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Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Stagecoaches, Highwaymen, Mail Robbers, Routes, Halesowen, Stourbridge, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Shrewsbury, Birmingham, Oxford, Bristol, Coventry.


Just south of Stafford, the passengers of the London bound Mail Coach, huddled together to keep warm on a cold and frosty night, were jerked out of whatever thoughts they had, by a dreaded cry. " Stand and Deliver, your money or your life ". In turn, when they had all stepped down onto the turnpike road, they were robbed of their money, and any decent clothes they had with them. The guard, mounted on his box at the rear, was so cold, he couldn't even hold his Blunderbuss, never mind fire it. Setting the horses loose,  two shadowy figures rode off, laughinging, and were soon lost in the dark night, leaving the passengers, and the Coach crew, to walk to the nearest Inn. This was just one of the hazards of travelling in the 1760s, there were worse, like being frozen to death in your seat on the roof of a Coach.



In the Midlands, there were not many companies operating local passenger services, the area was served by the various carrying enterprises, and Waggon drivers. The area was still mainly rural, it was to be many years yet, before the earth would be torn up, and the night sky rent with the red glow of a thousand furnaces. There were of course business's that required to fetch and carry goods, and most of the London Coaches passed through on the way to Shrewsbury, Holyhead, and Sheffield. There were very few rules for the early owners, and it was unusual to find as many as 15 people, all on the same small vehicle. There were, as you would expect, a great many accidents. Three companies operated from Birmingham, so if you wanted to go to the capital, first you went to Birmingham. From the Dog Inn, Spiceal Street, the firm of Garnett & Company, had a service that ran via Coventry, Daventry, and Towcester, and on to London. In 1785, for those who wished to travel inside the coach, the fare was a Guinea, ( £1.5p in modern terms ) and for those less well off, a seat on the roof, or on the Mail box or Drivers seat, 12 shillings. ( 60p ) The coach left Birmingham at 8.00pm, and arrived at The Swan with two Necks, Lad Lane, London, about noon the next day. It carried 6 squeezed passengers inside, 4 on the roof, 2 with the guard, and 2 with the driver. Being a private service, it had to pay all the tolls on the way, and must had a been a rather gruelling journey. Fairly standard at the time, was the charge for luggage, 1p per Ib, although those inside the coach could have the first 14 lbs free. Unless notified to the company, ( and paid for ) any lost or stolen valuables were the carried at the owners risk, which brings to mind another famous phrase, " Stand and Deliver ". ( No offence to any Air company officials reading this )


In 1788, following a dreadful accident which killed three people, some rules were introduced by Parliament. These limited the number who could be carried on the roof to 6, and just two on the mail box. The companies managed to then cram in, 8 inside passengers, which made a mockery of grossley overloading the vehicle, so in 1790, another set of rules came in. This time, only 4 were allowed on the roof, with just 1 on the box, and a slight adjustment to this, reduced the figure to just 2 on the top. From the Castle Inn, Birmingham, Joseph Edwards ran a service, via Smethwick, Oldbury, Dudley, and Wolverhampton, up to Chester, and Holyhead. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 11.00am, it set off, arriving in Holyhead early the next evening. It bore the legend painted on the side, of The Chester & Holyhead Post Coach. The fare was hefty £2.12s. 6d for those who wished to travel in more comfort inside, and £1. 6s. 6d  for the hardy souls who clung on for grim life, outside. They also ran services to Shrewsbury, Oxford & London, Bristol, Coventry, and a light coach to Worcester, via Halesowen, Stourbridge, and Kidderminster. They later added a similar coach on the run to Sheffield.




Samuel Wyer, always on the lookout for more business, from the Hart Hotel and the Swan Inn, Birmingham, started up the Bewdley Mail Coach. This left each Monday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons, via Oldbury, Dudley, Stourbridge, and Kidderminster. On the return journey, he linked it with his London service, which took 16 hours, the advantage being, that as a Mail Coach, he could have an armed guard on board. The fare however, reflected the extra cost, and for inside passengers I suppose, £1 11s. 6d was a fair price. Outside passengers were charged 16 shillings, but at least they had a good chance of getting to London with a full purse. In the other direction, from the Queens Head Inn, Shrewsbury, ran another famous coach, The Salop Machine. This stopped at Wolverhampton at 10.30am, Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, before going on to Walsall at 11.30, and Birmingham at 2pm. ( I havn't found out yet, why it took over two hours to get to Brum ) As you can see, the area was well covered for the many trades being practised at the time, and the coming of the many Canals did not make all that much difference, that would come with the Railways. Just a bit more of interest, some time ago I did some research on a Public House in Cradley, called the " Why Not Inn ". There was some debate, about the Pub being named after the winning horse at the 1894 Grand National. Despite some arrogant old womans insistance, this was not the case, the name being applied long before the Race. In 1834, over at the New Inn, Brierley Hill, a coach called the Why Not, ran from there, every day, via Dudley, and on into Birmingham. The Company, also ran a route into nearby Stourbridge, and Wolverhampton, with the same name painted on the side. I don't know when it ceased, but the I suspect the Railway soon put it out of business.


I started this topic with a story, so I will finish with one as well. On the Bath Turnpike road, the Bristol Mail Coach was approaching an Inn, where the horses would be changed, when the driver noticed something running alongside the team. He thought at first it was a stray Calf, something which had happened before, In the dark, and with the horses getting a bit jittery, he failed  to see, in the dim light, that the animal was in fact a Lioness. It had escaped from a nearby wild zoo collection, and as he pulled up at the Inn, the Lioness attacked the lead horse. The noise bought out a group of men who had a big mastiff with them and they set it on the Lioness. It was instantly ripped to shreds, but they did manage to get a rope around the by now, very angry Lion, and hung on until a keeper appeared with a big net. The horse survived the ordeal, and, lo and behold, the mail was delivered on time. Just fancy that, and in 1792 as well.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 17, 2012 at 3:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Stagecoaches, Post Coaches, Toll Gates, Drivers.


The trials and tribulations of travelling by coach, were not always confined to the passengers either. There was some stiff competition for the owners, and certain little tricks were employed to save money. In order to reduce the Toll Fees, passengers were offloaded just before the private Post Coaches, reached the Toll gates. The coach, now empty, would pass through, and pick up the long suffering passengers the other side of the gate. This practice went on for many years, until at last, the equally long suffering Toll Operates, finally got the charges increased. Another trick, was to detach two of the four horses, drive the coach through, and then declare the two lead horse as farm animals. ( They put a stop to this as well )  It was every owners desire, to aquire the status of Mail Carriers, and the priviliges which came with it. I should point out, that Post Coaches, were only allowed to carry packages and parcels, the Mail Coaches, could carry both Letters and Parcels. The main advantage, was not only the exemption from Toll charges, but the ability, when the guard blow his Post Horn, for the gates to opened. This shortened the journey time, for nothing was allowed to impede the progress of the Mail. Woe betide any Tollgate Keeper, who failed to heed the sound of the approaching post-horn, and left the gates closed. Mail was collected, and delivered at many Toll Gates, the coach rarely stopping, merely throwing down the incoming leather mail bag, and snatching the out going one. Many a slow footed young lad, had his shoulder dislocated, or was dragged along the road from this operation. At wayside or overnight stops, the horses and drivers were changed. The short stops giving the passengers, at most, 5 minutes, to relieve themslves and stretch their legs. Not much joy though for the post boy or the mail guard, they stayed on the coach for the duration of the trip. Many of the drivers gained handsome reputations along the sections of Toll roads they regulary travelled, indeed, some passengers wouldn't board a coach if they didn't know, in advance, who would be in the drivers seat. The weather was also a hazard to some hard pressed owners.



Take the case of Enoch Spenser, the Kidderminster and Bewdley based owner of a company that ran the Bewdley Mail Coach. Born in Bromsgrove, about 1742, he had by 1795, built up a thriving business carrying goods from London, and Birmingham, serving all the surrounding area as far as Wolverhampton. From his office and wharehouse in Load Street, Bewdley, ( it was originally spelt Lode Street, as Lode, is an word for a Ferry ) he watched helplessly, as a big flood in 1795, completly demolished the old medieval Bridge, which had stood since at least the 1480s. His coach and waggons were then stranded on the eastern bank of the River Severn, and he had to go to upstream to Hampton Lode, and wait for the water to subside a little, before the ferryman would risk a crossing. It would be another 3 years, in 1798, before Thomas Telford completed the new bridge, which is the one you can see today. Needless to say, his business suffered a great deal. Coaches and waggons though continued in many areas, even when the railways arrived, although not in the case of Bewdley, The new Severn Valley Railway put a stop to all that.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 18, 2012 at 11:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Stagecoaches, Walsall.


In reponse to a question posed about a Town I mentioned above, Walsall, it had a famous old Coaching Inn, The George Hotel. The building stood in Bridge Street, and had served the many coaches that called, sometimes over 12 a day, for nigh on 150 years, until it's demolition in 1933. Over time, it had undergone a few changes. The frontage was improved, and a colonade was added, under which the coach passengers could alight and board, keeping dry, whatever the weather threw up.For those with a long memory, they built a modern Hotel on the site, but by 1979, it also suffered demolition, and today, there are shops on the spot. Can't stop progress, can you.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 21, 2012 at 2:51 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Stagecoaches, Highwaymen.


When it came to a few colourful roadside robbers, we seem to have missed out in this region. The one most people remember is the famous Dick Turpin, who, just for the record, never came here, nor did he ride to York as the story suggests. Other Highwaymen aquired a few fancy names or like one, Claude Du Vall, gained a reputation, as a bit of a ladies man. So could any of us " oldies " if we pointed a loaded pistol at one. James Maclane was noted for his good manners, and was known as " The Gentleman Highwayman ". It was said he doffed his hat to the crowd when they hanged him. William Harron, a villian of the lowest order, had an eye for a swift horse, and became known as " The Flying Highwayman ". His last attempt at flying, was stopped short by the rope around his neck. John Symmonds had a stack of alias's, but because he had a rather swarthy appearence, preferred the title " Spanish Jack ". He was left somewhat paler after his date with the hangman. Dressing smartly, allowed Highwaymen to get a bit nearer to their victims at times, as well as satisfying their own vanity. Jack Collet took it a stage further, and always dressed himself as a clergyman, becoming well known as " The Bishop ".  There was only one Clergyman who decended the steps after the hanging though, and it wasn't Collet. Joseph Blake, a man who was reputed to be heavily tattoo'ed, had the alias of " Blueskin ". A name that somehow matched his facial condition, after he had slowly choked to death on the end of a rope. " Sixteen String Jack " was the nick name of one John Rann, and for the life of me, I can't find out why. Perhaps he a string of horses, permanently on standby. They certainly weren't available when he got caught and they hanged him. Richard Ferguson, has one of my favourite alias's, " Galloping Dick " they called him, as he sometimes carried out several robberies, on the same day, in different areas. He couldn't quite out gallop the drop at Tyburn though. Finally, we have the infamous, and very dangerous desperado, William Fisher. He had very dark wavy hair, so they said, and enjoyed the nickname he aquired, " Curley Bill ". That sounds like he was born at the wrong time, he would seem to have fitted very well into the old American Wild west. Mind you, he would have met the same fate, hanged by the neck until dead.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 12, 2012 at 3:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There was of course something missing in the days of romantic Stage Coach travel, Personel Insurance Cover. There were times though, when even that wasn't enough as it's difficult to make a claim when you are six feet under. In July, 1815, the Coventry to Leicester Mail Coach was running a bit late, so the driver gave the Horses a bit of a gee-up. This extra speed didn't last long, for as the swaying coach neared Hinckley, it overturned, crushing to death a poor innocent gardner riding his old nag, and killing two of the coach passengers. A clear case you might think of Manslaughter, but no, according to the records, just a mild case of Furious and Reckless Driving. A businessman from Hagley, Worcestershire, was also a victim of similar circumstances. William Hart, found himself, in June,1820, a passenger on the London bound Coach at Saint Albans. This would be as far as he went, for there was an almighty collision between the Holyhead Mail Coach, and the Chester Mail Coach. Both drivers blamed each other, and in the end, Thomas Purley, driver of the former, and George Butler, driver of the latter, were each charged with Manslaughter. Needless to say, it was not in the interests of either Company to have the case tried in a Court of Law, and both drivers were simply fined. Robert Galloway, aged 58, had been employed for many years as a driver of The True Blue, a Birmingham Coaching concern that had routes to Worcester, Stourport, and Kidderminster. After a furious argument with another rival driver, he turned his attention to the slow change of horses in Worcester. The Ostlers were quite used to his foul mouth, and when he went silent, they all breathed a sigh of relief. It would have been an even bigger sigh, if they had known that he had in fact just dropped down dead, with a burst blood vessel. Now who said a bit of stress was good for your health. Samuel Herbage, a man from Hayley Green, Halesowen, must have fancied himself as a Mail driver. Sadly he had to settle for driving his own cart, but he did his best to copy the Mail drivers antics. Nothing on the Turnpike road was safe from his bad driving, until in September,1825, after overtaking a heavy waggon, his cart overturned, flinging him out, and then running over him. Another case for the Coroner to declare, " furious and reckless driving ". It was dangerous to be anywhere near a Coach as it pulled in as well. William Jones, aged 12, slipped as he reached for the horses bridle and went right under the wheels in April 1830. Hannah Seel, 70 years old and maybe a bit deaf as well, was run down by the Oxford Mail Coach in the same year, and poor old Edmund Burnell, was reported to have died midway between Ludlow and Tenbury, after the driver almost put them in the river. The outside passengers had little chance of course in the event of an accident, and the need to stay awake and alert was certainly a quality demanded. Susanna Edwards might have been hanging on to her possesions as her coach approached the last corner into Worcester, (a bit on the fast side to be honest)  the next she knew she was in the infirmary with a broken neck, and dead the next morning. Falling from the top was a common occurance, and if you were the only one up there, sometimes you weren't missed for a few miles. Mrs Allen suffered the same fate as Susanna Edwards, and died on the back of a farm cart, the driver having found her in a ditch, three miles out of the City in 1827. No wonder so many quickly switched to the Railway when it arrived some years later.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 11, 2013 at 4:07 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now I know a lot of folk moan about todays transport systems, now here's a chance to compare them with those of yesteryear, that is if you happen to live in Wednesbury. Every day at 8.30am, " The Waterloo ", setting off from " The Kings Head ", plied the road between the town and Birmingham, making the return trip at 6.30pm. If that wasn't good enough, from " The Talbot Inn, four days a week, " The Market Coach ", more of an open farm cart really, set off about 10.00am on the same route. The other three days it was the run to Darlaston. The main place for Coaches though in Wednesbury, was " The Turks Head ". The " Old Mail ", left for London, every day at 12 noon promptly, with the Shrewsbury Coach hot on it's wheels. This activity was followed at 12.30pm, by the departure of the Holyhead Mail, with once again, a Shrewsbury bound Coach following it out of the yard. This one was one of the " New Prince " coaches, and a sister coach followed it at 1.00pm, bound for the smokey delights of London.


Several local carriers took up the next half an hour, until at 1.30pm, the official Mail Coach left with a blast on the posthorn. 2.00pm saw another coach of the Old Mail line, take off for Shrewsbury, and it went quiet until 4.00pm, when the proper " Old Prince " ", set off for the capital. There were many other carriers in Wednesbury, a few by Canal for heavy goods, but mostly by Horse and carriage, open tops and very hard seats. From the Turks Head, there was also a service to the port of Liverpool. The coach had the rather peculiar name of " The Bang Up ", why, I don't know, but it left every morning at 7.00am, so I presume it was because all the passengers had to be woken up very early. The service provided in the evening was at 7,30pm, and to the flesh pots of Birmingham I suppose. And the date of all this frantic travelling, 1818 to be exact, although why all the rush defeats me. Mind you, the way things are today, perhaps like now, every second counted.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 5, 2013 at 4:01 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

A history lesson now. If you think that the Mail Service we have now is a fairly modern concept, forget it, for the system goes a very long back. To be fair, during the reign of Henry VIII, it was more of currier service than postal delivery, and confined to Official Court Business. It didn't go that smoothly though, there being an ongoing dispute over the rates charged. During the short reign of Henry's son, Edward VI, an act of parliament was required, in 1548, to set the chargable rate at one penny a mile. The office of Chief Post Master, was created under Elizabeth I, in 1581, and a seperate post for the foreign mail under James I, around 1607. A Letter Office was set up in 1635, under a man called Thomas Withering, who turned out to be of crook, and the whole outfit was then transfered to the office of the Secretary for State. After the " Murder of Charles I ", Edmund Prideaux established a weekly delivery from London, to all parts of the Kingdom, and lo and behold, it actually made money. In 1657, under the scathing eye of Oliver Cromwell, the service was made regular, and fair postal rates were agreed which were still in use until the reign of Queen Anne, ( that would be her with funny shaped legs ) in 1701. Following the act of Union, in 1710, the business became The General Post Office, it's remit being to deliver mail in Great Britian, Ireland, The West Indies, and the American Colonies. The methods which of course included ships, was by Cart, Coach, and Boys on horse back, were not very secure, and the service was, to say the least, a bit stretched.




Then, in 1784, along came a man with a brain, John Palmer Esq, who, with the obvious talent of the gift of the gab, persueded all and sundry, that he had the answer. Indeed he did, and they paid him a lot of money for it, and gave him the job of making it all work. Thus began the golden days of the Mail delivery service, from a ramshackle building in London. The splendour and spectacle of the Mail Coach had arrived. He laid down some rules as well, the first of which, to enable anyone who had posted or was expecting a letter, to know the almost exact time of arrival, the Mail Coach had to achieve a speed along the route of exactly 8 miles per hour. This did not allow for any accidents or delays along the way, which accounts of course, for some of the furious driving already covered in the above posts. The Companies awarded contracts to carry the Mail, were allowed to carry passengers as well, 4 inside the coach, and 2 on the top. ( This would allow the company to turn a profit, but some greedy owners lost their contract through overloading ) The first Official Mail coach left London bound for the busy port of Bristol, in the same year,1784. Soon, the Mail coaches were a familiar sight around the country, and business boomed. The end was almost in sight, did they but know it, in 1825, when construction started on a new headquarters. St Martins le Grand, was completed in 1829, with massive rooms for sorting the mail for home and abroad, a place for the Coaches, and quarters and an Armoury for the Mail guards. During the years to come, the Railway, as the track length expanded, took over the more distance Mail deliveries, but right up to the 1880s, in the more remote parts of the Kingdom, the Mail Coach still reigned supreme.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 26, 2013 at 2:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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