Your 1816 Stagecoach Journey part three – Injury and Death.

By James Hobson ( @about1816)

There’s going to be death and serious injury on your 1816 stagecoach journey today. Yes, it will be you. We are not talking muscle strain, cuts and bruises when getting on and off, or the excessive heat and damp of the foetid metal box, or the damage cause by wind and rain if you are ‘on top’. This is about life- changing injury or life-ending death.

We are on board, and we are off, and you have ducked as you exited the stable yard of the coaching inn. Coaches have increased in height since the coaching inns were built. Everyone knows that one, and it is the only danger that the guard will warn you about. After this, you are on your own.

Your stagecoach- let’s call it the Quicksilver- looks absolutely fabulous, but it is an accident waiting to happen. The wheels are high, the luggage compartment is on the side and half way up, and the ‘on top’ passengers are eight foot in the air. It is ridiculously top heavy. Did the stagecoach operators know this? Yes they did, but they did nothing. It is not because they had spent money on the vehicles, as they are mostly leased, but because a coach with a low centre of gravity would be ugly, wide and squat, with luggage so near the ground that it would be dirtied and dusted by the roads. It was designed by the marketing department, not the health and safety one; indeed the latter did not exist.

How is your accident going to happen? There are two pieces of good news. One thing not to worry about is the head-on collision. People drive on the left-it was a social convention (until made law in 1834) , but for obvious reason it is popular-and you are the biggest thing on the road. The lamps are at the front, not the side, so coaches can see each other coming. Some routes are so reliable that coaches even know when another one is approaching them in the opposite direction.

Uphill- slow but safe

Secondly, your stagecoach will probably manage that tight corner despite its design, because both the driver and the horses have done it many times before, and the horses will not be full of alcohol and bravado.  Yes, your driver has been drinking, but then so have you, with that purl (ale, gin, sugar and spices) first thing in the morning. This is the Regency. Everybody has been drinking.

Your accident will be caused by your stagecoach stopping suddenly due to, in order, mechanical failure, reckless driving, obstacles on the road(including a poorly constructed one) or poor visibility caused by fog.

Wheels and axels are the weak point. If the lynchpin fell off, then the wheel would follow at the next sharp turn. Failure to grease the moving parts that came into contact with each other would lead to fires. Coaches were checked by those at the inn when horse was changed. They had neither time to do it properly or a vested interested in getting in right, as they were not the passengers and their lives did not depend on it.

If anything interfered with the horses, there would be problems. Stagecoaches had no brakes, and two of the four horses- the ‘wheelers’ – were trained to bring it to a halt. If they were spooked or injured, then the even the most experienced driver was powerless. If something went wrong, and the passengers panic, then the horse will do the same.

So now it is time for your accident. It is a much simpler one – you hit something on the road. Your coach is being driven too fast; it ploughs into something on the ground. If it’s in a city, it is a pile of horse manure a smooth road; if the country, it was a pile of soil pushed on the road by a flood.

Accidents were often regarded as a joke

Are you on top or in the box?  If you are on top, you will be thrown off, even if you had a second to anticipate the crash. If you are front facing, you may be thrown in front of the horses, who may well trample you to death. Moments afterwards the event they will rear up and lurch forward, with obvious implications if you have fallen in front of them. When faced with an accident, the experienced driver or guard would cut the horse free even before attending to the passengers.

Hertford Mercury and Reformer –  6 October 1835

If you are thrown out in any other way, a lottery follows. There could be good news if you are travelling on country roads with no fences, trees, and gravel to smash yourself against. In the town or city, the prospects are worse. You will remember that story of a coach overturn in Brighton when a man ‘of the Hebrew persuasion’ (as Georgian newspapers never failed to mention) impaled himself on the railings at the Steine. If you fell onto the rough stones that passed as road repairs, your will never be recognised again. You may smash your face, or jaw or your skull; each is more fatal than the last.

And if you  are inside? Well, don’t console yourself that you won’t be thrown about. You will move at the same velocity as those outside, but hit something a lot sooner. You have no seat belt or air bag, while those up top would be gripping something; you might even be going faster!  You will hit, in order or preference, a soft-bodied fat gentlemen, a cushioned wall, the door, or something attached to the inside of the coach. If a guard has left his copper horn attached the wall with a nail, and it smashes into your skull, you will be red head- for the rest of your life (or you could have the metal picked out of your bones in a hospital).

The glass in the windows will have smashed into shards, and if you do not fight the natural inclination to push down the panes to make an escape, then you will become your own guillotine. If you crawl out of a half opened window and the coach drops down as you do it, it will not just be your hands that get cut off.

If you have broken an arm of a leg you will need to go first to the local inn, and then to a hospital or surgeon. If they amputate, you may die a few days later of shock or blood poisoning. If you fracture your skull, you will never get further than the local inn and the newspapers will report that you ‘languished for hours’, which is shorthand for a lingering and painful death.

With the dead and injured all around, how will the survivors and the wider public react? They will be upset. What a melancholy incident!, they would say, and then they would move on, literally and metaphorically. The local newspaper would report the incident, unless they could be bribed or pressurized by the inn keepers and coach operators to keep quiet. They did this to protect their commercial reputation and not because they feared government action or claims for compensation.  Until 1846, any fines for injuring people went to the Crown and not the individual.

If today you live in a nanny state, or constrained by ‘elf and safety’, be thankful.

Part one and part two of this story are available.

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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?

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.

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 it might be an hour.

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 whole new world opens up to you. If you were rich 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 your 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 opinions 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 were 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 cold beef, fruit, cheeses, and puddings with no crust. 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 her 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 .

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 three Georgian/ Early Victorian Books. Click on title for more information.


Dark Days of Georgian Britain

Radical Victorians

Anti-Semitism in the Regency

In 1782, the German tourist, Karl Philipp Moritz toured England on foot and by stagecoach. He was a liberal Anglophile clergyman who loved the countryside and architecture of England but had mixed feeling about some of the English people he met. After his visit to London he decided to take the coach the village of Richmond and, en route, the coach stopped at Kensington to pick up more passengers and fill the pockets of the driver with extra money. A Jew applied for a place and wished to have one for the more comfortable seats inside the vehicle. This would not have bothered the passengers on the inside, as it was perfectly possible to go for miles without talking to anybody on English stagecoach journey if the company was disagreeable.

What bothered Moritz’s fellow travellers was the fact that there were places free on the more dangerous and uncomfortable outside seats, but the Jew decided not to bother. “They could not help thinking it somewhat preposterous that a Jew should be ashamed to ride on the outside, or on any side, and in any way; since as they added, he was nothing more than a Jew”. Moritz noted that antipathy towards Jews was as bad, if not slightly worse than his native Prussia, and that it was prejudice rather than discrimination. A Jew with money could ride in whatever part of the vehicle he wanted – this was not the segregated public transport of 1950s USA – but they had no right to have even a moderate opinion of themselves.

Anti-Semitism in England was of the unthinking, religiously inspired, casual variety, not the farrago of conspiracy and racial theory that we see today. It went deep into all social classes. Moritz left his coach and tramped all over the country on foot and therefore could only gain access to the Inns and public houses of the lower classes. He met a lot of casual racism there too; he remembers one throw away conversation

The one that sat next to him now began to talk about the Jews of the Old Testament, and assured us that the present race were all descended from those old ones. “Ay, and they are all damned to all eternity!” said his companion, as coolly and as confidently as if at that moment he had seen them burning in the bottomless pit.

So taking a random month and year of the Regency – September 1816- the Jews are seen in various ways. On September 1, The Scots’ Magazine produced a disturbing image of Tangier. This primitive and dangerous “piratical emporium” was the home of Turks, Moors, Jews, Renegades (Pirates and criminals) and Christians held as slaves- all of the bad things it was possible to be, and all in the same place

On September 2 , Patrick Colquhoun, the legal reformer was questioned by a parliamentary committee about the explosion in the incidents of petty crime since the war with France. Colquhoun noted that there were 8000 places in central London where stolen goods could be fenced, and this did not include the iterant Jews who dealt in second hand clothes and other goods- it is easy to see where the Fagin image came from; Jews who were rootless were a threat; some form of licensing and identification was desirable to identify them
There was a strong belief in what the Nazis would later call “rootless cosmopolitanism”- the idea that the Jews could thrive anywhere while remaining loyal to nobody but themselves. On 5 September, the Derby Mercury admitted that the brutal treatment of Jews in Spain and Portugal had forced them to become refugees in Morocco. However, their sympathy was quickly expended.


It goes on to list of the appalling treatment of the Jews and to list their activities- they farmed revenues, they coined money, “ furnished and fabricated jewellery” and generally acted as intermediaries in finance and government. In exchange this they were hated by both the elite and the rabble. While they article did not approve of the barbaric treatment of the Jews ( it was being done by Muslim Moors-an even more barbaric group and therefore this made sense) there was little sympathy either.

Jews were always identified. On September 1816, Andrew Davis was in court, accused of being an insolvent debtor while seeming to have a large number of businesses on the go. The prosecution asked him if he was a Jew; he replied that yes he was, and would die one, but he was “ not a Jew in all the principles of these people” ….meaning that he was honest. Davis didn’t take the court very seriously; when asked if he had ever run an establishment for virtuous ladies in Covent Garden, replied “I was never that fortunate”. As he left the court, the Morning Chronicle reported that “gave one of his uncircumcised creditors a blow to the eye, saying that he would never have a shilling. In a similar case that month, the “Jew Cohen”, another bankrupt, was accused of creating fictional debts to others Jews and paying them before his genuine Christian creditors.

Jews were often seen as undermining the legal system. So it is unsurprising that a case of a Jewish bankrupt behaving badly should make the national newspapers. Patrick Colquhoun, who had linked Jews to receivers of stolen goods earlier in the month, complained on 8 September that prisoners were avoiding justice by Jews swearing that they were financially able to honour a bail bond and then running off after taking a payment from the prisoner, who likewise would not be seen again. However, all the blame was heaped on only one of the two criminals for this “Jew Bail”
A conversion was news in newspapers all over the country. George Gerfon “ a respectable Jew” aged about 40, converted to Christianity when he realised he was dying. Rather than doubt his motives, the Bath Chronicle of September 12 believed that he was under pressure from his religious community “in a way not consistent with liberty of conscience or the delicacy due to a dying man”
In late 1816 there was a currency crisis in Britain; small denomination coins were in short supply and at the same time the old defaced silver coins were being replaced by new ones. The old coins were still legal, but it was reported that “Moses” – the stereotypical cunning Jew -was presenting themselves outside coaching in and telling more credulous incoming passengers that the old coins “ would not pass” and offered to buy them at a discount. This story, mentioned only once, is hard to believe; the whole country knew the status of the coins; and those travelling on the stage coach were an elite who would certainly not be fooled by anybody trying this ruse.

Remember this was only one month…….

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