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The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

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The following post is the twentieth 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 Vivid Description of an Inn

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The Bell Inn at Stilton

As I read Mr. Tristram’s description of these inns at Stilton—particularly the Bell—I found myself feeling the emotional impact of his words that made the visual details more alive and real to me. It was almost as though I were there in the innyard, watching the herds get shod for their long trip to London. Or later, watching the Scots prisoners march past from Culloden to await an uncertain future amongst the enemy.

Perhaps it’s just me and my own vivid imagination that responds so intimately to these passages. But I’m reproducing them here in the hope that you will also be able to experience the historical reality of these old inns, as described by W. Outram Tristram. I am convinced that not only will I be setting a scene here at some point in the near future in one of my own stories, but I will put this inn on my list for a place to stay at a future trip, as I find staying overnight in these historical buildings so inspiring!

bell inn

The Bell Inn

Click here for map

“No place more representative of the ‘Coaching Age Decayed,’ than Stilton, is to be found on Earth”

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For here the Great Northern way has diverged from the line of the old road, and by doing so, has turned a vast coaching emporium into a corpse of a town… It was rather, in its best days, a village clustering about two magnificent inns, the Angel and the Bell, which still stare at each other stonily across the great North Road. At the Angel, well known in the coaching days as the house of the famed Miss Worthington (stout, smiling, the christener of Stilton cheeses made miles away, but so called because they were sold at her hospitable door), over 300 horses were stabled for coaching and posting purposes. Vast barracks indeed stretching at the back of the old house—one wing of which alone is now open to travellers—tell of the bustle of post-boys, of the hurrying to and fro of fidgety passengers over-eager to be off, the harnessing and unharnessing of horses, of all the many-voiced Babel of travel in fact which fifty years ago surged and swayed round this teeming coaching centre, now lying silent and deserted as the grave. I am told—and from its central position on the great North Road seventy-five miles from London, I can well understand the fact—that at Stilton in the old days the ebb and flow and traffic never ceased. All day coaches and postchaises continually poured into the place and out of it. And by night the great mails running from Johan o’Groat’s almost, into the heart of London, thundered through the splendid broad thoroughfare, visible mediums as it were of an empire’s circulation. And other wayfarers besides postillions and coachmen seemed never off the road—huge flocks of geese destined for the London market, and travelling the seventy-five miles with uncommon ease; enormous droves of oxen, not such roadsters born. Each beast was indeed thrown and shod at Stilton to enable them to bear the journey. And to show the huge press even of this kind of traffic, this business of shoeing oxen was a trade almost in itself, as I have been told by the present landlord of the Angel Inn, who used in his youth to do the office himself, and to whose still active memory I am indebted for most of the foregoing details.

The Bell Inn

The Bell Inn

And to cross the road (the breadth of the great North Road at Stilton at once seizes the imagination, it is royal, the breadth of it, and looks like the artery of a nation), to cross the road from the Angel, and to come to the Angel’s great rival, the Bell, is to bridge a whole period in the history of English travel; to pass in twenty yards from the age of crack coaches and spicy teams to times long antecedent, when Flying Machines were not; when the great roads were hazily marked over desolate heathy tracks; when men travelled on horseback and women rode pillion, and people only felt secure when they went in large companies; when the solitary travellers went in fear of their lives when the gloaming overtook them, and “spurred apace to reach the timely inn.”

Here is a picture of medieval travel such as I think must have often been witnessed from the windows of such old houses of entertainment as the Bell at Stilton, when the Tudors ruled England. And often sterner episodes of history must have passed beneath its magnificent copper sign than wedding processions of royal princesses, even in the days, when England was called merry, and was merry England indeed. During the year 1536 the Bell at Stilton was no doubt often visited by one of those medley cavalcades so common at the time, consisting of abbots in full armour, waggon-loads of victuals, oxen and sheep, and a banner borne by a retainer on which was worked a plough, a chalice, and a Host, a horn, and the five wounds of Christ—the well-known badge which marked the fiery course of the Pilgrimage of Grace. This great rising, which began in Lincolnshire ran much of its course along the Great North Road—who knows how much of it passed through the now-deserted rooms and corridors of the great Northern inns such as this Bell at Stilton! It was in an inn at Lincoln at all events that on a night of October there was present a gentleman of Yorkshire whose name (Robert Aske) a few weeks later was ringing through every English household in accents of terror or admiration.

robert-aske-leader-of-the-pilgrimage-of-grace1

Robert Aske leading the Pilgrimage of Grace: a rebellion against Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries

But indeed standing before such a monument of days gone by as this is, it is not a question of this or that romantic episode rising to a fanciful man’s mind as the pageant of a whole nation’s history passing in a sort of ghostly procession. And what episode of that pageant or such part of it at all events as passed on the Great North Road, has not this great deserted house of entertainment seen, fed, sheltered within its now crumbling walls? Gallants of Elizaeth’s day, Cavaliers of Charles the First’s, Ironsides on their way to Marston Moor, Restoration Courtiers flying from the Plague. And in days more modern, King’s messengers spurring to London with the tidings of Culloden—and Cumberland himself fresh from his red victory, and the long line of Jacobite prisoners passing in melancholy procession, their arms pinioned behind them, each prisoner’s horse led by a foot soldier carrying a musket with fixed bayonet; each division preceeded by a troop of horse with drawn swords, the drums insulting the unhappy prisoners by beating a triumphal march in derision.

Jacobite_Prisoners

Jacobite prisoners after Culloden

Why, scenes beyond number such as these must have passed before the long gabled front of this old Bell at Stilton; passed, faded, been succeeded by hundreds more stirring, which in their turn too, vanished like some half-remembered dream. And the old house still seems to keep some mysterious memory of these scenes locked in its old withered heart; as gaunt, ghost-like, deserted, but half alive, it stares night and day on the lonely North Road.

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The Bell Inn

 

 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

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

dust jacket

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

Click here to see map.

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.

 carriage flood 18831908-horse-carriage-print-river-flood_700_600_O7K9

 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

The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

dust jacket

The following post is the eigthteenth 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 Gunpowder Treason Plot

The conspirators

The conspirators

In 1605, a group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, met at a house called White Webbs near Enfield Chase, to plot to assassinate James I and put his daughter Elizabeth on the throne, who, although only nine years old, was to be the Catholic head of state. An anonymous letter galvanized the authorities into action. Guy Fawkes was found in the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder on October 26, 1605. The other conspirators fled, but were captured, although Catesby was killed in a shootout. The other men, including a Jesuit priest called Father Garnet, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. There was speculation that the priest, although he undoubtedly knew of the plot, was innocent because of his vow to the confidentiality of the confessional. Our illustrious author, however, seems to think that Father Garnet was in it up to his eyeballs.

For here, at this lonely house, then in the middle of Enfield Chase, nearly all the actors in the dark catastrophe, imminent at Westminster, at one time or another gathered. Over and over again the ten miles between Enfield Wash and London must have rung to the sound of their horses’ hoofs, as they rode fiercely between White Webbs and London. That Catesby was here ten days before the mediated explosion is evident from Winter’s confession:

“Then was the parliament anew prorogued until the fifth of November, so as we all went down until some ten days before, when Mr. Catesby came up with Mr. Fawkes to an house by Enfield Chase called White Webbs, whither I came to them, and Mr. Catesby willed me to inquire whether the young prince came to the parliament: I tolde him I heard that his grace thought not to be there. ‘Then must we have our horses,’ said Mr. Catesby, ‘beyond the water, and provision of more company to surprise the prince, and leave the duke alone.’”

That a more important factor in the deadly design—if the latest judgment of posterity is to be believed even that Catesby himself was frequently at the old house in Enfield Chase is shown in the examination of James Johnson: that is to say in the examination of Guy Fawkes.

It was stated by him that the place had been taken of Dr. Huicke by his master, Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, for his sister, Mrs. Perkins (alias Mrs. Ann Vaux); that Mrs. Vaux had spent a month there and mass had been said by a priest whose name deponent did not know.

Father Henry Garnet

Father Henry Garnet

And as Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, was none other than Henry Garnet, the Provincial of the English Jesuits, the importance of the testimony becomes apparent. And the fact gives birth to a fancy. It is interesting to me to think that Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, with his candid blue eyes, his fair curling hair, his polished, courteous manners, his form tending to an embonpoint by no means suggestive of asceticism; it is interesting to me, I say, to think that Mr. Meaze of Berkshire, may have been a well-known and respected figure about Enfield Wash. That he may have been recognized as Father Garnet, for the first time as he stood absolutely under the beam on that May morning—”the morrow of the Invention of the Cross”—on the great scaffold at the west of end of old St. Paul’s; that he may have been recognized there by some Enfield yeoman, who had ridden in from Enfield to see the show, little expecting to see in the last victim, in the most distinguished of all the victims perhaps, to a justly outraged justice, the courteous, handsome stranger, who he had so admired and respected down in his quiet Enfield home!

Father Garnet at the gallows

Father Garnet at the gallows

Guy Fawkes Day

Apparently, all that remains of Guy Fawkes Day is an occasional bonfire and the burning of effigies of disliked celebrities, and fireworks. In some places it gets lumped together with Halloween. But it no longer has much to do with religion and politics as it originally did.

Guy Fawkes interrogated by James I

Guy Fawkes interrogated by James I

 

 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

The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

dust jacket

The following post is the seventeenth 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 Great North Road

map

220px-Hadley_GreenAnd Barnet is soon a memory on the great north road. A memory however which shows some claim to “recollection dear”, fixing as it does the site of a great battle and of a highwayman’s exploits, which have occupied almost the same space in history—I mean fiction—No! I mean history. To come to details:—On Hadley Green, half-a-mile to the north of the town, was fought on a raw, cold and dismal Easter Day, in the year 1471, the famous battle between the Houses of York and Lancaster which ended in the death of the king-maker, and established Edward IV on the throne; and behind an oak tree, which still stands opposite the Green Man at the junction of the York and Holyhead Roads, the immortal Dick Turpin used to sit silent on his mare, Black Bess, patiently waiting for some traveller to speak to.

The romanticized Dick Turpin

The romanticized highwayman

A Not-So-Gallant Highwayman

Dick Turpin attacking the mail-coach in Epping ForestLet me preface this by saying that the real Dick Turpin was a violent criminal and not the sort of gallant Robin Hood frequently found in historical romances and in William Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood. His gangs robbed, maimed, killed and raped. It was due to men like him that coaches traveling on the highways of England often had armed outriders for protection. Nor was he a particularly handsome fellow. The London Gazette describes him as:

Richard Turpin, a butcher by trade, is a tall fresh coloured man, very much marked with the small pox, about 26 years of age, about five feet nine inches high, lived some time ago in Whitechapel and did lately lodge somewhere about Millbank, Westminster, wears a blue grey coat and a natural wig.

The London Gazette: no. 7379. p. 1. 22 February 1734. )

turpin1

Prior to taking up coach-robbing, Turpin was part of a gang who did what we would call home invasions—beating and torturing the occupants, in one case forcing a bare-buttocked man to sit on the fire. Scenes right out of Criminal Minds! A behavioral analyst would understand this better than I, because I simply cannot imagine why anyone would do this for the piddly amount they came away with—often less than thirty pounds!

That gang—termed the “Essex Gang”—ceased to exist when authorities rounded up and executed many of the members in 1735. That’s when our Dick turned to robbing coaches. He was hiding out in Epping forest when he shot and killed a servant who recognized him.

Dick_turpin_murderer

It having been represented to the King, that Richard Turpin did on Wednesday the 4th of May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, Servant to Henry Tomson, one of the Keepers of Epping-Forest, and commit other notorious Felonies and Robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious Pardon to any of his Accomplices, and a Reward of 200l. to any Person or Persons that shall discover him, so as he may be apprehended and convicted. Turpin was born at Thacksted in Essex, is about Thirty, by Trade a Butcher, about 5 Feet 9 Inches high, brown Complexion, very much mark’d with the Small Pox, his Cheek-bones broad, his Face thinner towards the Bottom, his Visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the Shoulders.

—The Gentleman’s Magazine (June 1737)

Escaping to the north, he began calling himself Palmer, and under that name, was accused of shooting another man’s cock (a chicken, I believe!) and tossed in the House of Correction at Beverley. Suspected of horse theft, he was transferred to York Castle and sentenced to death for that. It wasn’t until he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law—who promptly refused it—that his true identity was discovered. He was executed at Knavesmire and buried at St. George’s Church in Fishergate. Ironically, his body was robbed by bodysnatchers, who made their living selling bodies to medical schools—but it was recovered soon after and reburied.

Dick-Turpin-Grave

 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

The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

dust jacket

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!

Artistic License

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

dover road

112 miles round trip proved too much in one day.

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

william clements

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!

Henry Alken Sr. Dover to London Coach Summer

Henry Alken Sr.
Dover to London Coach Summer

 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

The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

dust jacket

The following post is the fifteenth 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!

Comment to enter Susana’s October Giveaway, an Anne Boleyn necklace (see right) from Hever Castle in Kent.

Gad’s Hill Place: A Young Boy’s Dream

Gads-hill620_2032271b

Gad’s Hill Place

John Dickens used to point out this stately home as an incentive to his nine-year-old son Charles to work hard. He meant, of course, that his son might someday own such a home, but his son took it literally and used to walk over from Chatham to inspect his future home.

I used to look at it as a wonderful Mansion (which God knows it is not) when I was a very odd little child with the first faint shadows of all my books in my head – I suppose.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Years later, after Charles had achieved fame and fortune, he heard the house was for sale and purchased it, and it became his country retreat in 1857.

Here too from his house on Gad’s Hill (and a very hideous house it is) Charles Dickens…gave novel after wonderful novel to an astonished world, which was never sated with a humour and an observation of life which were indeed Shakespearean; but kept craving and calling for more, and more—till the magician’s brain was hurt, and the magic pen began to move painfully and with labour, and the chair on Gad’s Hill was found one June morning to be empty forever.

I remember the shock of that announcement well. It was as if some pulse in the nation’s heart had stopped beating. There was as it were a feeling that some great embodied joy had left the world, and silence had fallen on places of divine laughter… Yes, the feeling was general, I think, that English literature had suffered an irremediable loss by Dickens’s death; and time has confirmed the fear. We have abandoned laughter in these days for documentary evidence, psychology, realism, and other prescriptions for sleep, and have entered on a literary era which has lost all touch and sympathy with Dickens, and is indeed divinely dull.

Mr. Tristram goes on to quote from the numerous works in which Dickens featured Rochester and its environs: The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Edwin Drood.

According to Wikipedia, Dickens had in his study “dummy” books with titles such as:

  • Socrates on Wedlock

  • King Henry VIII’s Evidences of Christianity

  • The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: I Ignorance, II Superstition, III The Block, IV The Stake, V The Rack, VI Dirt and VII Disease.

  • A very thin volume entitled The Virtues of Our Ancestors

(I’m loving this man’s sense of humor. Aren’t you? I could think of a few such titles for my own office.)

chalet

Dickens’s chalet where he wrote many of his later works on the upper floor

In 1864 his friend, the actor Charles Fechter, gave him a gift of a Swiss chalet, in 94 pieces. Dickens had it assembled across the street and later had constructed a brick-lined tunnel so that he could go back and forth from his house unobserved. His works from then on were written from the upper floor of the chalet.

Note: The chalet was transferred to the now-defunct Dickens Centre at Eastgate House in Rochester, but you can still see the chalet in the garden.

Restoration House in Rochester

There is a passage in Great Expectations referring to this very Restoration House, a place which always took his fancy, and well it might.

restoration-house-satis-house-small

Restoration House, Rochester

“I had stopped,” thus the passage runs, “to look at the house as I passed, and its seared red brick walls, blocked windows, and strong green ivy clasping even the stacks of chimneys with its twigs and tendons, as if with sinewy old arms, made up a rich and attractive mystery.”

This mystery held him to the end. On the occasion of his last visit to Rochester, June 6th, 1870, he was seen leaning on the fence in front of the house, gazing at it, rapt, intent, as if drawing inspiration from its clustering chimneys, its storied walls so rich with memories of the past. It was anticipated, it was hoped, that the next chapter of Edwin Drood would bear the fruits of this reverie. The next chapter was never written.

 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

The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

dust jacket

The following post is the fourteenth 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).

Blackheath: Dark-Colored Heathland

The area of Blackheath is about seven miles from London Bridge. Originally the name of an open space for public meetings of the ancient hundred of Blackheath, this name was also given to the Victorian suburb that was developed later in the 19th century. While this area was certainly used for burial pits for the victims of the Black Death in the 14th century, it was only one of many used for such a purpose in London and was not the source of the name. Blackheath comes from Old English, “dark-colored heathland,” undoubtedly referring to the color of the soil.

Besides a queen devoted to junketings [Queen Caroline, who lived at Montague House], a letter-writing father, bent on directing his son to the deuce [Lord Chesterfield], and a great warrior [Major General James Wolfe, conqueror of Quebec], rebellion has in the good old days…raised its head on this celebrated spot; and it raised its head in the person of Wat Tyler, who was here in 1381 at the head of one hundred thousand other heads (which was wise of him seeing that he had previously cracked a poll-tax collector’s head at Dartford, after drinking too much ale, I suppose, at the celebrated Bull Inn). Another rebel was here, at Blackheath 1497. Lord Audley to wit, who went through the somewhat aimless exercise of bringing troops all the way from Cornwall, pitching their tents, and immediately afterwards suffering defeat at the hands of Henry the Seventh.

Montague House, residence of Queen Caroline

Montague House, residence of Queen Caroline

The Predecessor of Rotten Row?

For this celebrated spot occupied in the annals of England much the same sort of position apparently as Rotten Row occupies in the annals of contemporary fashion. It was the place where kings and ministers met casually on their way to or from London, and babbled of the weather, the price of corn, the latest hanging, the odds on the next bear-fight, the state of the unemployed, or any other kindred subject which might suggest itself to medieval brains, in an open space, where it was not too windy.

blackheath

Henry the Fifth a Spoilsport?

On his return to London, “The Victor of Agincourt” was greeted here by “the mayor and five hundred citizens of London. The mayor and aldermen had prepared an elaborate reception, with wine and scarlet and gold robes and all the trappings. But Henry “nipped all the worthy mayor’s preparations in the bud,” refusing to accept the praise and thanks that should go to God.

A pious decision, but one which must have been extremely unsatisfactory to town councillors who had launched forth in the way of dress and decorations, and to the thousands of Londoners who had flocked out to Blackheath to see the show.

Henry V: not in a proper mood to be fêted

Henry V: not in a proper mood to be fêted

Henry the Eighth: A Guilty Conscience?

It was here on Blackheath that the already muchly married king publicly received his fourth wife, with all due decency and decorum, having already made up his royal mind to put her away privately. For Henry on this occasion did not play fair; and though he pretended to Anne of Cleves herself that it was at this meeting on Blackheath that he had first seen here—in saying so, he said that which was not; for he had already privately inspected her at the Crown Inn at Rochester. It was on this occasion it may be remembered that the bluff Tudor gave way to a regrettable license of speech at first sight of the goods the gods had provided for him, and said many things unfit for publication; which shocked the onlookers, and made Cromwell put his hands to his head to feel if it was still in his shoulders.

Alas, Cromwell, as the advocate for this marriage, paid for his folly with his head. Anne of Cleves, however,

was content to forego the dubious joys of married life for the possession of the several manors in Kent and Sussex that her grateful late lord bestowed upon her. The number of these manors exceeds belief, and at the same time gracefully gauges Henry’s conception of the magnitude of the matrimonial peril past. Indeed, it seems to me that…whenever he had nothing villainous on hand, and was disinclined for tennis, he gave Anne of Cleves a manor or two simply to while away the time.

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The Manor Gatehouse is all that is left of the manor Henry VIII presented to Anne of Cleves as “one of the first manors granted to this little-married but much-dowered lady.”

Charles II’s Triumphant Procession

…it was in 1660 no doubt that the grandest of its historical pageants was to be seen: when the long reaction against Puritanism had suddenly triumphed, and all England went mad on a May morning at the Restoration of her exiled king; when through sixty-one miles as it were of conduits running wine, triumphal arches, gabled streets hung with tapestry—through battalions of citizens in various bands, some arrayed in coats of black velvet with gold chains, some in military suits of cloth of gold or silver—Charles, who had slept at Rochester the night before, rode on to Blackheath between his brothers, the Dukes of York and Gloucester.

Charles II riding into London

Charles II riding into London

Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Woodstock (1826), paints a picture of Charles catching a glimpse of the characters of the novel in the crowd and making a point to dismount, prevent the aged Sir Henry Lee from rising, and ask for his blessing, after which, “his very faithful servant, having seen the desire of his eyes, was gathered to his fathers.”Quite a poignant scene, but could not have happened in real life since Sir Henry had passed away fifty years earlier. Don’t you just love historical fiction?

Charles Dickens: “veritable genius of the road”

His memory burns by the way—as all but the wicked man who has not read Pickwick and David Copperfield will remember—and indeed A Tale of Two Cities. For in the second chapter of that wonderful book the very spirit of the Dover Road in George the Third’s time is caught as if by magic.

A Tale of Two Cities: read Chapter Two here: http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/twocities/2/

Who does not remember these things? Who has not read them again and again? I declare that I think this second chapter of A Tale of Two Cities a picture of the old coaching days more perfect than any that has been painted. Every detail is there in three pages.

tale

George IV Insulted at the Bull Inn

In 1822

…while the great Fourth George was majestically reposing in his royal post-chaise in front of the old archway he experienced an unpleasant surprise. A very ungentlemanly man named Calligan, a working currier who ought to have known better, suddenly projected his head into the carriage window, and observed in a voice of thunder, “You’re a murderer!” an historical allusion to the king’s late treatment of Queen Caroline, which made the royal widower “sit up”. Upon which a bystander named Morris knocked the personal currier down,and the window of the post-chaise was pulled up, and the post-boy told to drive on as quickly as possible.

The Royal Victoria and Bull Inn (formerly the Bull Inn)

The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (formerly the Bull Inn)

 

 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