Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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competition with steam, and others had been wise enough to cut their
losses; for the Road for the next sixty years was to become a discarded
institution and the Rail was entering into a long and undisputed
possession of the carrying trade.

The Brighton Mail, however - or mails, for Chaplin had started a Day Mail
in 1838 - continued a few months longer. The Day Mail ceased in October,
1841, but the Night Mail held the road until March, 1842.


Between 1841, when the railway was opened all the way from London, and
1866, during a period of twenty-five years, coaching, if not dead, at
least showed but few and intermittent signs of life. The "Age," which then
was owned by Mr. F. W. Capps, was the last coach to run regularly on the
direct road to and from London. The "Victoria," however, was on the
road, _via_ Dorking and Horsham, until November 8th, 1845.

_From an engraving after W. J. Shayer._]


The "Age" had been one of the best equipped and driven of all the smart
drags in that period when aristocratic amateur dragsmen frequented this
road, when the Marquis of Worcester drove the "Beaufort," and when the
Hon. Fred Jerningham, a son of the Earl of Stafford, a whip of consummate
skill, drove the day-mail; a time when the "Age" itself was driven by that
sportsman of gambling memory, Sir St. Vincent Cotton, and by that Mr.
Stevenson who was its founder, mentioned more particularly on page 37.
When Mr. Capps became proprietor, he had as coachman several distinguished
men. For twelve years, for instance, Robert Brackenbury drove the "Age"
for the nominal pay of twelve shillings per week, enough to keep him in
whips. It was thus supremely fitting that it should also have been the
last to survive.

In later years, about 1852, a revived "Age," owned and driven by the Duke
of Beaufort and George Clark, the "Old" Clark of coaching acquaintance,
was on the road to London, _via_ Dorking and Kingston, in the summer
months. It was discontinued in 1862. A picture of this coach crossing Ham
Common _en route_ for Brighton was painted in 1852 and engraved. A
reproduction of it is shown here.

From 1862 to 1866 the rattle of the bars and the sound of the guard's yard
of tin were silent on every route to Brighton; but in the latter year of
horsey memory and the coaching revival, a number of aristocratic and
wealthy amateurs of the whip, among whom were representatives of the best
coaching talent of the day, subscribed a capital, in shares of £10, and a
little yellow coach, the "Old Times," was put on the highway. Among the
promoters of the venture were Captain Haworth, the Duke of Beaufort, Lord
H. Thynne, Mr. Chandos Pole, Mr. "Cherry" Angell, Colonel Armytage,
Captain Lawrie, and Mr. Fitzgerald. The experiment proved unsuccessful,
but in the following season, commencing in April, 1867, when the goodwill
and a large portion of the stock had been purchased from the original
subscribers, by the Duke of Beaufort, Mr. E. S. Chandos Pole, and Mr.
Angell, the coach was doubled, and two new coaches built by Holland &

The Duke of Beaufort was chief among the sportsmen who horsed the coaches
during this season. Mr. Chandos Pole, at the close of the summer season,
determined to carry on by himself, throughout the winter, a service of one
coach. This he did, and, aided by Mr. Pole-Gell, doubled it the next

The following year, 1869, the coach had so prosperous a season that it
showed never a clean bill, _i.e._, never ran empty, all the summer, either
way. The partners this year were the Earl of Londesborough, Mr. Pole-Gell,
Colonel Stracey Clitherow, Mr. Chandos Pole, and Mr. G. Meek.

From this season coaching became extremely popular on the Brighton Road,
Mr. Chandos Pole running his coach until 1872. In the following year an
American amateur, Mr. Tiffany, kept up the tradition with two coaches.
Late in the season of 1874 Captain Haworth put in an appearance.

In 1875 the "Age" was put upon the road by Mr. Stewart Freeman, and ran in
the season up to and including 1880, in which year it was doubled. Captain
Blyth had the "Defiance" on the road to Brighton this year by the
circuitous route of Tunbridge Wells. In 1881 Mr. Freeman's coach was
absent from the road, but Edwin Fownes put the "Age" on, late in the
season. In the following year Mr. Freeman's coach ran, doubled again, and
single in 1883. It was again absent in 1884-5-6, in which last year it ran
to Windsor; but it reappeared on the Brighton Road in 1887 as the "Comet,"
and in the winter of that year was continued by Captain Beckett, who had
Selby and Fownes as whips. In 1888 Mr. Freeman ran in partnership with
Colonel Stracey-Clitherow, Lord Wiltshire, and Mr. Hugh M'Calmont, and in
1889 became partner in an undertaking to run the coach doubled. The two
"Comets" therefore served the road in this season supported by two
additional subscribers, the Honourable H. Sandys and Mr. Randolph Wemyss.

[Illustration: THE "AGE," 1852, CROSSING HAM COMMON. _From an engraving
after C. Cooper Henderson._]

[Sidenote: JIM SELBY]

In 1888 the "Old Times," forsaking the Oatlands Park drive, had appeared
on the Brighton Road as a rival to the "Comet," and continued throughout
the winter months, until Selby met his death in that winter.

The "Comet" ran single in the winter season of 1889-90, and in April was
again doubled for the summer, running single in 1891-2-3, when Mr. Freeman
relinquished it.

Mention has already been made of the "Old Times," which made such a
fleeting appearance on this road; but justice was not done to it, or to
Selby, in that incidental allusion. They require a niche to themselves in
the history of the revival - a niche to which shall be appended this poetic

Here's the "Old Times," it's one of the best,
Which no coaching man will deny,
Fifty miles down the road with a jolly good load,
Between London and Brighton each day.
Beckett, M'Adam, and Dickey, the driver, are there,
Of old Jim's presence every one is aware,
They are all nailing good sorts,
And go in for all sports,
So we'll all go a-coaching to-day.

It is poetry whose like we do not often meet. Tennyson himself never
attempted to capture such heights of rhyme. He could, and did, rhyme
"poet" with "know it," but he never drove such a Cockney team as "deny"
and "to-dy" to water at the Pierian springs.


"Carriages without horses shall go," is the "prophecy" attributed to that
mythical fifteenth century pythoness, Mother Shipton; really the _ex post
facto_ forgery of Charles Hindley, the second-hand bookseller, in 1862. It
should not be difficult, on such terms, to earn the reputation of a seer.

Between 1823 and 1838, the era of the steam-carriages, that
prognostication had already been fulfilled: and again, in another sense,
with the introduction of railways. But it was not until the close of 1896
that the real horseless era began to dawn. Railways, extravagantly
discriminative tolls, and restrictions upon weight and speed killed the
steam-carriages, and for more than fifty years the highways knew no other
mechanical locomotion than that of the familiar traction-engines,
restricted to three miles an hour and preceded by a man with a red flag.
It is true that a few hardy inventors continued to waste their time and
money on devising new forms of steam-carriages, and were only fined for
their pains when they were rash enough to venture on the public roads, as
when Bateman, of Greenwich, invented a steam-tricycle, and Sir Thomas
Parkyn, Bart., was fined at Greenwich Police Court, April 8th, 1881, for
riding it.

That incident appears to have finally quenched the ardour of inventive
genius in this country; but a new locomotive force already existing
unsuspected was about this period being experimented with on the Continent
by one Gottlieb Daimler, whose name - generally mispronounced - is now
sufficiently familiar to all who know anything of motor-cars.

Daimler was at that time connected with the Otto Gas Engine Works in
Germany, where the adaptive Germans were exploiting the gas-engine
principle invented by Crossley many years before.

[Sidenote: MOTOR-CARS]

In 1886 Daimler produced his motor-bicycle, and by 1891 his motor engine
was adapted by Panhard and Levassor to other types of vehicles. The
French were thus the first to perceive the great possibilities of it, and
by 1894 the motor-cars already in use in France were so numerous that the
first sporting event in the history of them - the 760 miles' race from
Paris to Bordeaux and back - was run.

[Illustration: THE "OLD TIMES," 1888. _From a painting by Alfred S.

The following year Mr. Evelyn Ellis brought over the first motor-car to
reach England, a 4 h.-p. Panhard, and a little later, Sir David Salomons,
of Tunbridge Wells, imported a Peugeot. In that town, October 15th, 1895,
he held the first show of cars - four or five at most - in this country.
Then began an agitation raised by a few enthusiasts for the removal of the
existing restrictions upon road traffic. A deputation waited upon the
Local Government Board, and the Light Locomotives Act of 1896 was passed
in August, legalising mechanical traction up to a speed of fourteen miles
an hour, the Act to come into operation on November 14th.

For whatever reason, the Light Locomotives Act was passed so quietly,
under the ægis of the Local Government Board, as to almost wear the aspect
of an organised secrecy, and the coming of what is now known as Motor-car
Day was utterly unsuspected by the bulk of the public. It even caught the
newspapers unprepared, until the week before.

But the financiers and company-promoters had been busy. They at least
fully realised the importance of the era about to dawn; and the
extravagant flotations of the Great Horseless Carriage Company and of many
others long since bankrupt and forgotten, together with the phenomenal
over-valuation of patents, very soon discredited the new movement. Never
has there been a new industry so hardly used by company-promoting sharks
as that of motor-cars.

[Sidenote: "MOTOR-CAR DAY"]

No inkling of subsequent financial disasters clouded Motor-car Day, and as
at almost the last moment the Press had come to the conclusion that it was
an occasion to be written up and enlarged upon, a very great public
interest was aroused in the Motor-car Club's proposed celebration of the
event by a great procession of the newly-enfranchised "light locomotives"
from Whitehall to Brighton, on November 14th.

The Motor-car Club is dead. It was not a club in the proper sense of the
word, but an organisation promoted and financed by the company-promoters
who were interested in advertising their schemes. The run to Brighton was
itself intended as a huge advertisement, but the unprepared condition of
many of the cars entered, together with the miserable weather prevailing
on that day, resulted in turning the whole thing into ridicule.

The newspapers had done their best to advertise the event; but no one
anticipated the immense crowds that assembled at the starting-point,
Whitehall Place, by nine o'clock on that wet and foggy morning. By
half-past ten, the hour fixed for the start, there was a maddening chaos
of hundreds of thousands of sightseers such as no Lord Mayor's Show or
Royal Procession had ever attracted. Everybody in the crowd wanted a front
place, and those who got one, being both unable and unwilling to "parse
away," were nearly scragged by the police, who on the Embankment set upon
individuals like footballers on the ball; while snap-shotters wasted
plates on them from the secure altitudes of omnibuses or other vehicles.

Those whose journalistic duties took them to see the start had to fight
their way down from Charing Cross, up from Westminster, or along from the
Embankment; contesting inch by inch, and wondering if the starting-point
would ever be gained.

At length the Metropole hove in sight, but the motor-cars had yet to be
found. To accomplish this feat it was necessary to hurl oneself into a
surging tide of humanity, and surge with it. The tide carried the explorer
away and eventually washed him ashore on the neck of a policeman. Rumour
got around that an organised massacre of cab-horses was contemplated, and
myriads of mounted police appeared and had their photographs taken from
the tops of cabs and other envied positions occupied by amateur
photographers, who paid dearly to take pictures of the fog, which they
could have done elsewhere for nothing.

[Illustration: THE "COMET," 1890. _From a painting by Alfred S. Bishop._]

Time went on, the crowd grew bigger, the mud was churned into slush, and
everybody was treading upon everybody else.

"Ain't this bloomin' fun, sir?" asked the driver of a growler, his sides
shaking with laughter, "Even my ole 'oss 'as bin larfin'."

"Very intelligent horse," we said, thinking of Mr. Pickwick, and
determining to ask some searching questions as to his antecedents.

"Interleck's a great p'int, sir. Which 'ud you sooner be in: a runaway
mortar-caw or a keb?"


"No, I ain't jokin', strite. I've just bin argying wif a bloke as said
he'd sooner be in a caw. I said I pitied 'is choice, and wouldn't give 'im
much for his charnce. 'Cos why? 'Cos mortar-caws ain't got no interleck.
They cawn't tell the dif'rence 'tween nothink an' a brick wall. Now a 'os
can. If 'e don't turn orf 'e tries ter jump th' wall, but yer mortar
simply goes fer it, and then where are yer? In 'eaven, if yer lucky, or
in - - "

But the rest of his sentence was lost in the roar that ascended from the
crowd as the cars commenced their journey to Brighton.

They went beautifully for a few yards, chased the mounted police right
into the crowd, and then stopped.

"It's th' standin' still as does it - not the standin' still, I mean the
not going forrard, 'cos they don't stand still," said the cabby,

"Don't they hum?" he cried.

"They certainly do make a little noise."

"But I mean, don't they whiff?"


He held his nose.

"I say, guv'nor." shouted cabby to a fur-coated foreigner, "wot is it
smells so?"

Meanwhile there was a certain "something lingering with oil in it,"
permeating the fog, while a sound as of many humming-tops filled the air.

Then the cars moved on a bit, amid the cheers and chaff of a good-humoured
crowd. Presently another stoppage and more shivering.

"'As thet cove there got th' Vituss dance?" inquired the elated cabby,
indicating a gentleman who was wobbling like a piece of jelly.

"That's the vibration," explained another.

"'Ow does the vibration agree w' the old six yer 'ad last night?" cabby
inquired immediately. "I say, Chawlie, don't it make yer sea-sick? Oh my!
th' smell!" and he gasped and sat on his box, looking bilious.

* * * * *

When all the carriages had wended their way to Westminster we asked cabby
what he thought of the procession.

"Arsk my 'os," said he, with a look of disgust on his face. "What's yer
opinion of it, old gal? Failyer? My sentiments. British public won't pay
to be choked with stinks one moment and shut up like electricity t' next.
Failyer? Quite c'rect."

Meanwhile the guests of the Motor-car Club were breakfasting at the Hotel
Metropole, where appropriate speeches were made, the Earl of Winchilsea
concluding his remarks with the dramatic production of a red flag, which,
amid applause, he tore in half, to symbolise the passing of the old

There had been fifty-four entries for this triumphal procession, but not
more than thirty-three cars put in an appearance. It is significant of the
vast progress made since then that no car present was more than 6 h.-p.,
and that all, except the Bollée three-wheeled car, were precisely what
they were frequently styled, "horseless carriages," vehicles built on
traditional lines, from which the horses and the customary shafts were
painfully missed. There had not yet been time sufficient for the evolution
of the typical motor-car body.

With the combined strategy of a Napoleon, the patience of Job, and the
strength of Samson, the guests were at length piloted through the crowd
and inducted into their seats, and the "procession" - which, it was sternly
ordained, was not to be a "race" - set out.

[Sidenote: THE FIRST CARS]

The President of the Motor-car Club, Harry J. Lawson, since convicted of
fraud and sentenced to some months' imprisonment, led the way in his
pilot-car, bearing a purple-and-gold banner, more or less suitably
inscribed, himself habited in a strange costume, something between that of
a yachtsman and the conductor of a Hungarian band.

Reigate was reached at 12.30 by the foremost ear, through twenty miles of
crowded country, when rain descended once more upon the hapless day, and
late arrivals splashed through in all the majesty of mud.

The honours of the occasion belong to the little Bollée three-wheeler, of
a type long since obsolete. The inventor, disregarding all rules and
times, started at 11.30, and, making no stop at Reigate, drove on to
Brighton, which he reached in the record time of two hours fifty-five
minutes. The President's car was fourth, in seven hours twenty-two minutes
thirty seconds.

At Preston Park, on the Brighton boundary, the Mayor was to have welcomed
the procession, which, headed by the President, was to proceed
triumphantly into the town. A huge crowd assembled under the dripping elms
and weeping skies, and there, at five o'clock, in the light of the misty
lamps, stood and vibrated that presidential equipage and its banner with
the strange device. By five o'clock only three other cars had arrived; and
so, wet and miserable, they, the Mayor and Council, and the mounted police
all splashed into Brighton amid a howling gale.

The rest should be silence, for no one ever knew the number of cars that
completed the journey. Some said twenty-two, others thirteen; but it is
certain that the conditions were too much for many, and that while some
reposed in wayside stables, others, broken down in lonely places, remained
on the road all through that awful night. The guests, who in the morning
had been unable to find seats on the "horseless carriages," and so had
journeyed by special train or by coach, in the end had much to
congratulate themselves upon.

But, after all, looking back upon the hasty enthusiasm that organised so
long a journey at such a time of year, at so early a stage in the
motor-car era, it seems remarkable, not that so many broke down, but that
so large a proportion reached Brighton at all.

The logical outcome of years of experiment and preparation was reached, in
the supersession of the horsed London and Brighton Parcel Mail on June
2nd, 1905, by a motor-van, and in the establishment, on August 30th, of
the "Vanguard" London and Brighton Motor Omnibus Service, starting in
summer at 9.30 a.m., and reaching Brighton at 2 p.m.; returning from
Brighton at 4 p.m., and finally arriving at its starting-point, the "Hotel
Victoria," Northumberland Avenue, at 9 p.m. With the beginning of
November, 1905, that summer service was replaced by one to run through the
winter months, with inside seats only, and at reduced fares.

The first fatality on the Brighton Road in connection with motor-cars
occurred in 1901, at Smitham Bottom, when a car just purchased by a
retired builder and contractor of Brighton was being driven by him from
London. The steering-gear failed, the car turned completely round, ran
into an iron fence and pinned the owner's leg against it and a tree. The
leg was broken and had to be amputated, and the unfortunate man died of
the shock.

But the motor-omnibus accident of July 12th, 1906, was a really
spectacular tragedy. On that day a "Vanguard" omnibus, chartered by a
party of thirty-four pleasure seekers at Orpington for a day at Brighton,
was proceeding down Hand Cross Hill at twelve miles an hour when some
essential part of the gear broke and the heavy vehicle, dashing down-hill
at an ever-increasing pace, and swerving from side to side, struck a great
oak. The shock flung the passengers off violently. Ten were killed and all
the others injured, mostly very seriously.

Meanwhile, amateur coaching had, in most of the years since the
professional coaches had been driven off the road, flourished in the
summer season. The last notable amateur was the American millionaire,
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who for several seasons personally drove his own
"Venture" coach between London and Brighton; at first on the main
"classic" road, and afterwards on the Dorking and Horsham route. He met
his death on board the _Lusitania_, when it was sunk by the Germans, May
7th. 1915.



Robinson Crusoe, weary of his island solitude, sighed, so the poet tells
us, for "the midst of alarms." He should have chosen the Brighton Road;
for ever since it has been a road at all it has fully realised the
Shakespearian stage-direction of "alarums and excursions." Particularly
the "excursions," for it is the chosen track for most record-breaking
exploits; and thus it comes to pass that residents fortunate or
unfortunate enough to dwell upon the Brighton Road have the whole panorama
of sport unfolded before their eyes, whether they will or no, throughout
the whirling year, and see strange sights, hear odd noises, and (since the
coming of the motor-car) smell weird smells.

The Brighton Road has ever been a course upon which the enthusiastic
exponents of different methods of progression have eagerly exhibited their
prowess. But to-day, although it affords as good going as, or better than,
ever, it is not so suitable as it was for these displays of speed.
Traffic has grown with the growth of villages and townships along these
fifty-two miles, and sport and public convenience are on the highway
antipathetic. Yet every kind of sport has its will of the road.

The reasons of this exceptional sporting character are not far to seek.
They were chiefly sportsmen who travelled it in the days when it began to
be a road: those full-blooded sportsmen, ready for any freakish wager, who
were the boon companions of the Prince; and they set a fashion which has
not merely survived into modern times, but has grown amazingly.

But it would never have been the road for sport it is, had its length not
been so conveniently and alluringly near an even fifty miles. So much may
be done or attempted along a fifty miles' course that would be impossible
on a hundred.


The very first sporting event on the Brighton Road of which any record
survives is (with an astonishing fitness) the feat accomplished by the
Prince of Wales himself on July 25th, 1784, during his second visit to
Brighthelmstone. On that day he mounted his horse there and rode to London
and back. He went by way of Cuckfield, and was ten hours on the road: four
and a half hours going, five and a half hours returning. On August 21st of
the same year, starting at one o'clock in the morning, he drove from
Carlton House to the "Pavilion" in four hours and a half. The turn-out was
a phaeton drawn by three horses harnessed tandem-fashion - what in those
days was called a "random."

One may venture the opinion that, although these performances were in due
course surpassed, they were not altogether bad for a "simulacrum," as
Thackeray was pleased to style him.

Twenty-five years passed before any one arose to challenge the Prince's
ride, and then only partially and indirectly. In May, 1809, Cornet J.
Wedderburn Webster, of the 10th (Prince of Wales's Own) Light Dragoons,
accepted and won a wager of 300 to 200 guineas with Sir B. Graham about
the performance in three and a half hours of the journey from Brighton to
Westminster Bridge, mounted upon one of the blood horses that usually ran
in his phaeton. He accomplished the ride in three hours twenty minutes,
knocking the Prince's up record into the proverbial cocked hat. The rider
stopped a while at Reigate to take a glass or two of wine, and compelled
his horse to swallow the remainder of the bottle.

This spirited affair was preceded in April, 1793, by a curious match which
seems to deserve mention. A clergyman at Brighton betted an officer of the
Artillery quartered there 100 guineas that he would ride his own horse to
London sooner than the officer could go in a chaise and pair, the
officer's horses to be changed _en route_ as often as he might think

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 4 of 18)