STAGE TRAVEL IN BRITAIN
The Fast and Efficient Transportation of Goods and People Depended on the Construction of Improved Roads
Until late in the 1700s, in both Europe and America, most roads were either rough tracks created by hoof and wheel or mere paths blazed through the wilderness. People traveled by horseback or on foot between towns. During cold or wet seasons, traffic was especially difficult or impossible. Only within cities could wagons move with relative ease.
1706 – The Origins of English Stage Travel
In 1706, a company was formed to manage stage travel between York, in northern England, and London to the south. In 1734, one could travel from Edinburgh, in Scotland, to London in no less than 10 days. (One hundred years later the same trip of 329 miles took only 42 1/2 hours.) The term “stagecoach” is derived from the fact that these vehicles traveled in segments, or “stages” of 15-20 miles in length. At a stage stop, horses would be changed and travelers could refresh themselves or sleep for the night at the taverns which served the coaches. In the early days of stage travel, the going was rough, even though the coach body was suspended on leather straps, called thorough braces, to absorb some of the road shock. Weather, wrecks, and road hooligans made the stage trip a memorable adventure.
The Golden Age of Stagecoach Travel in Britain in the 1780s
In 1784, John Palmer of Bath persuaded the government to allow him to carry the Royal Mail by stage to and from London. This innovation earned Palmer the position of Postmaster-General. Carrying the mail by coach ended the era of the post-rider, who had gained the reputation of being intoxicated, unreliable, and frequently in league with or prey to highwaymen. The introduction of turnpikes also improved the quality of coach travel. Turnpike owners charged tolls for passage, and in return they maintained the roads. The combined refinements in coach design, road construction and maintenance allowed the heavy coach horses to be replaced by teams of faster and lighter horses.
The Demise of the English Stagecoach
Despite all these refinements, the mail coach was finally outrun by the railroad. The era of the English coach was finished by 1840, except in out-lying regions. From the horse’s point of view, this may have been just as well. The average life of a mail coach horse in service was a mere three years.