The following post is the nineteenth 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!
The Playfulness of the River Ouse
At a place called St. Neot’s, fifty-six miles from London, the Regent coach used to leave the main road, every now and then, for some reason which remains occult, and go round by some paper mills, which were naturally situated on the flat. The river Ouse has a habit, as is well known, of playfully overflowing its banks, and the consequence was that the road lying before the Regent coach lay sometimes for half a mile under water. Now an extra pair of leaders were put on, and ridden by a horsekeeper, who made the best of his way through a situation which was novel not to say precarious. The water was often up to the axle-trees; and on the particular occasion…went beyond this limit and invaded the inside of the coach. For a moment or two the Stamford Regent was afloat, also two old ladies who were inside of it, with their goods and chattels. Their cries and laments when they found the coach gradually be converted into an Ark were heartrending in the extreme. They gave themselves utterly for gone, and prepared for the most comfortable, but noisiest of all deaths. Nor were the outside passengers in very much better plight. For though they were not sitting absolutely in the water, as I am sorry to say the old ladies were; still they were sitting in wet clothes, which is the next thing to it—and in this situation commanded as fine a prospect of water above, below, and around, as has been seen by travellers I should say since the flood. In addition to this not altogether gratifying panorama of flood effects, unseen dangers were on every side; to wit, a large ditch on one side, and a series of huge heaps of stones on the other; both pleasantly invisible by reason of great waters, but both clearly there for a specific purpose; the stones to overturn the carriage; the ditch to receive it when it had been overturned. It must have been a truly critical five minutes for the Rent, Tom Hennessy, the passengers, the horses and everybody else, but they all got safely through and thanked their stairs.