Monthly Archives: June 2013

Jane Austen Travels by Stagecoach

Advert header for the Regent coach 1822
In 1796 20 year old Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, “As to our mode of travelling to Town, I want to go in a Stage Coach, but Frank [their brother] will not let me.” In her book Journey by Stages Stella Margetson states that Jane did not get her wish until August 1814 and I have been unable to find anything to the contrary in her letters.
As I am researching for a book on stagecoach travel at the moment I was glad of another excuse to dig into the Letters and remind myself what Jane wrote to her sister after arriving by stagecoach to stay with brother Henry in Hans Place on the 22nd August 1814.
“I had a very good Journey, not crouded [sic], two of the three taken up at Bentley [a village 7.5 miles form Chawton] being Children, the others of a reasonable size; & they were all very quiet & civil.”
This was a very important point for a lady travelling alone in the tight confines of the inside of the coach. With three passengers each side on a seat that was only 41 inches wide, knee to knee with those opposite, large or offensive fellow travellers would be exceedingly unpleasant.
“We were late in London, from being a great Load & changing Coaches at Farnham, it was nearly 4 I believe when we reached Sloane St, Henry himself met me, & soon as my Trunk & Basket would be routed out from all the other Trunks & Baskets in the World, we were on our way to Hans Place in the Luxury of a nice cool dirty Hackney Coach.”
From this it sounds as though Jane was dropped off at the top of Sloane Street where it meets Knightsbridge, before the stage continued on its way past the Hyde Park Corner turnpike and into London. The Hackney coach journey down to Hans Place would not have been a long one and she managed to retrieve all her luggage: an important consideration, especially when the journey involves a change of coach, as travellers’ guide books of the period warn.
stage crop
The next part of her description of the journey is not easy to interpret: “There were 4 in the Kitchen part of Yalden – & I was told 15 at top, among them Percy Benn…We took up a young Gibson at Holybourn; & in short everybody either did come up by Yalden yesterday, or wanted to come up.”
According to Deirdre le Faye, editor of the Letters, Mr Yalden was the owner of a private stage coach which he drove from Alton in Hampshire on one day and then back to Hampshire the next, although this does not quite accord with them having to change stages at Farnham. But what does Jane mean by the “Kitchen”? I wonder if she is making an “upstairs downstairs” joke with the inside passengers “downstairs” being in the “kitchen”. Or did the inside passengers gather in the kitchen of whichever establishment Yalden’s coach started from?
Fifteen passengers on top was a very large number and must have contributed to the chaos sorting out the luggage. Normally three of the outside passengers sat facing forward, three facing backwards and one next to the driver – seven in total. To have squeezed on another eight, they must have been jammed together in the luggage space between the front and rear facing passengers. This was potentially dangerous, for it could unbalance the coach, but Mr Yalden’s appears to have been quite a slow one, so perhaps there was not much risk.
The route after Bentley and Farnham is not given, but I would suspect the coach would have continued to Kingston upon Thames, crossed the Thames at Kew and then turned east for Knightsbridge. These days it is a journey of about fifty five miles. A fast coach would average ten miles an hour, Mr Yaldon’s probably six or seven, so Jane would have had to set out by at least seven in the morning. No wonder she was pleased to see Henry and his nice cool Hackney carriage, however dirty!
If anyone has an alternative explanation for what Jane meant by “the Kitchen part” I’d be fascinated to hear it.


Filed under Transport and travel

Soho House – and some very early central heating

A quick word to say that if you were interested in the last post about lighting you might like to see more of the house where I photographed two of the lamps – Soho House in Birmingham. It was the home of pioneer industrialist Matthew Boulton, a meeting place of the famous Lunar Men and the location of what may well be the first hot air central heating system since the Romans! More about it, plus some pictures at

1 Comment

Filed under Buildings, Science & technology

Jane Austen by Candlelight – or was it a lamp?

In September 1813 Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry at his Henrietta Street address in Covent Garden, along with their brother Edward, his daughter Fanny and two of Fanny’s younger sisters. On the 16th Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra, ‘We are now all four of us young Ladies sitting around the Circular Table in the inner room writing our Letters, while the two Brothers are having a comfortable coze in the room adjoining.’1-Barretts bill minor crop

It is a charming picture, but how were the four ladies illuminating their work? Probably not with smelly tallow dip candles, unless they were in an economical mood. Those were made from mutton fat, usually contained bits of meat, smelled strongly and, in homes with any pretence to gentility, were Candle advert cropconfined to the service areas.

There was an “economy” candle available – tallow with a wick that had been dipped in wax which must have reduced the smell a little and, according to The Candle & Soap Company’s advert of August 1802 shown left, (The Statesman newspaper), would not “Gutter except from bad handling or carrying about.”

However, we know that the Austens bought pure wax candles from Penlington’s, a tallow chandlers at the sign of the Crown and Beehive, Charles   Street (now Wellington Street), a short walk from the Covent Garden piazza and Henrietta Street. It evidently produced superior candles, for the family would order from them by mail: on 1 November 1800 Jane tells Cassandra, who has just passed through London on her way to Kent, that their mother was ‘rather vexed’ because Cassandra did not call at Penlington’s but that she had sent a written order, ‘which does just as well.’

I don’t have a bill from Penlington’s, but the one shown at the top is from the very smart shop, Barrett & Beaumont, Wax Chandlers to Their Majesties – you can see the royal coat of arms to the left and the Prince of Wales’s feathers on the right, denoting the royal warrents.  The bill, for two pounds eight shillings and six pence is for twelve candles – I think it says “sperm” for spermaceti (ie whale oil) and three “Wax Moons”, which are a mystery to me.Candle magnifier

A single candle, or even a branch of candles, does not produce a very bright light, so for detailed work there were methods of focusing and concentrating the light. One method was to place a glass globe filled with water in front of the flame and this photograph (right) shows a device for giving a group of sewers stronger light from just one candle. (Birmingham Museums Reserve Collection).

Argaud lampThe first lamp designed on scientific principles was the Argand lamp, patented in 1780. It used a wick drawing on a reservoir of whale (spermaceti) or vegetable oil and they were made in very handsome designs in silver or in Sheffield plate. The photograph (left) is of one at Soho House, Birmingham, the home of Matthew Boulton, the manufacturer. This particular pattern is silver plate, of about 1800.

Soho House also contains another lamp by Matthew Boulton & Plate Company, this time of c.1820 (shown below). It is a neat little bedside lamp made to burn colza (rape seed) oil. With our frequent power cuts out here in the country I rather covet this little lamp.colza lampIf anyone knows what a “wax moon” might be, I’d love to hear from you!


Filed under Shopping, Uncategorized