The English Mails Part Two

Fast mail coaches were introduced in 1784, with recognized mail routes springing up across the land soon after. There were two types of fast coach upon the road and with the exception of the wealthy, who travelled in their own carriage or by post-chaise, and of the very poor, who used wagons or slow night coaches, all passenger traffic was done by Mail or Stage coach. Stage and Mail coaches were alike in build, carrying four inside passengers and ten or twelve outsides. Mail bags were piled high on the roof, and luggage was carried in large receptacles called boots at either end of the vehicle. The box seat by the coachman, for which an extra fee was charged, was considered the most desirable and was frequently occupied by someone interested in horse flesh. Mail coaches, which were subsidized or owned by the Post Office, were painted uniformly, the lower part of the body being chocolate or mauve; the upper part as well as the fore and hind boots black; the wheels and under carriage a vivid scarlet. The Royal arms were emblazoned on the doors, the Royal cipher painted in gold upon the fore boot, with the number of the vehicle on the hind boot. The panels at each side of the window were embellished with various devices such as the badge of the Garter, the rose, shamrock or thistle.

The departure of the Mails was one of the most exciting sights in London. On its outward journey each coach collected passengers from whatever inn the vehicle was horsed at, and then dashed round at 8 p.m. to St. Martin’s le Grand to collect the mail. Coaches were called by name to receive their bags and the crash of the lid of the boot locking down on the special mails was the signal for each coach to speed away. Fast Stage and Mail coaches made their journeys in about the same time. It took 5 hours to travel from London to Brighton, 2 more to Southampton, 17 hours to Exeter, 19 to Manchester and 21 to Liverpool. This worked out to an average speed of 10 miles an hour. The coaches, besides galloping against each other, were always running against the clock, for lateness was punished by heavy penalties and loss of credit. The half-thoroughbred horses were kept in peak condition and during their stage of seven or eight miles were worked at fever pitch. The steadier wheelers were meant to act as a check upon their leaders, but more often than not the driver gave the wheelers their heads and the whole team sped along at a gallop.

In truly severe weather, the sufferings of the outside passengers was terrible. Once, when the Bath Mail changed horses at Chippenham one March morning, two of the outside passengers were found frozen to death, a third dying later. Postboys were frequently lifted out of their saddles near the point of death. The winter of 1836 was one of the worst on record, with Christmas storms closing all coach roads for several days. On December 26th, the Manchester, Holyhead, Chester and Halifax Mails were all stuck in snow drifts at Hockley Hill, near Dunstable, within a few yards of one another, and throughout the country stories of overturned coaches and dogged heroism on the part of coachmen and guards were recounted. In one instance a guard, leaving his snow bound coach, carried out instructions by taking the mails forward on horseback. Nine miles farther on he sent the horse back, but pushed on himself. Next morning he was found dead, a mile or two up the road, with the mail bag still tied round his neck.

Change of horses at each fresh stage was made quickly. Hostlers and stable boys were allowed a minute in which take out the old horses and harness up a fresh team, though some could manage the job in 50 seconds. Seats on a coach had to be secured in advance at the inn from which it started or where it stopped on the road. The traveller’s name was entered into a book and half the fare taken as a deposit. The fares by stage coach worked out to 2 1/2 to 3d a mile outside, 4-5d a mile for inside passengers. Mails coaches were dearer, averaging from 4 1/2d to 5d for outsides, 8-10d for insides.

The coachman wore beneath his coat a crimson travelling shawl, topped by a long waistcoat of a striped pattern and over that, a wide skirted green coat, ornamented with large brass buttons. Usually he wore on his head a wide brimmed, low crowned brown hat. He wore knee cord breeches, painted top boots and a copper watch chain. The real responsibility for the coach rested with the guard who, in the case of Mail coaches, had the added care of guarding the letter bags. In their red coats, with the gleaming brass horn at the ready, they collected fares from those who joined the coach on the road, saw that the schedule was kept to and were entrusted with the execution of commissions. In case of accident, the guard looked after the mails and the passengers, carrying the former by horse and arranging for a fresh coach for the latter if necessary. They were accustomed to journeys of up to 120 – 150 miles at a stretch and received about 10s a week in wages. Inside passengers were supposed to tip the guards 2s 6d, the outsides 2s, and the guard collected further tips for handling luggage or running errands.

Travelling post chaise was decidedly the favoured means. The chaise was a light and comfortable vehicle with two, or more commonly four wheels, drawn by two or four horses ridden by postboys. For great haste, four horses with two postilions were used. As with a Mail coach, the horses were changed at stages. There was room for only two passengers in a post-chaise, but most carriages had a dickey, or platform, at back for a groom. Principal turnpike gates out of London were found in Knightsbridge at the corner of Gloucester Road, in Kensington at the corner of Earls Court Road, at Marble Arch, Notting Hill, King’s Cross, City Road near Old Street, Shoreditch, Commercial Road, Kennington Gate and three more in the Old Kent Road.

An important London coaching inn was the Golden Cross in Charing Cross, near Nelson’s Column before 1830, when it was moved to face Craven Street. Coaches left here bound for Gloucester, Cheltenham, South Wales, Chester, Liverpool, Hastings, Dover, Stroud, Brighton, Halifax and other points. The Saracen’s Head stood at the top of Snow Hill, next to St. Sepulchre’s Church, with coaches leaving for many parts of England and Scotland. During the eighty years before its demolition in 1868, the inn had been kept by members of the Mountain family, the most prominent being Sarah Ann Mountain who carried on after her husband’s death in 1816. She despatched thirty coaches from her inn each day and set a record
with her “Tally Ho!” to Birmingham. She also built coaches for sale at 110 – 120 guineas each. The Tally Ho! served Canterbury, Liverpool and Birmingham, and was one of nine coaches on the London to Birmingham route. It’s team of four horses was changed at each of the ten stops made between London and Birmingham. The Tally Ho! normally made the 109 mile trip in eleven and a half hours, travelling at an average speed of 9.5 mph. During the famous London to Birmingham race which took place on May Day, 1830, the Tally Ho! made coaching history, setting a record by covering the route in seven and a half hours, travelling at an average speed of 14.5 mph. It should be noted that the coach carried no passengers during the race.

The Swan With Two Necks was the hub of much activity during the 17th and 18th centuries, serving London as a coaching, parcel and wagon office. The name is derived from Swan with Two Nicks, the nicks being the mark by which the birds of the Vintner’s Company were identified. The Inn was a terminus for northbound coaches and stood at the corner of Aldermanbury, where the Guildhall was and is located, with the Wax Chandler’s Hall being on the south side of the street. The Inn was demolished in 1845 when Lad Lane, St. Anne’s Lane, Maiden Lane and Cateaton Street were all widened during the building of Gresham Street.
William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coach proprietors,” was born at Rochester, Kent, in 1787, son of a coachman-proprietor, and he himself started off driving the Dover Union. Marriage to the sister-in-law of James Edwards, `one of the largest proprietors on the Kentish routes,’ proved useful. He and Edwards allied in many ventures in Kent. He came to horse more and more coaches, until by 1827 he owned between three to four hundred animals and the Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street. By 1835, he owned 1,200 horses and the Swan with two Necks. In 1838 he horsed 68 coaches with 1,800 horses, employing 2,000 men. He also acquired the Cross Keys and the White Horse, Fetter Lane, and opened the Spread Eagle coach office in Regent Circus. Chaplin was said to have had “immense energy, an equable temperament and great sagacity,” also, “a very good knowledge of the animals he governed as well as the bipeds with whom he was associated.” Never the less, Chaplin one day had a run in with George Denman, toll collector at Kensington Gate, who issued Chaplin a toll ticket bearing the improper amount. A fight broke out during which Denman took hold of Chaplin’s horses, prompting him to use his whip upon the toll keeper. Chaplin was later fined 12s and court costs. As with most well to do businessmen, Chaplin was known to grumble about the actual profits he made, stating in 1827 that, “I have not a shadow of a doubt that, were the coaching account of the nation kept regularly, the whole is decidedly a loss and the public have the turn.”

The Source of Madness in Alice in Wonderland

We all know and love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the audacious characters therein, like the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. But with the release of the latest film version of the tale comes a discussion on just how the Mad Hatter got his name – even Johnny Depp chimes in on the speculation. Was the name really meant to be the “Mad Adder?” Or did the Hatter’s madness have to do with mercury poisoning, a pitfall of the trade in the 19th century? You can read the full article here.

The Low Down on the English Post

First things first – here are all those elusive postal details you’ve been seeking: Before the introduction of the prepaid penny post (Post Office Act of 1765) and adhesive stamps (6 May 1840), postage was usually collected from the recipient. Rather than paying in advance, one paid on delivery. In order to save their correspondents paying postage, some people had their letters “franked.” A frank was the signature of a Member of either House of Parliament, who had to write both the address on the envelope as well as his signature in his own hand. Thus postage was free.

Envelopes had been developed in the 1830’s, but did not catch on until the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Jeremiah Smith displayed his gummed envelopes. Still, the use of envelopes in correspondence was not general until well into the 1860’s, most people preferring the old fashion of folding over the sheet of paper and fastening the flaps with a wafer -a little disc of gum and flour which was moistened and pressed down with a seal. Quill pens were used long after steel nibs had been introduced. Quills soon lost their point and needed cutting with a sharp “pen knife,” so the art of cutting a nib was one of the first things taught at school.

The penny post routes operated six days a week in most cases. Rates of postage at a uniform penny were lower than those charged by most private carriers, some of whom charged fees as high as 4d to take letters from the nearest post town. Many private posts charged for both letters delivered and those collected for onward transmission by the general post. The official penny post charged only for letters delivered, a system which allowed for posting boxes to be provided at certain points. Letters were delivered to any house on the penny post route and in most villages receiving houses were set up where people in outlying areas could collect their mail. In 1830 the letter rates for the penny post were 4d for 15 miles, 5d for 20 miles and thence according to a sliding scale to 1s for a limit of 300 miles. A letter from London to Liverpool cost 11d; to Bristol 10d; to Aberdeen 1s 3d; to Glasgow 1s 2d. Packages weighing an ounce paid four times the ordinary rate, and for every quarter of an ounce in excess an additional sum was charged. Letters sent to addresses within the same post town were delivered free of charge. In the late 1880’s, commercially produced picture post cards became all the rage and the Post Office instituted a half penny fee for the handling of these.

A late posting fee was sometimes charged and was meant to deter letters from being posted at times inconvenient to official duties, this usually being a penny. Private postal boxes were available, but not in widespread use, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1837, the Bromley postmaster had six subscribers from whom he received a guinea each. The use of such boxes was explained in The Second Report on Postage (1838): Persons having Private Boxes enjoy generally the advantage of receiving their letters as soon as the window is open and the letter-carriers despatched, but which means, those Subscribers who reside at any distance from the post office obtain their letters so much earlier than they would do by the ordinary Delivery; they have also the opportunity of ascertaining at once whether there are any letters for them, and are usually allowed credit by the Postmaster, accounts being kept of their postage.

The Postmaster could also realize extra revenue by the sale of money orders. From 1798 on, the Money Order Office was run by three partners, including Daniel Stow, Superintendent President of the Inland Office. Originally, money orders were offered in order to enable soldiers and sailors to send funds home to their families. In 1861, the Post Office Savings Bank was opened, with millions opening small savings accounts over the next forty years.

The Twopenny Post served London and its suburbs. There were six collections and deliveries daily in London and three in the suburbs, letters being posted at various receiving offices during the daytime while the last collection was made by a postman who went through the streets ringing a bell. There were two kinds of postmen in London, the General who delivered the post from all parts of the country, and the Twopenny Postman, who had only to do with local mail. Both wore much the same style of uniform – a scarlet coat and shining top-hat adorned with a gold band.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mail bags. In October 1792 the Post Office declared itself against the appointment of innkeepers, as separate rooms for postal business were rarely provided and business might be conducted in the bar. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers, news agents and booksellers. Women could be appointed postmistresses or allowed to take over the concern upon the death of their husbands. Of the 29 Kentish post towns in March 1836, four had postmistresses. One of these was the bustling Ramsgate office, the salary of which was roughly 178 pounds per annum. When a postmistress married, it was the ruling of the Post Office that she must give up the appointment, but it could be transferred to her husband. At Faversham, the widow of Mr. Plowman, the late postmaster, took over upon his death, but in 1800 she married Andrew Hill, who became postmaster in her place. After Mr. Hill died in July of the same year, Sara was reappointed.

by Kristine Hughes
Part Two: Mail Coaches coming soon.

Waterloo Bridge

At the time of its completion in 1816, and for many years afterwards, Waterloo Bridge was unquestionably the noblest bridge in Europe, and one can appreciate the opinion of that great artist Canova, who in his enthusiasm exclaimed that to see this bridge alone was worth a journey from Rome to London.

The year 1809 was especially distinguished for the prevalence of one of those gambling fevers that seem to have periodically seized the inhabitants of these isles for many centuries, and the idea of a bridge from the Strand, near Somerset House, to the Surrey side of the Thames at Lambeth appears to have originated in the brain of an investor who had been infected with this fever. A company was formed with a capital of £100,000 and sanction was sought from Parliament to build a temporary wooden bridge : the idea of the promoters being that a permanent stone bridge could be built later out of the large profits to be obtained from the tolls on persons and vehicles passing over.
Owing to the opposition of the representatives of the City Of London, who opposed the plan for three successive sessions in Parliament; the company was finally compelled to abandon the project of a wooden bridge and undertake the construction of a stone one. It is interesting to note here that in order to do this the promoters were compelled to increase their capital by an additional £400,000, but so sanguine were they of the ample remuneration to be derived from the toll that this large sum was immediately raised among themselves, and the shares were at a guinea premium the next day.
The first plan for the bridge was prepared by Mr. George Dodds, a well-known engineer of the day, but the managing committee were apparently not satisfied with his design, and referred it to Mr. John Rennie and Mr. jessop for their opinion. These gentlemen reported that for the most part it was a copy of M. Peyronnet’s celebrated bridge at Neuilly, with modifications rendered necessary by the difference of situation, and the greater width of the river to be spanned. They also pointed out several objections to Mr. Dodd’s design, as well as to the plan he proposed for founding the piers, and as a result of their reprt Mr. Dodds’s plan was abandoned.

When eventually an Act was passed in 1809 authorising the “Strand Bridge Company ” to build a stone bridge from ” some part of the precinct of the Savoy, to the opposite shoreat Cupar’s Bridge in Lambeth,” the committee again applied to Mr. Rennie, and this time they requested him to furnish them with the design of a suitable structure. John Rennie was the son of a farmer of Phantassie, in Haddingtonshire (Scotland), and appears to have obtained his taste for mechanics from Andrew Meikle, a tenant on his father’s estate. This Andrew Meikle, according to the authority of Smiles, was the inventor of the threshing-machine and numerous other inventions. John Rennie became successively a country schoolmaster and master millwright. He then joined Messrs. Watt and Boulton as a confidential assistant. Rennie was now rapidly rising to the front rank in his profession, and his services were continually in demand, and numerous bridges, canals, and docks scattered over the country still give evidence of his industry and ability, for, like Wren and other great engineers, he built for posterity.
Rennie prepared two designs for the Strand Bridge, one of seven equal river to be spanned. They also arches and the other of nine; the pointed out several objections to Mr. latter being eventually chosen by the Dodds’s design, as well as to the committee as the less costly.
The first stone of the bridge was laid on October 11, 1811. One interesting story concerning the construction of the bridge is well worth recording, and it is given here practically as it occurs in Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers.” Most of the stone required during the construction of the bridge was hewn m some fields adjacent to the erection on the Surrey side. It was transported on to the work upon trucks drawn along railways, in the first instance over temporary bridges of wood; and it is a remarkable circumstance that nearly the whole of the material was drawn by one horse, known as ” Old Jack,” a most sensible animal and a great favourite. His driver was, generally speaking, a steady and trustworthy man, though he had a weakness for a dram before breakfast. As the railway along which the trucks were drawn passed in front of a public-house door, the horse and truck were usually pulled up while Tom entered for his morning dram. On one occasion the driver stayed so long that await the next anniversary of the ” Old Jack,” becoming impatient, oked his head into the open door, and taking his master’s coat-collar between his teeth (Smiles tells us this that year we find the following account was done in a “gentle sort of manner”), pulled him out from the midst of his companions and thus forced him to resume the day’s work.
As the work neared completion, its name was changed from Strand to Waterloo Bridge for reasons which are thus expressed in the Act of Parliament of 1816, which relates to the matter: “Whereas the said bridge, when completed, will be a work of great stability and magnificence, and such works are adapted to transmit to posterity the remembrance of great and glorious achievements, and whereas the company of proprietors are desirous that a designation should be given to the said bridge, which shall be a lasting record of the brilliant and decisive victory (Waterloo), achieved by his Majesty’s forces, in conjunction with those of his allies, on the 18th day of June, 1815.”
The bridge was completed soon after this, but the same patriotic reason that had influenced Parliament in changing its name caused them to await the next anniversary of the victory at Waterloo, and so the bridge was not opened until June 18, 1817. In the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of that year we find the following account of the opening ceremoniy: “June 18, 1817 – This day . . the magnificent new bridge which crosses the Thames from the Strand was opened with appropriate ceremonies. In the forenoon a dtetachment of the Horse Guards posted themselves on the bridge, and about three o’clock a discharge of two hundred and two guns, in commemoration of the number of cannon taken from the enemy, an nounced the arrival of the Prince Regent, and other illustrious person ages, who came in barges from the Earl of Liverpool’s at Whitehall. The royal party passed through the central arch, and landed on the Surrey side, a where the procession formed. It was lasting rheaded by the Prince Regent; with the Duke of York on his right and the Duke of Wellington on his left, in the uniform of field-marshals; followed by a train of noblemen, gentlemen, ministers and members of both Houses of Parliament. On reaching the Middlesex side of the bridge, the company re-embarked and retured to Whitehall. Every spot commanding a view of the bridge was crowded with spectators.”