London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Turnpike-Roads and Stage-Coaches.


THE next branch of my subject that presents itself in due order is the means by which the goods thus brought to the several ports of the kingdom are carried to the interior of the country. There are means of effecting this; that is to say, either by land or water-carriage. Land-carriage consists of transit by rail and transit by turnpike roads; the water-carriage of transit by canals and navigable rivers, I shall begin with the -mentioned of these, viz. turnpike-roads, and then proceed in due order to the others.

The turnpike-roads of England present a perfect network of communication, connecting town with town, and hamlet with hamlet. It was only within the present century, however, that these important means of increasing commerce and civilization were constructed according to scientific data. Before that, portions of what were known as the great coaching roads were repaired with more than usual care: but until Mr. M"Adam"s system was generally adopted, about years back, all were more or less defective. It would be wearisome were I to add to the number of familiar instances of the difficulties and dilatoriness of travelling in the old days, and to tell how the ancient "heavy coaches" were merged in the "fast light coaches," which, in their turn, yielded to the greater speed of the railways.

In , according to the Government Report on the turnpike-roads and the railways of England and Wales, there existed—

 In England and Wales, paved streets and turnpike-roads to the extent of 19,725 
 Other public highways . . . 95,104 
 Total . . . 114,829 

Other parliamentary returns show, that in the length of only the turnpike-roads in England and Wales was miles, or upwards of miles more than they (together with the paved streets) extended to years before. In , the length of the turnpike-roads and paved streets throughout England and Wales amounted to miles, while all other highways were miles long; making in all, miles of road. By this it appears, that in the course of years upwards of miles of highway had been added to the resources of the country. As these are the latest returns on the subject, and it is probable that, owing to the establishment of railways, there has been no great addition since that period to the aggregate extent of mileage above given, it may be as well to set forth the manner in which these facilities for intercommunication were distributed among the different parts of the country at that time. The counties containing the greatest length of turnpike-road, according to their size, were Derby, Worcester, Flint, Gloucester, Somerset, Monmouth, Stafford, Hereford, Southampton, &c., which severally contained mile of turnpike-road to about each statute acres, the average for the entire country being


nearly double that amount of acres to each mile of road. Those counties, on the other hand, which contained the shortest length of turnpike-roads in relation to their size, were Anglesey (in which there were only miles of road to statute acres, being in the proportion of mile to acres); then Westmoreland, Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Pembroke, and Cumberland. The counties containing the greatest length of paved streets at the above period were, , Middlesex, where there was mile of street to every acres; , Suffolk; , Lancaster; , Warwick; , Surrey; and , Chester. The average number of acres to each mile of paved street was , and in the districts above specified the number of acres to the mile ranged from to . Those counties, on the contrary, which contained the shortest length of streets, were Radnor and Anglesey, in which there were no paved streets whatever; Brecon, which has only mile, and Carnarvon which has only ; whereas Middlesex, the county of the capital, has as many as miles of streets extending through it. The cost of the repairs of the roads and streets in the different counties is equally curious. In Merioneth, the rate of the expenditure is per mile; in Montgomery, ; in Radnor, ; in Brecon, ; in Carnarvon, ; in Anglesey, ; in Cardigan, ; whereas in Middlesex the cost amounts to no less than per mile; in Lancashire, the next most expensive county, it is ; in the West Riding of Yorkshire it comes to ; and in Surrey, the other metropolitan county, to ; the average for the whole country being per mile, or, for the maintenance of miles of public highways throughout England and Wales.

These roads were used for a threefold purpose,—the conveyance of passengers, letters, and goods. The passengers, letters, and parcels, were conveyed chiefly by the mail and stagecoaches, the goods by waggons and vans. Of the number of passengers who travelled by the mail and stage-coaches no return was ever made. I am indebted, however, to Mr. Porter, for the following calculation as to the number of stagecoach travellers before their vehicles (to adopt their own mode of expression) were run off the roads by the steam-engine:—

In order to obtain some approximation to the extent of travelling by means of stagecoaches in England, a careful calculation has been made upon the whole of the returns to the Stamp Office, and the licenses for which coaches were in operation at the end of the year 1834. The method followed in making the application has been to ascertain the performance of each vehicle, supposing that performance to have been equal to the full amount of the permission conveyed by the license, reducing the power so given to a number equal to the number of miles which one passenger might be conveyed in the course of the year. For example: a coach is licensed to convey 15 passengers daily from London to Birmingham, a distance of 112 miles. In order to ascertain the possible performance of this carriage during the year, if the number of miles is multiplied by the number of journeys, and that product multiplied again by the number of passengers, we shall obtain, as an element, a number equal to the number of miles along which one person might have been conveyed; viz. 112 X 365 X 15 = 613,200. In this case the number of miles travelled is 40,880, along which distance 15 persons might have been carried during the year: but for the simplification of the calculation, the further calculation is made, which shows that amount of travelling to be equal to the conveyance of one person through the distance of 613,200 miles. Upon making this calculation for the whole number of stage-coaches that possessed licenses at the end of the year 1834, it appears that the means of conveyance thus provided for travelling were equivalent to the conveyance during the year of one person for the distance of 597,159,420 miles, or more than six times between the earth and the sun. Observation has shown, that the degree in which the public avail themselves of the accommodation thus provided is in the proportion of 9 to 15, or three-fifths of its utmost extent. Following this proportion, the sum of all the travelling by stage-coaches in Great Britain may be represented by 385,295,652 miles. We shall probably go the utmost extent in assuming that not more than two millions of persons travel in that manner. It affords a good measure of the relative importance of the metropolis to the remainder of the country, that of the above number of 597,159,420, the large proportion of 409,052,644 is the product of stage-coaches which are licensed to run from London to various parts of the kingdom.

In this calculation the stage-coach travelling of Ireland is not included, nor is that of Scotland, when confined to that kingdom; but when part of the communication is with England it is included. Of course, only public conveyances are spoken of: all the travelling in private carriages, or post-chaises, or hired gigs, is additional.

The number of stage-coachmen and guards in were ; in , ; in , ; in , ; in , .

The expenditure on account of these roads in amounted to ; the revenue derived from them for the same year having been

A great change has been induced in the character of the turnpike-roads of England. The liveliness imparted to many of the lines of road by the scarlet coats of the drivers and guards, and by the sound of the guard"s bugle as it announced to all the idlers of the country


place that "the London coach was coming in," these things exist no longer. Now, on very few portions of the miles of the turnpikeroad in Yorkshire, or the of Gloucestershire, is a stage-coach-and- to be seen: and the great coaching inns by the wayside, with the tribes of ostlers and helpers "changing horses" with a facility almost marvellous, have become farmhouses or mere wayside taverns.

The greatest rate of speed attained by any of the mail-coaches was miles an hour, including stoppages; that is, miles notwithstanding the delay incurred in changing horses, which was the work of from minute to , depending upon whether any passenger was "taken up" or set down at that stage (the word "station" is peculiar to railways). If there was merely a change of horses, about a minute was consumed. The horses were not unfrequently unsuccessful racehorses, and they were generally of "good blood." Some would run daily on the same stages and years. About / miles was an average rate for the mail, and to miles for the stagecoaches. They often advertised miles an hour, but that was only an advertisement.

So rapid, so systematic, and so commended was the style of stage-coach travelling, that some of the great coach proprietors dreaded little from the competitive results of railway travelling. of these proprietors on "the Great North Road" used to say, "Railways are just a bounce—all speculation. People will find it out in time, and there"ll be more coaching than ever; railways can never answer!"

So punctual, too, were these carriages, that gentleman used to say he set his watch by the Glasgow mail, as "she passed his door by the roadside, at minutes to ."

Nor is it only in the discontinuance of stage-coaches that the roads of the kingdom have experienced a change in character. Until the prevalence of railways, "posting" was common. A wealthy person travelled to London in his own carriage, which was drawn by horses, almost as quickly as by the mail. The horses were changed at the several stages; the ostler"s cry of " turn out," summoning the stablemen and the postilions with a readiness only to that in the case of the passengers" coaches. The horses, however, were ridden by postilions in red or light blue jackets, with white buttons, lightcoloured breeches, and brown top-boots, instead of being driven -in-hand. This was the aristocratic style of travelling, and its indul gence was costly. For a pair of good horses a-mile was an average charge, and a-mile had to be given in the compulsory gratuities of those days to the postilion; a-mile was the charge for horses, but sometimes rather less. Thus, supposing that noblemen and gentlemen "posted" to London on the opening of Parliament, each, as was common, with carriages-and-, and each posting miles, the aggregate expenditure, without any sum for meals or for beds —and to "sleep on the road" was common when ladies were travelling—would be , and to this add per cent for the turnpiketolls, and the whole cost would be ; an average of for each nobleman and gentleman, with his family and the customary members of his household. The calculation refers merely to a portion of the members of the houses of legislature, and is unquestionably within the mark; for though many travelled shorter distances and by cheaper modes, many travelled miles, and with more carriages than . No "lady" condescended to enter a stage-coach at the period concerning which I write. As the same expense was incurred in returning to the castle, hall, park, abbey, wood, or manor, the annual outlay for this purpose of merely a fraction of the posters to London was It might not be extravagant to assert, that more than times this outlay was annually incurred, including "pairs" and "fours," or a total of This mode of travelling I believe is now almost wholly extinct, if indeed it be not impossible, since there are no horses now kept on the road for the purpose. I have been informed that the late Duke of Northumberland was the last, or of the last, who, in dislike or dread of railways, regularly "posted" to and from Alnwick Castle to London.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men