Stagecoach Travel: Information on Porters, Goods & Luggage (1819)

Rules of the Road | Wanstead | UK Destinations | Porters, Goods & Luggage

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

The coaching era is generally thought to have begun around 1660 and lasted until the late 1840s when the last passenger-carrying mail coaches and stage services were discontinued, as the age of steam travel was now upon us. Though several key routes were established from London across Britain during the reign of Charles II, the state of roads meant that coach travel was only ever undertaken if absolutely necessary. However this was all to change after the creation of various statutory bodies empowered to raise tolls for the maintenance and improvement of important stretches of road. By the reign of George III there were over 1000 of these ‘Turnpike Trusts‘ administering about 2500 miles of roadway.

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

Turnpike at Kings Road, in rural Chelsea c.1819

Turnpike tolls ranged from a penny per person or horse to sixpence for carts, waggons and coaches. But the mail coaches, the army, and local labourers on foot were allowed to use such roads free of charge. At first the Trusts were little more than local tax-raising fiefdoms, as very little of the money raised was invested in road improvements. However, two technological breakthroughs changed all this, leading to an era of fast and efficient stage coach travel – perhaps reaching its apogee in the 1820s. Firstly, the appointment of engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) signalled a policy of easing gradients on existing roads, and finding short cuts which avoided uneven terrain. Telford also implemented new systems of drainage meaning that the roads were passable more often and over a greater period of the year. Secondly the introduction of a new road material, ‘tarmacadam’, named after its inventor John Macadam (1756-1836) was vital for modernising Britain’s roadways, ushering in an era of mass stagecoach travel both for  business and pleasure. These advances meant that a stagecoach journey from London to Manchester (which would have taken 4 and a half days in 1750) could be done in 26 hours by 1821.

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

Expect to be fleeced at provincial coaching inns

When undertaking a long journey from London, the cost of your fare and luggage was far from the only expense to be considered. Provincial inns has a reputation pretty much like today’s motorway service stations and were only to ready to fleece passengers for all manner of additional charges as they stopped for rest and refreshment. For example it was widely established that stops should only last 20 minutes. Passengers were expected to pay for their meal in advance but rarely had time to eat it before going on their way. So coaching inns commonly re-sold ‘left-overs’ to the next coach party. If you were unfortunate enough to stay overnight, it was usual to tip the coachman and any accompanying staff, waiters, coaching inn porters, and even charges for candles in your room (which could be as much as 5 shillings extra per night!). There were even ‘local’ taxes levied for support of the poor. Hence lengthy journeys often led to hefty bills, so the best option for any departee from London was to find a regular service from an established carrier, using good roads with minimal stops.

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

Fully laden stagecoach at Highgate c.1835

The cost of travel was also affected by tax charged upon each and every coach using the roads. After 1776 there was a £5 Stamp Duty on all coaches, plus from 1783 half a penny per mile travelled was levied – applying whether the coach was fully loaded or not. Hence it became economic to load up coaches as much as possible to spread the cost, but also resulted in less frequent winter services due to reduced passenger numbers making it uneconomical. Over time these taxes increased by degree, reaching 2 and a half pence per mile by 1838. The Government perhaps inadvertently hastened the decline of stage coach travel by being very slow to release stage coach operators from the burden of excise duty, at a time when railways were taking away much of their trade.

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

Porters – vital  cogs in the wheels of industry right back to Roman times

In Roman times carriages and chariots were prevented from driving into the forum by barriers across approaching roadways. All merchandise had to be handed over to porters, whose job it was to unload and distribute deliveries to and from the forum. The above image can be found on a wall behind the forum at Pompeii, signifying the important role carried out by porters. Fast forward to 1819 and we find that the most important job at any London coaching inn is carried out by the head porter. It was a well paid, responsible, and powerful job – The porter was the main point of contact with passengers, and organised staff at the inn and on the coaches – collecting tips and other benefits on their behalf during the loading and unloading process. Anyone staying overnight could rely on the head-porter to act as a concierge procuring goods and services or arranging entertainment for clients satisfaction. However, my guide to Stage Coaches for 1819 sets down some very important standards of behaviour expected from head-porters in the performance of their duties

wicked william's guide to stagecoach travel 1819

Beware the unscrupulous porter

A porter must ensure that parcels conveyed from coaching inns will not exceed the following rates:

  1. Anything up to a quarter of a mile – 3 pence
  2. Between 1 and up to two miles – 6 pence
  3. Two miles and above – 10 pence with an additional 3 pence for every half mile thereafter

Any person or porter demanding more than the above rates, for any parcel not exceeding 56lb*, will be compelled to forfeit 20 shillings

Any inn or warehouse keeper neglecting to send a Ticket with every parcel, containing the Name or Description of the Inn or Warehouse from whence the same is sent, with the Christian and Surname of the Porter who is to deliver the same, and Carriage and Porterage marked thereon, forfeits 40 shillings, and the Porter not leaving the Ticket with the Parcel, or, altering, or wilfully obliterating, anything written thereon, forfeits 40 shillings. and if he demands more than written on such ticket, 20 shillings

Every parcel arriving by Coach to be delivered within 6 hours after such Arrival; (if not after 4pm, or before 7am, then within 6 hrs after 7am;) or by Waggon, within 24 hours after such arrival; or Inn-keeper to forfeit 20 shillings 

Parcels directed ‘to be left till called for’ to be delivered on Payment of Carriage and 2d Warehouse-room for the first, and 1d for each week after, or forfeit 20 shillings

Every porter misbehaving, forfeits 20 shillings

These offences are cognizable before any Justice of the District.

*56lb was 4 stone in imperial weight, which is about 25 kilos. This is not a bad baggage allowance when thinking about airlines today.

waggon

If moving a load, then waggons or carts are for you

As well as the above rules of conduct for porters, it was important to be aware of charges payable for larger items being transported. My guide book sets it out thus:

  1. A ‘load’  = 25 hundredweight (1.25 tons)
  2. A ‘half load’ = 15-19 hundredweight (from 0.75 up to one ton)
  3. A ‘small load’ anything under 15cwt (0.75 tons)

Some items which might constitute a load: Two hogsheads of sugar, 50 baskets of raisins, 20 barrels of figs, 5 barrels of rice, 3 bales of aniseed, 6 barrels of almonds or 10 barrels of fish oil

hogshead of sugar

A hogshead of sugar – very popular with children

A half load tended to be scaled down quantities of full load items, such as one hogshead of sugar

A small load might be made up of: 50 jars of raisins, one butt of currents, or 3 puncheons of prunes

The orange wharf at London bridge

The Orange Wharf at London Bridge

If you direct a coach or waggon to collect goods on your behalf from any of London’s many wharves – there are a sliding scale of costs applicable. For example quays around London Bridge incur a surcharge per load of 3 shillings and four pence, but wharves around the Tower of London charge as much as 4 shillings and a penny. In all wharves goods such as wine, olive oil, rum, and brandy are liable to additional charges – which can vary by individual wharf – often dependent on how the goods are packaged and distributed from the ships or barges.

Goods collected from wharves and leaving the City of London by more than a mile radius are charged 5 shillings and two pence, rising on a sliding scale thereafter according to distance travelled to point of delivery

stagecoach 1

I hope you have enjoyed this little dip into Regency transport for London, and that reproduction of any part of this blog will be fully acknowledged or credited. Any comment or feedback is always welcome.

For the modern-day equivalent of Regency stage coach service why not consider a London & UK Taxi Tour – or for a broader brush look at all things Georgian try Rachel Knowles’ Regency History website. To learn about Britain’s very first celebrity couple – who caused a Regency scandal extraordinaire visit author Geraldine Roberts

For more about horsemanship in Georgian Britain why not check out the Epping Hunt – or follow Wicked William off to war

 

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