, Tressilian, to marry the Earl. Amy passionately loves her husband, and the Earl loves her in return, but he is driven by ambition. He is courting the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and only by keeping his marriage to Amy secret can he hope to rise to the height of power that he desires. At the end of the book, the queen finally discovers the truth, to the shame of the Earl. But the disclosure has come too late, for Amy has been murdered by the Earl’s even more ambitious steward, Varney. (Wikipedia)

sayes court

Sayes Court

Tristram remarks:

I confess that it does me good when in the course of these disjounted rambles along the great roads of England I can find some spot haunted by the, to me, charmed figures which throng the pages of the Waverley Novels. Hitherto I have not reaped much of a harvest of joy in this direction it must be confessed; but Deptford has given me my first opportunity; and the Dover Road, a little further on, will give me my second; with which remark I think I may leave Deptford altogether, lamenting that all that can be seen of Sayes Court is now a parish workhouse, which stands on its site; and marvelling at the imperial relaxation of Peter the Great who stayed here in 1698 (at the Court, not at the workhouse), and who was wont to unbend a mind wearied with shipbuilding, by being driven through the world-famous hedges of the garden in a wheelbarrow.

A Kindred Spirit

It occurs to me that Mr. Tristram, in the above paragraph, has captured for me the essence of my fascination for this book. While I’m always interested in how people lived—and that includes travel—in the past, it’s not the listings of coaches and their travel times that holds my interest, anymore than it’s the grandeur and magnificence of stately homes that draws me to England year after year. It’s the history—the people who traveled there, lived there, had experiences there that catches my imagination. Standing on the same ground where countless others stood so many years ago, I feel privileged to be a part of it. There’s a sense of continuity of life, of gratitude for events and people that made it possible for me to live in relative safety, and sorrow that so much of what could have been learned from the past continues to be replayed again and again in the modern world.

History has so much to teach. If only people would listen to its wisdom!

 Index to all the posts in this series

1: The Bath Road: The (True) Legend of the Berkshire Lady

2: The Bath Road: Littlecote and Wild William Darrell

3: The Bath Road: Lacock Abbey

4: The Bath Road: The Bear Inn at Devizes and the “Pictorial Chronicler of the Regency”

5: The Exeter Road: Flying Machines, Muddy Roads and Well-Mannered Highwaymen

6: The Exeter Road: A Foolish Coachman, a Dreadful Snowstorm and a Romance

7: The Exeter Road in 1823: A Myriad of Changes in Fifty Years

8: The Exeter Road: Basingstoke, Andover and Salisbury and the Events They Witnessed

9: The Exeter Road: The Weyhill Fair, Amesbury Abbey and the Extraordinary Duchess of Queensberry

10: The Exeter Road: Stonehenge, Dorchester and the Sad Story of the Monmouth Uprising

11: The Portsmouth Road: Royal Road or Road of Assassination?

12: The Brighton Road: “The Most Nearly Perfect, and Certainly the Most Fashionable of All”

13: The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

14: The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

15: The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

16: The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

17: The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

18: The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

19: The York Road: The Stamford Regent Faces the Peril of a Flood

20: The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

21: The Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

22: The Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

23: The Holyhead Road: Old Lal the Legless Man and His Extraordinary Flying Machine

24: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part I)

25: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part II)

26: Flying Machines and Waggons and What It Was Like To Travel in Them

27: “A few words on Coaching Inns” and Conclusion

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