The Life of Thomas Telford by Smiles by Samuel SmilesCivil engineer with an introductory history of roads and travelling in Great Britain

This etext produced by Eric Hutton, email: additional proof reading by David G Haren and Simon Allen The Life of Thomas Telford civil engineer with an introductory history of roads and travelling in Great Britian by Samuel Smiles “Let us travel, and wherever we find no facility for travelling from a city to a
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This etext produced by Eric Hutton, email: additional proof reading by David G Haren and Simon Allen

The Life of Thomas Telford civil engineer with an introductory history of roads and travelling in Great Britian

by Samuel Smiles

“Let us travel, and wherever we find no facility for travelling from a city to a town, from a village to a hamlet, we may pronounce the people to be barbarous” –Abbe Raynal

“The opening up of the internal communications of a country is undoubtedly the first and most important element of its growth in commerce and civilization” –Richard Cobden




CHAPTER I. Old Roads

Roads as agents of civilization
Their important uses
Ancient British trackways or ridgeways The Romans and their roads in Britain
Decay of the Roman roads
Early legislation relating to highways Roads near London
The Weald of Kent
Great Western roads
Hollow ways or lanes
Roads on Dartmoor
in Sussex
at Kensington

CHAPTER II. Early Modes of Conveyance

Riding on horseback the ancient mode of traveling Shakespear’s description of travelling in ‘Henry IV.’ Queen Elizabeth and her coach
Introduction of coaches or waggons
Painful journeys by coach
Carriers in reign of James I
Great north Road in reign of Charles I Mace’s description of roads and travellers stage-coaches introduced Sobriere’s account of the Dover stage-coach Thoresby’s account of stage-coaches and travelling Roads and travelling in North Wales
Proposal to suppres stage-coaches
Tediousness and discomforts of travelling by coach Pennant’s account of the Chester and London stage Travelling on horseback preferred
The night coach
Highway robbers and foot-pads
Methods of transport of the merchandize pack-horse convoys Traffic between lancashire and Yorkshire Signs of the pack-horse

CHAPTER III. Influence of Roads on Society

Restricted intercourse between districts Local dialects and customs thereby preserved Camden’s fear of travelling into the barbarous regions of the North Rev. Mr Brome’s travels in England
Old Leisure
Imperfect postal communication
Hawkers and pedlars
Laying in stores for winter
Household occupations
Great fairs of ancient times
Local fairs
Fair on Dartmoor
Primitive manners of Dartmoor District

CHAPTER IV. Roads in Scotland last centuary

Poverty of Scotland
Backwardness of agriculture
Idleness of the people
Andrew Flecher’s description of Scotland Slavery of colliers and salters
Improvements in agriculture opposed Low wages of the labouring population
State of the Lothians and Ayrshire
Wretched states of the roads
Difficulty of communication between districts Coach started between Edinburgh and Glasgow Carrier’s perils between Edinburgh and Selkirk Dangers of travelling in Galloway
Lawlessness of the Highlands
Picking and lifting of cattle
Ferocity of population on the Highland Border Ancient civilization of Scotland

CHAPTER V. Travelling in England last century

Progress made in travelling by coach
Fast coaches established
Bad state of the roads
Foreigners’ accounts of travelling in England Herr Moritz’s journey by the basket coach Arthur Young’s description of English roads Palmer’s mail coaches introduced
The first ‘Turnpike’ roads
Turnpike riots
The rebellion of 1745
Passing of numerous highway Acts
Road-making thought beneath the dignity of the engineer

CHAPTER VI. John Metcalf, road-maker.

Metcalf’s boyhood
His blindness
His boldness
Becomes a Musician
His travels
Journey on foot from London to Harrogate Joins the army as musician in the rebellion of 1745 Adventures in Scotland
Becomes travelling merchant and horse dealer Begins road-making
Builds a bridge
His extensive road contracts in Yorkshire and Lancashire Manner of aking his surveys
His skill in road-making
His last road–his death
Roads in the south of England
Want of roads on Lincoln Heath
Land lighthouses
Dunstan pillar
Rapid improvement in the roads
Application of steam
Sydney Smith on improved facilities of communication


CHAPTER I. Eskdale.

Former lawlessness of the Border population Jonnie armstrong
Border energy
Telford’s birthplace
Valley of the Meggat
The ‘unblameable shepherd’
Telford’s mother
Early years
Laughing Tam
Put to school
His school-fellows

CHAPTER II. Langholm–Telford a Stonemason

Telford apprenticed to a stonemason
Runs away
Re-apprenticed to a mason at Langholm Building operations in the district
Miss Pasley lends books to young Telford Attempt to write poetry
Becomes village letter-writer
Works as a journeyman mason
Employed on Langholm Bridge
Manse of Westerkirk
Poem of ‘Eskdale’
Hews headstones and doorheads
Works as a mason at Edinburgh
Study of architecture
Revisits Eskdale
His ride to London

CHAPTER III. Arrives in London

Telford a working man in London
Obtains employment as a mason at
Somerset House
Correspondence with Eskdale friends Observations on his fellow-workman
Propses to begin business, but wants money Mr. Pulteney
Becomes foreman of builders at Portsmouth Dockyard Continues to write poetry
Employment of his time
Prints letters to his mother

CHAPTER IV. Becomes Surveyor for the County of Salop

Superintends repairs of Shrewsbury Castle Appointed Surveyor for County of Salop
Superintends erection of new gaol
Interview with John Howard
His studies in science and literature Poetical exercises
Fall of St. Chad’s Church, Shrewsburg Discovery of the Roman city of Uriconium Overseer of felons
Mrs. Jordan at Shrewsbury
Telford’s indifference to music
Politics, Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’
Reprints his poem of ‘Eskdale’

CHAPTER V. Telford’s First Employment as an Engineer

Advantages of mechanical training to an engineer Erects Montford Bridge
Erects St. Mary Magdalen Church, Bridgenorth Telford’s design
Architectural tour
Studies in British Museum
Study of architecture
Appointed Engineer to the Ellesmere Canal

CHAPTER VI. The Ellesmere Canal

Course of the Ellesmire Canal
Success of the early canals
The Act obtained and working survey made Chirk Aqueduct
Pont-Cysylltau Aqueduct,
Telford’s hollow walls
His cast iron trough at Pont-Cysylltau The canal works completed
Revists Eskdale
Early impressions corrected
Tours in Wales
Conduct of Ellesmere Canal navigation His literary studies and compositions

CHAPTER VII. Iron and other Bridges

Use of iron in bridge-building
Design of a Lyons architect
First iron bridge erected at Coalbrookdale Tom paine’s iron bridge
Wear iron bridge, Sunderland
Telford’s iron bridge at Buildwas
His iron lock-gates and turn-bridges Projects a one-arched bridge of iron over the Thames Bewdley stone bridge
Tougueland Bridge
Extension of Telford’s engineering buisness Literary friendships
Thomas Campbell
Miscellaneous reading

CHAPTER VIII. Higland Roads and Bridges

Progress of Scotch agriculture
Romilly’s account
State of the Highlands
Want of roads
Use of the Cas-chrom
Telford’s survey of Scotland
Lord Cockburn’s account of the difficulties of travelling the North Circuit
Parliamentary Commission of Highland Roads and Bridges appointed Dunkeld Bridge built
920 miles of new roads constucted
Craigellachie Bridge
Travelling facilitated
Agriculture improved
Moral results of Telford’s Highland contracts Rapid progress of the Lowlands
Results of parish schools

CHAPTER IX. Telford’s Scotch Harbours

Highland harbours
Wick and Pulteney Town
Columnar pier work
Peterhead Harbour
Frazerburgh Harbour
Bannf Harbour
Old history of Aberdeen, its witch-burning and slave-trading Improvements of its harbour
Telford’s design carried out
Dundee Harbour

CHAPTER X. Caledonian and other Canals

Canal projected through the Great Glen of the Highlands Survey by James Watt
Survey by Telford
Tide-basin at Corpach
Neptune’s Staircase
Dock at Clachnaharry
The chain of lochs
Construction of the works
Commercial failure of the canal
Telford’s disappointment
Glasgow and Ardrossan Canal
Weaver Navigation
Gotha Canal, Sweden
Gloucester and Berkeley, and other canals Harecastle Tunnel
Birmingham Canal
Macclesfield Canal
Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Telford’s pride in his canals

CHAPTER XI. Telford as a road-maker

Increase of road-traffic
Improvement of the main routes between the principal towns Carlisle and Glasgow road
Telford’s principles of road-construction Macadam
Cartland Crags Bridge
Improvement of the London and Edinburgh post road Communications with Ireland
Wretched state of the Welsh roads
Telford’s survey of the Shrewsbury and Holyhead road Its construction
Roads and railways
London and Shrewsbury post road
Roads near London
Coast road, North Wales

CHAPTER XII. The Menai and Conway Bridges

Bridges projected over the Menai Straits Telford’s designs
Ingenious plan of suspended centering Design of a suspension bridge over the Mersey at Runcorn Design of suspension bridge at Menai
The works begun
The main piers
The suspension chains
Hoisting of the first main chain
Progress of the works to completion The bridge formally opened
Conway Suspension Bridge

CHAPTER XIII. Docks, Drainage, and Bridges

Resume of English engineering
General increase in trade and poulation The Thames
St. Katherine’s Docks
Tewkesburg Bridge
Gloucester Bridge
Dean Bridge, Edinburgh
Glasgow Bridge
Telford’s works of drainage in the Fens The North Level
The Nene Outfall
Effects of Fen drainage

CHAPTER XIV. Southey’s tour in the highlands

Southey sets out to visit the Highlands in Telford’s company Works at Dundee Harbour
Bervie Harbour
Mitchell and Gibbs
Aberdeen Harbour
Approach to Banff
Cullen Harbour
The Forres road
Beauly Bridge
Bonar Bridge
Fleet Mound
Southey’s description of the Caledonian Canal and works John Mitchell
Takes leave of Telford
Results of Highland road-making

CHAPTER XV. Mr Telford’s later years–His death and character

Telford’s residence in London
Leaves the Salopian
First President of Institute of Civil Engineers Consulted by foreign Governments as to roads and bridges His views on railways
Failure of health
Consulted as to Dover Harbour
Illness and death
His character
His friends
Views on money-making
His Will
Libraries in Eskdale supported by his bequests


The present is a revised and in some respects enlarged edition of the ‘Life of Telford,’ originally published in the ‘Lives of the Engineers,’ to which is prefixed an account of the early roads and modes of travelling in Britain.

From this volume, read in connection with the Lives of George and Robert Stephenson, in which the origin and extension of Railways is described, an idea may be formed of the extraordinary progress which has been made in opening up the internal communications of this country during the last century.

Among the principal works executed by Telford in the course of his life, were the great highways constructed by him in North Wales and the Scotch Highlands, through districts formerly almost inaccessible, but which are now as easily traversed as any English county.

By means of these roads, and the facilities afforded by railways, the many are now enabled to visit with ease and comfort magnificent mountain scenery, which before was only the costly privilege of the few; at the same time that their construction has exercised a most beneficial influence on the population of the districts themselves.

The Highland roads, which were constructed with the active assistance of the Government, and were maintained partly at the public expense until within the last few years, had the effect of stimulating industry, improving agriculture, and converting a turbulent because unemployed population into one of the most loyal and well-conditioned in the empire;– the policy thus adopted with reference to the Highlands, and the beneficial results which have flowed from it, affording the strongest encouragement to Government in dealing in like manner with the internal communications of Ireland.

While the construction of the Highland roads was in progress, the late Robert Southey, poet laureate, visited the Highlands in company with his friend the engineer, and left on record an interesting account of his visit, in a, manuscript now in the possession of Robert Rawlinson, C.E., to whom we are indebted for the extracts which are made from it in the present volume.

London, October, 1867.



Roads have in all times been among the most influential agencies of society; and the makers of them, by enabling men readily to communicate with each other, have properly been regarded as among the most effective pioneers of civilization.

Roads are literally the pathways not only of industry, but of social and national intercourse. Wherever a line of communication between men is formed, it renders commerce practicable; and, wherever commerce penetrates, it creates a civilization and leaves a history.

Roads place the city and the town in connection with the village and the farm, open up markets for field produce, and provide outlets for manufactures. They enable the natural resources of a country to be developed, facilitate travelling and intercourse, break down local jealousies, and in all ways tend to bind together society and bring out fully that healthy spirit of industry which is the life and soul of every nation.

The road is so necessary an instrument of social wellbeing, that in every new colony it is one of the first things thought of. First roads, then commerce, institutions, schools, churches, and newspapers. The new country, as well as the old, can only be effectually “opened up,” as the common phrase is, by roads and until these are made, it is virtually closed.

Freedom itself cannot exist without free communication,–every limitation of movement on the part of the members of society amounting to a positive abridgment of their personal liberty. Hence roads, canals, and railways, by providing the greatest possible facilities for locomotion and information, are essential for the freedom of all classes, of the poorest as well as the richest.

By bringing the ends of a kingdom together, they reduce the inequalities of fortune and station, and, by equalizing the price of commodities, to that extent they render them accessible to all. Without their assistance, the concentrated populations of our large towns could neither be clothed nor fed; but by their instrumentality an immense range of country is brought as it were to their very doors, and the sustenance and employment of large masses of people become comparatively easy.

In the raw materials required for food, for manufactures, and for domestic purposes, the cost of transport necessarily forms a considerable item; and it is clear that the more this cost can be reduced by facilities of communication, the cheaper these articles become, and the more they are multiplied and enter into the consumption of the community at large.

Let any one imagine what would be the effect of closing the roads, railways, and canals of England. The country would be brought to a dead lock, employment would be restricted in all directions, and a large proportion of the inhabitants concentrated in the large towns must at certain seasons inevitably perish of cold and hunger.

In the earlier periods of English history, roads were of comparatively less consequence. While the population was thin and scattered, and men lived by hunting and pastoral pursuits, the track across the down, the heath, and the moor, sufficiently answered their purpose. Yet even in those districts unencumbered with wood, where the first settlements were made–as on the downs of Wiltshire, the moors of Devonshire, and the wolds of Yorkshire–stone tracks were laid down by the tribes between one village and another. We have given here, a representation of one of those ancient trackways still existing in the neighbourhood of Whitby, in Yorkshire;

[Image] Ancient Causeway, near Whitby.

and there are many of the same description to be met with in other parts of England. In some districts they are called trackways or ridgeways, being narrow causeways usually following the natural ridge of the country, and probably serving in early times as local boundaries. On Dartmoor they are constructed of stone blocks, irregularly laid down on the surface of the ground, forming a rude causeway of about five or six feet wide.

The Romans, with many other arts, first brought into England the art of road-making. They thoroughly understood the value of good roads, regarding them as the essential means for the maintenance of their empire in the first instance, and of social prosperity in the next. It was their roads, as well as their legions, that made them masters of the world; and the pickaxe, not less than the sword, was the ensign of their dominion. Wherever they went, they opened up the communications of the countries they subdued, and the roads which they made were among the best of their kind. They were skilfully laid out and solidly constructed. For centuries after the Romans left England, their roads continued to be the main highways of internal communication, and their remains are to this day to be traced in many parts of the country. Settlements were made and towns sprang up along the old “streets;” and the numerous Stretfords, Stratfords, and towns ending’ in “le-street” –as Ardwick-le-street, in Yorkshire, and Chester-le-street, in Durham–mostly mark the direction of these ancient lines of road. There are also numerous Stanfords, which were so called because they bordered the raised military roadways of the Romans, which ran direct between their stations.

The last-mentioned peculiarity of the roads constructed by the Romans, must have struck many observers. Level does not seem to have been of consequence, compared with directness. This peculiarity is supposed to have originated in an imperfect knowledge of mechanics; for the Romans do not appear to have been acquainted with the moveable joint in wheeled carriages. The carriage-body rested solid upon the axles, which in four-wheeled vehicles were rigidly parallel with each other. Being unable readily to turn a bend in the road, it has been concluded that for this reason all the great Roman highways were constructed in as straight lines as possible.

On the departure of the Romans from Britain, most of the roads constructed by them were allowed to fall into decay, on which the forest and the waste gradually resumed their dominion over them, and the highways of England became about the worst in Europe. We find, however, that numerous attempts were made in early times to preserve the ancient ways and enable a communication to be maintained between the metropolis and the rest of the country, as well as between one market town and another.

The state of the highways may be inferred from the character of the legislation applying to them. One of the first laws on the subject was passed in 1285, directing that all bushes and trees along the roads leading from one market to another should be cut down for two hundred feet on either side, to prevent robbers lurking therein;*[1] but nothing was proposed for amending the condition of the ways themselves. In 1346, Edward III. authorised the first toll to be levied for the repair of the roads leading from St. Giles’s-in-the-Fields to the village of Charing (now Charing Cross), and from the same quarter to near Temple Bar (down Drury Lane), as well as the highway then called Perpoole (now Gray’s Inn Lane). The footway at the entrance of Temple Bar was interrupted by thickets and bushes, and in wet weather was almost impassable. The roads further west were so bad that when the sovereign went to Parliament faggots were thrown into the ruts in King-street, Westminster, to enable the royal cavalcade to pass along.

In Henry VIII.’s reign, several remarkable statutes were passed relating to certain worn-out and impracticable roads in Sussex and the Weald of Kent. From the earliest of these, it would appear that when the old roads were found too deep and miry to be passed, they were merely abandoned and new tracks struck out. After describing “many of the wayes in the wealds as so depe and noyous by wearyng and course of water and other occasions that people cannot have their carriages or passages by horses uppon or by the same but to their great paynes, perill and jeopardie,” the Act provided that owners of land might, with the consent of two justices and twelve discreet men of the hundred, lay out new roads and close up the old ones. Another Act passed in the same reign, related to the repairs of bridges and of the highways at the ends of bridges.

But as these measures were for the most part merely permissive, they could have had but little practical effect in improving the communications of the kingdom. In the reign of Philip and Mary (in 1555), an Act was passed providing that each parish should elect two surveyors of highways to see to the maintenance of their repairs by compulsory labour, the preamble reciting that “highwaies are now both verie noisome and tedious to travell in, and dangerous to all passengers and cariages;” and to this day parish and cross roads are maintained on the principle of Mary’s Act, though the compulsory labour has since been commuted into a compulsory tax.

In the reigns of Elizabeth and James, other road Acts were passed; but, from the statements of contemporary writers, it would appear that they were followed by very little substantial progress, and travelling continued to be attended with many difficulties. Even in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, the highways were in certain seasons scarcely passable. The great Western road into London was especially bad, and about Knightsbridge, in winter, the traveller had to wade through deep mud. Wyatt’s men entered the city by this approach in the rebellion of 1554, and were called the “draggle-tails” because of their wretched plight. The ways were equally bad as far as Windsor, which, in the reign of Elizabeth, is described by Pote, in his history of that town, as being “not much past half a day’s journeye removed from the flourishing citie of London.”

At a greater distance from the metropolis, the roads were still worse. They were in many cases but rude tracks across heaths and commons, as furrowed with deep ruts as ploughed fields; and in winter to pass along one of them was like travelling in a ditch. The attempts made by the adjoining occupiers to mend them, were for the most part confined to throwing large stones into the bigger holes to fill them up. It was easier to allow new tracks to be made than to mend the old ones. The land of the country was still mostly unenclosed, and it was possible, in fine weather, to get from place to place, in one way or another, with the help of a guide. In the absence of bridges, guides were necessary to point out the safest fords as well as to pick out the least miry tracks. The most frequented lines of road were struck out from time to time by the drivers of pack-horses, who, to avoid the bogs and sloughs, were usually careful to keep along the higher grounds; but, to prevent those horsemen who departed from the beaten track being swallowed up in quagmires, beacons were erected to warn them against the more dangerous places.*[2]

In some of the older-settled districts of England, the old roads are still to be traced in the hollow Ways or Lanes, which are to be met with, in some places, eight and ten feet deep. They were horse-tracks in summer, and rivulets in winter. By dint of weather and travel, the earth was gradually worn into these deep furrows, many of which, in Wilts, Somerset, and Devon, represent the tracks of roads as old as, if not older than, the Conquest. When the ridgeways of the earliest settlers on Dartmoor, above alluded to, were abandoned, the tracks were formed through the valleys, but the new roads were no better than the old ones. They were narrow and deep, fitted only for a horse passing along laden with its crooks, as so graphically described in the ballad of “The Devonshire Lane.”*[3]

Similar roads existed until recently in the immediate neighbourhood of Birmingham, now the centre of an immense traffic. The sandy soil was sawn through, as it were, by generation after generation of human feet, and by packhorses, helped by the rains, until in some places the tracks were as much as from twelve to fourteen yards deep; one of these, partly filled up, retaining to this day the name of Holloway Head. In the neighbourhood of London there was also a Hollow way, which now gives its name to a populous metropolitan parish. Hagbush Lane was another of such roads. Before the formation of the Great North Road, it was one of the principal bridle-paths leading from London to the northern parts of England; but it was so narrow as barely to afford passage for more than a single horseman, and so deep that the rider’s head was beneath the level of the ground on either side.

The roads of Sussex long preserved an infamous notoriety. Chancellor Cowper, when a barrister on circuit, wrote to his wife in 1690, that “the Sussex ways are bad and ruinous beyond imagination. I vow ’tis melancholy consideration that mankind will in habit such a heap of dirt for a poor livelihood. The country is a sink of about fourteen miles broad, which receives all the water that falls from two long ranges of hills on both sides of it, and not being furnished with convenient draining, is kept moist and soft by the water till the middle of a dry summer, which is only able to make it tolerable to ride for a short time.”

It was almost as difficult for old persons to get to church in Sussex during winter as it was in the Lincoln Fens, where they were rowed thither in boats. Fuller saw an old lady being drawn to church in her own coach by the aid of six oxen. The Sussex roads were indeed so bad as to pass into a by-word. A contemporary writer says, that in travelling a slough of extraordinary miryness, it used to be called “the Sussex bit of the road;” and he satirically alleged that the reason why the Sussex girls were so long-limbed was because of the tenacity of the mud in that county; the practice of pulling the foot out of it “by the strength of the ancle” tending to stretch the muscle and lengthen the bone!*[4] But the roads in the immediate neighbourhood of London long continued almost as bad as those in Sussex. Thus, when the poet Cowley retired to Chertsey, in 1665, he wrote to his friend Sprat to visit him, and, by way of encouragement, told him that he might sleep the first night at Hampton town; thus occupying; two days in the performance of a journey of twenty-two miles in the immediate neighbourhood of the metropolis. As late as 1736 we find Lord Hervey, writing from Kensington, complaining that “the road between this place and London is grown so infamously bad that we live here in the same solitude as we would do if cast on a rock in the middle of the ocean; and all the Londoners tell us that there is between them and us an impassable gulf of mud.”

Nor was the mud any respecter of persons; for we are informed that the carriage of Queen Caroline could not, in bad weather, be dragged from St. James’s Palace to Kensington in less than two hours, and occasionally the royal coach stuck fast in a rut, or was even capsized in the mud. About the same time, the streets of London themselves were little better, the kennel being still permitted to flow in the middle of the road, which was paved with round stones,–flag-stones for the convenience of pedestrians being as yet unknown. In short, the streets in the towns and the roads in the country were alike rude and wretched,–indicating a degree of social stagnation and discomfort which it is now difficult to estimate, and almost impossible to describe.

Footnotes for chapter I

*[1] Brunetto Latini, the tutor of Dante, describes a journey made by him from London to Oxford about the end of the thirteenth century, resting by the way at Shirburn Castle. He says, “Our journey from London to Oxford was, with some difficulty and danger, made in two days; for the roads are bad, and we had to climb hills of hazardous ascent, and which to descend are equally perilous. We passed through many woods, considered here as dangerous places, as they are infested with robbers, which indeed is the case with most of the roads in England. This is a circumstance connived at by the neighbouring barons, on consideration of sharing in the booty, and of these robbers serving as their protectors on all occasions, personally, and with the whole strength of their band. However, as our company was numerous, we had less to fear. Accordingly, we arrived the first night at Shirburn Castle, in the neighbourhood of Watlington, under the chain of hills over which we passed at Stokenchurch.” This passage is given in Mr. Edward’s work on ‘Libraries’ (p. 328), as supplied to him by Lady Macclesfield.

*[2] See Ogilby’s ‘Britannia Depicta,’ the traveller’s ordinary guidebook between 1675 and 1717, as Bradshaw’s Railway Time-book is now. The Grand Duke Cosmo, in his ‘Travels in England in 1669,’ speaks of the country between Northampton and Oxford as for the most part unenclosed and uncultivated, abounding in weeds. From Ogilby’s fourth edition, published in 1749, it appears that the roads in the midland and northern districts of England were still, for the most part, entirely unenclosed.

*[3] This ballad is so descriptive of the old roads of the south-west of England that we are tempted to quote it at length. It was written by the Rev. John Marriott, sometime vicar of Broadclist, Devon; and Mr. Rowe, vicar of Crediton, says, in his ‘Perambulation of Dartmoor,’ that he can readily imagine the identical lane near Broadclist, leading towards Poltemore, which might have sat for the portrait.

In a Devonshire lane, as I trotted along T’other day, much in want of a subject for song, Thinks I to myself, half-inspired by the rain, Sure marriage is much like a Devonshire lane.

In the first place ’tis long, and when once you are in it, It holds you as fast as a cage does a linnet; For howe’er rough and dirty the road may be found, Drive forward you must, there is no turning round.

But tho’ ’tis so long, it is not very wide, For two are the most that together can ride; And e’en then, ’tis a chance but they get in a pother, And jostle and cross and run foul of each other.

Oft poverty meets them with mendicant looks, And care pushes by them with dirt-laden crooks; And strife’s grazing wheels try between them to pass, And stubbornness blocks up the way on her ass,

Then the banks are so high, to the left hand and right, That they shut up the beauties around them from sight; And hence, you’ll allow, ’tis an inference plain, That marriage is just like a Devonshire lane.

But thinks I, too, these banks, within which we are pent, With bud, blossom, and berry, are richly besprent; And the conjugal fence, which forbids us to roam, Looks lovely, when deck’d with the comforts of home.

In the rock’s gloomy crevice the bright holly grows; The ivy waves fresh o’er the withering rose, And the ever-green love of a virtuous wife Soothes the roughness of care, cheers the winter of life.

Then long be the journey, and narrow the way, I’ll rejoice that I’ve seldom a turnpike to pay; And whate’er others say, be the last to complain, Though marriage is just like a Devonshire lane.

*[4] Iter Sussexiense.’ By Dr. John Burton.



Such being the ancient state of the roads, the only practicable modes of travelling were on foot and on horseback. The poor walked and the rich rode. Kings rode and Queens rode. Judges rode circuit in jack-boots. Gentlemen rode and robbers rode. The Bar sometimes walked and sometimes rode. Chaucer’s ride to Canterbury will be remembered as long as the English language lasts. Hooker rode to London on a hard-paced nag, that he might be in time to preach his first sermon at St. Paul’s. Ladies rode on pillions, holding on by the gentleman or the serving-man mounted before.

Shakespeare incidentally describes the ancient style of travelling among the humbler classes in his ‘Henry IV.’*[1]

The Party, afterwards set upon by Falstaff and his companions, bound from Rochester to London, were up by two in the morning, expecting to perform the journey of thirty miles by close of day, and to get to town “in time to go to bed with a candle.” Two are carriers, one of whom has “a gammon of bacon and two razes of ginger, to be delivered as far as Charing Cross;” the other has his panniers full of turkeys. There is also a franklin of Kent, and another, “a kind of auditor,” probably a tax-collector, with several more, forming in all a company of eight or ten, who travel together for mutual protection. Their robbery on Gad’s Hill, as painted by Shakespeare, is but a picture, by no means exaggerated, of the adventures and dangers of the road at the time of which he wrote.

Distinguished personages sometimes rode in horse-litters; but riding on horseback was generally preferred. Queen Elizabeth made most of her journeys in this way,*[2] and when she went into the City she rode on a pillion behind her Lord Chancellor. The Queen, however, was at length provided with a coach, which must have been a very remarkable machine. This royal vehicle is said to have been one of the first coaches used in England, and it was introduced by the Queen’s own coachman, one Boomen, a Dutchman. It was little better than a cart without springs, the body resting solid upon the axles. Taking the bad roads and ill-paved streets into account, it must have been an excessively painful means of conveyance. At one of the first audiences which the Queen gave to the French ambassador in 1568, she feelingly described to him “the aching pains she was suffering in consequence of having been knocked about in a coach which had been driven a little too fast, only a few days before.”*[3]

Such coaches were at first only used on state occasions. The roads, even in the immediate neighbourhood of London, were so bad and so narrow that the vehicles could not be taken into the country. But, as the roads became improved, the fashion of using them spread. When the aristocracy removed from the City to the western parts of the metropolis, they could be better accommodated, and in course of time they became gradually adopted. They were still, however, neither more nor less than waggons, and, indeed, were called by that name; but wherever they went they excited great wonder. It is related of “that valyant knyght Sir Harry Sidney,” that on a certain day in the year 1583 he entered Shrewsbury in his waggon, “with his Trompeter blowynge, verey joyfull to behold and see.”*[4]

From this time the use of coaches gradually spread, more particularly amongst the nobility, superseding the horse-litters which had till then been used for the conveyance of ladies and others unable to bear the fatigue of riding on horseback. The first carriages were heavy and lumbering: and upon the execrable roads of the time they went pitching over the stones and into the ruts, with the pole dipping and rising like a ship in a rolling sea. That they had no springs, is clear enough from the statement of Taylor, the water-poet–who deplored the introduction of carriages as a national calamity–that in the paved streets of London men and women were “tossed, tumbled, rumbled, and jumbled about in them.” Although the road from London to Dover, along the old Roman Watling-street, was then one of the best in England, the French household of Queen Henrietta, when they were sent forth from the palace of Charles I., occupied four tedious days before they reached Dover.

But it was only a few of the main roads leading from the metropolis that were practicable for coaches; and on the occasion of a royal progress, or the visit of a lord-lieutenant, there was a general turn out of labourers and masons to mend the ways and render the bridges at least temporarily secure. Of one of Queen Elizabeth’s journeys it is said:– “It was marvellous for ease and expedition, for such is the perfect evenness of the new highway that Her Majesty left the coach only once, while the hinds and the folk of a base sort lifted it on with their poles.”

Sussex long continued impracticable for coach travelling at certain seasons. As late as 1708, Prince George of Denmark had the greatest difficulty in making his way to Petworth to meet Charles VI. of Spain. “The last nine miles of the way,” says the reporter, “cost us six hours to conquer them.” One of the couriers in attendance complained that during fourteen hours he never once alighted, except when the coach overturned, or stuck in the mud.

When the judges, usually old men and bad riders, took to going the circuit in their coaches, juries were often kept waiting until their lordships could be dug out of a bog or hauled out of a slough by the aid of plough-horses. In the seventeenth century, scarcely a Quarter Session passed without presentments from the grand jury against certain districts on account of the bad state of the roads, and many were the fines which the judges imposed upon them as a set-off against their bruises and other damages while on circuit.

For a long time the roads continued barely practicable for wheeled vehicles of the rudest sort, though Fynes Morison (writing in the time of James I.) gives an account of “carryers, who have long covered waggons, in which they carry passengers from place to place; but this kind of journeying,” he says, “is so tedious, by reason they must take waggon very early and come very late to their innes, that none but women and people of inferior condition travel in this sort.”

[Image] The Old Stage Waggon.

The waggons of which Morison wrote, made only from ten to fifteen miles in a long summer’s day; that is, supposing them not to have broken down by pitching over the boulders laid along the road, or stuck fast in a quagmire, when they had to wait for the arrival of the next team of horses to help to drag them out. The waggon, however, continued to be adopted as a popular mode of travelling until late in the eighteenth century; and Hogarth’s picture illustrating the practice will be remembered, of the cassocked parson on his lean horse, attending his daughter newly alighted from the York waggon.

A curious description of the state of the Great North Road, in the time of Charles II., is to be found in a tract published in 1675 by Thomas Mace, one of the clerks of Trinity College, Cambridge. The writer there addressed himself to the King, partly in prose and partly in verse; complaining greatly of the “wayes, which are so grossly foul and bad;” and suggesting various remedies. He pointed out that much ground “is now spoiled and trampled down in all wide roads, where coaches and carts take liberty to pick and chuse for their best advantages; besides, such sprawling and straggling of coaches and carts utterly confound the road in all wide places, so that it is not only unpleasurable, but extreme perplexin and cumbersome both to themselves and all horse travellers.” It would thus appear that the country on either side of the road was as yet entirely unenclosed.

But Mace’s principal complaint was of the “innumerable controversies, quarrellings, and disturbances” caused by the packhorse-men, in their struggles as to which convoy should pass along the cleaner parts of the road. From what he states, it would seem that these “disturbances, daily committed by uncivil, refractory, and rude Russian-like rake-shames, in contesting for the way, too often proved mortal, and certainly were of very bad consequences to many.” He recommended a quick and prompt punishment in all such cases. “No man,” said he, “should be pestered by giving the way (sometimes) to hundreds of pack-horses, panniers, whifflers (i.e. paltry fellows), coaches, waggons, wains, carts, or whatsoever others, which continually are very grievous to weary and loaden travellers; but more especially near the city and upon a market day, when, a man having travelled a long and tedious journey, his horse well nigh spent, shall sometimes be compelled to cross out of his way twenty times in one mile’s riding, by the irregularity and peevish crossness of such-like whifflers and market women; yea, although their panniers be clearly empty, they will stoutly contend for the way with weary travellers, be they never so many, or almost of what quality soever.” “Nay,” said he further, “I have often known many travellers, and myself very often, to have been necessitated to stand stock still behind a standing cart or waggon, on most beastly and unsufferable deep wet wayes, to the great endangering of our horses, and neglect of important business: nor durst we adventure to stirr (for most imminent danger of those deep rutts, and unreasonable ridges) till it has pleased Mister Garter to jog on, which we have taken very kindly.”

Mr. Mace’s plan of road reform was not extravagant. He mainly urged that only two good tracks should be maintained, and the road be not allowed to spread out into as many as half-a-dozen very bad ones, presenting high ridges and deep ruts, full of big stones, and many quagmires. Breaking out into verse, he said —

“First let the wayes be regularly brought To artificial form, and truly wrought; So that we can suppose them firmly mended, And in all parts the work well ended,
That not a stone’s amiss; but all compleat, All lying smooth, round, firm, and wondrous neat.”

After a good deal more in the same strain, he concluded–

“There’s only one thing yet worth thinking on which is, to put this work in execution.”*[5]

But we shall find that more than a hundred years passed before the roads throughout England were placed in a more satisfactory state than they were in the time of Mr. Mace.

The introduction of stage-coaches about the middle of the seventeenth century formed a new era in the history of travelling by road. At first they were only a better sort of waggon, and confined to the more practicable highways near London. Their pace did not exceed four miles an hour, and the jolting of the unfortunate passengers conveyed in them must have been very hard to bear. It used to be said of their drivers that they were “seldom sober, never Civil, and always late.”

The first mention of coaches for public accommodation is made by Sir William Dugdale in his Diary, from which it appears that a Coventry coach was on the road in 1659. But probably the first coaches, or rather waggons, were run between London and Dover, as one of the most practicable routes for the purpose. M. Sobriere, a French man of letters, who landed at Dover on his way to London in the time of Charles II., alludes to the existence of a stagecoach, but it seems to have had no charms for him, as the following passage will show: “That I might not,” he says, “take post or be obliged to use the stage-coach, I went from Dover to London in a waggon. I was drawn by six horses, one before another, and driven by a waggoner, who walked by the side of it. He was clothed in black, and appointed in all things like another St. George. He had a brave montrero on his head and was a merry fellow, fancied he made a figure, and seemed mightily pleased with himself.”

Shortly after, coaches seem to have been running as far north as Preston in Lancashire, as appears by a letter from one Edward Parker to his father, dated November, 1663, in which he says, “I got to London on Saturday last; but my journey was noe ways pleasant, being forced to ride in the boote all the waye. Ye company yt came up with mee were persons of greate quality, as knights and ladyes. My journey’s expense was 30s. This traval hath soe indisposed mee, yt I am resolved never to ride up againe in ye coatch.”*[6]
These vehicles must, however, have considerably increased, as we find a popular agitation was got up against them. The Londoners nicknamed them “hell-carts;” pamphlets were written recommending their abolition; and attempts were even made to have them suppressed by Act of Parliament.

Thoresby occasionally alludes to stage-coaches in his Diary, speaking of one that ran between Hull and York in 1679, from which latter place he had to proceed by Leeds in the usual way on horseback. This Hull vehicle did not run in winter, because of the state of the roads; stagecoaches being usually laid up in that season like ships during Arctic frosts.*[7]

Afterwards, when a coach was put on between York and Leeds, it performed the journey of twenty-four miles in eight hours;*[8] but the road was so bad and dangerous that the travellers were accustomed to get out and walk the greater part of the way.

Thoresby often waxes eloquent upon the subject of his manifold deliverances from the dangers of travelling by coach. He was especially thankful when he had passed the ferry over the Trent in journeying between Leeds and London, having on several occasions narrowly escaped drowning there. Once, on his journey to London, some showers fell, which “raised the washes upon the road near Ware to that height that passengers from London that were upon that road swam, and a poor higgler was drowned, which prevented me travelling for many hours; yet towards evening we adventured with some country people, who conducted us over the meadows, whereby we missed the deepest of the Wash at Cheshunt, though we rode to the saddle-skirts for a considerable way, but got safe to Waltham Cross, where we lodged.”*[9] On another occasion Thoresby was detained four days at Stamford by the state of the roads, and was only extricated from his position by a company of fourteen members of the House of Commons travelling towards London, who took him into their convoy, and set out on their way southward attended by competent guides. When the “waters were out,” as the saying went, the country became closed, the roads being simply impassable. During the Civil Wars eight hundred horse were taken prisoners while sticking in the mud.*[10] When rain fell, pedestrians, horsemen, and coaches alike came to a standstill until the roads dried again and enabled the wayfarers to proceed. Thus we read of two travellers stopped by the rains within a few miles of Oxford, who found it impossible to accomplish their journey in consequence of the waters that covered the country thereabout.

A curious account has been preserved of the journey of an Irish Viceroy across North Wales towards Dublin in 1685. The roads were so horrible that instead of the Viceroy being borne along in his coach, the coach itself had to be borne after him the greater part of the way. He was five hours in travelling between St. Asaph and Conway, a distance of only fourteen miles. Between Conway and Beaumaris he was forced to walk, while his wife was borne along in a litter. The carriages were usually taken to pieces at Conway and carried on the shoulders of stout Welsh peasants to be embarked at the Straits of Menai.

The introduction of stage-coaches, like every other public improvement, was at first regarded with prejudice, and had considerable obloquy to encounter. In a curious book published in 1673, entitled ‘The Grand Concern of England Explained in several Proposals to Parliament,’*[11] stagecoaches and caravans were denounced as among the greatest evils that had happened to the kingdom, Being alike mischievous to the public, destructive to trade, and prejudicial to the landed interest. It was alleged that travelling by coach was calculated to destroy the breed of horses, and make men careless of good horsemanship,–that it hindered the training of watermen and seamen, and interfered with the public resources. The reasons given are curious. It was said that those who were accustomed to travel in coaches became weary and listless when they rode a few miles, and were unwilling to get on horseback –“not being able to endure frost, snow, or rain, or to lodge in the fields;” that to save their clothes and keep themselves clean and dry, people rode in coaches, and thus contracted an idle habit of body; that this was ruinous to trade, for that “most gentlemen, before they travelled in coaches, used to ride with swords, belts, pistols, holsters, portmanteaus, and hat-cases, which, in these coaches, they have little or no occasion for: for, when they rode on horseback, they rode in one suit and carried another to wear when they camp to their journey’s end, or lay by the way; but in coaches a silk suit and an Indian gown, with a sash, silk stockings, and beaver-hats, men ride in, and carry no other with them, because they escape the wet and dirt, which on horseback they cannot avoid; whereas, in two or three journeys on horseback, these clothes and hats were wont to be spoiled; which done, they were forced to have new very often, and that increased the consumption of the manufactures and the employment of the manufacturers; which travelling in coaches doth in no way do.”*[12] The writer of the same protest against coaches gives some idea of the extent of travelling by them in those days; for to show the gigantic nature of the evil he was contending against, he averred that between London and the three principal towns of York, Chester, and Exeter, not fewer than eighteen persons, making the journey in five days, travelled by them weekly the coaches running thrice in the week), and a like number back; “which come, in the whole, to eighteen hundred and seventy-two in the year.” Another great nuisance, the writer alleged, which flowed from the establishment of the stage-coaches, was, that not only did the gentlemen from the country come to London in them oftener than they need, but their ladies either came with them or quickly followed them. “And when they are there they must be in the mode, have all the new fashions, buy all their clothes there, and go to plays, balls, and treats, where they get such a habit of jollity and a love to gaiety and pleasure, that nothing afterwards in the country will serve them , if ever they should fix their minds to live there again; but they must have all from London, whatever it costs.”

Then there were the grievous discomforts of stage-coach travelling, to be set against the more noble method of travelling by horseback, as of yore. “What advantage is it to men’s health,” says the writer, waxing wroth, “to be called out of their beds into these coaches, an hour before day in the morning; to be hurried in them from place to place, till one hour, two, or three within night; insomuch that, after sitting all day in the summer-time stifled with heat and choked with dust, or in the winter-time starving and freezing with cold or choked with filthy fogs, they are often brought into their inns by torchlight, when it is too late to sit up to get a supper; and next morning they are forced into the coach so early that they can get no breakfast? What addition is this to men’s health or business to ride all day with strangers, oftentimes sick, antient, diseased persons, or young children crying; to whose humours they are obliged to be subject, forced to bear with, and many times are poisoned with their nasty scents and crippled by the crowd of boxes and bundles? Is it for a man’s health to travel with tired jades, to be laid fast in the foul ways and forced to wade up to the knees in mire; afterwards sit in the cold till teams of horses can be sent to pull the coach out? Is it for their health to travel in rotten coaches and to have their tackle, perch, or axle-tree broken, and then to wait three or four hours (sometimes half a day) to have them mended, and then to travel all night to make good their stage? Is it for a man’s pleasure, or advantageous to his health and business, to travel with a mixed company that he knows not how to converse with; to be affronted by the rudeness of a surly, dogged, cursing, ill-natured coachman; necessitated to lodge or bait at the worst inn on the road, where there is no accommodation fit for gentlemen; and this merely because the owners of the inns and the coachmen are agreed together to cheat the guests?” Hence the writer loudly called for the immediate suppression of stagecoaches as a great nuisance and crying evil.

Travelling by coach was in early times a very deliberate affair. Time was of less consequence than safety, and coaches were advertised to start “God willing,” and “about” such and such an hour “as shall seem good” to the majority of the passengers. The difference of a day in the journey from London to York was a small matter, and Thoresby was even accustomed to leave the coach and go in search of fossil shells in the fields on either side the road while making the journey between the two places. The long coach “put up” at sun-down, and “slept on the road.” Whether the coach was to proceed or to stop at some favourite inn, was determined by the vote of the passengers, who usually appointed a chairman at the beginning of the journey.

In 1700, York was a week distant from London, and Tunbridge Wells, now reached in an hour, was two days. Salisbury and Oxford were also each a two days journey, Dover was three days, and Exeter five. The Fly coach from London to Exeter slept at the latter place the fifth night from town; the coach proceeding next morning to Axminster, where it breakfasted, and there a woman Barber “shaved the coach.”*[13]

Between London and Edinburgh, as late as 1763, a fortnight was consumed, the coach only starting once a month.*[14] The risk of breaks-down in driving over the execrable roads may be inferred from the circumstance that every coach carried with it a box of carpenter’s tools, and the hatchets were occasionally used in lopping off the branches of trees overhanging the road and obstructing the travellers’ progress.

Some fastidious persons, disliking the slow travelling, as well as the promiscuous company which they ran the risk of encountering in the stage, were accustomed to advertise for partners in a postchaise, to share the charges and lessen the dangers of the road; and, indeed, to a sensitive person anything must have been preferable to the misery of travelling by the Canterbury stage, as thus described by a contemporary writer:–

“On both sides squeez’d, how highly was I blest, Between two plump old women to be presst! A corp’ral fierce, a nurse, a child that cry’d, And a fat landlord, filled the other side. Scarce dawns the morning ere the cumbrous load Boils roughly rumbling o’er the rugged road: One old wife coughs and wheezes in my ears, Loud scolds the other, and the soldier swears; Sour unconcocted breath escapes ‘mine host,’ The sick’ning child returns his milk and toast!”

When Samuel Johnson was taken by his mother to London in 1712, to have him touched by Queen Anne for “the evil,” he relates,– “We went in the stage-coach and returned in the waggon, as my mother said, because my cough was violent; but the hope of saving a few shillings was no slight motive…. She sewed two guineas in her petticoat lest she should be robbed…. We were troublesome to the passengers; but to suffer such inconveniences in the stage-coach was common in those days to parsons in much higher rank.”

Mr. Pennant has left us the following account of his journey in the Chester stage to London in 1789-40: “The first day,” says he, “with much labour, we got from Chester to Whitchurch, twenty miles; the second day to the ‘Welsh Harp;’ the third, to Coventry; the fourth, to Northampton; the fifth, to Dunstable; and, as a wondrous effort, on the last, to London, before the commencement of night. The strain and labour of six good horses, sometimes eight, drew us through the sloughs of Mireden and many other places. We were constantly out two hours before day, and as late at night, and in the depth of winter proportionally later. The single gentlemen, then a hardy race, equipped in jackboots and trowsers, up to their middle, rode post through thick and thin, and, guarded against the mire, defied the frequent stumble and fall, arose and pursued their journey with alacrity; while, in these days, their enervated posterity sleep away their rapid journeys in easy chaises, fitted for the conveyance of the soft inhabitants of Sybaris.”

No wonder, therefore, that a great deal of the travelling of the country continued to be performed on horseback, this being by far the pleasantest as well as most expeditious mode of journeying. On his marriage-day, Dr. Johnson rode from Birmingham to Derby with his Tetty, taking the opportunity of the journey to give his bride her first lesson in marital discipline. At a later period James Watt rode from Glasgow to London, when proceeding thither to learn the art of mathematical instrument making.

And it was a cheap and pleasant method of travelling when the weather was fine. The usual practice was, to buy a horse at the beginning of such a journey, and to sell the animal at the end of it. Dr. Skene, of Aberdeen, travelled from London to Edinburgh in 1753, being nineteen days on the road, the whole expenses of the journey amounting to only four guineas. The mare on which he rode, cost him eight guineas in London, and he sold her for the same price on his arrival in Edinburgh.

Nearly all the commercial gentlemen rode their own horses, carrying their samples and luggage in two bags at the saddle-bow; and hence their appellation of Riders or Bagmen. For safety’s sake, they usually journeyed in company; for the dangers of travelling were not confined merely to the ruggedness of the roads. The highways were infested by troops of robbers and vagabonds who lived by plunder. Turpin and Bradshaw beset the Great North Road; Duval, Macheath, Maclean, and hundreds of notorious highwaymen infested Hounslow Heath, Finchley Common, Shooter’s Hill, and all the approaches to the metropolis. A very common sight then, was a gibbet erected by the roadside, with the skeleton of some malefactor hanging from it in chains; and ” Hangman’s-lanes” were especially numerous in the neighbourhood of London.*[15] It was considered most unsafe to travel after dark, and when the first “night coach” was started, the risk was thought too great, and it was not patronised.

[Image] The Night Coach

Travellers armed themselves on setting out upon a journey as if they were going to battle, and a blunderbuss was considered as indispensable for a coachman as a whip. Dorsetshire and Hampshire, like most other counties, were beset with gangs of highwaymen; and when the Grand Duke Cosmo set out from Dorchester to travel to London in 1669, he was “convoyed by a great many horse-soldiers belonging to the militia of the county, to secure him from robbers.”*[16]

Thoresby, in his Diary, alludes with awe to his having passed safely “the great common where Sir Ralph Wharton slew the highwayman,” and he also makes special mention of Stonegate Hole, “a notorious robbing place” near Grantham. Like every other traveller, that good man carried loaded pistols in his bags, and on one occasion he was thrown into great consternation near Topcliffe, in Yorkshire, on missing them, believing that they had been abstracted by some designing rogues at the inn where he had last slept.*[17] No wonder that, before setting out on a journey in those days, men were accustomed to make their wills.

When Mrs. Calderwood, of Coltness, travelled from Edinburgh to London in 1756, she relates in her Diary that she travelled in her own postchaise, attended by John Rattray, her stout serving man, on horseback, with pistols at his holsters, and a good broad sword by his side. The lady had also with her in the carriage a case of pistols, for use upon an emergency. Robberies were then of frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood of Bawtry, in Yorkshire; and one day a suspicious-looking character, whom they took to be a highwayman, made his appearance; but “John Rattray talking about powder and ball to the postboy, and showing his whanger, the fellow made off” Mrs. Calderwood started from Edinburgh on the 3rd of June, when the roads were dry and the weather was fine, and she reached London on the evening of the 10th, which was considered a rapid journey in those days.

The danger, however, from footpads and highwaymen was not greatest in remote country places, but in and about the metropolis itself. The proprietors of Bellsize House and gardens, in the Hampstead-road, then one of the principal places of amusement, had the way to London patrolled during the season by twelve “lusty fellows;” and Sadler’s Wells, Vauxhall, and Ranelagh advertised similar advantages. Foot passengers proceeding towards Kensington and Paddington in the evening, would wait until a sufficiently numerous band had collected to set footpads at defiance, and then they started in company at known intervals, of which a bell gave due warning. Carriages were stopped in broad daylight in Hyde Park, and even in Piccadilly itself, and pistols presented at the breasts of fashionable people, who were called upon to deliver up their purses. Horace Walpole relates a number of curious instances of this sort, he himself having been robbed in broad day, with Lord Eglinton, Sir Thomas Robinson, Lady Albemarle, and many more. A curious robbery of the Portsmouth mail, in 1757, illustrates the imperfect postal communication of the period. The boy who carried the post had dismounted at Hammersmith, about three miles from Hyde Park Corner, and called for beer, when some thieves took the opportunity of cutting the mail-bag from off the horse’s crupper and got away undiscovered!

The means adopted for the transport of merchandise were as tedious and difficult as those ordinarily employed for the conveyance of passengers. Corn and wool were sent to market on horses’ backs,*[18] manure was carried to the fields in panniers, and fuel was conveyed from the moss or the forest in the same way. During the winter months, the markets were inaccessible; and while in some localities the supplies of food were distressingly deficient, in others the superabundance actually rotted from the impossibility of consuming it or of transporting it to places where it was needed. The little coal used in the southern counties was principally sea-borne, though pack-horses occasionally carried coal inland for the supply of the blacksmiths’ forges. When Wollaton Hall was built by John of Padua for Sir Francis Willoughby in 1580, the stone was all brought on horses’ backs from Ancaster, in Lincolnshire, thirty-five miles distant, and they loaded back with coal, which was taken in exchange for the stone.

[Image] The Pack-horse Convoy

The little trade which existed between one part of the kingdom and another was carried on by means of packhorses, along roads little better than bridle-paths. These horses travelled in lines, with the bales or panniers strapped across their backs. The foremost horse bore a bell or a collar of bells, and was hence called the “bell-horse.” He was selected because of his sagacity; and by the tinkling of the bells he carried, the movements of his followers were regulated. The bells also gave notice of the approach of the convoy to those who might be advancing from the opposite direction. This was a matter of some importance, as in many parts of the path there was not room for two loaded horses to pass each other, and quarrels and fights between the drivers of the pack-horse trains were frequent as to which of the meeting convoys was to pass down into the dirt and allow the other to pass along the bridleway. The pack-horses not only carried merchandise but passengers, and at certain times scholars proceeding to and from Oxford and Cambridge. When Smollett went from Glasgow to London, he travelled partly on pack-horse, partly by waggon, and partly on foot; and the adventures which he described as having befallen Roderick Random are supposed to have been drawn in a great measure from his own experiences during; the journey.

A cross-country merchandise traffic gradually sprang up between the northern counties, since become pre-eminently the manufacturing districts of England; and long lines of pack-horses laden with bales of wool and cotton traversed the hill ranges which divide Yorkshire from Lancashire. Whitaker says that as late as 1753 the roads near Leeds consisted of a narrow hollow way little wider than a ditch, barely allowing of the passage of a vehicle drawn in a single line; this deep narrow road being flanked by an elevated causeway covered with flags or boulder stones. When travellers encountered each other on this narrow track, they often tried to wear out each other’s patience rather than descend into the dirt alongside. The raw wool and bale goods of the district were nearly all carried along these flagged ways on the backs of single horses; and it is difficult to imagine the delay, the toil, and the perils by which the conduct of the traffic was attended. On horseback before daybreak and long after nightfall, these hardy sons of trade pursued their object with the spirit and intrepidity of foxhunters; and the boldest of their country neighbours had no reason to despise either their horsemanship or their courage.*[19] The Manchester trade was carried on in the same way. The chapmen used to keep gangs of pack-horses, which accompanied them to all the principal towns, bearing their goods in packs, which they sold to their customers, bringing back sheep’s wool and other raw materials of manufacture.

The only records of this long-superseded mode of communication are now to be traced on the signboards of wayside public-houses. Many of the old roads still exist in Yorkshire and Lancashire; but all that remains of the former traffic is the pack-horse still painted on village sign-boards — things as retentive of odd bygone facts as the picture-writing of the ancient Mexicans.*[20]

Footnotes for Chapter II.

*[1] King Henry the Fourth (Part I.), Act II. Scene 1.

*[2] Part of the riding road along which the Queen was accustomed to pass on horseback between her palaces at Greenwich and Eltham is still in existence, a little to the south of Morden College, Blackheath. It winds irregularly through the fields, broad in some places, and narrow in others. Probably it is very little different from what it was when used as a royal road. It is now very appropriately termed “Muddy Lane.”

*[3] ‘Depeches de La Mothe Fenelon,’ 8vo., 1858. Vol. i. p. 27.

*[4] Nichols’s ‘ Progresses,’ vol. ii., 309.

*[5] The title of Mace’s tract (British Museum) is “The Profit, Conveniency, and Pleasure for the whole nation: being a short rational Discourse lately presented to his Majesty concerning the Highways of England: their badness, the causes thereof, the reasons of these causes, the impossibility of ever having them well mended according to the old way of mending: but may most certainly be done, and for ever so maintained (according to this NEW WAY) substantially and with very much ease, &c., &c. Printed for the public good in the year 1675.”

*[6] See Archaelogia, xx., pp. 443-76.

*[7] “4th May, 1714. Morning: we dined at Grantham, had the annual solemnity (this being the first time the coach passed the road in May), and the coachman and horses being decked with ribbons and flowers, the town music and young people in couples before us; we lodged at Stamford, a scurvy, dear town. 5th May: had other passengers, which, though females, were more chargeable with wine and brandy than the former part of the journey, wherein we had neither; but the next day we gave them leave to treat themselves.” –Thoresby’s ‘Diary,’ vol. ii., 207.

*[8] “May 22, 1708. At York. Rose between three and four, the coach being hasted by Captain Crome (whose company we had) upon the Queen’s business, that we got to Leeds by noon; blessed be God for mercies to me and my poor family.”–Thoresby’s ‘Diary,’ vol. ii., 7.

*[9] Thoresby’s ‘Diary,’ vol. i.,295.

*[10] Waylen’s ‘Marlborough.’

*[11] Reprinted in the ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ vol. viii., p. 547. supposed to have been written by one John Gressot, of the Charterhouse.

*[12] There were other publications of the time as absurd (viewed by the light of the present day) as Gressot’s. Thus, “A Country Tradesman,” addressing the public in 1678, in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Ancient Trades decayed, repaired again,–wherein are declared the several abuses that have utterly impaired all the ancient trades in the Kingdom,’ urges that the chief cause of the evil had been the setting up of Stage-coaches some twenty years before. Besides the reasons for suppressing; them set forth in the treatise referred to in the text, he says, “Were it not’ for them (the Stage-coaches), there would be more Wine, Beer, and Ale, drunk in the Inns than is now, which would be a means to augment the King’s Custom and Excise. Furthermore they hinder the breed of horses in this kingdom [the same argument was used against Railways], because many would be necessitated to keep a good horse that keeps none now. Seeing, then, that there are few that are gainers by them, and that they are against the common and general good of the Nation, and are only a conveniency to some that have occasion to go to London, who might still have the same wages as before these coaches were in use, therefore there is good reason they should be suppressed. Not but that it may be lawful to hire a coach upon occasion, but that it should be unlawful only to keep a coach that should go long journeys constantly, from one stage or place to another, upon certain days of the week as they do now”– p. 27.

*[13] Roberts’s ‘Social History of the Southern Counties,’ p. 494. Little more than a century ago, we find the following advertisement of a Newcastle flying coach:– “May 9, 1734.–A coach will set out towards the end of next week for London, or any place on the road. To be performed in nine days,–being three days sooner than any other coach that travels the road; for which purpose eight stout horses are stationed at proper distances.”

*[14] In 1710 a Manchester manufacturer taking his family up to London, hired a coach for the whole way, which, in the then state of the roads, must have made it a journey of probably eight or ten days. And, in 1742, the system of travelling had so little improved, that a lady, wanting to come with her niece from Worcester to Manchester, wrote to a friend in the latter place to send her a hired coach, because the man knew the road, having brought from thence a family some time before.”–Aikin’s ‘Manchester.’

*[15] Lord Campbell mentions the remarkable circumstance that Popham, afterwards Lord Chief Justice in the reign of Elizabeth, took to the road in early life, and robbed travellers on Gad’s Hill. Highway robbery could not, however, have been considered a very ignominious pursuit at that time, as during Popham’s youth a statute was made by which, on a first conviction for robbery, a peer of the realm or lord of parliament was entitled to have benefit of clergy, “though he cannot read!” What is still more extraordinary is, that Popham is supposed to have continued in his course as ‘a highwayman even after he was called to the Bar. This seems to have been quite notorious, for when he was made Serjeant the wags reported that he served up some wine destined for an Alderman of London, which he had intercepted on its way from Southampton.–Aubrey, iii., 492.–Campbell’s ‘Chief Justices,’ i., 210.

*[16] Travels of Cosmo the Third, Grand Duke of Tuscany,’ p. 147.

*[17] “It is as common a custom, as a cunning policie in thieves, to place chamberlains in such great inns where cloathiers and graziers do lye; and by their large bribes to infect others, who were not of their own preferring; who noting your purses when you draw them, they’l gripe your cloak-bags, and feel the weight, and so inform the master thieves of what they think, and not those alone, but the Host himself is oft as base as they, if it be left in charge with them all night; he to his roaring guests either gives item, or shews the purse itself, who spend liberally, in hope of a speedie recruit.” See ‘A Brief yet Notable Discovery of Housebreakers,’ &c., 1659. See also ‘Street Robberies Considered; a Warning for Housekeepers,’ 1676; ‘Hanging not Punishment Enough,’ 1701; &c.

*[18] The food of London was then principally brought to town in panniers. The population being comparatively small, the feeding of London was still practicable in this way; besides, the city always possessed the great advantage of the Thames, which secured a supply of food by sea. In ‘The Grand Concern of England Explained,’ it is stated that the hay, straw, beans, peas, and oats, used in London, were principally raised within a circuit of twenty miles of the metropolis; but large quantities were also brought from Henley-on-thames and other western parts, as well as from below Gravesend, by water; and many ships laden with beans came from Hull, and with oats from Lynn and Boston.

*[19] ‘Loides and Elmete, by T.D. Whitaker, LL.D., 1816, p. 81. Notwithstanding its dangers, Dr. Whitaker seems to have been of opinion that the old mode of travelling was even safer than that which immediately followed it; “Under the old state of roads and manners,” he says, “it was impossible that more than one death could happen at once; what, by any possibility, could take place analogous to a race betwixt two stage-coaches, in which the lives of thirty or forty distressed and helpless individuals are at the mercy of two intoxicated brutes?”

*[20] In the curious collection of old coins at the Guildhall there are several halfpenny tokens issued by the proprietors of inns bearing the sign of the pack-horse, Some of these would indicate that packhorses were kept for hire. We append a couple of illustrations of these curious old coins.




While the road communications of the country remained thus imperfect, the people of one part of England knew next to nothing of the other. When a shower of rain had the effect of rendering the highways impassable, even horsemen were cautious in venturing far from home. But only a very limited number of persons could then afford to travel on horseback. The labouring people journeyed on foot, while the middle class used the waggon or the coach. But the amount of intercourse between the people of different districts –then exceedingly limited at all times–was, in a country so wet as England, necessarily suspended for all classes during the greater part of the year.

The imperfect communication existing between districts had the effect of perpetuating numerous local dialects, local prejudices, and local customs, which survive to a certain extent to this day; though they are rapidly disappearing, to the regret of many, under the influence of improved facilities for travelling. Every village had its witches, sometimes of different sorts, and there was scarcely an old house but had its white lady or moaning old man with a long beard. There were ghosts in the fens which walked on stilts, while the sprites of the hill country rode on flashes of fire. But the village witches and local ghosts have long since disappeared, excepting perhaps in a few of the less penetrable districts, where they may still survive. It is curious to find that down even to the beginning of the seventeenth century, the inhabitants of the southern districts of the island regarded those of the north as a kind of ogres. Lancashire was supposed to be almost impenetrable– as indeed it was to a considerable extent,–and inhabited by a half-savage race. Camden vaguely described it, previous to his visit in 1607, as that part of the country ” lying beyond the mountains towards the Western Ocean.” He acknowledged that he approached the Lancashire people “with a kind of dread,” but determined at length “to run the hazard of the attempt,” trusting in the Divine assistance. Camden was exposed to still greater risks in his survey of Cumberland. When he went into that county for the purpose of exploring the remains of antiquity it contained for the purposes of his great work, he travelled along the line of the Roman Wall as far as Thirlwall castle, near Haltwhistle; but there the limits of civilization and security ended; for such was the wildness of the country and of its lawless inhabitants beyond, that he was obliged to desist from his pilgrimage, and leave the most important and interesting objects of his journey unexplored.

About a century later, in 1700, the Rev. Mr. Brome, rector of Cheriton in Kent, entered upon a series of travels in England as if it had been a newly-discovered country. He set out in spring so soon as the roads had become passable. His friends convoyed him on the first stage of his journey, and left him, commending him to the Divine protection. He was, however, careful to employ guides to conduct him from one place to another, and in the course of his three years’ travels he saw many new and wonderful things. He was under the necessity of suspending his travels when the winter or wet weather set in, and to lay up, like an arctic voyager, for several months, until the spring came round again. Mr. Brome passed through Northumberland into Scotland, then down the western side of the island towards Devonshire, where he found the farmers gathering in their corn on horse-back, the roads being so narrow that it was impossible for them to use waggons. He desired to travel into Cornwall, the boundaries of which he reached, but was prevented proceeding farther by the rains, and accordingly he made the best of his way home.*[1] The vicar of Cheriton was considered a wonderful man in his day,– almost as as venturous as we should now regard a traveller in Arabia. Twenty miles of slough, or an unbridged river between two parishes, were greater impediments to intercourse than the Atlantic Ocean now is between England and America. Considerable towns situated in the same county, were then more widely separated, for practical purposes, than London and Glasgow are at the present day. There were many districts which travellers never visited, and where the appearance of a stranger produced as great an excitement as the arrival of a white man in an African village.*[2]

The author of ‘Adam Bede’ has given us a poet’s picture of the leisure of last century, which has “gone where the spinning-wheels are gone, and the pack-horses, and the slow waggons, and the pedlars who brought bargains to the door on sunny afternoons. “Old Leisure” lived chiefly in the country, among pleasant seats and homesteads, and was fond of sauntering by the fruit-tree walls, and scenting the apricots when they were warmed by the morning sunshine, or sheltering himself under the orchard boughs at noon, when the summer pears were falling.” But this picture has also its obverse side. Whole generations then lived a monotonous, ignorant, prejudiced, and humdrum life. They had no enterprize, no energy, little industry, and were content to die where they were born. The seclusion in which they were compelled to live, produced a picturesqueness of manners which is pleasant to look back upon, now that it is a thing of the past; but it was also accompanied with a degree of grossness and brutality much less pleasant to regard, and of which the occasional popular amusements of bull-running, cock-fighting, cock-throwing, the saturnalia of Plough-Monday, and such like, were the fitting exponents.

People then knew little except of their own narrow district. The world beyond was as good as closed against them. Almost the only intelligence of general affairs which reached them was communicated by pedlars and packmen, who were accustomed to retail to their customers the news of the day with their wares; or, at most, a newsletter from London, after it had been read nearly to pieces at the great house of the district, would find its way to the village, and its driblets of information would thus become diffused among the little community. Matters of public interest were long in becoming known in the remoter districts of the country. Macaulay relates that the death of Queen Elizabeth was not heard of in some parts of Devon until the courtiers of her successor had ceased to wear mourning for her. The news of Cromwell’s being made Protector only reached Bridgewater nineteen days after the event, when the bells were set a-ringing; and the churches in the Orkneys continued to put up the usual prayers for James II. three months after he had taken up his abode at St. Germains. There were then no shops in the smaller towns or villages, and comparatively few in the larger; and these were badly furnished with articles for general use. The country people were irregularly supplied by hawkers, who sometimes bore their whole stook upon their back, or occasionally on that of their pack-horses. Pots, pans, and household utensils were sold from door to door. Until a comparatively recent period, the whole of the pottery-ware manufactured in Staffordshire was hawked about and disposed of in this way. The pedlars carried frames resembling camp-stools, on which they were accustomed to display their wares when the opportunity occurred for showing them to advantage. The articles which they sold were chiefly of a fanciful kind–ribbons, laces, and female finery; the housewives’ great reliance for the supply of general clothing in those days being on domestic industry.

Every autumn, the mistress of the household was accustomed to lay in a store of articles sufficient to serve for the entire winter. It was like laying in a stock of provisions and clothing for a siege during the time that the roads were closed. The greater part of the meat required for winter’s use was killed and salted down at Martinmas, while stockfish and baconed herrings were provided for Lent. Scatcherd says that in his district the clothiers united in groups of three or four, and at the Leeds winter fair they would purchase an ox, which, having divided, they salted and hung the pieces for their winter’s food.*[3] There was also the winter’s stock of firewood to be provided, and the rushes with which to strew the floors–carpets being a comparatively modern invention; besides, there was the store of wheat and barley for bread, the malt for ale, the honey for sweetening (then used for sugar), the salt, the spiceries, and the savoury herbs so much employed in the ancient cookery. When the stores were laid in, the housewife was in a position to bid defiance to bad roads for six months to come. This was the case of the well-to-do; but the poorer classes, who could not lay in a store for winter, were often very badly off both for food and firing, and in many hard seasons they literally starved. But charity was active in those days, and many a poor man’s store was eked out by his wealthier neighbour.

When the household supply was thus laid in, the mistress, with her daughters and servants, sat down to their distaffs and spinning-wheels; for the manufacture of the family clothing was usually the work of the winter months. The fabrics then worn were almost entirely of wool, silk and cotton being scarcely known. The wool, when not grown on the farm, was purchased in a raw state, and was carded, spun, dyed, and in many cases woven at home: so also with the linen clothing, which, until quite a recent date, was entirely the produce of female fingers and household spinning-wheels. This kind of work occupied the winter months, occasionally alternated with knitting, embroidery, and tapestry work. Many of our country houses continue to bear witness to the steady industry of the ladies of even the highest ranks in those times, in the fine tapestry hangings with which the walls of many of the older rooms in such mansions are covered.

Among the humbler classes, the same winter’s work went on. The women sat round log fires knitting, plaiting, and spinning by fire-light, even in the daytime. Glass had not yet come into general use, and the openings in the wall which in summer-time served for windows, had necessarily to be shut close with boards to keep out the cold, though at the same time they shut out the light. The chimney, usually of lath and plaster, ending overhead in a cone and funnel for the smoke, was so roomy in old cottages as to accommodate almost the whole family sitting around the fire of logs piled in the reredosse in the middle, and there they carried on their winter’s work.

Such was the domestic occupation of women in the rural districts in olden times; and it may perhaps be questioned whether the revolution in our social system, which has taken out of their hands so many branches of household manufacture and useful domestic employment, be an altogether unmixed blessing.

Winter at an end, and the roads once more available for travelling, the Fair of the locality was looked forward to with interest. Fairs were among the most important institutions of past times, and were rendered necessary by the imperfect road communications. The right of holding them was regarded as a valuable privilege, conceded by the sovereign to the lords of the manors, who adopted all manner of devices to draw crowds to their markets. They were usually held at the entrances to valleys closed against locomotion during winter, or in the middle of rich grazing districts, or, more frequently, in the neighbourhood of famous cathedrals or churches frequented by flocks of pilgrims. The devotion of the people being turned to account, many of the fairs were held on Sundays in the churchyards; and almost in every parish a market was instituted on the day on which the parishioners were called together to do honour to their patron saint.

The local fair, which was usually held at the beginning or end of winter, often at both times, became the great festival as well as market of the district; and the business as well as the gaiety of the neighbourhood usually centred on such occasions. High courts were held by the Bishop or Lord of the Manor, to accommodate which special buildings were erected, used only at fair time. Among the fairs of the first class in England were Winchester, St. Botolph’s Town (Boston), and St. Ives. We find the great London merchants travelling thither in caravans, bearing with them all manner of goods, and bringing back the wool purchased by them in exchange.

Winchester Great Fair attracted merchants from all parts of Europe. It was held on the hill of St. Giles, and was divided into streets of booths, named after the merchants of the different countries who exposed their wares in them. “The passes through the great woody districts, which English merchants coming from London and the West would be compelled to traverse, were on this occasion carefully guarded by mounted ‘serjeants-at-arms,’ since the wealth which was being conveyed to St. Giles’s-hill attracted bands of outlaws from all parts of the country.”*[4] Weyhill Fair, near Andover, was another of the great fairs in the same district, which was to the West country agriculturists and clothiers what Winchester St. Giles’s Fair was to the general merchants.

The principal fair in the northern districts was that of St. Botolph’s Town (Boston), which was resorted to by people from great distances to buy and sell commodities of various kinds. Thus we find, from the ‘Compotus’ of Bolton Priory,*[5] that the monks of that house sent their wool to St. Botolph’s Fair to be sold, though it was a good hundred miles distant; buying in return their winter supply of groceries, spiceries, and other necessary articles. That fair, too, was often beset by robbers, and on one occasion a strong party of them, under the disguise of monks, attacked and robbed certain booths, setting fire to the rest; and such was the amount of destroyed wealth, that it is said the veins of molten gold and silver ran along the streets.

The concourse of persons attending these fairs was immense. The nobility and gentry, the heads of the religions houses, the yeomanry and the commons, resorted to them to buy and sell all manner of agricultural produce. The farmers there sold their wool and cattle, and hired their servants; while their wives disposed of the surplus produce of their winter’s industry, and bought their cutlery, bijouterie, and more tasteful articles of apparel. There were caterers there for all customers; and stuffs and wares were offered for sale from all countries. And in the wake of this business part of the fair there invariably followed a crowd of ministers to the popular tastes– quack doctors and merry andrews, jugglers and minstrels, singlestick players, grinners through horse-collars, and sportmakers of every kind.

Smaller fairs were held in most districts for similar purposes of exchange. At these the staples of the locality were sold and servants usually hired. Many were for special purposes–cattle fairs, leather fairs, cloth fairs, bonnet fairs, fruit fairs. Scatcherd says that less than a century ago a large fair was held between Huddersfield and Leeds, in a field still called Fairstead, near Birstal, which used to be a great mart for fruit, onions, and such like; and that the clothiers resorted thither from all the country round to purchase the articles, which were stowed away in barns, and sold at booths by lamplight in the morning.*[6] Even Dartmoor had its fair, on the site of an ancient British village or temple near Merivale Bridge, testifying to its great antiquity; for it is surprising how an ancient fair lingers about the place on which it has been accustomed to be held, long after the necessity for it has ceased. The site of this old fair at Merivale Bridge is the more curious, as in its immediate neighbourhood, on the road between Two Bridges and Tavistock, is found the singular-looking granite rock, bearing so remarkable a resemblance to the Egyptian sphynx, in a mutilated state. It is of similarly colossal proportions, and stands in a district almost as lonely as that in which the Egyptian sphynx looks forth over the sands of the Memphean Desert.*[7]

[Image] Site of an ancient British village and fair on Dartmoor.

The last occasion on which the fair was held in this secluded spot was in the year 1625, when the plague raged at Tavistock; and there is a part of the ground, situated amidst a line of pillars marking a stone avenue–a characteristic feature of the ancient aboriginal worship–which is to this day pointed out and called by the name of the “Potatoe market.”

But the glory of the great fairs has long since departed. They declined with the extension of turnpikes, and railroads gave them their death-blow. Shops now exist in every little town and village, drawing their supplies regularly by road and canal from the most distant parts. St. Bartholomew, the great fair of London,*[8] and Donnybrook, the great fair of Dublin, have been suppressed as nuisances; and nearly all that remains of the dead but long potent institution of the Fair, is the occasional exhibition at periodic times in country places, of pig-faced ladies, dwarfs, giants, double-bodied calves, and such-like wonders, amidst a blatant clangour of drums, gongs, and cymbals. Like the sign of the Pack-Horse over the village inn door, the modern village fair, of which the principal article of merchandise is gingerbread-nuts, is but the vestige of a state of things that has long since passed away.

There were, however, remote and almost impenetrable districts which long resisted modern inroads. Of such was Dartmoor, which we have already more than once referred to. The difficulties of road-engineering in that quarter, as well as the sterility of a large proportion of the moor, had the effect of preventing its becoming opened up to modern traffic; and it is accordingly curious to find how much of its old manners, customs, traditions, and language has been preserved. It looks like a piece of England of the Middle Ages, left behind on the march. Witches still hold their sway on Dartmoor, where there exist no less than three distinct kinds– white, black, and grey,*[9]–and there are still professors of witchcraft, male as well as female, in most of the villages.

As might be expected, the pack-horses held their ground in Dartmoor the longest, and in some parts of North Devon they are not yet extinct. When our artist was in the neighbourhood, sketching the ancient bridge on the moor and the site of the old fair, a farmer said to him, “I well remember the train of pack-horses and the effect of their jingling bells on the silence of Dartmoor. My grandfather, a respectable farmer in the north of Devon, was the first to use a ‘butt’ (a square box without wheels, dragged by a horse) to carry manure to field; he was also the first man in the district to use an umbrella, which on Sundays he hung in the church-porch, an object of curiosity to the villagers.” We are also informed by a gentleman who resided for some time at South Brent’, on the borders of the Moor, that the introduction of the first cart in that district is remembered by many now living, the bridges having been shortly afterwards widened to accommodate the wheeled vehicles.

The primitive features of this secluded district are perhaps best represented by the interesting little town of Chagford, situated in the valley of the North Teign, an ancient stannary and market town backed by a wide stretch of moor. The houses of the place are built of moor stone–grey, venerable-looking, and substantial–some with projecting porch and parvise room over, and granite-mullioned windows; the ancient church, built of granite, with a stout old steeple of the same material, its embattled porch and granite-groined vault springing from low columns with Norman-looking capitals, forming the sturdy centre of this ancient town clump.

A post-chaise is still a phenomenon in Chagford, the roads and lanes leading to it being so steep and rugged as to be ill adapted for springed vehicles of any sort. The upland road or track to Tavistock scales an almost precipitous hill, and though well enough adapted for the pack-horse of the last century, it is quite unfitted for the cart and waggon traffic of this. Hence the horse with panniers maintains its ground in the Chagford district; and the double-horse, furnished with a pillion for the lady riding behind, is still to be met with in the country roads.

Among the patriarchs of the hills, the straight-breasted blue coat may yet be seen, with the shoe fastened with buckle and strap as in the days when George III. was king; and old women are still found retaining the cloak and hood of their youth. Old agricultural implements continue in use. The slide or sledge is seen in the fields; the flail, with its monotonous strokes, resounds from the barn-floors; the corn is sifted by the windstow–the wind merely blowing away the chaff from the grain when shaken out of sieves by the motion of the hand on some elevated spot; the old wooden plough is still at work, and the goad is still used to urge the yoke of oxen in dragging it along.

[Image] The Devonshire Crooks

“In such a place as Chagford,” says Mr. Rowe, “the cooper or rough carpenter will still find a demand for the pack-saddle, with its accompanying furniture of crooks, crubs, or dung-pots. Before the general introduction of carts, these rough and ready contrivances were found of great utility in the various operations of husbandry, and still prove exceedingly convenient in situations almost, or altogether, inaccessible to wheel-carriages. The long crooks are used for the carriage of corn in sheaf from the harvest-field to the mowstead or barn, for the removal of furze, browse, faggot-wood, and other light materials. The writer of one of the happiest effusions of the local muse,*[10] with fidelity to nature equal to Cowper or Crabbe, has introduced the figure of a Devonshire pack-horse bending under the ‘swagging load’ of the high-piled crooks as an emblem of care toiling along the narrow and rugged path of life. The force and point of the imagery must be lost to those who have never seen (and, as in an instance which came under my own knowledge, never heard of) this unique specimen of provincial agricultural machinery. The crooks are formed of two poles,*[11] about ten feet long, bent, when green, into the required curve, and when dried in that shape are connected by horizontal bars. A pair of crooks, thus completed, is slung over the pack-saddle–one ‘swinging on each side to make the balance true.’ The short crooks, or crubs, are slung in a similar manner. These are of stouter fabric, and angular shape, and are used for carrying logs of wood and other heavy materials. The dung-pots, as the name implies, were also much in use in past times, for the removal of dung and other manure from the farmyard to the fallow or plough lands. The slide, or sledge, may also still occasionally be seen in the hay or corn fields, sometimes without, and in other cases mounted on low wheels, rudely but substantially formed of thick plank, such as might have brought the ancient Roman’s harvest load to the barn some twenty centuries ago.”