Tag Archive | W. Outram Tristram

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

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-sixth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana 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!

Portrait of a Flying Machine

…they were principally composed of a dull black leather, thickly studded by way of ornament with broad black-headed nails, tracing out the panels in the upper tier of which were four oval windows, with heavy red wooden frames, or leather curtains. Upon the doors were displayed in large characters the names of the places whence the coach started, and where it was going to—another matter. The shape of the Flying Machine was a matter left much open to choice. You could ride in one shaped like a diving bell; or in one the exact representation of a distiller’s vat, hung equally balanced between immense back and front springs; or in one made after the pattern of a violoncello case—past all comparison the most fashionable shape. If my readers are tempted to cry why this thusness, I can only say because these violoncello-like Flying Machines hung in a more graceful posture—namely, inclining on to the back springs—and gave those who sat within it “the appearance of a stiff Guy Fawkes uneasily seated.” But this is a satiric touch, surely. To get on to the roofs, however. These generally rose into a swelling curve, which was sometimes surrounded by a high iron guard, after the manner of our more modern four-wheeled cabs. The coachman and the guard (who always held his carbine ready cocked upon his knee—an attitude which must have made inside passengers wish they had insured their lives) then sat together over a very long and narrow boot which passed under a large spreading hammercloth hanging down on all sides, and furnished with a most luxuriant fringe. Behind the coach was the immense basket, stretching far and wide beyond the body in which it was attached by long iron bars or supports passing beneath it. I am not surprised to learn that these baskets were never very great favourites, though their difference of price caused them to be frequently filled—but another proof of needs must when the devil drives—. And as for the notion of these Flying coaches when well on the road, it was “as a ship rocking or beating against a heavy sea’ straining all her timbers, with a low moaning sound as she drives over the contending waves.” With which extraordinary simile we may leave Flying Machines behind us—and any description of their successors too. For are not the models of the crack coaches in coaching’s primest age to be seen every day in Piccadilly? They are—and some very delightful rides can be had in them too.

old English flying mail coach

old English flying mail coach

The experience of “travelling in one of these perfected turn-outs”

Not that travelling in these perfected turn-outs was always like riding on a bed of roses, as I have had occasion frequently to point out, which consideration brings me to the inevitable comparison of the advantages of rail versus road. On which great subject much can be said on both sides, as a celebrated Attorney-General for Honolulu once remarked. De Quincey, for instance, may talk of the “fine fluent motion of the Bristol Mail,” and call up recollections in our minds of the modern Bristol Mail’s motion as anything but fluent; he may glorify “the absolute perfection of all the appointments about the carriage and the harness, their strength, their brilliant cleanliness, their beautiful simplicity, the royal magnificence of the horses; “but here is another side to the picture. I quote from Hone’s Table-books, an extract in the style of Jingle, and worthy of him.

HONE'S BOOK

Hone’s Every-Day Book and Table Book

“STAGE COACH ADVENTURES.

“INSIDE.—Crammed full of passengers—three fat fusty old men—a young Mother and sick child—a cross old maid—a poll parrot—a bag of red herrings—double-barrelled gun (which you are afraid is loaded)—and a snarling lap dog in addition to yourself. Awake out of a sound nap with the cramp in one leg and the other in a lady’s bandbox—pay the damage (four or five shillings) for gallantry’s sake—getting out in the dark at the half-way house, in the hurry stepping into the return coach and finding yourself next morning at the very spot you had started from the evening before—not a breath of air—asthmatic old woman and child with the measles—window closed in consequence—unpleasant smell—shoes filled with warm water—look up and find it’s the child—obliged to bear it—no appeal—shut your eyes and scold the dog—pretend sleep and pinch the child—mistake—pinch the dog and get bit.—Execrate the child in return—black looks—no gentleman—pay the Coachman and drop a piece of gold in the straw—not to be found—fell through a crevice—Coachman says ‘He’ll find it.’—Can’t—get out yourself—gone—picked up by the Ostler—no time for blowing up—Coach off for next stage—lose your money—get in—lose your seat—stuck in the middle—get laughed at—lose your temper—turn sulky—and turned over in a horse-pond.

William Hone

William Hone

“OUTSIDE.—Your eye cut out by the lash of a clumsy Coachman’s whip—hat blown off into a pond by a sudden gust of wind—seated between two apprehended murderers and a noticed sheep-stealer in irons—who are being conveyed to gaol—a drunken fellow half asleep falls off the Coach—and in attempting to save himself drags you along with him into the mud—musical guard, and driver horn mad—turned over.—One leg under a bale of cotton—the other under the Coach—hands in breeches pockets—head in hamper of wine—lots of broken bottles versus broken heads.—Cut and run—send for surgeons—wounds dressed—lotion and lint four dollars—take post-chaise—get home—lay down—and laid up.”

coach

stage coach and mail

Stage coach and mail

 

Mail coach

Mail coach

 

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

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-fifth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana 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!

Sam Hayward: “An artist of a finer mould”

An artist of a finer mould was Sam Hayward, who drove the Wonder from Shifnal to Shrewsbury (18 miles). Not only was he a fine performer on the Road—but he did a deed in the usual way of business when he got into Shrewsbury which made spectators stare. The Lion yard is just on the top of the hill in Shrewsbury, and is so placed that to coachmen not demigods, to turn into it off a sharpish pitch with a heavy load was to attempt the impossible to an accompaniment of breaking poles and shrieking passengers. All other coaches coming from London went in therefore ignominiously by the backway, though they came out at the usual entrance. Not so Sam Hayward on the Wonder. Secure in the knowledge of accomplished strength he smilingly hugged the kerbstone on the near side, passed the entrance for a few yards—but yards accurately calculated—then described a round and imperial circle, and shot in under the archway a victorious, a classic charioteer. People at first thought him mad—I read, when they saw him thus as it were defying the thunder—but they soon saw that he knew what he was doing, and could do it.

Winterbotham: “amazing fresh”

Of quite a different type was one Winterbotham—who drove the Holyhead Mail four stages out of Holyhead and who on one occasion when Mr. Birch Reynardson—the great authority in this part of the world—approached the coach, was described to him by the guard as being “amazing fresh.” “Amazing fresh” is not only good in my eyes: it is delicious. And how when Winterbotham presently put in an appearance did he answer to this poetic description? Why, amazingly. “He approached rolling about like a seventy-four in a calm: or as if he were walking with a couple of soda-water bottles tied under his feet.” The peculiarity of this gait, which might have been much appreciated on the Metropolitan boards as an eccentric dancer’s new departure, did not appeal to the teller of this tale as prophetic of safety from the box-seat of a crack coach. So Winterbotham in all the meridian of his freshness was included, a solitary passenger in the stuffy inside—and Mr. Birch Reynardson himself assumed the ribbons. At the change near St. Asaph, sixty miles from Holyhead, inquires were made after Winterbotham’s condition. But all his freshness had deserted the cooped-up charioteer! He was however found fairly rational though excessively dejected, and expressed himself thus on an unique experience— “Well I think I’d better get outside now! I aren’t used to this. Well! This is traveling like a gentleman, and inside the Mail to be sure! Well! I never travelled inside a Mail or a coach before; and I dare say I never shall again! I don’t think I like the inside of a coach much; and so I’d better get out now! it feels wonderful oldd somehow to be inside the Mail; and I really hardly know how I got there.”

Dan Herbert: “perfected in his quiet method of driving bad teams without punishing them”

On the same coach, but further up the road, Dan Herbert did his twenty-four miles between Eccleshall and Lichfield with two changes, and his twenty-four miles back the same day,—an artist perfected in the quiet method, driving bad teams punctually without punishing them, rather by the medium of fine hands and temper coaxing them along. He was upwards of thirty years on the Chester and Holyhead Mail, and in consideration of his faithful and correct attention to business was awarded a scarlet coat on every anniversary of the King’s birthday.

mail coach?

George Clark: “an artist of the same calibre and of like style”

And George Clarke was an artist of the same calibre and of like style. He took the Umpire at Newport Pagnell (fifty-one miles from London), and met the down coach at Whetstone returning about nine o’clock. The most valuable of servants, because the first coachman in England for bad horses. Having always had weak horses to nurse, the ordeal had worn him down to a pattern of patience. With these and other great weights upon severe ground, he was steady, easy and economical in thong and cord, very light-handed, and sometimes even playful!

John Marchant and Bob Snow: “demigods whose steel nerves their passengers implicitly trusted”

…these men [John Marchant of the Manchester Telegraph and Bob Snow of the Defiance] drove opposition coaches, in which speed was the one thing looked up to, associated in a mild degree with a more or less reasonable amount of safety. And they drove furiously to beat the record—careful of nothing so long as the coach kept on its wheels, demi-gods whose steel nerves their passengers implicitly trusted, well knowing as they did that if those steel nerves had for an instant failed their owners the whole stock and lot would have gone to the Deuce in an instant.

'The Opposition Coaches', 1837 (1927).Artist: Charles Cooper Henderson

‘The Opposition Coaches’, 1837 (1927).Artist: Charles Cooper Henderson

It was this sort of fiery opposition kept up between the two crack Manchester coaches which called forth some such comment as the following, comments constantly to be culled from contemporary magazines:—

“Whoever takes up a newspaper in these eventful times it is even betting whether an accident by a coach or a suicide first meets his eye. Now really as the month of November is fast approaching, when from foggy weather and dark nights, both these calamities are likely to increase, I merely suggest the propriety of any unfortunate gentleman resolved on self-destruction, trying to avoid the disgrace attached to it by first taking a few journeys by some of these Dreadnought, Highflyer, or Tally-ho coaches; as in all probability he may meet with as instant a death as if he had let off one of Joe Manton’s pistols in his mouth, or severed his head from his body with one of Mr. Palmer’s best razors.”

mr. palmer's razors

Trade card of Mr. Palmer, cutler and razor-maker

 

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

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-fourth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana 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!

Poor Jack Matthews

…to begin with—speaking of coachmen’s fate—few I should surmise have met a more ignobly ironical one from a coachman’s point of view than did poor Jack Matthews, who drove the Oak and Nettle coaches from Welshpool to Liverpool, which were run in opposition to the Holyhead Mail and were often too fast to be safe. For poor Jack fell no willing victim to his own indiscretion, but was killed—it is with a blush for the departed that I write it—in a railway accident. In a foolish moment he took it into his head to go to Liverpool for a day’s outing, in a foolisher moment, if there be such a word, he got on the railway which was only half finished. He got on to this railway at Wrexham, intending to go as far as Chester. This feat the unfinished railway accomplished him, only however to throw him off a bridge (unfinished too, I suppose) when he got there. Well may his biographer exclaim, “Poor Jack! He would have been safer driving the Nettle Coach, in all probability!” (which “in all probability” gives us a very fair idea of the safety of the Nettle Coach! But this is a digression.) And Jack was as pretty a coachman as ever had four horses in hand. “A good workman in all respects, smart as a new pin.”

REYNARDS008871-1

Dick Vickers: “fell a victim to agriculture”

Another celebrated coachman on this road met as sad, but more consistent a fate, this was Dick Vickers, who drove the Mail between Shrewsbury and Holyhead. He fell a victim to agriculture. That is to say that though in stature he was so little “that he had to get on to six-pennyworth of coppers to look on to the top of a Stilton cheese” yet the deluded man pined to be a farmer. And he was fond of fishing too, a much more profitable pastime. However, a farmer Vickers became, in spite of his friends’ entreaties, who after a reasonable interval of anxiety found him sus per coll [hung by the neck]. This Vickers, not content with the lack of judgment he displayed while on earth, is said to haunt the scene of his indiscretion still. Though the Mail which he used to drive has long ceased to exist, they do say that at times a rambling is heard—and so on. Mr. Birch Reynardson, to get to something more tangible about Vickers, knew him well, as he seems to have known most of the crack coachmen on the Holyhead Road, through Shrewsbury, and has described them as well as he knew them in his Down the Road. The ill-fated Vickers, he writes, was a good little fellow, always civil, always sober, always most obliging, and a friend of every one along the road. And Mr. Reynardson had some opportunity of studying his model’s characteristics, particularly I should conceive on that one celebrated occasion chronicled, when he sat by him on the box-seat and saw him deal with a team comprised of the engaging attributes of “Three blind ‘uns and a bolter”, or in the coachman’s own words “Four horses, but they’ve only got two eyes among ’em, and it would be quite a well if that horse had not any so far as I know—for he makes shocking bad use of ’em at all times I can tell you.”

REYNARDSON

Old John Scott: “Hit ’em sly—hit ’em sly!”

A differently organized team was equally successfully coped with by one known to fame as Old John Scott. He drove the Chester and Holyhead Mail, and remarked to Mr. Reynardson, who was using all his art to boil up a trot going up Penmaenmawr (thirty-six miles from Holyhead), “Hit ’em sly—hit ’em sly!” And on being asked the reason for this dark advice alleged that if this particular team heard the whip before they felt it, they would never be got up Penmaenmawr at all. Nor was “hitting ’em sly” with the whip the ingenious Old John Scott’s sole method of dealing on heavy ground with this extremely sticky lot. No. He was accustomed, when the crisis came, and the coach threatened to come to a full stop where there was no proper halting place, to play a sort of rat-tat-tat with both feet on the foot-board—and lo! the sticky ones sprang up to their collars at once, as if the author of all evil was behind them. Much exercised by this extraordinary phenomenon, Mr. Reynardson with a praiseworthy impulse to arrive at the dark truth, remarked, “Well! that’s a curious dodge! What do they think is coming?” Upon which Old John Scott, saying, “Wait a pit. I’ll soon let you see what they think is coming,”—stooped down and produced from the boot a most respectable and persuasive looking “Short Tommy”. This sounds rather like a case for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—did we not have it on the best authority that Old John Scott was a worthy, good little, stout-made fellow, whose B was sounded like a P, and who when he said “Shall” pronounced it like Sall.

Next week: more noteworthy coachmen on this noteworthy road

Down the Road: Reminiscences of a Gentleman Coachman, by C.T.S. Birch Reynardson

BOOK

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

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-third 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 Holyhead Road enters Buckinghamshire at Brickhills… forty-five miles from London. …I must not leave these forty-five miles behind me without noting a curious sight which was often to be seen on this stretch from the topics of coaches before the legislature forbade the use of dogs as animals of draught. This sight was an old pauper, born without legs but with a sporting turn of mind. This natural bias led him to contrive a small waggon—very light, as may well be imagined since it had nothing but a board for the body. It was however fitted with springs, lamps, and all necessary appliances, and was drawn by a new kind of team in the form of three fox-hounds harnessed abreast.

In this flying machine of his own contriving, Old Lal, for such was the name of the old pauper born without legs—no name having been given him by his Godfathers and Godmothers at his baptism—Old Lal used to make the most terrific times. His teams were well matched in size and pace, cleverly harnessed, and he dashed by coaches making even their twelve miles an hour like the shot out of a gun, and with a slight cheer of encouragement to his team; but not in any spirit of insolence or defiances, as Captain M.E. Haworth (who in his Roaa Scrapings has preserved this episode of the North-western Road) is careful to tell us, but merely to urge the hounds to their pace.

ISLINGTON TO DUNSTABLE

This pace in the end proved fatal to Old Lal, after having lived for many years on the alms of passengers by coaches between the Peacock at Islington and the Sugar Loaf at Dunstable. For one winter, when according to the ostler of the Sugar Loaf’s version, “the weather was terrible rough, there was snow and hice, and the storm blowed down a-many big trees, and them as stood used to ‘oller and grunt up in the Pine Bottom so that he’d heerd folks say that the fir-trees was a-rubbing themselves against one another—”one such winter as this Old Lal had not been seen for three weeks. This fact did not cause any anxiety to his friend the ostler. But one Sunday afternoon, when he had “four o’clocked his horses” and was putting a sack over his shoulders, preparatory to going down to his cottage, who should come up to him but one Trojan—a fox-hound and a respected member of Old Lal’s team. The fact that Trojan had part of his harness on, set the ostler thinking that he had cut and run, and that perhaps he had left Old Lal in trouble.

PEACOCK INN, ISLINGTON

PEACOCK INN, ISLINGTON

This supposition proved correct; but it was never believed that old Trojan was the cause of Old Lal being found dead on the side of the road some distance off his waggon which was found stuck fast between two fir-trees, with one of the hounds still in harness lying dead beside it. No! It was believed by the ostler that the guilt of Old Lal’s death lay at the door of another of the dogs—one Rocket, who turned up at the Sugar Loaf shortly after the arrival of Trojan. For this Rocket, according to the ostler, possessed many traits calculated to give rise to suspicion. In the first place, he was “a younger and more ramblier dog;” in the second place, “he never settled nowhere;” and in the third place, the last that the ostler heard of him was that, “being allers wondering fond of sport,” he had joined a pack of Harriers at Luton. …All three which considerations put together induced in the ostler the very probable belief that Rocket was the instigator of the poor old man’s death; that he (Rocket) must have caught a view of a fox, or at any rate have crossed a line of scent and bolted off the road and up through the wood, and “after he had throwed the old man out, continued the chase till the waggon got hung fast to a tree and tied them all up.” The jury, it may be remarked in conclusion, who sat on Old Lal’s remains, did not rise to this very lucid explanation of the cause of their session; for according to the ostler, they contented themselves with observing “That Old Lal was a pauper wagrant, that he had committed accidental death, and the coroner sentences him to be buried in the parish in which he was last seen alive.” He was buried in a square box accordingly, and the ostler and Trojan the fox-hound were the sole assistants at the rite.

Click here for a vintage advertisement for the Sugarloaf Inn

SUGARLOAF INN

SUGARLOAF INN

Another Version of the Tale

Tales From Tring Brewery

In this version, it was Thomas Pickford, Chairman of the Turnpike Trust who built the cart for Old Lal—who had been an ostler until losing his legs in an accident—so that he could earn money running errands and such. However, Pickford didn’t expect that the cart would be used to race coaches for the passengers’ entertainment, and in doing so, prove to be a danger to travelers. According to this source, Old Lal’s death was caused by a fox enticing the hounds to chase after him “over fields and ditches,” before getting the cart caught between the two trees and causing Old Lal’s death.

 

 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 Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-second 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!

london-st albans

As soon as 1742, the North-western Roads were already famous for speed.

…it came to pass in 1754 that a company of Manchester merchants, having considered how Time flew, and to what a degree the success or non-success of commercial speculation coincided with the flight of Time, bethought them how most nearly in their passage to and from London they might fly themselves. To which end they started a new sensation called a “Flying Coach.” And they carefully put forward in a well-weighed prospectus the claims of their invention to the title, stating that there was non nonsensical pretence about the thing this time, but that in point of honest fact they seriously contemplated running their machine at the accelerated speed of five miles an hour; and that however incredible it might appear, the coach would actually, barring accidents, arrive in London four days and a half after leaving Manchester!

Before the days of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)

Bar-room_Scene,_William_Sidney_Mount,_1835

Bar-room Scene, William Sidney Mount, 1835

The first casualty to be noticed on the North-western Road occurred… so near to London indeed as Finchley Common (which is about a mile and a half beyond Highgate Archway), though the cause of the accident, the first cause, originated at a place called Redbourn, twenty-one miles down the road. And in this wise: Owing to an obstruction below Dunstable—in point of fact to heavy snow-drifts—four or five coaches started together thence. They all went at a fair pace, not racing, but passing each other at the different stages, till they reached the Green Man at Fincley, where according to immemorial prescription the four coachmen alighted for a drink, or rather for four. And now “a change came o’er the spirit of the scene.” In other words, one “Humpy,” so called either from his driving the Umpire (but I hope not) or from his having a hump on his back, which is more probably, was discovered to have taken too much spirits. For he was very noisy and shouted and hallooed at the top of his voice, though at what it is impossible to conjecture. However, the old coachman who tells the story… suspected that something would happen. So he kept behind, and waited to see what he would see. He first of all saw one of the three coaches by a fence opposite a public-house… he saw a coach lying on its side—the Manchester Umpire in fact—the coach of the too demonstrative Humpy… The forepart of the coach was broken, the luggage was scattered all over the road, also the passengers, who, thus agreeably circumstances, improved the shining hour by bewailing their bruises and cursing the conduct of Humpy. This was rather unchivalrous of them as it turned out, thus to rail against; for Humpy was also on his back perfectly helpless, “like a large black beetle,” moaning and groaning most hideously, and certainly more injured that anybody else… From Humpy himself therefore no explanation of how things had occurred was naturally forthcoming. But there were not wanting men unkind enough to allege that this complete turnover resultted from now more intricate a fact than that of the miserable Humpy having his leaders’ reins wrongly placed between his fingers, which was done when he took them from his box-passenger, after the last, the fatal, brandy and water. The natural but very embarrassing consequence was that when Humpy suddenly discovered that he was too near the fence, he pulled the wrong rein, and there they were—on their backs in the road.

No speed limits either?

'The Opposition Coaches', 1837 (1927).Artist: Charles Cooper Henderson

The Opposition Coaches, 1837, Charles Cooper Henderson (1927)

A more serious accident than this, inasmuch as one of the unfortunate passengers was killed, happened to the Holyhead Mail, a little further down the road, a mile indeed on the London side of St. Albans. This arose from the exciting but highly dangerous pastime of racing. The Holyhead Mail, via Shrewsbury, attempted to pass the Chester Mail by galloping furiously by on the wrong side of the road. The coachman of the Chester Mail resented the indignity, and pulled his leaders across his rival’s—a heap of stones conveniently placed by the road side did the rest of the business, and in a moment converted two spick and span turn-outs, full of passengers more or less alive and alarmed, into a mass of struggling horseflesh, splintered wood and groaning wounded. The inquest on the victim of this rivalry among coachmen was held at the Peahen inn in St. Albans, and a verdict of manslaughter was returned against both artists. Abundant subsequent opportunity was afforded them of meditating on their sins, for they were kept in irons in St. Albans for six months before they were tried at Hertford—in which town they enjoyed a further twelve months’ imprisonment in the county gaol.

Duty wins over heroism (unless the ladies are attractive)

The Louth Mail Accident

The Louth Mail Accident

A snow effect is the next coaching incident to be chronicled in this neighbourhood of St. Albans, richer surely in its agreeably diversified crop of casualties than any other place in England. The North-western coaches… seem to have got the full benefit of the historic snow-storm of 1836. This visitation lasted the best part of a week and has never been equalled in England before or since. The drifts in some hollows were said to be twenty feet deep—which caused some passengers not unnaturally to report that they were “mountains high,” and some coachmen to state that the snow in some places was higher than their heads as they sat on the box. “Never before,” writes a correspondent of the Times of that day (quoted by Captain Malet in his Annals of the Road)—“never before within recollection was the London Mail stopped for a whole night at a few miles from London, and never before have we seen the intercourse between the southern shores of England and the metropolis interrupted for two whole days.”

White Hart Inn, St. Albans

White Hart Inn, St. Albans

…many mails and coaches remained hopelessly stuck, able neither to get up the road nor down it—a state of affairs which must have caused many passengers to use srange words, and the landlords of the Angel, White Hart, and Woolpack to make hay while the snow fell. And some people were not so fortunate as to be stuck fast in a picturesque place where there was something eat, as Burdett, the guard of the Liverpool Mail, was able to testify. For on Tuesday, December 27, of this memorable year, this guard from his vnatage point, beheld a chariot buried in the snow and without horses, safely at anchor at about a mile on the London side of St. Albans. And he had no sooner seen it—and two elderly ladies inside it, who rent the welkin with clamorous cries for help—than he found, by being suddenly precipitated head firstinto twelve feet of snow, that his coach had got into a drift too. Having recovered his perpendicular, and emptied his mouth, a natural curiosity prompted Burdett to cross-examine the ladies on their somewhat forlorn position. They told him that their post-boy and left them for St. Albans to get fresh cattle, and had been gone two hours—no doubt having elected to get brandy for himself instead. Meanwhile, there they were—and in a very deplorable plight surely. But will it be believed that this heart-moving vision of beauty in distress did not move the guard of the Liverpool Mail in the least! No! He proceeded stolidly in the plain path which is duty’s—a fact whih tends to the suspicion that the ladies cannot have been beauties. But whether they were or no, Burdett, after having heard their story, turned a deaf ear to their appeals for help. He just helped his coachman, his passengers, and his four horses on to their feet—(for the horses too had assumed a recumbent position)—and having extricated his mail, by the help of his tools, curses, and other expedients not mentioned in the text, pursued his journey to London, leaving the chariot and the ladies to their fate.

Mail Coach in a Snowstorm c.1835-40 by Charles Cooper Henderson 1803-1877

Mail Coach in a Snowstorm c. 1835-40, Charles Cooper Henderson

 

 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 Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

dust jacket

The following post is the twenty-first 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!

Mr. Ambrose Rookwood

…in November, 1605, roads as we now understand them did not exist; but this same route, or at all events tracks across un-inclosed heaths; even then connected the above-mentioned places [St. Albans, Redbourn, Dunstable, Brick-hill, Towcester, Dunchurch, Coventry, Birmingham, and Shrewsbury] with each other and the capital, and marked the shortest way for those riding post to reach Northamptonshire, or the Counties beyond its borders.

Map: St. Albans – Dunstable – Towcester – Daventry

Mr. Ambrose Rookwood

Mr. Ambrose Rookwood

Early then in the November of 1605, certain elaborate preparations which had been made for rapid travelling between London and Dunchurch, 80 miles down in Warwickshire was the common talk of ostlers and loafers at the chief posting-houses at St. Albans, Dunstable, Towcester, and Daventry. At each of these places, a Mr. Ambrose Rookwood, a young Catholic gentleman of fortune, well known on the road for his splendid horses, had placed heavy relays. The heaviness of these relays excited continual discussion. The confused rumour of the tap-room, fed by chance travellers on the road, decreed presently that these heavy relays were to carry Mr. Ambrose Rookwood down to a great hunting party, to be shortly assembled at Dunsmoor. But when this hunting party was to take place, no one seemed to know, or why the young Catholic gentleman should have made such elaborate preparations to reach it so hurriedly.

An Aura of Fear Pervades London

And so the few intervening days passed till the 5th of November, 1605, dawned grayly over London—amidst torrents of driving rain and wild gusts of a west wind which had gathered strength as the night waned, and by daylight had grown into a hurricane—dawned on a city distracted. Narrow streets were already crowded with excited groups, who whispered, gesticulated at street corners. Some men but half dressed rushed from their houses as if the rumour of some monstrous imminent doom had startled them suddenly from sleep. Others with drawn swords in their hands counselled all men to arm in one breath, and, as now and again a woman’s shriek rose above the press everywhere,—but no fixed rumour prevailed. Only each man eyed his neighbour suspiciously, only a vague feeling as of some nightmare had seized upon London that the past darkness had brought forth a portent.

Mr. Ambrose Rookwood and Mr. Thomas Winter Join the Fray

thomas winter

Mr. Thomas Winter

In the dim twilight of that November dawn Mr. Ambrose Rookwood, the young Catholic gentleman, whose relays of fine horses had excited such discussion on the North-western Road—came out into these distracted streets, in company with a friend—one Mr. Thomas Winter. The two gentlemen walked aimlessly here and there for some time, listening attentively to all that was said on all sides, now joining themselves to a group and adding questions on their own part, to the sort of universal interrogatory which prevailed—now shuddering and passing, on their way wuickly as the unformed phantom of the people’s fear began to grow gradually into defined shape. Then as if fearful any longer of uncertainty, they made with extraordinary coolness towards the Parliament House.

The sun had not yet risen; but in the middle of King Street, Westminster, the two found a guard standing. Permission to pass was peremptorily refused. Then as Mr. Rookwood’s friend stood parleying with the guard a white-faced citizen passed by hurriedly, exclaiming in panic-stricken tones, “There is treason discovered! And the king and lords should have been blown up.”

Flight of the Conspirators

The two gentlemen turned without a word, and made for their horses. The heavy relays on the North-western Road were now to be put to their proper use. But great caution had to be exercised. The appalling news had circulated in the city with the rapidity of poison. Barricades were being hastily erected at the ends of the streets; passengers were being stopped and questioned; any appearance of hurry would have led to instant arrest. It was eleven o’clock therefore before the two gentlemen got clear of London—and they were but just in time; for rumours were already in the air of a proclamation forbidding anybody to leave the town for three days. Once clear of London they rode desperately.

Huddington Court, Worcester

Huddington Court, Worcester

Few incidents I think in history seize the imagination so forcibly as that wild flight of the Gunpowder Conspirators northward. Thomas Winter made for his brother’s house at Huddington in Worcestershire; but Rookwood rode fiercely down the North-western Road to bear the fatal news to the conspirators already assembling on Dunsmoor. Catesby, Piercy, John and Christopher Wright were he knew on the road in front. But the relays already placed for him, and the desperate fear which urged him forwards enabled Rookwood to overtake the others as they were rising the ascent at Brickhill.

In a few words he told them what had happened in London—that Fawkes had been arrested and lodged in the Tower—that at any moment torture might make him give up their names—that the whole scheme had fallen through, and that their only chance of safety lay in instantly joining their friends. From this moment the flight became a stampede. “They devoured the ground,” shouting as they rode through startled towns and villages that they were carrying despatches from the King to Northampton, flinging off their large cloaks, heavy with the rain that still poured remorselessly, that they might add wings even to their precipitate flight. Rookwood rode thirty miles in two hours on one horse. At six in the evening the fugitives arrived at Catesby’s house at Ashby St. Ledgers, about three miles from Daventry. They had ridden the eighty miles from London in seven hours.

Map: Ashby St. Ledgers – Gayhurst

The gatehouse occupied by the Catesbys

The gatehouse occupied by the Catesbys

Here after a brief consultation with Robert Winter, who was staying in the house (it still stands in all its gloomy suggestiveness, this home of England’s most desperate conspirator), they rode off hastily on the same tired horses to join Sir Everard Digby and the pretended hunting gathering on Dunsmoor Heath which the direct road to Holyhead still crosses at the eighty-fifth mile-stone from London.

Sir Everard Digby, knighted by the king three years before he plotted to kill him

Sir Everard Digby, knighted by the king three years before he plotted to kill him

Their further wild course through Warwickshire to Holbeach on the Staffordshire border calls here for no telling, as it is no longer associated with the Road. But so intimately associated with the Gunpowder Treason does the way to Holyhead seem that thought its history is closed so far as the directest route is concerned, the earlier route by Chester has another link to add to its story. A short distance from Newport Pagnell (fifty-one miles from London), stands Gayhurst,the fine Elizabethan house once the home of Sir Everard Digby. Of him a sympathetic historian writes, “His youth, his personal graces, the constancy which he had exhibited whilst he believed himself a martyr in a good cause, the deep sorrow which he testified on becoming sensible of his error, seem to have moved all hearts with pity and even admiration; and if so detestable a villainy as the Gunpowder Plot may be permitted to have its hero Everard Digby was undoubtedly the man.”

Gayhurst House

Gayhurst House

The gray walls of his beautiful Buckinghamshire house were indeed witnesses at all events of some of the most suggestive incidents in the heart-quaking scheme. Fawkes was a frequent guest here—meditating through the prolonged rains which heralded the approach of the destined day, on the state of the powder, by now safely placed under the Parliament House; riding to and fro frequently from London; often an unexpected, always a welcome guest. From Gayhurst, besides, set out that Pilgrimage to St. Winifred’s well, in Flintshire, the motive of which was so much discussed after the discovery of the Conspiracy.

St. Winefride's Well: site of the conspirators' meetings?

St. Winefride’s Well: site of the conspirators’ meetings?

Motives apart however, what is mort important from my point of view is that the company of about thirty persons—all relations of the conspirators; some of the actual conspirators among these, travelled in coaches—proceeded by Daventry to John Grant’s house at Norbrook, a fine melancholy, moated manor once (where is it now?), thence to Robert Winters, at Huddington, and so to Flintshire by Shrewsbury.

holbeche

Holbeche House: where the surviving conspirators were captured

 

 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 Inns at Stilton

dust jacket

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

bell inn2

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”

plaque-on-pub-wall

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.

bell inn4

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