Coach journeys in Jane Austen’s time were perilous because of the terrible state of the roads: deep in mud, or full of vast ruts. The weather, too, caused lots of problems; passengers and coachmen sometimes froze to death in the deep midwinter. Austen makes frequent references to coach travel in her novels and letters. In a letter to Cassandra (25 April 1811) Jane wrote: ‘Eliza caught her cold on Sunday on our way to the D’Entraigues; the Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate – a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable hill to them, and they refused the collar; I believe there was a sore shoulder to irritate. Eliza was frightened, & we got out - & were detained in the Evening air several minutes…’
Jane had a fun drive after visiting to a picture exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1813 (where she’d hoped to find a portrait of Mrs Darcy): ‘I had great amusement among the Pictures; & the Driving about, the Carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was. I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche.’
You can find out more about the thrills and spills of coach travel in my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World.
Images: The old White Horse Cellar Inn, near Arlington St. The final stop for passengers from the west, it’s possible Jane Austen got off the coach here when visiting London. Engraving by I.R. and G. Cruikshank, Life in London, Pierce Egan, (John Camden Totten, 1869.)
‘In a Snowdrift,’ engraving by Hugh Thomson, Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan, 1910.)