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.
The 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.
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.
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