The following post is the sixteenth 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!
While I mean no disrespect to Canterbury and its extraordinary history, there is so much already out there on this topic that I’ve decided to skip it and focus on a particular coachman well-known and much respected for his years of service on the Canterbury-Dover Road.
Coaches On the Dover Road
Of the coaches on this Dover Road I have refrained from speaking, not because I was reserving the best thing till the last, but in point of fact for an exactly opposite reason. An indisputable subject tells me that, considering its importance as the principal route for travellers between England and France, there were not many coaches running on the Dover Road. I fancy that most people who had the wherewithal and wanted to catch a packet when the tide set, posted, and congratulated themselves. Mr. Jarvis Lorry I know was not amongst this number, but then he travelled by the Dover Mail, which was always an institution, kept good time, and carried in its day historic matter.
Mr. William Clements: Gentleman Coachman
Of the other coaches on the Dover Road I shall make no mention. For once in the way, a catalogue, if made, would contain no sounding names in coaching story, would register no records in the way of speed, catastrophes, or drivers especially cunning, sober or drunk. Yet one coach besides the Dover Mail on this road I will mention, because next to the Mail it took high rank—in some estimations a rank above it; because with its coachman in its best days, I have had the pleasure of shaking hands. Yes! I have shaken hands with a classic coachman! No tyro he when coaching was the fashion, but an artist to the tips of his fingers—one of the old school, whom I have heard described by one who knew them well, as Grand Gentlemen; parties capable of giving Fatherly advice, to bumptious pretenders—parties who at the end of a trying journey, etc., over heavy roads took their ease at their inn with an air, disembarrassed themselves of their belchers, and sat down to a pint of sterling port.
Yes, in Mr. William Clements, who still enjoys a hale old age at Canterbury, I have chanced on a type now almost extinct, and which another generation will only read of in descriptions more or less fabulous, and wonder whether such people have ever been. Mr. Clements, who still takes a sort of paternal interest in those revivals of the coaching age which delight our millionaires during the prevalence of what we are pleased to call our summer months, lives in a snug house of his own, surrounded by memories of his former triumphs. A duchess might envy the Chippendale furniture in his drawing-room, and the bow window commands an extensive view of a rambling block of buildings which in days gone by houses the treasures of a choice stud.
As I listened to this man, it seemed to me that I came into direct personal contact with the very genius of coaching days and coaching ways—felt the impulse which throbbed in the brains of our ancestors to be at the coaching office early to book the box seat: sat by the side of a consummate master of his craft; was initiated in an instant into all its dark mysteries of “fanning,” “springing,” “pointing,” “chopping,” and “towelling.” I went through snowdrifts, I drank rums and milk; hair-breadth escapes in imminent deadly floods were momentary occurrences; I alighted at galleried inns; waiters all subservient showed me to “Concords” in all quarters of the empire. I revelled in the full glories of the coaching age in short in a moment! For had I not touched hands with its oldest, its most revered representative?
Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, Volume 69 (Free on Google Books)
In the early 20’s, when agriculture was at its best, the farmers between Canterbury and London wanted a coach that would land them in London at noon on Monday and bring them back the same day… It was settled offhand to start a coach; Mr. Chapin said, “it must be a light coach and we will call it the Tally-ho!…It was started on that fortnight and either on its first start or soon afterwards, Mr. William Clements, whom I knew for the greater part of my life, was coachman, and at first he drove the early five o’clock Monday coach from Canterbury to London in one day, 112 miles all told; but it proved too much and afterward he drove up to London, 56 miles, and down the next day… The coach was almost always called “Clements’s coach,” and he went by the name of “gentleman coachman,” for he had quite the courtesy of Sir Roger de Coverley, combined with the most finished skill in driving his team, and he seldom went a journey without having a young lady who was travelling alone committed to his charge.
Baily says that he had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clements and his “bright little wife, who was a very clever and well read lady,” and that, in fact, she had been one of the young ladies entrusted to him when he was a young man, and that they celebrated their golden anniversary before she passed away.
This is Why I Love Research!
In my next story, I believe I shall weave in a scene with this true-to-life “gentleman coachman.” In fact, it is beginning to take shape in my mind already! A young lady traveling to London unaccompanied in need of protection. Fabulous!