1750 - Coaching Inn
Most ordinary people, in the days before the Industrial Revolution, had neither need nor desire to travel beyond their native heath. Work, home, family, markets - the things that most concerned them were usually within walking distance. As society began to change, people had to be more mobile, and the stage coach or wagon became a familiar sight on Britain's roads. By 1820, there were about 1500 departures daily from London alone, connecting the capital with provincial towns. After hours of bone-shaking motion along unmade roads, travellers obviously needed rest and refreshment and, for the most part, they were accommodated at wayside inns and posting stages where food and beds were available, as well as stables and fresh horses for their journey. What kind of people would use these inns?
Between the departure of the legions in AD 410 and the passing of the first Turnpike Act in 1663, transport technology stood still. The Roman roads, though badly neglected, were still serviceable in the Middle Ages, but others were in a pitiable condition, rutted and dusty in summer, impassable quagmires in winter. If the main roads were little better than farm tracks, what must the minor byways have been like? Only the rich went by carriage until well into the 18th century. Others rode on horseback or walked but, along the busier routes, horse-drawn wagons plied - slow and cumbersome, undoubtedly, but a relatively cheap means of transporting people and goods. On better days they might manage 10 or 15 miles but by 1750 'flying stage wagons', changing horses at regular intervals, were averaging much more. Fastest of all - but priced out of many people's reach - were the stage coaches, celebrated in their own day and romanticised still in Christmas-card nostalgia. At intervals along the routes were coaching inns, their reputations often dubious: The imposition in travelling is abominable; the innkeepers are insolent, the chambermaids are pert, the meat is tough, the sheets are wet, the linen is dirty and the knives are never cleaned. Every home is better than this.' Not all were quite so dreadful, however. The Angel at Grantham even had its own theatre, patronised by the gentry and visited by the great Garrick himself on his thespian tours. The building shown - in the Suffolk village of Nayland — was once the Queen's Head, a staging post for 'Abraham Hearn's Flying Stage Wagon' on its regular run, for passengers and goods, from Stowmarket to London. It has been a private house for many years now. The lofty archway accommodated wagons laden with fleeces and cloth from this once-important wool-producing area. They would park overnight in the yard while the carters and travellers slept at the inn.
|AD100 Roman Roads|