Gail Thornton
a pictorial archive of horse


The Stage Coach

The first passenger vehicles were in regular use by the end of the 15th century, though it is not really until the 1600’s that the demand for coaches brought about great improvements to the basic design in relation to shape, weight and suspension. The stage wagon was the predecessor of all public vehicles having four large wheels and the body was cloth stretched over a wooden frame, seating up to twenty passengers plus their baggage.  However it was slow, completing as little as two miles per hour on average and in addition was uncomfortable, as it was unsprung. On the positive side, it was inexpensive and available to the majority of people. Driven by wagoner’s, it was colloquially known as the ‘snail of the highway’. The name ‘stage’ was acquired due to the horses needing to be changed at regular intervals along the route.  This real photographic postcard shows a Stage Coach, a later vehicle to the wagon with seats at the back of the vehicle as well as inside. You can also make out a box on the roof and rails around the side, this could seat passengers paying a lower rate than those inside or on the more comfortable seats. The sign just visible to the left of the building reads ‘Motor & Cycle Accommodation’ but has not been postally used so there are no other means of identification.

An unwieldy, postillion-driven coach was in use by 1663, this had no coachman but a rider seated upon the near side horse who was, hopefully, in control of the team.  As well as the interior seating this coach had seats on the outside.  The seats faced sideways with the passengers’ legs hanging over the doorway.  As this position would be most uncomfortable, their legs and feet were fitted into boxes, commonly called ‘boots’.  It is from this that the term ‘boot’ was derived in reference to the area of a car with space for putting things in.  The passengers using these seats were mostly those of low rank. The early Stage Coaches were often discarded private coaches but later specific vehicles were constructed to provide more seating. The Act of 1694 gave licences to stage coaches and with the introduction of coaches with springs in 1754 and the improvement to the roads travelling by Stage Coach increased. By 1775 there were 400 registered stage coaches. In this postcard the Stage Coach has rows of seats facing forwards, which is far more comfortable than the coaches described above. The photographer for this post card was A.Perkin, 7 Pleasant Street, Llandudno and was sent from there in May 1906 to Miss F(Florrie).Dowdle, 2 Salem Street, Barnstaple wishing her a "Many happy returns of the day" signed Emily.

Running a coaching company incurred considerable expense due not only to the registration fee but also tolls, excise duty, horses and not to mention staffing. To increase income it was not uncommon for the coachman to allow more passengers, both inside and out, than was either comfortable or safe to carry. In one account of 1770 thirty-four persons were in or on the Hertford coach when one of the vehicles braces gave way. One outside passenger was killed instantly, a lady had both her legs broken another just one leg broken whilst others were battered and bruised. The passengers in this postcard do not look like they are going on a long intrepid journey though they are certainly taking full advantage of travelling outside. Unfortunately there are no clues as to who the passengers are, where they are going or where the photograph has been taken, though the building to the right is a coffee shop.

I am assuming that this Stage Coach is being photographed in the high street of Deal, Kent as it is outside the Rose Hotel and the sign above the head of the passenger peeping out of the coach window reads ‘Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs’. Unfortunately there are no other forms of identification as the post card has not been postally used. This however is a lovely example of a Stage Coach and you can clearly see the holdall on the side of the vehicle for all the gentlemen’s sticks. I can only assume that the vehicle has been hired for a wedding and is being driven by a member of the party, as I cannot believe that a hired coachman would be driving with a cigar in his mouth and all the party have a flower in their buttonhole.

It would appear that no one wanted to travel inside this coach, they all wanted to see the sights from the roof of the vehicle.  Though the vehicle has written "Rover" on the side, underneath the seating area, there are no other marks to indicate where this was taken.  We do know that the photograph was taken on Aug 7th 1913 as this has been written and can be clearly seen.  It has been postally used and sent to Mrs Myers, 142 Walm Lane, Cricklewood, London.  The writer informs us that it is a Tuesday, the weather is 'grand' and there is a battle ship in the Bay ready for tomorrow's regatte. 

On this imae you can see the gentleman at the back with the 'Yard of tin".  This is the horn, generally a yard or so long, used by the guard of a mail coach or stage coach to warn of others of their approach or departure.  This postcard is a reproduction and comes from the West Yorkshire Folk Museum, Shibden Hall, Halifax.  It identifies this coach as circa 1820.  Stage coaches were usually pulled by at last four horses and this is where the term "Four In Hand" comes from.

Given the immaculate condition of this coach and the abscence of any identification lettering this could be a private coach.  Private coaches were sometimes called a Private Drag or Park Drag and were a lighter version than the road coach.  Often Private coaches were buildt for gentlemen who wanted to drive their own four-in-hand for pleasure.  Attending race meetings in a vehicle such as this ensured a grandstand view from the seating on top.  Given the number of people in this photograph and their attire I would hazard a guess they are entering the vehicle in a show.

This beautiful turnout is definately in a show as you can see the people standing watching from the other side of the ring.  This photograph has been used as an advertisement postcard for Thomas Tilling.  On the reverse is written "Thomas Tilling Limited. Head Office 20 Victoria Street, Westminster, S.W.1. Phone Vic. 6000. Chief Horse Depot: 71 High Street, Peckham. Phone Rodney 2272. Coahces and Teams, Hansom Cabs, Landaus, Etc. For Hire. The favour of your enquiry will be esteemed.

Unfortunately this postcard has faded considerably but you can just make out the last few letters on the back of the coach stating that it is Llandudno.  The back of the card also confirms this as the photographer is A.Perkin, 7 Pleasant Street, Llandudno.  It also cleary shows a ladder at the back which could be moved to allow access to all the seating. The photograph was taken in May 1906 and sent to someone in Sheffield.

On the back of this card it says "This photograph taken on Coronation day 1953, shows the Speaker's Coach standing in a courtyard of the House of Commons.  The horses, "Royal" and |Sovereign", two dapple-grey Shires from the Whitbread stables were driven and escorted by three of the Company's draymen.  the privilege of horsing this coach on great state occasions has been enjoyed by Whitbread's since 1839 when Charles Shaw Lefevre, a partner in the Brewery, became Speaker of the House of Commons."

Here is an advertisement, reproduced by the Valentine Series, showing the Coaching notive for 1706 informing the public of the opportinity of travelling between York and London.