Category Archives: Transport and travel

Just How Romantic Were Highwaymen?

I have a vested interest in that question because two of my ancestors were hanged at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire for highway robbery in the first half of the 18th century – fortunately for me, they had married and left children by then. Not so fortunate for their families. So, were these two handsome masked men on flashy black stallions, setting ladies’ hearts a flutter as they relieved the gentlemen of their coin? I very much doubt it – from what I can establish of these two, and their circumstances, they were probably an unpleasant pair of muggers out for what they could get and unscrupulous about how they got it.

But the highwayman was a popular figure (at least, if you weren’t one of his victims). The crowd loved a villain, especially one who robbed those better off than themselves, carried out daring raids and escapes and, when almost inevitably brought to justice, “died game” on the gallows. Reality was less romantic – even the famous Dick Turpin, shown here on Black Bess, was a violent thug who tortured victims and inn keepers. The dashing Frenchman, Claude du Vall was hanged at Tyburn January 1670 despite (according to legend) gallantly sparing the possessions of any pretty lady who was prepared to dance with him. Presumably the plain ones just got robbed. The Victorians loved him and he was immortalized in a painting by Frith.

So, what was the risk of encountering a highwayman? Up until the third quarter of the 18th century the danger was significant. Roads were bad, so travel was slow and out-running a mounted attack virtually impossible. There was no effective policing of highways and the response of the law was to react to incidents, not to prevent them. The London Gazette in 1684 carried an advertisement offering a reward after the Northampton stage was, ‘set upon by four Theeves, plain in habit but well-horsed,’ and in one week in 1720 every stagecoach into London from Surrey was robbed by highwaymen.

However, as I discovered when I was researching  Stagecoach Travel, although rapid improvements to roads in the later 18th century meant that there were far more vehicles moving over them it also meant that the coaches – increasingly better designed – became faster. Stage and mail coaches were now major businesses with a lot to lose and the guards were better armed and trained. The authorities put mounted patrols on the roads and eventually made the whole business too risky to be worthwhile.It took a while, though – the last incident of highway robbery on Knightsbridge, the road between Hyde Park Corner tollgate and the village of Kensington, was in 1799.

Today as you travel along that route, perhaps on the top of a London bus, look north as you pass the Royal Albert Hall, built on the site of Gore House. Opposite Gore House was the infamous Halfway House Inn (below). There the spies for the highwaymen of Hounslow Heath would congregate to see who was travelling and pass the word on to alert the highwaymen about fine carriages or vulnerable riders.  The wall behind the inn is the boundary of Hyde Park.

Highwaymen did persist longer in Ireland where the roads were less good and the slower coaches made easier pickings. In 1808 a coach lined with copper and advertised as bulletproof was tried on the Dublin to Cork road, an indication that highwaymen were not afraid to shoot into the body of the vehicle at the passengers as well as threaten the guard and coachman.

The highwayman and his less glamorous compatriots were sufficiently significant in Georgian society to have left their mark on the slang of the time as I discovered when I was researching Regency Slang Revealed: Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.   The mounted highwayman was “on the High Toby” the footpads were on the “Low Pad” or “Low Toby”. I found eleven general terms for a highwayman – a Gentleman’s Master being one that perhaps gives a clue as to why they were popular with the common people. A Bully Ruffian was a very violent highwayman whereas a Royal Scamp preyed on the rich in a most gentlemanly fashion. It seems that equipment was important – a Rum Padder was particularly well-armed and well-mounted and a Chosen Pell was a highwayman operating inside a town, riding a horse with leather covers on its feet to muffle the sound of hoof-beats.

A highwayman’s mistress was his Bloss or Blowen and she may have waited for him at inns like the Halfway House when he went “on the pad” advised by his Carriers or Cruisers – the informants. They would all have hoped for a Catching Harvest – a time when the roads were thronged with travellers going to some event or another. Fairs, boxing matches and races gave particularly good pickings.

Just remember, when you are held up by a highwayman – mention the Music. That’s the universal password that will see you safe.

I’ll leave you with a watercolour portrait that I own. I have no idea of date, artist or subject, but he haunts me. I just have the feeling that he’s a highwayman, no longer in his prime. Should he mount up and take to the High Toby tonight? Or would that be one time too many…

 

 

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Filed under Crime, Gentlemen, Street life, Transport and travel, Travel

A Slightly Soggy Smile

I bought a few pages from a 19th century scrap book which included this delightful cartoon about the state of London streets. It isn’t dated, but from the men’s clothes I would guess 1820s. St Paul’s can just be seen in the background.

The standing man, who seems to be perched on wooden pattens is saying, “Why friend, you are over shoe tops. Catch hold of my stick and I’ll help you out.”

The other, who it can just be seen is holding reins in one hand, replies, “I thank you, Sir, but I’ve a Horse under me that’s used to bad roads.”

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The Tower From the River

Just a short post today – but recently I went to see the exhibition about Emma Hamilton at the National Maritime Museum (stunning, by the way) and travelled by water bus between Greenwich and Westminster. We passed the Tower of London, of course, and it was interesting to compare the view today with this one of 1797.

tower

The biggest difference is the presence of the Embankment and the disappearance of the open space with the cannon to the right- presumably they belonged to the Board of Ordnance who were in the Tower. Now the approach road to London Bridge crosses close to this spot. The water gate, the entrance to Traitor’s Gate can be seen in the print as a crescent shape just to the left of the White Tower.

There are no crowds of tourists taking selfies in this image, but the amount of river traffic is surprisingly close – now it is tourist boats, river buses, the River Police and still quite a few barges and tugs. I wish I’d had this print with me!

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Paying the Correct Fare – Hackney Carriages and Watermen

I had a wonderful auction haul of prints and maps in December – including the map that I’d gone for in the first place – Cary’s New Plan of London with the Correct List of upward of 350 Hackney & Coach Fares from the Principal Stands to the most Frequented Places in & About the Metropolis. Printed for J.Cary , Map & Printseller, No. 188, Strand.  (1784)

cover

The map measures 550×410 cm (approximately 22×16.5 inches) but has been cut into segments and mounted on a flexible backing so that it folds neatly into its handy pocket-sized slipcase, shown above (145×111 cm/5.5×4.5 inches). From the state of the cover which is intact but worn, it has been well used by its owner, possibly the J. Beauchamp who has written his name on the back of the map.

top-right

I had never seen a map with the hackney coach and watermen’s fares before, although I have guidebooks with some of the same information, so I was fascinated to read in The London Encyclopedia (2008)  “There was a certain amount of dishonesty and overcharging in both groups, so that from about 1720 makers of London maps adopted the practice of printing tables of hackney coach and watermen’s fares on the maps which they published.”

According the the Encyclopedia, hackney carriages were named from the French word hacquené (an ambling nag) and were invented by one of Raleigh’s sea captains at the end of the 16th century.

fares

The section at the bottom of the map gives fares from Charing Cross, Temple Bar, West Smithfield, Borough (ie Southwark), Oxford Street (at the Pantheon), St Paul’s Churchyard, Holborn, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster Hall, Drury Lane Theatre and Covent Garden Theatre. Here is the central portion enlarged:

fares-detail

The “Rates of Oars up and down the River for the whole Fare or Company” run along the bottom of the map and proved very difficult to scan. From London (it doesn’t say from which point) to Greenwich or Deptford it was one shilling and six pence, to Richmond, three shillings and sixpence and to Hampton Court six shillings, to take a few examples.

Mr Beauchamp appears to have found the map useful well beyond 1784 because he (or perhaps a later owner) has inked in three new developments – Brunswick Square, built 1795-1802, the Strand bridge (later known as Waterloo Bridge) of 1811 and the line of Regent Street, which must have been done post-1810, the date of John Nash’s report on the need for the new street. I wonder if this meant that the fares were unchanged or that the map was still useful as a street map.

brunswick-square

strand-bridgeregent-street

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 4 The Journey

London to Weymouth

The day has dawned for the Gatwick family to set forth from their Mayfair Town house to their lodgings in Weymouth. Porrett, the Earl of Wittering’s much-tried secretary has driven the route recently, inspecting the available accommodation, but he went by stagecoach. Now he is in charge of the cavalcade of private conveyances his lordship’s party requires.

Cary mapThe first footman, two more footmen, two maids (more of those can be hired locally along with assorted kitchen skivvies) and Gaston the chef, left three days before to set up the house on the Esplanade and hire extra staff and furnishings required. That involved two lumbering old coaches plus a baggage coach.

Now Porrett is mustering a coach for the Earl and Countess; a coach for the heir, Viscount Ditherstone, his wife and children and a coach for himself, the two ladies’ maids, two valets and the dressing and jewellery cases. That is a tight squash, but Porrett is too soft-hearted to make one of the valets travel on the box, even though he easily outranks them in the household hierarchy. Behind them comes another baggage coach, a lighter one this time, which should be able to keep up. That contains the overnight essentials for the family and their wardrobes.Cary front

Porrett has studied the map in Cary’s Map of England and Wales [detail of the route above & slip case of the map  with the frontispiece of the Itinerary] along with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads… and knows it is 127 miles and 6 furlongs to Weymouth. [Page one of the route is shown right at the bottom of this post.]

Porrett would like to think they could travel at 10 miles an hour, but experience of the family tells him this is most unlikely, so he is estimating seven mph and has reserved rooms at the Angel Inn in Andover [below], a mere 63 miles and 4 furlongs along the route to allow for an inevitably delayed start. Porrett is braced for the journey – and armed to the teeth, as are the coachmen and grooms – because 9 miles into the journey is Hounslow Heath and, although the heyday of the highwayman is past, it still has a fearsome reputation.

Angel inn

Porrett tightens his fingers around the pistol in his pocket, daydreaming about rescuing Miss Emily from the loathsome clutches of a masked swine on horseback. Oh, Mr Porrett, Frederick… you are so brave, she whispers as he sweeps her up into his arms…

This happy fantasy lasts as far as Staines where Mullett, the viscount’s valet, jabs him in the ribs and inquires acidly if he is in pain, pointing out that they are crossing the Thames. And so onwards, stopping only to change horses at Hook where they refresh themselves at the Raven before passing through Basingstoke to Andover. The next morning Porrett succeeds in getting his travelling circus on the road by ten, which he considers a triumph.

In Salisbury the countess wants to stop to sketch the cathedral, but her husband over-rules this fancy. He has been separated from Gaston the chef and his dinners far too long. From Salisbury to Blandford for refreshments and then on to Dorchester where the Land’s End road that they have been following continues westwards and they turn south to Weymouth.

Finally they draw up in front of their home for almost two months, with the bay and seascape laid out before them. Emily,  young Arthur and the senior Ditherstones are delighted with the scene. The Countess is obviously itching to find her sketch pad. The Earl stomps inside calling for brandy. Porrett braces himself – will his employer like the house?

The next episode of Porrett’s love affair (if only… he sighs) and the family’s activities in Weymouth  will follow here soon. Meanwhile read more about the world of the Georgian seaside in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

And to follow one of the iconic coaching routes (by car, or on Google Streetview from the comfort of your armchair) try Following the Great North Road

route to Weymouth 1

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Looking Down on London Bridge

Last week I went up the Shard on the south bank of the Thames and, knees shaking at the height, looked down on London Bridge, 800 feet below. In the photograph you can see its northern end, the Monument to the Great Fire on Fish Hill and the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr.

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London Bridge is broken down,
Gold is won and bright renown.
Shields sounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hildur shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mailcoats ringing,
Odin makes our Olaf win!

Not quite the cheery little 17th century nursery rhyme we are familiar with but a Norse poet writing of the attempt of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready (who wasn’t really Unready but Unraed-y – suffering from bad councillors) to recapture London from King Cnut (who never really believed he could hold back the tide, but chroniclers don’t seem to have any sense of irony) with the help of King Olaf of Norway in 1014.
This was the wooden London Bridge that had been rebuilt several times since the Romans left and, for centuries, was the only crossing point in London.
(Oddly, despite burning the bridge, Olaf became a popular saint. His church at the southern end of the bridge is now under an office block bearing his name.)
Even without the intervention of marauding Vikings, wooden bridges needed constant repair, so in 1176 work started on a stone bridge, completed in 1209. All the versions of London Bridge for over a thousand years have been more or less on the same spot, but we know exactly where this one, now known as Old London Bridge, was located because it survived, albeit endlessly adapted, until 1830. DSCN7280edit
The bridge had a drawbridge in it to allow taller ships to pass, gatehouses to guard it – and, from the 14th century, to act as convenient places to stick the heads and assorted limbs of traitors – and a chapel. Almost from the beginning houses and shops were built along the bridge, narrowing the roadway to between 12 and 15 feet (3.7 – 4.6 metres). After the Great Fire in 1666 when some were destroyed they were rebuilt hanging further out over the river, but even so it was hideously congested.
From 1722 tolls were charged on vehicles which meant that they tended to stop in Southwark on the southern side and unload their passengers and goods. Numerous inns grew up to deal with this business. In an attempt to control the flow on the bridge three men were employed to try and enforce driving on the left, the first time a ‘keep left’ rule was applied in England. Stonegate at the southern end was rebuilt in 1728 with a wider arch but even so, when there was a major event at Vauxhall gardens, for example, three hour traffic jams were not uncommon.London Bridge Frost Fair
By the time Westminster Bridge opened in 1750 London Bridge was looking decidedly shabby by contrast and drastic modifications were carried out between 1757-62. All the buildings were demolished, a wider central arch was created and the bridge was widened by 26 feet (8 metres) and refaced in Portland stone. Alcoves were added along its length, some with domes, and the lighting was improved. In 1763 the Stonegate was demolished and arches made in the tower of the church of St Magnus the Martyr at the northern end for pedestrians using the widened road. The clock that overhung the roadway is still there, blocked from the river now by an ugly modern office Monument0002building. In the print looking down Fish Hill you can see the tower of St Magnus and the clock.
Even with the renovations the old bridge was failing and the final straw was the damage in the severe winter of 1813-14 when the last Frost Fair was held on the Thames. (The black and white print above shows one of the arches during the Frost Fair). Work began in 1824 on a new bridge, built alongside the old one so that traffic could continue. The new alignment shifted the approach to the bridge westwards from Fish Hill, site of the Monument, and obliterated the waterworks on the upstream side of the old bridge. The works had waterwheels that took 4 million gallons a day from the river to supply 10,000 customers and they can be seen on the far side in this print of 1814.

Monument0003
The new bridge, designed by John Rennie, opened in 1831 and the old bridge was demolished over the next two years. Rennie’s bridge was replaced in 1972 with the present structure.
So what remains of Old London Bridge? Not a lot, considering what an iconic feature of the London landscape it was for so long. One of the 18thc alcoves is in the grounds of Guy’s Hospital, two are in Victoria Park, Hackney and a fourth in the gardens of a block of flats in East Sheen. A stone from an arch is in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr where the clock can still be seen and you can walk through the arch in the tower. There is an excellent model of the old bridge with its houses and shops in the church and an even bigger model in the Museum of London.
If you walk into Southwark and find Newcomen Street you’ll see the King’s Arms, a Victorian pub with a fine stone coat of arms on the front. This used to say GIIR, for George II, and was fixed on the Stonegate, the entrance to old London bridge from the Southwark side, in 1728. When the gate was demolished in 1760 it was removed, the inscription changed to 1760 and GIIIR for the current king, and put up on a tavern that stood in Axe Yard.

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Curricle Crashes and Dennet Disasters – The Dangers of the Regency Road

On the road 1

In April 1811 Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza at their home 64, Sloane Street and working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility. Not that this prevented her from getting out and about in London and occasionally borrowing Henry’s carriage: ‘The Driving about, the Carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was – I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche,’ she wrote on a later visit.
But delightful as travel by coach might be, horse-drawn vehicles were dangerous and accidents were numerous, even if most were minor. In a letter home on 25 April 1811 Jane blames an inciHyde Park pike0001dent at the gates for giving her sister-in-law Eliza a chest cold. ‘The Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate – a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; I believe there was a sore shoulder to irritate. Eliza was frightened, & we got out & were detained in the Eveng. air several minutes.’ You can follow Jane’s London travels in Walking Jane Austen’s London.
The wonderful Henry Alken snr. excelled at drawing horses, but he had a mischievous side and produced numerous prints of carriage accidents. [His Return From the Races is at the top of this post]. These are light-hearted, often mocking the young sporting gentlemen of his day and their ‘boy-racer’ equipages, but the potential for an accident to cause death or serious injury was very real. In one hideous stage coach crash in 1833 the Quicksilver coach overturned as it was leaving Brighton. Passengers were flung out into the gardens along the Steine and impaled on the spiked railings. Alken’s third plate in his Trip to Brighton series shows a stagecoach crash as a result of young bucks bribing the coachmen to let them take the reins and race. Discover more of the dangers of travel by stage or mail coach in Stagecoach Travel.accident

Alken’s ‘comic’ drawings show people thrown onto the rough stones of the road, against milestones or walls, at risk of trampling by the horses or of being injured by the splintering wood and sharp metal fittings of their carriages. One has to assume that like cartoon characters walking off a cliff they all bounce back safely with only their dignity ruffled. Real life would not have been so forgiving.  In this post I am sharing some of the Alken carriage disasters from my own collection.

In  Learning to Drive Tandem (1825) learning to driveAlken shows a young gentleman who has got one of his pair turned around and one wheel off the road. The vehicle is a cocking cart used to transport fighting cocks and below the seat is a compartment ventilated by slats and a small image of a fighting cock on the armrest. In The Remains of a Stanhope (1827) the crash has already occurred, showing just how fragile these vehicles could be. A carpenter has been summoned and the owner is drawling somewhat optimistically, “I say my clever feller, have you an idea you can make this thing capable of progression?”

Stanhope

One of my favourite images is this one of a Dennet gig with the horses spooked by a passing stagecoach. The passengers’ faces as they watch the driver struggling with his team are priceless. Dennet accident sat

Several prints of the time show accidents at toll gates. Either the horses bolted or the driver wasn’t paying attention or perhaps they thought the gate keeper would fling the gate wide as they approached. This one is captioned “I wonder whether he is a good jumper!”

accident at toll gate Young men crashing their vehicles was obviously commonplace, and then as now, showing off to the ladies was also part of the joy of owning a sporting vehicle. Alken was not above titillating his audience with a glimpse of petticoat or a shapely leg, even when the owner of the leg was about to get seriously hurt. In “Up and down or the endeavour to discover which way your Horse is inclined to come down backwards or forwards” (1817) the driver takes no notice at all of his fair passenger vanishing over the back of his fancy carriage. There are some nice details in this print – the two-headed goose on the side panel is presumably a reference to the driver not knowing which way he is going and the luxurious sheepskin foot rug is clearly visible. backwardsIn the same series is an awful warning about the dangers of not choosing your horses with care. Captioned “Trying a new match you discover that they are not only alike in colour weight & action but in disposition.” One young man is heading out over the back of the carriage while his companion is poised to leap for safety amidst flying greatcoats, hats and seat cushions.

Bolting

 

 

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