A Guide to the Georgian Coaching Inn

Welcome, customers !

So, you have arrived outside an inn with rooms (the word hotel is unknown) in the late Georgian era. What kind of experience would you have?

The first question is- how did you get there? Did you travel there by private carriage, hired post chaise, stagecoach or did you, heaven forefend, arrive on foot?

Did you arrive in a stagecoach? This is more difficult. You will be let in, because you will be expected; indeed the landlord may well have put gold in other people’s pocket to get the coach to stop, and you will be expected   to put that gold back into his. You are probably only staying for the time it takes to change the horses; it could be done in five, and if this was a Post Office coach it would be, but you need to eat and drink.  So it might be twenty minutes or in might be an hour.

If you arrived on foot, expect nothing. You will be all sweaty and dirty either from the mud of a rainy day, or much less well known, the filthy dust of a couple of dry days on the roads. Pedestrians may not even be let in. The inn may be obviously empty and you will be told that all beds are taken. If you are allowed food, you will be directed to the shabby kitchen to feed yourself. You will be called ‘master’ or ‘mistress’ and nothing will be too ordinary for you. Some beer, bread and cheese does not mean they will relent and give you a bed, or even a bench. You may be directed to another less salubrious establishment out of town that ‘may’ take you. The lowliest maid, used to being disregarded herself, may be the biggest snob about you.

Those travelling ‘up top’ to would be directed to the kitchen with the pedestrians, gypsies, itinerant labourers and soldiers. Do not expect help getting off the eight foot high coach; if you were a lady, you would not be on top in the first place, would you?

Most passengers will be in the parlour. If quick snacks are needed there will be beer, bread, and cheese and prices will be random and possibly exorbitant. The butter may be rancid, the rum and water mostly water, and the cream and buttermilk very far from pasteurized. If you are staying longer, a roast will be offered, or part of one, and the slowest person there deputed to carve it; there would have been a cheap hot soup beforehand that wasted even more time, and the driver may well have been bribed to call out ‘All is Ready!’ before the appointed time. The roast will go back in its case for a second, or perhaps third, party to buy it.

If you arrive on a hired post chaise, you are probably  only staying as long as it takes to hire two new horses and attach them to carriage- it you want something, it will come immediately, and those in the kitchen may come and gawp at such fine people. When you removed the exorbitant price of food and lodging , travelling by private carriage was often not much more expensive than the public stagecoach.

Are you staying for the night or two? Then a wholeew world opens up to you. If you were rich then you would have sent   your servant- an avant courier – to secure a good room. Everybody else will get a room depending on what the landlord thinks of them, as before. You may be sold a room on your own, but check that there are no more beds in it, so it cannot be sold on later, giving you a stranger in your room . Best to take a room up some stairs; remember who lives on the ground floor; the stabling may well stink, and the way your horse is treated will be a prediction about your treatment .

If you not been prudent enough to bring your own bedsheets, check them for dampness by placing spectacles on them and see if there is condensation. If there is a maid with a warming pan, call her and scold her for not doing it earlier (if you arrive late at night and unexpected, they would not have bothered). If nobody is available, sleep in your clothes in the blanket only. People died because of damp bed sheets. It was in the newspapers, after all.

Assuming you have your own room, a decent bed and warm blanket (people actually robbed feathers from beds) would you get a good night’s sleep? Probably not; your room would either face the road (the best bet) or the stable yard. Either way the coaches would start to leave about four a.m, and there would be no sleep after that.

Are the inn servants looking at you funny? Have you tipped them? Tipping in the Georgian inn was not an acknowledgement of good service; it was a prerequisite for any service at all. As you arrive, give everybody a tip, including the ostler who feeds you horse and be sure to check its food . Don’t just look at his corn, as it may be switched later- make sure that he eats it. Guide books suggest that you come stocked up with sixpences so you do not have to give a shilling. Less than sixpence will result in a curse, a dark look and rubbish service.

An ideal meal, with a threat that can be seen through the window

How is the landlord? Is he always absent, making his wife do the work and then she takes her resentment out on you? Is he permanently drunk? Is his establishment dirty? If it is clean, does he insist that you wear grubby second had slippers that have seen a hundred dirty feet already?  He will have freely available opinion on politics and religion and you have a choice of ignoring him, which is hard work, agreeing with him, which is a blank cheque on your time, or snubbing him, which may cost your dearly when you leave.

The food may be very good, but it probably will not be. It will be boiled and roasted meat with a token accompaniment.  Your partridge may have been old when it was cooked, and reheated more than once. Have you brought your own sauces, unless of course you think the idea is too French?  Are your vegetables either non-existent, or boiled to a mush?  Have you desserts got pie lids on, and where you sensible enough to check the state of the fruit?   You will be sick of salmon by now, but may worry about the alternatives. If you are inland, beware the freshwater fish; they may have been in a salt tank for months, hanging on to life but not hanging on to their taste. That Lobster in the tank could be ancient. The best thing to do is to go for cold food and simple desserts. Sliced beef, fruit, cheeses, puddings with no crust and fruit. If you see anything being harvested on your travels- peas and strawberries for example – ask for them at mealtimes. You won’t get them though.

You will quiver in anticipation of your bill. Up to now, none of your food and drink has been priced on a menu; there were no menu with prices, just a final   handwritten account   and a total.  Travellers noted that is varied enormously, and not with the quality of the inn, but randomly. Some places where notorious; the Pelican at Speenhamland, named after pious bird who fed her babies with his own blood, was merely a place where you would get a large bill.  The Bear at Maidenhead was a place where travellers, weary of being robbed in the Maidenhead Thicket, were merely robbed in a different way. Some charged more by charging more, some by charging for  things that could reasonably be offered free . That stinking rush light they gave you to find your room in the dark? That will be 2d please.

One thing you could do is check the addition – a ‘6’ could look like a ‘9’ but not, apparently, the other way around. The worst thing about all of this? None of it may happen. The inn may be comfortable, welcoming with high quality food and drink. There is just no way of telling. If you went back 200 years, you would miss TripAdvisor, even if you don’t think you would! .

This blog is collated from my new social history of Britain 1780 to 1840. It focusses on transport and hospitality but covers lots of other subjects. My blog on the book. Publisher’s details

This would be an ideal book in any British library-please ask them to stock it .

Introducing ‘Passengers- Life in Britain during the Stagecoach Era’

What is the hardest part of writing a non- fiction History book?  It is finding a gap in the market for something that does not deserve to be ignored.  Most things have been ignored for a good reason, and when you find something that is both new and interesting, you don’t boast about it on social media. Try asking an author what they are working on, and the answer will be vague.

A few years ago I read The Railways, and it remains one of my favourite History books, despite not being really interested in railway history itself. The sub-title is brilliant; it struck me that the Railways were the second ‘nation, network and people’ and the first was the stagecoach. How about, I thought, a social history of the preceding era using the stagecoach as my vehicle (forgive me) for a social history of the time?

Nobody else had done it; there were of course, many books about the stagecoach but they   tended to be technical and (forgive me again) a little geeky.

I made list of all the subjects that I could cover and I was excited by it. I could do walking; coaching inns; crime on the roads and in the inns; animal cruelty and the history of horses; the mail and the post office; famous entrepreneurs including some fabulously interesting women; I developed a few case studies; the Swan with Two Necks compared with the Swan in Alton (still going strong!); the rise and fall of a coaching family and, my favourite part, a history of the transport struggles of Jane Austen and her family.   The full chapter list is below.

What else was great about the project? It was the time period covered. There are lots of great social histories of the period after 1837- Bradley’s book to me, is one of them, because it is not really a book about the railways; it is a social history told through that subject. Social histories of the period 1790 to 1840 are much rarer; and I don’t know why, as the primary material is easily  to hand.

Please consider the book and suggest it for your library. The chapter headings are below,

Introduction: Is There Really A Stagecoach History of Britain?

1 The Walking Classes

2   Scandal at the Swan

3 Respectability

4 Bad Education

 5 Calculated Charity

6 The Stagecoach Masters

 7 The Entrepreneurial Widows

 8 Crime in the Coaching Inn

 9 Crime on the Road

 10 Roads Work

11 Who’s on Board Today?

 12 The Stagecoach Driver—A Class Act

 13 A Georgian Family and Their Struggle with Transport

14  Melancholy Events

 15 The Stagecoach v. the Law

 16 Hell for Horses

 17  A Journey Up the Great North Road

18 Moving the Mail

 19 Attacked by A Lioness

 20 The Brighton Line

21 Inn Hospitality

 22 Poor Women and Their Work

23 New Times, New Time, and New Timing

 24 First with the News

25 The Stagecoach Defeats the Steam Engine

 26 The Steam Engine Defeats the Stagecoach

27 Conclusion: Immortality Via Nostalgia

Pedestrianism- A Regency Fad

Joseph Edge, the Macclesfield Pedestrian of 1806 | All Things Georgian
Joseph Edge of Macclesfield

The English did not rate walking very highly. Horse powered transport, even of the most modest kind, was always more socially preferable. There were exceptions. Tens of thousands of people crossed London Bridge every morning in the 1810s, but that was early metropolitan commuting. Poets and others who were the first people in Britain to developed and aesthetic sensibility about the landscape would often walk when they did not need to. Keats mostly walked through Scotland in his 1818 tour. Another poet, Thomas de Quincy walked forty miles through the empty roads at night between Bridgwater and Hotwells near Bristol in 1807. Coleridge and Southey tramped the same route due to their poverty, sharing a bed and not getting on very well, but this was because they were poor. Unnecessary walking was a suspicious trait in anybody higher up the scale than a farm labourer.

Moritz tried to walk around England and didn’t get away with it

Karl Philipp Moritz was a German theologian and gentle anglophile, who took it into his head that he would work from Richmond to Derbyshire in the late spring of 1782. He, like Keats, walked because he wanted to enjoy the countryside. Dressed soberly and respectably as a Prussian clergyman, he was stared at, shouted, at and sometimes abused by coach passengers and horse riders who could not believe what they were seeing. Charitable farmers would stop and offer him a lift on the back of their nag. Coach drivers would stop and offer a seat, with the fare going straight into the driver’s pocket.

As Moritz passed through Burton on Trent a few days later, the whole town came out of their houses to point fingers and hiss. Burton was the most rude, rustic and xenophobic place he visited. “This strongly-marked contemptuous treatment of a stranger, who was travelling through their country merely from the respect he bore it, I experienced nowhere but at Burton”

As he arrived in various towns late at night, the inns and public houses slammed the door in his face- they did not want an itinerant wanderer even in their not particularly classy establishments. Sometimes, when he was allowed in, he was directed to the kitchen to sup with soldiers of labourers; occasionally his level of discourse was so high that by the next morning they had given the walking stranger the benefit of the doubt and started calling him “ Sir “ instead of “ Master”

In an age of tight knit local communities, the rootless stranger was an object of suspicion and a potential charge on the poor law and the local tax payer. This was also the age of agricultural enclosure, when workers would migrate in desperation from place to place in search of work, the stranger without a horse would be turned away or asked to pay in advance. There would also be blatant discrimination. At one inn, Moritz noted that his reasonable (“a carpeted room, a good bed”) treatment was interrupted when a private three- seater carriage arrived at the inn;
While I was eating, a post-chaise drove up, and in a moment both the folding-doors were thrown open and the whole house set in motion, in order to receive, with all due respect, these guests, who, no doubt, were supposed to be persons of consequence.

Robert Barclay Allardice is the father of pedestrianism. He walked 1000  miles in 1000 hours

Organised walking was a different matter. The craze of “pedestrianism” was celebrated in books and newspapers; sometimes it was a foot race between two people or long distance solo walking over a few days. Sporting heroes were created, and for the first time in British history, individuals could become national celebrities because of their sporting achievements. One of these was Robert Barclay Allardyce, a Scottish aristocrat better known as ‘Captain Barclay’, whose greatest feat of pedestrianism was in 1809 when he bet 1,000 guineas that he could walk one mile in each of 1,000 consecutive hours.

Barclay had money in the bank

The obsession with pedestrianism chimed very much with the ethos of the time. In 1813, Walter Thom’s book “Pedestrianism” was a partly a book of walking world records and partly a homily on the value of long distance walking. Thom saw it as good mental and physical training; especially as preparation for the military life or ways of keeping those already in the army busy (avoiding the horrors of insolent repose” in their barracks during periods of inactivity). Others saw it as a respectable harking back to the athletes of Greek antiquity. For others it was a sporting activity that facilitated gambling- it was said that Captain Barclay made £16,000 in side bets on his long distance walking in 1809. Pedestrianism provided a link with modern athletic training. It was clear at the time that there was nothing natural about trying to walk for hours on end, so you had to prepare for it. Many gentlemen who fancied themselves as modern “natural philosophers” ( scientists) would study the anatomy and physiology of the muscles and the lungs and offer advice on physical and mental preparation.

Pedestrianism was not merely a hobby of the rich who had nothing more pressing to do than to set themselves arbitrary goals and compare themselves with the athletes of the Olympics. The lower orders dabbled in competitive walking. Pedestrianism was one for the few leisure activities that was enjoyed by both the rich and the poor, although it was done for different reasons – the most famous example being Joseph Edge of Cheshire. Elderly artisans such as Joseph would have been used to tramping- moving around from place to place looking for work in a time when economic downturns were more regionally based – travelling light and hoping from help from strangers. Unlike Moritz, people like Joseph Edge would rely on previously organised contacts from artisans in the same line of work as him, or in this case, would rely on his fame as a celebrity walker.

Joseph Edge made two attempts to walk from Cheshire to London against a time limit in the summer of 1806. He arrived in Kegworth, Leicestershire after walking for eleven hours from the Angel Inn, Macclesfield. His plan was to walk to London in 50 successive hours- not continuously, as this would be physically impossible, but to walk at a constant three and a half miles an hour- a brisk walking pace for a young healthy adult in the twenty-first century. Kegworth was 51 miles from home and he had achieved this in 11 hours- a pace of nearly 5 miles per hour which he would not be able to keep up until the end. He stopped for a rest and a pint of beer, which evidently disagreed with him and he tried to continue was too ill to continue.

A few days later he tried again, this time with a lot more publicity due to his original failure and an accumulated £2000 in bets from people who claimed that it could not be done. The vast majority of pedestrian challenges involved a money wager, usually from the richer members of society in the same way that they would bet on a bare knuckled boxing match, which was the other Regency sport that could create celebrities of the lower orders. Joseph had probably collected a large number of small bets as the papers did not mention any particular name of an aristocrat who had wagered recklessly-although that was often the arrangement.

He set off again on Wednesday 12am on July 30th 1806 and reached London at twenty to one on the Saturday morning of August 2nd, with a mere 40 minutes to spare. He was accompanied throughout by a Mr Jones, the postmaster of Macclesfield, who was presumably riding a horse for some or all of the way, and was there to protect the interests of the gamblers. In an age when exact time and timing did not matter very much, the postmaster was one of the few public officials whose business involved an exacting timetable; the post was never allowed to be late. He was a man for whom timetables were second nature and his conclusions could be trusted, assuming of course that he had no bet on the result.

A quick calculation shows that his journey consisted of 50 hours of walking and ten hours of sleep. Joseph had achieved an overall speed of just less 3 and half miles throughout his time limit He had walked to London-a remarkable feat made more remarkable by the fact that Joseph was 62- it was , according to the Sporting Magazine ‘ an astonishingly instance of senile vigour and pedestrian expedition’.

There were hundreds of public houses and coffee shops in London, and many other places where Joseph could have finished his journey with the maximum amount of publicity. His inn of choice was the Swan With Two Necks in Lad Lane, and this was not chosen at random. This was the place where Joseph could get the stagecoach back to Macclesfield-which was the way rich people travelled at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Joseph now fell into that category.

My Georgian and Early Victorian Books. The blog above is derived from my book Passengers. Chapter headings and more details here.

My other book is an alternative history of the Regency.

Drunk as a Lord; the Regency Bottle Men

All the decent people in Lichfield got drunk every night and were not the worse thought of

                                                                   Samuel Johnson

Sir Murrough O’Brien, Marquess of Thomond, was riding through Grosvenor Square one February morning in 1808 when his fell from his horse, smashed his head on the pavement, was run over by a cart and died the same day. He was not a fashionable member of the bon ton, but was important enough to have an obituary.  What could be said about him? He was a six bottle man, said the newspapers- a celebrated six bottle man. Alcohol did not cut short his life however; he was 82.

What was a six bottle man? You may well be guessing that they were people, who drank six bottles of alcohol a day, and on one level you are correct, but there is a lot of ambiguity in that statement. What would have been in the bottle? The answer is best expressed in the negative; not beer or gin (‘Hollands’), as they were drinks of the poor, but possibly port, sherry, brandy or wine- claret or hock.

The six bottle men – and they were men- were the top of the tree, and there was no such thing as a seven or one bottle man. Indeed there was no such thing as a two bottle man, as they would have represented below average consumption for a gentlemen’s convivial evening. The Duke of Queensbury was a two bottle man, said the Morning Advertiser in 1810. He had just died and Lord Yarmouth inherited his wine cellar, most of which, the newspaper implied, had not been used up by this moderate drinker and therefore Yarmouth was a lucky man.  The entry level was the three bottle man- that is three bottles in one sitting- but there were thousands and thousands of these.

William Pitt and Charles James Fox had little in common, but one habit they shared was addressing the House of Commons under the influence of alcohol; mostly port once again. Pitt picked up the port habit in 1773- at the age of 14- when he suffered an attack of gout, and Dr. Anthony Addington (father of PM Henry Addington) prescribed a bottle of port a day to cure an inflammatory disease that was actually exacerbated by port.  Henry Addington commented ‘Mr. Pitt liked a glass of port very well and a bottle better’, but would not have ever thought of blaming his own father. The Morning Chronicle ( 28 September 1803)  noted the French, when noting that Pitt was a volunteer at the Cinq Port Volunteers, meant that he was a Five Bottle Man.

Duke of Norfolk- Five Bottle Man. Does it show?

Sheridan, actor and friend of Pitt, was five bottle men, suggested the Evening Post in 1803. His choice was port in oversize glasses, and crammed into the evening only, drinking small beer at other times. Drink made him stupid.  

Sheridan when he was dining at Somerset House and they were all in high feather, in rushed the servant and said Sir the house is on fire!  Bring another bottle of claret said Sheridan, it is not my house

R. Brinsley Sheridan. Richard Porson. Rev. Sydney Smith. Theodore Hook. James and Horace Smith by John Timbs  1872

Lord Eldon was a five bottle man.  A bottle of wine would proceed his afternoon in court. When out of town, he and the landlord of his favourite pub would drink seven bottles of ‘Carbonell’s Fine Old Blackstrap Newcastle Military Port’, except on Saturday, when they drank 8 to fortify themselves for going to church. He did not damage his career- his was Lord Chancellor of England from 1807 to 1827, or his health. He died at 87.

John ‘Mad Jack’  Mytton was a six bottle a day man, but he started at breakfast, and drank steadily  While at Trinity College, Cambridge he brought 2000 bottles of port with him-not in bottle form but three pipes( ‘pipa’ is the portuguese for barrel) and would have provided his own bottles. Three pipe would be 3024 pints of wine. He never took a degree, unsurprisingly perhaps. This was not the most remarkable thing about him; he owned a bear, which he would ride when drunk, owned 3000 shirts yet would rip off all his clothes in the middle of an exciting hunt. He owned 2,000 dogs; his favourite pets would eat steak and drink champagne. He died of liver disease in a bankrupt’s prison, aged 37.

What happens after 5 bottles

How could these people operate with such alcoholic intake?  By bottle we ( in the UK) think of the 750 millilitre wine bottle but almost all spirit and wine bottles would have been smaller than that. A pint of wine (568ml) is not even two thirds of a modern bottle and Pitt may have drunk from a bottle of between 460 and 350 ml. He may have been just less than a four bottle a day man by our standards. Bottles tended to be smaller, squat and with a low centre of gravity (so they would not fall over very easily). Glasses tended to be smaller, and at dinner the social conventions would mean that the alcohol would only pass to you at certain times.  Brandy could be diluted with water, and most spirits were not as strongly fortified as today. Port was not strengthened in the way we know it today until the 1870s. It was about 16% alcohol rather than 20%.

Some historians have disagreed about this; eighteenth century bottles often look rather larger than ours, so it is hard to tell. The very rich would bulk buy in barrels and use their own bottles of different capacities. However, being a bottle man was acceptable, expected and respectable for the whole of the Regency. It took another fifty years for the definition of a gentlemen to change to exclude people who got roaring drunk and pissed in the fireplace in the name of hospitality.

Here are my two Georgian/ Early Victorian Books

Passengers- more details here Dark Days of Georgian Britain- more details