Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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Hine. The progress of these coaches was amusing. The one from London left
the Blossoms Inn, Lawrence Lane, at 7 a.m., the passengers breaking their
fast at the Cock, Sutton, at 9. The next stoppage for the purpose of
refreshment was at the Tangier, Banstead Downs - a rural little spot,
famous for its elderberry wine, which used to be brought from the cottage
'roking hot,' and on a cold wintry morning few refused to partake of it.
George IV. invariably stopped here and took a glass from the hand of Miss
Jeal as he sat in his carriage. The important business of luncheon took
place at Reigate, where sufficient time was allowed the passengers to view
the Baron's Cave, where, it is said, the barons assembled the night
previous to their meeting King John at Runymeade. The grand halt for
dinner was made at Staplefield Common, celebrated for its famous black
cherry-trees, under the branches of which, when the fruit was ripe, the
coaches were allowed to draw up and the passengers to partake of its
tempting produce. The hostess of the hostelry here was famed for her
rabbit-puddings, which, hot, were always waiting the arrival of the coach,
and to which the travellers never failed to do such ample justice, that
ordinarily they found it quite impossible to leave at the hour appointed;
so grogs, pipes, and ale were ordered in, and, to use the language of the
fraternity, 'not a wheel wagged' for two hours. Handcross was a little
resting-place, celebrated for its 'neat' liquors, the landlord of the inn
standing, bottle in hand, at the door. He and several other bonifaces at
Friars' Oak, etc., had the reputation of being on pretty good terms with
the smugglers who carried on their operations with such audacity along the
Sussex coast.

"After walking up Clayton Hill, a cup of tea was sometimes found to be
necessary at Patcham, after which Brighton was safely reached at 7 p.m. It
must be understood that it was the custom for the passengers to walk up
all the hills, and even sometimes in heavy weather to give a push behind
to assist the jaded horses."


But it was not always so ideal or so idyllic. That there were discomforts
and accidents is evident from the wordy warfare of advertisements that
followed upon the starting of the Royal Brighton Four Horse Company in
1802. As a competitor with older firms, it seems to have aroused much
jealousy and slander, if we may believe the following contemporary

THE ROYAL BRIGHTON Four Horse Coach Company beg leave to return their
sincere thanks to their Friends and the Public in general for the very
liberal support they have experienced since the starting of their
Coaches, and assure them it will always be their greatest study to
have their Coaches safe, with good Horses and sober careful Coachmen.

They likewise wish to rectify a report in circulation of their Coach
having been overturned on Monday last, by which a gentleman's leg was
broken, &c., no such thing having ever happened to either of their
Coaches. The Fact is it was one of the BLUE COACHES instead of the
Royal New Coach.

As several mistakes have happened, of their friends being BOOKED at
other Coach offices, they are requested to book themselves at the

The coaching business grew rapidly, and in an advertisement offering for
sale a portion of the coaching business at No. 1, North Street, it was
stated that the annual returns of this firm were more than £12,000 per
annum, yielding from Christmas, 1794, to Christmas, 1808, seven and a
half per cent. on the capital invested, besides purchasing the interest of
four of the partners in the concern. In this last year two new businesses
were started, those of Waldegrave & Co., and Pattenden & Co. Fares now
ruled high - 23_s._ inside; 13_s._ outside.

The year 1809 marked the beginning of a new and strenuous coaching era on
this road. Then Crossweller & Co. commenced to run their "morning and
night" coaches, and William "Miller" Bradford formed his company. This was
an association of twelve members, contributing £100 each, for the purpose
of establishing a "double" coach - that is to say, one up and one down,
each day. The idea was to "lick creation" on the Brighton Road by
accelerating the speed, and to this end they acquired some forty-five
horses then sold out of the Inniskilling Dragoons, at that time stationed
at Brighton. On May Day, 1810, the Brighton Mail was re-established. These
"Royal Night Mail Coaches" as they were grandiloquently announced, were
started by arrangement with the Postmaster-General. The speed, although
much improved, was not yet so very great, eight hours being occupied on
the way, although these coaches went by what was then the new cut _via_
Croydon. Like the Dover. Hastings, and Portsmouth mails, the Brighton Mail
was two-horsed. It ran to and from the "Blossoms" Inn, Lawrence Lane,
Cheapside, and never attained a better performance than 7 hours 20
minutes, a speed of 7-1/2 miles an hour. It had, however, _this_
distinction, if it may so be called: it was the slowest mail in the

It was on June 25th, 1810, that an accident befell Waldegrave's
"Accommodation" coach on its up journey. Near Brixton Causeway its hind
wheels collapsed, owing to the heavy weight of the loaded vehicle. By one
of those strange chances when truth appears stranger than fiction, there
chanced to be a farmer's waggon passing the coach at the instant of its
overturning. Into it were shot the "outsiders," fortunate in this
comparatively easy fall. Still, shocks and bruises were not few, and one
gentleman had his thigh broken.


By June, 1811, traffic had so increased that there were then no fewer than
twenty-eight coaches running between Brighton and London. On February 5th
in the following year occurred the only great road robbery known on this
road. This was the theft from the "Blue" coach of a package of bank-notes
representing a sum of between three and four thousand pounds sterling.
Crosswellers were proprietors of the coach, and from them Messrs. Brown,
Lashmar & West, of the Brighton Union Bank, had hired a box beneath the
seat for the conveyance of remittances to and from London. On this day the
Bank's London correspondents placed these notes in the box for
transmission to London, but on arrival the box was found to have been
broken open and the notes all stolen. It would seem that a carefully
planned conspiracy had been entered into by several persons, who must have
had a thorough knowledge of the means by which the Union Bank sent and
received money to and from the metropolis. On this morning six persons
were booked for inside places. Of this number two only made an
appearance - a gentleman and a lady. Two gentlemen were picked up as the
coach proceeded. The lady was taken suddenly ill when Sutton was reached,
and she and her husband were left at the inn there. When the coach arrived
at Reigate the two remaining passengers went to inquire for a friend.
Returning shortly, they told the coachman that the friend whom they had
supposed to be at Brighton had returned to town, therefore it was of no
use proceeding further.

Thus the coachman and guard had the remainder of the journey to
themselves, while the cash-box, as was discovered at the journey's end,
was minus its cash. A reward of £300 was immediately offered for
information that would lead to recovery of the notes. This was
subsequently altered to an offer of 100 guineas for information of the
offender, in addition to £300 upon recovery of the total amount, or "ten
per cent. upon the amount of so much thereof as shall be recovered." No
reward money was ever paid, for the notes were never recovered, and the
thieves escaped with their booty.

In 1813 the "Defiance" was started, to run to and from Brighton and London
in the daytime, each way six hours. This produced the rival "Eclipse,"
which belied the suggestion of its name and did not eclipse, but only
equalled, the performance of its model. But competition had now grown very
severe, and fares in consequence were reduced to - inside, ten shillings;
outside, five shillings. Indeed, in 1816, a number of Jews started a coach
to run from London to Brighton in six hours: or, failing to keep time, to
forfeit all fares. Needless to say, under such Hebrew management, and with
that liability, it was punctuality itself; but Nemesis awaited it, in the
shape of an information laid for furious driving.

The Mail, meanwhile, maintained its ancient pace of a little over six
miles an hour - a dignified, no-hurry, governmental rate of progression.
There was, in fact, no need for the Brighton Mail to make speed, for the
road from the General Post Office is only fifty-three miles in length, and
all the night and the early morning, from eight o'clock until five or six
o'clock a.m., lay before it.


We come now to the "Era of the Amateur," who not only flourished
pre-eminently on the Brighton Road, but may be said to have originated on
it. The coaching amateur and the nineteenth century came into existence
almost contemporaneously. Very soon after 1800 it became "the thing" to
drive a coach, and shortly after this became such a definite ambition,
there arose that contradiction in terms, that horsey paradox, the Amateur
Professional, generally a sporting gentleman brought to utter ruin by
Corinthian gambols, and taking to the one trade on earth at which he could
earn a wage. That is why the Golden Age of coaching won on the Brighton
Road a refinement it only aped elsewhere.


It is curious to see how coaching has always been, even in its serious
days, before steam was thought of, the chosen amusement of wealthy and
aristocratic whips. Of those who affected the Brighton Road may be
mentioned the Marquis of Worcester, who drove the "Duke of Beaufort," Sir
St. Vincent Cotton of the "Age," and the Hon. Fred Jerningham, who drove
the Day Mail. The "Age," too, had been driven by Mr. Stevenson, a
gentleman and a graduate of Cambridge, whose "passion for the _bench_," as
"Nimrod" says, superseded all other worldly ambitions. He became a
coachman by profession, and a good professional he made; but he had not
forgotten his education and early training, and he was, as a whip,
singularly refined and courteous. He caused, at a certain change of horses
on the road, a silver sandwich-box to be handed round to the passengers by
his servant, with an offer of a glass of sherry, should any desire one.
Another gentleman, "connected with the first families in Wales," whose
father long represented his native county in Parliament, horsed and drove
one side of this ground with Mr. Stevenson.

This was "Sackie," Sackville Frederick Gwynne, of Carmarthenshire, who
quarrelled with his relatives and took to the road; became part proprietor
of the "Age," broke off from Stevenson, and eventually lived and died at
Liverpool as a cabdriver. He drove a cab till 1874, when he died, aged

Harry Stevenson's connection with the Brighton Road began in 1827, when,
as a young man fresh from Cambridge, he brought with him such a social
atmosphere and such full-fledged expertness in driving a coach that
Cripps, a coachmaster of Brighton and proprietor of the "Coronet," not
only was overjoyed to have him on the box, but went so far as to paint his
name on the coach as one of the licensees, for which false declaration
Cripps was fined in November, 1827.

The parentage and circumstances of Harry Stevenson are alike mysterious.
We are told that he "went the pace," and was already penniless at
twenty-two years of age, about the time of his advent upon the Brighton
Road. In 1828 his famous "Age" was put on the road, built for him by
Aldebert, the foremost coach-builder of the period, and appointed in every
way with unexampled luxury. The gold- and silver-embroidered horse-cloths
of the "Age" are very properly preserved in the Brighton Museum.
Stevenson's career was short, for he died in February, 1830.

Coaching authorities give the palm for artistry to whips of other roads:
they considered the excellence of this as fatal to the production of those
qualities that went to make an historic name. This road had become
"perhaps the most nearly perfect, and certainly the most fashionable, of

With the introduction of this sporting and irresponsible element, racing
between rival coaches - and not the mere conveying of passengers - became
the real interest of the coachmen, and proprietors were obliged to issue
notices to assure the timid that this form of rivalry would be
discouraged. A slow coach, the "Life Preserver," was even put on the road
to win the support of old ladies and the timid, who, as the record of
accidents tells us, did well to be timorous. But accidents _would_ happen
to fast and slow alike. The "Coburg" was upset at Cuckfield in August,
1819. Six of the passengers were so much injured that they could not
proceed, and one died the following day at the "King's Head." The "Coburg"
was an old-fashioned coach, heavy, clumsy, and slow, carrying six
passengers inside and twelve outside. This type gave place to coaches
of lighter build about 1823.

MOUTH" OFFICE, PICCADILLY CIRCUS, 1826. _From an aquatint after W. J.

In 1826 seventeen coaches ran to Brighton from London every morning,
afternoon, or evening. They had all of them the most high-sounding of
names, calculated to impress the mind either with a sense of swiftness, or
to awe the understanding with visions of aristocratic and court-like
grandeur. As for the times they individually made, and for the inns from
which they started, you who are insatiable of dry bones of fact may go to
the Library of the British Museum and find your Cary (without an "e") and
do your gnawing of them. That they started at all manner of hours, even
the most uncanny, you must rest assured; and that they took off from the
(to ourselves) most impossible and romantic-sounding of inns, may be
granted, when such examples as the strangely incongruous "George and Blue
Boar," the Herrick-like "Blossoms" Inn, and the idyllic-seeming
"Flower-pot" are mentioned.


They were, those seventeen coaches, the "Royal Mail," the "Coronet,"
"Magnet," "Comet," "Royal Sussex," "Sovereign," "Alert," "Dart," "Union,"
"Regent," "Times," "Duke of York," "Royal George," "True Blue," "Patriot,"
"Post," and the "Summer Coach," so called, and they nearly all started
from the City and Holborn, calling at West End booking-offices on their
several ways. Most of the old inns from which they set out are pulled
down, and the memory of them has faded.

The "Golden Cross" at Charing Cross, from whose doors started the "Comet"
and the "Regent" in this year of grace 1826, and at which the "Times"
called on its way from Holborn, has been wholly remodelled; the "White
Horse," Fetter Lane, whence the "Duke of York" bowled away, has been
demolished; the "Old Bell and Crown" Inn, Holborn, where the "Alert," the
"Union," and the "Times" drew up daily in the old-fashioned galleried
courtyard, is swept away. Were Viator to return to-morrow, he would
surely want to return to Hades, or Paradise, wherever he may be, at once.
Around him would be, to his senses, an astonishing whirl and noise of
traffic, despite the wood-paving that has superseded macadam, which itself
displaced the granite setts he knew. Many strange and horrid portents he
would note, and Holborn would be to him as an unknown street in a strange

Than 1826 the informative Cary goes no further, and his "Itinerary,"
excellent though it be, and invaluable to those who would know aught of
the coaches that plied in the years when it was published, gives no
particulars of the many "butterfly" coaches and amateur drags that cut in
upon the regular coaches during the rush and scour of the season.

In 1821 it was computed that over forty coaches ran to and from London and
Brighton daily; in September, 1822, there were thirty-nine. In 1828 it was
calculated that the sixteen permanent coaches then running, summer and
winter, received between them a sum of £60,000 per annum, and the total
sum expended in fares upon coaching on this road was taken as amounting to
£100,000 per annum. That leaves the very respectable amount of £40,000 for
the season's takings of the "butterflies."

An accident happened to the "Alert" on October 9th, 1829, when the coach
was taking up passengers at Brighton. The horses ran away, and dashed the
coach and themselves into an area sixteen feet deep. The coach was
battered almost to pieces, and one lady was seriously injured. The horses
escaped unhurt. In 1832, August 25th, the Brighton Mail was upset near
Reigate, the coachman being killed.

_From an engraving after C. Cooper Henderson._]


This was the era of those early motor-cars, the steam-carriages, which, in
spite of their clumsy construction and appalling ugliness, arrived very
nearly to a commercial success. Many inventors were engaged from 1823 to
1838 upon this subject. Walter Hancock, in particular, began in 1824, and
in 1828 proposed a service of his "land-steamers" between London and
Brighton, but did not actually appear upon this road with his "Infant"
until November, 1832. The contrivance performed the double journey with
some difficulty and in slower time than the coaches: but Hancock on that
eventful day confidently declared that he was perfecting a newer machine
by which he expected to run down in three and a half hours. He never
achieved so much, but in October, 1833, his "Autopsy," which had been
successfully running as an omnibus between Paddington and Stratford, went
from the works at Stratford to Brighton in eight and a half hours, of
which three hours were taken up by a halt on the road.

No artist has preserved a view of this event for us, but a print may still
be met with depicting the start of Sir Charles Dance's steam-carriage from
Wellington Street, Strand, for Brighton on some eventful morning of that
same year. A prison-van is, by comparison with this fearsome object, a
thing of beauty; but in the picture you will observe enthusiasm on foot
and on horseback, and even four-legged, in the person of the inevitable
dog. In the distance the discerning may observe the old toll-house on
Waterloo Bridge, and the gaunt shape of the Shot Tower.

By 1839 the coaching business had in Brighton become concentrated in
Castle Square, six of the seven principal offices being situated there.
Five London coaches ran from the Blue Office (Strevens & Co.), five from
the Red Office (Mr. Goodman's), four from the "Spread Eagle" (Chaplin &
Crunden's), three from the Age (T. W. Capps & Co.), two from Hine's, East
Street; two from Snow's (Capps & Chaplin), and two from the "Globe" (Mr.

To state the number of visitors to Brighton on a certain day will give an
idea of how well this road was used during the decade that preceded the
coming of steam. On Friday, October 25th, 1833, upwards of 480 persons
travelled to Brighton by stage-coach. A comparison of this number with the
hordes of visitors cast forth from the Brighton Railway Station to-day
would render insignificant indeed that little crowd of 1833; but in those
times, when the itch of excursionising was not so acute as now, that day's
return was remarkable; it was a day that fully justified the note made of
it. Then, too, those few hundreds benefited the town more certainly than
perhaps their number multiplied by ten does now. For the Brighton visitor
of a hundred years ago, once set down in Castle Square, had to remain the
night at least in Brighton; for him there was no returning to London the
same day. And so the Brighton folks had their wicked will of him for a
while, and made something out of him; while in these times the greater
proportion of a day's excursionists find themselves either at home in
London already, when evening hours are striking from Westminster Ben, or
else waiting with what patience they may the collecting of tickets at the
bleak and dismal penitentiary platforms of Grosvenor Road Station; and,
after all, Brighton is little or nothing advantaged by their visit.

But though the tripper of the coaching era found it impracticable to have
his morning in London, his day upon the King's Road, and his evening in
town again, yet the pace at which the coaches went in the '30's was by no
means despicable. Ten miles an hour now became slow and altogether behind
the age.

In 1833 the Marquis of Worcester, together with a Mr. Alexander, put three
coaches on the road: an up and down "Quicksilver" and a single coach, the
"Wonder." The "Quicksilver," named probably in allusion to its swiftness
(it was timed for four hours and three-quarters), ran to and from what was
then a favourite stopping-place, the "Elephant and Castle." But on July
15th of the same year an accident, by which several persons were very
seriously injured, happened to the up "Quicksilver" when starting from
Brighton. Snow, who was driving, could not hold the team in, and they
bolted away, and brought up violently against the railings by the New
Steyne. Broken arms, fractured arms and ribs, and contusions were
plenty. The "Quicksilver," chameleon-like, changed colour after this
mishap, was repainted and renamed, and reappeared as the "Criterion"; for
the old name carried with it too great a spice of danger for the timorous.

BRIGHTON, 1833. _From a print after G. E. Madeley._]


On February 4th, 1834, the "Criterion," driven by Charles Harbour,
outstripping the old performances of the "Vivid," and beating the previous
wonderfully quick journey of the "Red Rover," carried down King William's
Speech on the opening of Parliament in 3 hours and 40 minutes, a coach
record that has not been surpassed, nor quite equalled, on this road, not
even by Selby on his great drive of July 13th, 1888, his times being out
and in respectively, 3 hours 56 minutes, and 3 hours 54 minutes. Then
again, on another road, on May Day, 1830, the "Independent Tally-ho,"
running from London to Birmingham, covered those 109 miles in 7 hours 39
minutes, a better record than Selby's London to Brighton and back drive by
eleven minutes, with an additional mile to the course. Another coach, the
"Original Tally-ho," did the same distance in 7 hours 50 minutes. The
"Criterion" fared ill under its new name, and gained an unenviable
notoriety on June 7th, 1834, being overturned in a collision with a dray
in the Borough. Many of the passengers were injured; Sir William Cosway,
who was climbing over the roof when the collision occurred, was killed.

In 1839, the coaching era, full-blown even to decay, began to pewk and
wither before the coming of steam, long heralded and now but too sure. The
tale of coaches now decreased to twenty-three; fares, which had fallen in
the cut-throat competition of coach proprietors with their fellows in
previous years to 10_s._ inside, 5_s._ outside for the single journey, now
rose to 21_s._ and 12_s._ Every man that horsed a coach, seeing now was
the shearing time for the public, ere the now building railway was opened,
strove to make as much as possible ere he closed his yards, sold his
stock, broke his coach up for firewood, and took himself off the road.

Sentiment hung round the expiring age of coaching, and has cast a halo on
old-time ways of travelling, so that we often fail to note the
disadvantages and discomforts endured in those days; but, amid regrets
which were often simply maudlin, occur now and again witticisms true and
tersely epigrammatic, as thus:

For the neat wayside inn and a dish of cold meat
You've a gorgeous saloon, but there's nothing to eat;

and a contributor to the _Sporting Magazine_ observes, very happily, that
"even in a 'case' in a coach, it's 'there you are'; whereas in a railway
carriage it's 'where are you?'" in case of an accident.

On September 21st, 1841, the Brighton Railway was opened throughout, from
London to Brighton, and with that event the coaching era for this road
virtually died. Professional coach proprietors who wished to retain the
competencies they had accumulated were well advised to shun all

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 3 of 18)