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
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