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

dust jacket

The following post is the twelfth 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 chock full of 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 Brighton Road, Mr. Tristram suggests, might be called the “Regent’s Road,” since it was the Prince who, once he determined the health benefits of the seaside city, saw to it that the road was made passable.

For before the Pavilion was, Brighton was about as easy to get at as the Cranmere Pool in the middle of Dartmoor, the moon, the North Pole, the special exits in case of fire at our principal theatres, or anything else on earth totally inaccessible.

It was in 1750 when Brighton was nothing but a small fishing village that Doctor Richard Russell visited and proclaimed that sea water was beneficial to health, which began the exodus of wealthy hypochondriacs to seaside resorts. At that time, however, our author suggests that oxen were required to cope with the deep ruts. “People got into coaches to go to Brighton and only got out of them when they were overturned.”

All these horrors of the Brighton Road the much abused George the Fourth did away, with a sweep as it were of his fat, bejewelled and august hand! He built the Pavilion, and people from all parts of the country came straightway to see it and him… the crowds soon found…that if they were to come to Brighton, and to court, they had better have some decent road to come upon. And from this simple bringing home of a plain truth came into existence the Brighton Road—“perhaps the most nearly perfect, and certainly the most fashionable of all.”

Brighton Pavilion1

Brighton Pavilion

Cuckfield Park, Cuckfield, West Sussex

This sixteenth century manor is known for its ghost, said to be that of Anne Sergison, who, already afflicted with a somewhat combative nature, had to fight a long and sordid court battle to get it. It came to light after her brother’s death that the thirteen-year-old girl assumed to be his daughter was actually a “supposititious” (don’t you just love that word?) child imposed on him by his wife. No one knows what happened to the girl and her mother, but Anne’s ghost has been spotted in the corridors and the avenue leading to the house, and some say she particularly attended her granddaughter’s wedding in 1890. No rest for the wicked, so they say.

Cuckfield Park was the inspiration for William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel Rookwood.

Cuckfield Park

Cuckfield Park

The Dorset Arms, East Grinstead

All distinguished travellers on the Brighton Road pulled up as a matter of course at the Dorset Arms. Amongst those whose names have been handed down as habitual visitors, was Lord Liverpool, who always stayed at the Dorset Arms when on his way to visit the Harcourt seat near Buxted… Another constant guest was Lord Seymour, who died, I believe, in 1837—mean, I am sorry to say…and yet not mean either one way, for if he didn’t eat and drink much, he possessed a passion for illumination which must have produced some respectable items in the bill—thirty wax candles or more burning in his bedroom all night. Spencer Perceval too (the Prime Minister remarkable for great ability and for having been shot in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812 by John Bellingham) must have been a familiar figure at the Dorset Arms, for the house from which he was married in 1790 to Miss Jane Wilson stands just at the bottom of the Dorset Arms’ garden.

The Dorset Arms

The Dorset Arms

The Clayton Arms, formerly the White Hart and currently the White Hart Barn, Godstone Green

It is said the that in 1815 the Regent, the Tsar of Russia, and many royal visitors stayed at the inn on their way to Blindley Heath, to be present at the fight for the championship of England…Blindley Heath was one of the most popular and celebrated of prize-fighting rendezvous.

“The Fancy were all upon the alert soon after breakfast” (I quote from Boxiana’s description of the Grand Pugilistic combat between Randall and Martin, at Crawley Down, thirty miles from London, on Tuesday, May 4, 1819 “on the Monday to ascertain the seat of action; and as soon as the important whisper had gone forth, that Crawley Down was likely to be the place, the toddlers were off in a twinkling… Between the hours of two and three o’clock in the afternoon upwards of a hundred gigs were counted passing through Croydon… Long before eight o’clock in the evening every bed belonging to the inns and public houses in Godstone, East Grinstead, Reigate, Bletchingley, &c., were doubly and some trebly occupied.”

“Those persons whose blunt enabled them to procure beds, could not obtain any sleep, for carriages of every description were passing through the above towns all night… The brilliants also left Brighton and Worthing at about the same period, and thus were the roads thronged in every direction… It is supposed if the carriages had all been placed in one line they would have reached from London to Crawley. The amateurs were of the highest distinction, and several noblemen and foreigners of rank were upon the ground.”

The White Hart Barn, now the village hall of Godstone Green

The White Hart Barn, now the village hall of Godstone Green

Regent and emperor putting up at a wayside inn to witness a fight for the championship!…The noblemen and foreigners of rank crowding round the twenty-four foot ring! What can give us a better idea of the Brighton Road in its prime than these facts? What paint more vividly what I call its “Regency flavour”, its slang, its coarseness, its virility—in a word, its “Corinthianism”?


 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

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana: Lady P and I recently returned to Ohio after spending a month in Florida where she enjoyed taking daily “constitutionals” around the retirement village where my parents live, and eventually condescended to take a dip in the heated pool, although the bathing costume she rigged for herself raised more than a few eyebrows from the other swimmers.

Lady P [indignantly]: My dear Susana, I could not possibly have appeared in public in those-those underthings you and your mother wore. I should have been utterly humiliated!

Susana: They are called swimsuits, Lady P. Bathing costumes. And that’s what everyone else wore.

Lady P [with a hand to her head]: The gentlemen—such as they were—were much worse. I thought I would swoon when I saw those naked chests!

Susana [chuckling]: But surely you have seen a bare-chested man before, Lady P. Why, you and Lord P were married for nearly twenty years, were you not?

Lady P: Well, of course I did, but not in public, Susana. Why, my Pendleton was exceedingly conscious of propriety. He would never have appeared in public half-dressed; why his valet would have slit his own throat before allowing it!

Susana [biting her lips to keep from laughing at the thought of the suicidal valet]: These gentlemen are from the 21st century, Lady P. Frankly, what these men wore was quite modest compared to some of the younger gentlemen. Don’t you remember that day when we went to the beach and saw—

Lady P [shuddering]: Do not even remind me, Susana. The young women’s attire…why they were nearly as naked as the day they were born! Where is their sense of modesty?

Susana [making a mental note to avoid beaches and pools in the future]: Perhaps we should get back to today’s topic—the Luddite revolt in 1811-12. Can you tell my readers what you recall of that uncertain time?

Lady P: Indeed I can, although one could wish to forget it.

ludditesSusana: It started in the Midlands with the stocking industry, when stockingers, using looms and equipment leased from their employers in their homes, lost more than half their income when they were forced to produce cheap stockings that their employers could sell in larger quantities and increase their profits. Is that correct?

Lady P: How could I forget? Those stockings fell apart after barely a week of wear, and even the servants disdained them!

Susana: That was the same year the harvest failed, and food prices rose to an alarming level, and more and more people were suffering in economic distress.

Lady P: A shilling for a loaf of bread! It was outrageous!

Susana: People became desperate, and before long, gangs of disguised men started going around destroying the frames and looms used to produce the stockings to protest the treatment of the workers and the poverty more and more of them were forced to endure.

Lady P: That may be how it started, Susana, but it escalated into so much more than that. Why, many of us feared an uprising against the monarchy comparable to the French Terror of barely two decades past. And there wasn’t much to be done about it; Pendleton told me that fully half of the militia had taken up the cudgel for General Ludd in stealth and would turn against their officers in a trice if ordered to put down the revolutionaries.

Susana: I’m curious to know what Lord P thought should be done about it. He was a Tory, and the Tories were in power. Did he approve the decision to make frame-breaking a capital offense?

Lady P [shaking her head and sighing]: No, of course he did not. He thought it was incredibly stupid to think that masses of starving insurgents could be deterred by fear of the gibbet if they were caught. [Swallowing hard] He was, in fact, quite moved by Lord Byron’s speech in the House of Lords, where he decried the Tories’ attempt to solve the problem by force. He insisted—quite eloquently, Lord P admitted—that the Midland workers were being exploited to increase the profits of a few hosiers, and that the resulting misery benefitted no one.

Susana [thoughtfully]: The more things change, the more they stay the same. [Seeing Lady P’s raised eyebrow]: I was just thinking of how the Ohio House of Representatives just voted to eliminate the forty-hour work week so that employers won’t have to pay overtime—pay them double—for working more than that.

Lady P: As to that, I can’t say, Susana. But that is one reason I became a Whig. I would never go so far as to overturn the entire government and plunge the country into turmoil and terror such as what happened in France, but I have always believed that certain reforms to prevent the poor from being exploited could be instituted without much upheaval, and that the entire country would be the better for it. [Sighing] Dear Pendleton felt the same, but he was unable to persuade his colleagues to listen to reason. As afraid as they were of a revolution, the only solution the Tories could agree on was to threaten the insurgents.

Susana: It wasn’t long after that the Tories fell out of power, didn’t they? After the assassination of the Prime Minister?

Lady P: Indeed, and it was well-deserved too. Not because the Whigs’ ideas were much better, although they certainly used the Tories’ imprudence to their advantage. The Prince Regent’s intemperate behavior and his treatment of his wife made him vastly unpopular, so the Whigs took up the cudgel for Princess Caroline, proclaiming that she was being badly treated, and causing more riots, spreading to the north.

percevalSusana: And didn’t the people actually cheer the assassin as he was led to his execution a week later? There was that much dissatisfaction with the government that they cheered the murderer of the Prime Minister?

Lady P [tight-lipped]: Poor Lord Perceval. He was a good man. Had twelve children, you know. A family man. He could have gone far, if it weren’t for that Bellingham fellow shooting him in the House of Commons. Do you know the government wouldn’t even give him a public funeral because they were fearful of riots? I hardly knew what to say to his wife Jane when I saw her after that.

Susana [sighing]: Some things seem so unfair, don’t they? Like my friend whose daughter just died of breast cancer at age thirty-seven. Or many of my friends whose husbands lost their jobs and couldn’t find anything comparable afterward because of their age and the cost of health insurance. What do you say? How do you help them?

Lady P [clucking]: I suppose there will always be misery and injustice, no matter how diligently we try to eliminate it.

Susana: But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

Lady P [smiling]: Exactly. Now, Susana, don’t you think something should be done about all the weeds in the back garden? Since the weather turned warmer, they seem to be popping up all over the place.

Susana [leaving the room]: Have at ’em, Lady P. There’s a hoe in the shed and some work gloves in the drawer over there.

Lady P [frowning]: And where might you be going, then?

Susana [from the office]: I have a Christmas story to write. Deadline, you know. Can’t be bothered with weeds for awhile.

Lady P makes a beeline for the back door, audibly grumbling about “misplaced priorities,” “writing Christmas stories in May,” and that she “really should go back to the 19th century where there were gardeners to do such onerous tasks.”

As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

The Lady P Series

Episode #1: Susana’s Adventures With Lady P: The Introduction

Episode #2: Lady P Talks About… Pride and Prejudice?

Episode #3: Lady P and the Duchess Who Lost a Billion Dollars

Episode #4: Lady P and the Face On the $100 Bill

Episode #5: In Which Lady P Discovers Sparkly Fabrics and Ponders Violating the Prime Directive

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #7: The Political Exploits of Lady P and the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #8: Lady P and the Prince Regent’s Illicit Marriage

Episode #9: In Which Lady P Depletes the Cooking Sherry During Her Discussion of Caroline of Brunswick

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Episode #12: Lady P’s Revelations Regarding George III and His Peculiar Progeny

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Episode #15: Lady P On Assignment in 1814 Kent

Lady P Quizzes Jane Livingston, the Hero’s Sister From “A Twelfth Night Tale”