If you wanted to visit distant relatives for Easter in the 1700s, you might well go by stagecoach. Some of the experiences of doing so have a resonance today!
Carlisle to London, in just three days
In February 1777, a new post (stagecoach) coach from Carlisle to London was announced.
Not only did it explain that the trip (via Ripon, Harrowgate, Leeds and Sheffield) could be completed in three days. It also boasted that the coach was ‘on Steel Springs’.
How’s my driving?
Passengers were asked to ‘minute the behaviour of the drivers, that proper measure my be taken on their misconduct’.
The advert also seems less than 100 per cent the service would run as scheduled. It makes no mention of leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow, but does forewarn passengers in its own way (my bolding): ‘Performed if God permit by Back, Coffee-house, Carlisle; How, George, Penrith; Aungier, Swan, Brough’.
The hidden extras
There don’t seem to have been any ‘early bird’ discounts, and of course, there could’t be off-peak offers. In fact the fixed fares, for inside passengers were:
Carlisle to London £3 10 shillings
Penrith to London £3 5s 6d.
However, just like low-cost airlines, you had to pay extra for your luggage. The allowance was 14lb in weight, at 4d per pound.
The fare for ‘children on the lap’ was half the price of the adult fare. Having a toddler bouncing on your lap for three days, and 330 miles – even in a coach on Steel Springs! – doesn’t sound overly comfortable.
The cheap seats
But the bounciest of tots was probably prefarable to travelling on the outside of the coach. All those jolly Christmas cards showing jolly travellers all smiles as their jolly coach makes its way through the jolly snow are a triumph of romanticism over reality.
Three days stuck atop a coach in all weathers must have been anything but jolly.
For those who were brave enough (or simply couldn’t afford the inside fare) the cost was:
Carlisle to London £2 2s.
Penrith to London £1 19s.
Not the only stagecoach in town
Whatever the Flying Diligence was, it ran from Carlisle to Penrith, then to Boroughbridge (Harrowgate), in one day. Passengers could then switch to the London Fly, arriving in the English capital two days later.
It took four hours to travel the 20 miles from Carlisle to Penrith.
The fare from Carlisle to London was £3 4s 9d – and a year later, in March 1778, this outfit was offering Carlisle to London for £3 6s.
Not only was it cheaper, it was (they claimed) faster, because it didn’t take in Leeds, cutting the distance by 18 miles.
Other forms of transport in 1777
Post-chaise. A smaller version of the stagecoch, this four-wheeled, closed carriage, contained one seat for two or three passengers, and covered routes the stagecoaches didn’t. Passengers could hire them at post-houses – usually inns.
Waggons. Goods were transported by carts and waggons. Long-distance trips were undertaken by large waggons, pulled by six-eight horses, and if there was room, would accept passengers.
Personal transport. Only the rich could afford to own and run an enclosed passenger carriage, horses and the servants to go with it. Down the social scale, it would be an open cart, and possibly donkeys to pull it. The cart could be used to transport the family – it would also be used to carry whatever the family’s business required, such as hay or coal.
Canals. Mostly used for freight, they were used to transport people as well. But that’s for another post.