Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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so high and so impetuous, and impulses so generous as then were his.

He proves what we may abundantly learn from other sources, that the
narrow-minded and obstinate George the Third, petty and parochial in
public and in private, was jealous of his son's superior parts, and
endeavoured to hide his light beneath the bushel of seclusion and
inadequate training. It was impossible for such a father to appreciate
either the qualities or the defects of such a son. "The uncommunicative
selfishness and pride of George the Third confined him to domestic
virtues," says Walpole, and adds, "Nothing could equal the King's
attention to seclude his son and protract his nonage. It went so absurdly
far that he was made to wear a shirt with a frilled collar like that of
babies. He one day took hold of his collar and said to a domestic, 'See
how I am treated!'"

The Duke of Montagu, too, was charged with the education of the Prince,
and "he was utterly incapable of giving him any kind of instruction....
The Prince was so good-natured, but so uninformed, that he often said, 'I
wish anybody would tell me what I ought to do; nobody gives me any
instruction for my conduct.'" The absolute poverty of the instruction
afforded him, the false and narrow ways of the royal household, and the
evil example and low companionship of his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland,
did much to spoil the Prince.

To quote Walpole again: "It made men smile to find that in the palace of
piety and pride his Royal Highness had learnt nothing but the dialect of
footmen and grooms.... He drunk hard, swore, and passed every night in[3]
...; such were the fruits of his being locked up in the palace of piety."

He proved, too, an intractable and undutiful son; but that was the result
to be expected, and we cannot join Thackeray in his sentimental snivel
over George the Third.

He was a faithless husband, but his wife was impossible, and even the mob
who supported her quailed when the Marquis of Anglesey, baited in front of
his house and compelled to drink her health, did so with the bitter rider,
"And may all your wives be like her!"

All high-spirited young England flocked to the side of the Prince of
Wales. He was the Grand Master of Corinthianism and Tom-and-Jerryism. It
was he who peopled these roads with a numerous and brilliant concourse of
whirling travellers, where before had been only infrequent plodders amidst
the Sussex sloughs. To his princely presence, radiant by the Old Steyne,
hasted all manner of people; prince and prizefighter, statesman and
nobleman; beauties noble and ignoble, and all who _lived_ their lives.
There he made incautious guests helplessly drunk on the potent old brandy
he called "Diabolino," and then exposed them in embarrassing situations;
and there - let us remember it - he entertained, and was the beneficent
patron of, the foremost artists and literary men of his age. The
_Zeitgeist_ (the Spirit of the Time) resided in, was personified in, and
radiated from him. He was the First Gentleman in Europe, but is to us, in
the perspective of a hundred years or so, something more: the type and
exemplar of an age.

He should have been endowed with perennial youth, but even his splendid
vitality faded at last, and he grew stout. Leigh Hunt called him a "fat
Adonis of fifty," and was flung into prison for it; and prison is a
fitting place for a satirist who is stupid enough to see a misdemeanour in
those misfortunes. No one who could help it would be fat, or fifty.
Besides, to accuse one royal personage of being fat is to reflect upon
all: it is an accompaniment of royalty.

Thackeray denounced his wig; but there is a prejudice in favour of flowing
locks, and the King gracefully acknowledged it. One is not damned for
being fat, fifty, and wearing a wig; and it seems a curious code of
morality that would have it so; for although we may not all lose our hair
nor grow fat, we must all, if we are not to die young, grow old and pass
the grand climacteric.

There has been too much abuse of the Regency times. Where modern
moralists, folded within their little sheep-walks from observation of the
real world, mistake is in comparing those times with these, to the
disadvantage of the past. They know nothing of life in the round, and
seeing it only in the flat, cannot predicate what exists on the other
side. To them there is, indeed, no other side, and things, despite the
poet, _are_ what they seem, and nothing else.

They lash the manners of the Regency, and think they are dealing out
punishment to a bygone state of things; but human nature is the same in
all centuries. The fact is so obvious that one is ashamed to state it. The
Regency was a terrible time for gambling; but Tranby Croft had a similar
repute when Edward the Seventh was Prince of Wales. Bridge is a fine game,
and what, think you, supports the evening newspapers? The news? Certainly:
the Betting News. Cock-fighting was a brutal sport, and is now illegal,
but is it dead? Oh dear, no. Virtue was not general in the picturesque
times of George the Fourth. Is it now? Study the Cause Lists of the
Divorce Courts. Worse offences are still punished by law, but are later
condoned or explained by Society as an eccentricity. Society a hundred
years ago did not plumb such depths.

In short, behind the surface of things, the Regency riot not only exists,
but is outdone, and Tom and Jerry, could they return, would find
themselves very dull dogs indeed. It is all the doing of the middle
classes, that the veil is thrown over these things. In times when the
middle class and the Nonconformist Conscience traditionally lived at
Clapham, it mattered comparatively little what excesses were committed;
but that class has so increased that it has to be subdivided into Upper
and Lower, and has Claphams of its own everywhere. It is - or they
are - more wealthy than before, and they read things, you know, and are a
power in Parliament, and are something in the dominie sort to those other
classes above and below.



The coaching and waggoning history of the road to Brighthelmstone (as it
then was called) emerges dimly out of the formless ooze of tradition in
1681. In De Laune's "Present State of Great Britain," published in that
year, in the course of a list of carriers, coaches, and stage-waggons in
and out of London, we find Thomas Blewman, carrier, coming from
"Bredhempstone" to the "Queen's Head," Southwark, on Wednesdays, and,
setting forth again on Thursdays, reaching Shoreham the same day: which
was remarkably good travelling for a carrier's waggon in the seventeenth
century. Here, then, we have the Father Adam, the great original, so far
as records can tell us, of all the after charioteers of the Brighton Road.
It is not until 1732, that, from the pages of "New Remarks on London,"
published by the Company of Parish Clerks, we hear anything further. At
that date a coach set out on Thursdays from the "Talbot," in the Borough
High Street, and a van on Tuesdays from the "Talbot" and the "George." In
the summer of 1745 the "Flying Machine" left the "Old Ship,"
Brighthelmstone at 5.30 a.m., and reached Southwark in the evening.

But the first extended and authoritative notice is found in 1746, when the
widow of the Lewes carrier advertised in _The Lewes Journal_ of December
8th that she was continuing the business:

CONTINUED BY HIS WIDOW, MARY SMITH, who gets into the "George Inn," in
the Borough, Southwark, EVERY WEDNESDAY in the afternoon, and sets out
for Lewes EVERY THURSDAY morning by eight o'clock, and brings Goods
and Passengers to Lewes, Fletching, Chayley, Newick and all places
adjacent at reasonable rates.

Performed (_if God permit_) by

We may perceive by these early records that the real original way down to
the Sussex coast was by the Croydon, Godstone, East Grinstead and Lewes
route, and that its outlet must have been Newhaven, which, despite its
name, is so very ancient a place, and was a port and harbour when
Brighthelmstone was but a fisher-village.

[Illustration: STAGE WAGGON, 1808. _From a contemporary drawing._]

That is the only glimpse we get of the widow Smith and her waggon; but the
"George Inn, in the Borough," that she "got into," is still in the
Borough High Street. It is a fine and flourishing remnant of an ancient
galleried hostelry of the time of Chaucer, and it is characteristic of the
continuity of English social, as well as political history that, although
waggons and coaches no longer come to or set out from the "George," its
spacious yard is now a railway receiving-office for goods, where the
railway vans, those descendants of the stage-waggon, thunderously come and
go all day.

It will be observed that the traffic in those days went to and from
Southwark, which was then the great business centre for the carriers. Not
yet was the Brighton road measured from Westminster Bridge, for the
adequate reason that there was no bridge at Westminster until 1749: only
the ferry from the Horseferry Road to Lambeth.

Widow Smith's waggon halted at Lewes, and it is not until ten years later
than the date of her advertisement that we hear of the Brighthelmstone
conveyance. The first was that announced by the pioneer, James Batchelor,
in _The Sussex Weekly Advertiser_, May 12th, 1756:

sets out from the Talbot Inn, in the Borough, on Saturday next, the
19th instant.

When likewise the Brighthelmstone Stage begins.

Performed (_if God permit_) by

The "Talbot" inn, which stood on the site of the ancient "Tabard," of
Chaucerian renown, disappeared from the Borough High Street in 1870. What
its picturesque yard was like in 1815, with the waggons of the Sussex
carriers, let the illustration tell.

Let us halt awhile, to admire the courage of those coaching and waggoning
pioneers who, in the days before "the sea-side" had been invented, and few
people travelled, dared the awful roads for what must then have been a
precarious business. Sussex roads in especial had a most unenviable name
for miriness, and wheeled traffic was so difficult that for many years
after this period the farmers and others continued to take their womenkind
about in the pillion fashion here caricatured by Henry Bunbury.

[Sidenote: SUSSEX ROADS]

Horace Walpole, indeed, travelling in Sussex in 1749, visiting Arundel and
Cowdray, acquired a too intimate acquaintance with their phenomenal depth
of mud and ruts, inasmuch as he - finicking little gentleman - was compelled
to alight precipitately from his overturned chaise, and to foot it like
any common fellow. One quite pities his daintiness in the narration of his
sorrows, picturesquely set forth by that accomplished letter-writer
arrived home to the safe seclusion of Strawberry Hill. He writes to George
Montagu, and dates August 26th, 1749:

"Mr. Chute and I returned from our expedition miraculously well,
considering all our distresses. If you love good roads, conveniences, good
inns, plenty of postilions and horses, be so kind as never to go into
Sussex. We thought ourselves in the northest part of England; the whole
county has a Saxon air, and the inhabitants are savage, as if King George
the Second was the first monarch of the East Angles. Coaches grow there no
more than balm and spices: we were forced to drop our post-chaise, that
resembled nothing so much as harlequin's calash, which was occasionally a
chaise or a baker's cart. We journeyed over alpine mountains" (Walpole,
you will observe, was, equally with the evening journalist of these happy
times, not unaccustomed to exaggerate) "drenched in clouds, and thought of
harlequin again, when he was driving the chariot of the sun through the
morning clouds, and was so glad to hear the _aqua vitæ_ man crying a
dram.... I have set up my staff, and finished my pilgrimages for this
year. Sussex is a great damper of curiosity."

Thus he prattles on, delightfully describing the peculiarities of the
several places he visited with this Mr. Chute, "whom," says he, "I have
created _Strawberry King-at-Arms_." One wonders what that mute, inglorious
Chute thought of it all; if he was as disgusted with Sussex sloughs and
moist unpleasant "mountains" as his garrulous companion. Chute suffered in
silence, for the sight of pen, ink, and paper did not induce in _him_ a
fury of composition; and so we shall never know what he endured.

Then the pedantic Doctor John Burton, who journeyed into Sussex in 1751,
had no less unfortunate acquaintance with these miry ways than our
_dilettante_ of Strawberry Hill. To those who have small Latin and less
Greek, this traveller's tale must ever remain a sealed book; for it is in
those languages that he records his views upon ways and means, and men and
manners, in Sussex. As thus, for example:

"I fell immediately upon all that was most bad, upon a land desolate and
muddy, whether inhabited by men or beasts a stranger could not easily
distinguish, and upon roads which were, to explain concisely what is most
abominable, Sussexian. No one would imagine them to be intended for the
people and the public, but rather the byways of individuals, or, more
truly, the tracks of cattle-drivers; for everywhere the usual footmarks of
oxen appeared, and we too, who were on horseback, going along zigzag,
almost like oxen at plough, advanced as if we were turning back, while we
followed out all the twists of the roads.... My friend, I will set before
you a kind of problem in the manner of Aristotle: - Why comes it that the
oxen, the swine, the women, and all other animals(!) are so long-legged in
Sussex? Can it be from the difficulty of pulling the feet out of so much
mud by the strength of the ankle, so that the muscles become stretched, as
it were, and the bones lengthened?"

A doleful tale. Presently he arrives at the conclusion that the peasantry
"do not concern themselves with literature or philosophy, for they
consider the pursuit of such things to be only idling," which is not so
very remarkable a trait, after all, in the character of an agricultural

[Illustration: THE "TALBOT" INN YARD. BOROUGH, ABOUT 1815. _From an old

Our author eventually, notwithstanding the terrible roads, arrived at
Brighthelmstone, by way of Lewes, "just as day was fading." It was, so he
says, "a village on the sea-coast; lying in a valley gradually sloping,
and yet deep. It is not, indeed, contemptible as to size, for it is
thronged with people, though the inhabitants are mostly very needy and
wretched in their mode of living, occupied in the employment of fishing,
robust in their bodies, laborious, and skilled in all nautical crafts,
and, as it is said, terrible cheats of the custom-house officers." As who,
indeed, is not, allowing the opportunity?

Batchelor, the pioneer of Brighton coaching, continued his enterprise in
1757, and with the coming of spring, and the drying of the roads, his
coaches, which had been laid up in the winter, after the usual custom of
those times, were plying again. In May he advertised, "for the convenience
of country gentlemen, etc.," his London, Lewes, and Brighthelmstone
stage-coach, which performed the journey of fifty-eight miles in two days;
and exclusive persons, who preferred to travel alone, might have
post-chaises of him.


Brighthelmstone had in the meanwhile sprung into notice. The health-giving
qualities of its sea air, and the then "strange new eccentricity" of
sea-bathing, advocated from 1750 by Dr. Richard Russell, had already given
it something of a vogue among wealthy invalids, and the growing traffic
was worth competing for. Competitors therefore sprang up to share
Batchelor's business. Most of them merely added stage-coaches like his,
but in May, 1762, a certain "J. Tubb," in partnership with "S. Brawne,"
started a very superior conveyance, going from London one day and
returning from Brighthelmstone the next. This was the:

LEWES and BRIGHTELMSTONE new FLYING MACHINE (by Uckfield), hung on
steel springs, very neat and commodious, to carry FOUR PASSENGERS,
sets out from the Golden Cross Inn, Charing Cross, on Monday, the 7th
of June, at six o'clock in the morning, and will continue MONDAY'S,
WEDNESDAY'S, and FRIDAY'S to the White Hart, at Lewes, and the Castle,
at Brightelmstone, where regular Books are kept for entering
passenger's and parcels; will return to London TUESDAY'S, THURSDAY'S,
and SATURDAY'S Each Inside Passenger to Lewes, Thirteen Shillings; to
Brighthelmstone, Sixteen; to be allowed Fourteen Pound Weight for
Luggage, all above to pay One Penny per Pound; half the fare to be
paid at Booking, the other at entering the machine. Children in Lap
and Outside Passengers to pay half-price.

Performed by J. TUBB.

[Illustration: ME AND MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER. _From a caricature by Henry

Batchelor saw with dismay this coach performing the whole journey in one
day, while his took two. But he determined to be as good a man as his
opponent, if not even a better, and started the next week, at identical
fares, "a new large FLYING CHARIOT, with a Box and four horses (by
Chailey) to carry two Passengers only, except three should desire to go
together." The better to crush the presumptuous Tubb, he later on reduced
his fares. Then ensued a diverting, if by no means edifying, war of
advertisements; for Tubb, unwilling to be outdone, inserted the following
in _The Lewes Journal_, November, 1762:

THIS IS TO INFORM THE PUBLIC that, on Monday, the 1st of November
instant, the LEWES and BRIGHTHELMSTON FLYING MACHINE began going in
_one day_, and continues twice a week during the Winter Season to
Lewes only; sets out from the White Hart, at Lewes, MONDAYS and
THURSDAYS at Six o'clock in the Morning, and returns from the Golden
Cross, at Charing Cross, TUESDAYS and SATURDAYS, at the same hour.

Performed by J. TUBB.

N.B. - Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, are desired to look narrowly into
the Meanness and Design of the other Flying Machine to Lewes and
Brighthelmston, in lowering his prices, whether 'tis thro' conscience
or an endeavour to suppress me. If the former is the case, think how
you have been used for a great number of years, when he engrossed the
whole to himself, and kept you two days upon the road, going fifty
miles. If the latter, and he should be lucky enough to succeed in it,
judge whether he wont return to his old prices, when you cannot help
yourselves, and use you as formerly. As I have, then, been the remover
of this obstacle, which you have all granted by your great
encouragement to me hitherto, I, therefore, hope for the continuance
of your favours, which will entirely frustrate the deep-laid schemes
of my great opponent, and lay a lasting obligation on, - Your very
humble Servant,


To this replies Batchelor, possessed with an idea of vested interests
pertaining to himself:

WHEREAS, Mr. TUBB, by an Advertisement in this paper of Monday last,
has thought fit to cast some invidious Reflections upon me, in respect
of the lowering my Prices and being two days upon the Road, with other
low insinuations, I beg leave to submit the following matters to the
calm Consideration of the Gentlemen, Ladies, and other Passengers, of
what Degree soever, who have been pleased to favour me, viz.:

That our Family first set up the Stage Coach from London to Lewes, and
have continued it for a long Series of Years, from Father to Son and
other Branches of the same Race, and that even before the Turnpikes on
the Lewes Road were erected they drove their Stage, in the Summer
Season, in one day, and have continued to do ever since, and now in
the Winter Season twice in the week. And it is likewise to be
considered that many aged and infirm Persons, who did not chuse to
rise early in the Morning, were very desirous to be two Days on the
Road for their own Ease and Conveniency, therefore there was no
obstacle to be removed. And as to lowering my prices, let every one
judge whether, when an old Servant of the Country perceives an
Endeavour to suppress and supplant him in his Business, he is not well
justified in taking all measures in his Power for his own Security,
and even to oppose an unfair Adversary as far as he can. 'Tis,
therefore, hoped that the descendants of your very ancient Servants
will still meet with your farther Encouragement, and leave the Schemes
of our little Opponent to their proper Deserts. - I am, Your old and
present most obedient Servant,


_December 13, 1762._

The rivals both kept to the road until the death of Batchelor, in 1766,
when his business was sold to Tubb, who took into partnership a Mr. Davis.
Together they started, in 1767, the first service of a daily coach in the
"Lewes and Brighthelmstone Flys," each carrying four passengers, one to
London and one to Brighton every day.

Tubb and Davis had in 1770 one "machine" and one waggon on this road, fare
by "machine" 14_s._ The machine ran daily to and from London, starting at
five o'clock in the morning. The waggon was three days on the road.
Another machine was also running, but with the coming of winter these
machines performed only three double journeys each a week.

In 1777 another stage-waggon was started by "Lashmar & Co." It loitered
between the "King's Head," Southwark, and the "King's Head," Brighton,
starting from London every Tuesday at the unearthly hour of 3 a.m., and
reaching its destination on Thursday afternoons.

On May 31st, 1784, Tubb and Davis put a "light post-coach" on the road,
running to Brighton one day returning to London the next, in addition to
their already running "machine" and "post-coach." This new conveyance
presumably made good time, four "insides" only being carried.


Four years later, when Brighton's sun of splendour was rising, there were
on the road between London and the sea three "machines," three light
post-coaches, two coaches, and two stage-waggons. Tubb now disappears, and
his firm becomes Davis & Co. Other proprietors were Ibberson & Co.,
Bradford & Co., and Mr. Wesson.

On May 1st, 1791, the first Brighton Mail coach was established. It was a
two-horse affair, running by Lewes and East Grinstead, and taking twelve
hours to perform the journey. It was not well supported by the public, and
as the Post Office would not pay the contractors a higher mileage, it was
at some uncertain period withdrawn.

About 1796 coach offices were opened in Brighton for the sole despatch of
coaching business, the time having passed away for the old custom of
starting from inns. Now, too, were different tales to tell of these roads,
after the Pavilion had been set in course of building. Royalty and the
Court could not endure to travel upon such evil tracks as had hitherto
been the lot of travellers to Brighthelmstone. Presently, instead of a
dearth of roads and a plethora of ruts, there became a choice of good
highways and a plenty of travellers upon them.

Numerous coaches ran to meet the demands of the travelling public, and
these continually increased in number and improved in speed. About this
time first appear the firms of Henwood, Crossweller, Cuddington, Pockney &
Harding, whose office was at No. 44, East Street: and Boulton, Tilt,
Hicks, Baulcomb & Co., at No. 1, North Street. The most remarkable thing,
to my mind, about those companies is their long-winded names. In addition
to the old service, there ran a "night post-coach" on alternate nights,
starting at 10 p.m. in the season. One then went to or from London
generally in "about" eleven hours, if all went well. If you could afford
only a ride in the stage-waggon, why then you were carried the distance by
the accelerated (!) waggons of this line in two days and one night.


Erredge, the historian of Brighton, tells something of the social side of
Brighton Road coaching at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Social
indeed, as you shall see:

"In 1801 two pair-horse coaches ran between London and Brighton on
alternate days, one up, the other down, driven by Messrs. Crossweller and

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 2 of 18)