Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Royal Mail Coach

Since the Royal Mail will soon be coping with all the Valentine cards being posted at the end of the week, I thought it would be fun to look at the Royal Mail delivery in Georgian and Regency times.

Regency roads were full of different types of carriages and coaches, and none was so fine and distinctive, in its red and black livery, as the Royal Mail Coach. The first mail-coach journey was from Bath to London in 1784 and it took 16 hours for the 170km journey. Once the roads improved, it was able to travel at the fast speed, for those days, of 19km per hour. The horses were changed roughly every 11km to keep them fresh enough to maintain a speedy journey.
Since the Royal Mail coach was responsible for the delivery of precious letters and parcels, highwaymen were sometimes a problem. Each coach was protected by a coachman and a guard armed with a blunderbuss. They also often carried a brace of pistols each. In the early days, only a few inside passengers were allowed on the coach, increasing to one beside the coachman, before they eventually allowed several passengers on top.

Even in those days, the Post Office tried to ensure that all mail was safely delivered to the recipient. If anything happened to the coach, the guard was responsible for getting the mail through on horse, or even foot if necessary! Each mail-coach also had its own repair kit for simple repairs. The mail’s importance was even more emphasised by the blast from the horn to ensure it was given right of way from all other traffic.

Sometimes, we maybe take it for granted that our mail will be correctly and safely delivered (most of time). I wonder if Regency people had the same expectations.



Linda Kage said...

What wonderful history. The coach was beautiful. I'm already picturing a good story that could go with this information, using a gasping, breathless guard dragging a handful of letters under his arm as he practically crawls into London. Thanks!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for the comment, Linda. I'm sure walking was a very last resort!

Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating wee insight into the world of horse-drawn transport and the sort of speeds and travel arrangements that prevailed. I think putting yourself into a mindset that aspired to travel at 18 kph changes the whole way you approach characters.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for the comment, Bill. It's one of the joys, and difficulties, of historical fiction - trying to put ourselves in times past so that characters and their lives sound authentic. As I'm sure you found out in The Figurehead!