Category Archives: Transport and travel

How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Just A Dip in the Street? One of London’s Lost Rivers

Last week, on a visit to London, I got off a bus on Ludgate Hill, walked down to Ludgate Circus and turned left down New Bridge Street towards the Thames, ignoring Fleet Street rising up straight ahead. It is something that workers and tourists do in their thousands every day of the week, but I wonder how many of us think about why there is such a steep hill and dip in the street just there. The clue is in Fleet Street and the valley was, of course, caused by the River Fleet, now flowing under New Bridge Street in the guise of a sewer to its virtually invisible outfall in the Thames.

The map below is a section of Cary’s New Plan of London (1784)

Blackfriars

Travelling about London one tends not to notice its dips and hills. I have posted in the past about taking the 23 bus and experiencing the dip not only of the Fleet but also the Tyburn Brook in Oxford Street. On the map above the streets with ‘hill’ names help us map the course of the Fleet. At the top of Fleet Market, formed when the river was covered over in 1733, Holborn Hill and Snow Hill dip down from west and east and the course of the river continues northwards under Saffron Hill.

New Bridge Streetfull size

The image above is from Ackermann’s Repository May 1812, “from a drawing by that eminent artist in water-colour painting, Mr Frederick Nash.” The artist shows the scene as though he is standing in the middle of Ludgate Circus (although the maps of the time do not give the junction a specific name). The bump of Blackfriars Bridge is just visible in the far distance, Fleet Street is to the right and Ludgate Hill to the left.

“The obelisk at the north end of this street, as shewn in the view, was erected to give safety to the public crossing, in the year 1775, during the mayoralty of the celebrated John Wilkes.” (Wilkes (1725 – 1797) was a  radical, journalist, libertine and Member of Parliament. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of American independence although he grew increasingly conservative with age.) The obelisk has long gone, unfortunately.

The Fleet rises on Hampstead Heath, as does the Tyburn, but there is no trace these days other than the three swimming ponds on the Heath. In the Middle Ages it was still navigable by barges as far as Holborn Bridge, to the north of the section in this map of 1563. Fleet Bridge is named and below it was the Bridewell Bridge , “said to resemble to Rialto at Venice” according to Ackermann’s – it  certainly seems to be covered. Before the Great Fire it was made of wood, but was replaced in stone with two arches.

Blackfriars 1563

Bridewell, which has now vanished, began as a palace and rapidly deteriorated into a prison. I traced its history here.

In 1733 the length between the Holborn and Ludgate bridges was covered and became Fleet Market – the double row of stalls can be seen in Roque’s map of 1738/47 (below). The Fleet Prison shows clearly, middle top, – the curve of the wall is still reflected in the building line today.

Below Fleet Bridge the  Bridewell Bridge has disappeared and the Fleet itself is labelled ‘Fleet Ditch’, an apt name by then – it was a stinking mass of refuse. Pope in his Dunciad writes of it:

Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams,

Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames;

The King of Dykes! than whom no sluice of mud,

With deeper sable blots the silver flow.

Or, to quote Ackermann’s rather more prosaic description, “…in the state of a muddy and loathsome ditch, until the building of Blackfriars-Bridge in the year 1768. In the place of this ditch, which had become a serious public nuisance, has sprung up the noble street, exhibited in this view [ie the print above], called New Bridge-street.”

Blackfriars Roque

The original Blackfriars Bridge was begun in 1760 and was finally completed in 1769, although it was open to pedestrians in 1766 and to riders in 1768. It was intended to name it for the Prime Minister, William Pitt, as the remaining inscription still confusingly explains, but popular usage soon had it named for the area, the site of the old Black Friars’ monastery. Repairs took place in 1832, but the bridge deteriorated to such an extent that a new one was proposed. It took years, the building of the Thames Embankment and the demands of the railways, but in 1869 and new bridge was opened. (The parallel railway bridge, just downstream, opened in 1864).

After exploring the area, the marvellous Art Nouveau Blackfriar pub just before the bridge is an excellent place to have lunch and to admire the depiction of the monks who once inhabited the area. (Get there early – it is very popular!)

 

 

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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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