Sep 012019

I recently completed a round-Britain lecture cruise on board the Crown Princess, which involved visiting a couple of places in Ireland. Well, three in Ireland (Cork, Dublin and Belfast, but I only visited Cork and Dublin. Somehow Belfast doesn’t ‘do it for me’ so I gave it a miss….)

It reminded me that I had done several blogs linked to Ireland so I thought that I would re-visit some of them. First up – the remarkable story of Charles Banconi:-

Hearn's Hotel

Hearn’s Hotel

For a change, travel back to Ireland and visit  Hearn’s Hotel, at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. It is the sixth of July 1815, and a small jaunting carriage pulls away exactly on time, heading for Cahir some ten miles or so away. The jaunting carriage was a slightly odd two-wheeled conveyance, unprotected from the elements, where the seats were in a row facing sideways onto the road. This day there were no passengers – the six seats were all unoccupied, and the single horse has no difficulty plodding its lonely journey. The same thing happened the next day, but then the 31-year-old Italian printer whose idea it was to set up a coaching service decided that it was a case of ‘double or quit’. So he arranged  for two jaunting carriages to be ready and waiting at the appointed hour on the following day, both ready to make the journey as advertised to the good burghers of Clonmel. To observers it looked as though there was a competition. That certainly attracted public attention, and before long there were dozens of people queuing to make the two-hour  journey, at a rate of a penny-farthing a mile. It was certainly a darned sight quicker than the five- to eight-hour journey offered for the same trip by boat.

Jaunting cart

Jaunting cart


bianconi-photoJourneys in Ireland were incredibly slow at the time – the roads were poor, travel was in its infancy, and there was no integrated transport service. It would be another thirty years before rail travel opened up the countryside, and in those thirty years the coach service mushroomed in a most remarkable way. And the man behind it? Charles Bianconi.

Carlos Bianconi, born on 26 September  1785 at Tregolo in what is now Lombardy in Italy, had escaped from his mother country just before it was over-run by the forces of Napoleon. He was relatively poorly educated – the priest at the local school he attended described him as a ‘troublesome dunce’ who left school ‘almost as ignorant as when he entered it and a great deal more wilful.’ As a 16 year old he had travelled to England but then moved across to Ireland, and was apprenticed  to the owner of a print-shop. Selling the prints took him around  Dublin and its neighbouring towns and villages, usually on foot. He would  peddle the prints which he carried in his satchel as he walked from town to town. Eventually he set up his own print and engraving shop in Clonmel, and as the business started to expand he travelled around on the appalling roads to deliver his wares, often stopping to give a lift to pedestrian travellers. No doubt it was this which gave him the idea of providing a public transport service, given that the only alternatives were the prohibitively expensive Mail Coaches.




Shortly after he launched a separate coaching business he was fortunate to be able to buy a number of ex-Army horses (no longer needed following the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars). These magnificent animals, well-trained and strong, could be picked up ‘for a song’ – well, for between ten and twenty pounds – and the coach business expanded quickly, with new routes being added until  they criss-crossed the country. Bianconi started to build his own coaches, eventually moving up to a twenty-passenger long-coach. They were known as ‘Bians’ or Bianconi Coaches, and soon became a familiar sight everywhere. Coaches meant coaching Inns, and a network of Bianconi Inns were developed, some of them still remaining to this day.

Bianconi Bar, Main Street, Kildysart

Bianconi Bar, Main Street, Kildysart

The business was at times seriously under-capitalised but an interesting account in the Irish Story – an online history blog, comes up with this information:

“In 1826, came the famous Waterford by-election when the Beresfords – landlord family who had dominated that county’s politics for 70 years – were ousted by the Catholic Association party of Daniel O’Connell – campaigning for Catholic Emancipation.  Bianconi had actually been retained by the Beresfords (who were staunchly opposed to Emancipation) to transport their voters to the election, but feelings were running so high that he felt his drivers to be endangered and asked to be released from his contract. The Beresfords reluctantly agreed, and Bianconi was promptly retained by the O’Connell supporting team. He may well have been partly responsible for their resounding success, but from his point of view the important thing was that he was paid £1,000 (perhaps as much as €1,000,000 in today’s values) for his services. This was the capital he needed.”

The scale of operations was remarkable. Here are just some of the statistics:

*  By 1845, Bianconi was one of the largest proprietors of horses and vehicles in the whole of Europe, with a fleet of one hundred cars,  and 1,400 horses.

*  He employed a hundred drivers as well as  130 ostlers to look after the animals.

*  Each day, the Bians covered over 4,200 miles of Irish road, serving 120 towns and villages.

*  The horses consumed around 3,500 tons of hay a year, plus 35,000 barrels of oats.

*  In its heyday the business was paying Bianconi £35,000 a year.

*  He was  twice made mayor of Clonmel.

* He was renowned for looking after his staff, knowing all of the drivers by name, and when they were too old or infirm to work he provided them with food and lodging in his cellars at his house at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary, referring to them as his “fireside fellows”.

*  When the Great Famine came, he famously employed his men to carry out maintenance work at his beloved Longfield House with its 1000 acres of prime farmland, rather than see them starve.

And when the railways eventually arrived, Bianconi wisely arranged his coach itineraries to include the railway stations which his passengers would then use for their onward journey. Oh, and he invested his money in the railways themselves, thereby securing his future when the coaching side of the business declined. He died, a multi-millionaire in today’s terms, in September 1875, at the age of 89. The story goes that as he died the sound of a phantom coach was heard clattering up the long driveway to the house….

Irish commemorative stamps

Irish commemorative stamps

I am indebted to the historian Turtle Bunbury for some of the facts used in this article, based on his blog here. Thanks too to Stephen Lombard for first regaling me with the story of Mr Bianconi and his coaches – and for showing me the prints made in the 1850s showing the Biancs in use. It is a remarkable story, especially for  a man dismissed as a dunce. Nowadays, immigrants tend to get a bad press. Here was an immigrant who had the imagination and courage to transform the world around him…


Feb 132019

Richard Hall’s diaries for 1780-85

I last kept a diary when I was at school, rather a lot of years ago, but I remember one thing about the diaries – Letts made them – and that was that they always showed the phases of the moon. Which struck me as slightly odd, because nowadays it matters very little whether it is a new moon, a full moon, or something in between. Unless you are a vampire. Or believe that you should only sow seeds in your vegetable garden if the moon is full.

But I suspect that our Georgian ancestors would have taken a very keen interest in the moon, not least because it could make a huge difference to travel times and to the cost of travel.

Take the trip from London to Bath – normally a two-day journey. The person arranging the coach would need to factor in an overnight stop, including dinner and breakfast the next day, when calculating the ticket price. But if it was a full moon, as long as the roads were in decent repair (i.e. no potholes, like there are in today’s roads, because a broken axle was best avoided!) the coach could simply keep going through the night. OK the carriage lamps were not exactly headlights and perhaps were more used to make sure people could see you rather than so that you could see them, but every little bit helps. Especially if you wanted to be able to see if there were people lurking in the undergrowth at the side of the road, ready to hold you up at gun point….

The highwayman – Stand and Deliver!

I have previously used these two paper cuts by Richard to show the difference which the Turnpike Trusts made to road transport in the middle of the 18th Century:

Before: note the front wheel about to crash down over a large rock…

After: – a smoother road surface

The attempted Jacobite uprising in 1745 drew attention to the appalling state of the roads – troop movements were hampered because equipment got bogged down as the army tried to move north. It led to a great push to improve the roads throughout England, funded by each locality via tolls raised at turnpikes across the land. Roads became safer, rides became more comfortable…

 So I was interested to see that Richard Hall recorded a novelty (for him) in his diary: a night-time trip from London on the Gloucester coach. “Thursday 23 March 1780, set out in the Gloucester Coach after Dinner, to travel all night – was thru the goodness of God very kindly preserv’d”. There was a frost and Richard remarked that it was cold in the morning. In the early hours of Friday 24 March they reached Oxford at a quarter past two, took an early breakfast, got to Burford between 7 and 8, and had a second breakfast. I imagine that he then changed coaches, because he got to Bourton on the Water at midday. (“Oh what occasion for thankfulness. A frost, cold day, rain at night”).

On checking the records, I see that there had been a full moon at around the time of his journey. I suspect that he must have been pretty knackered after travelling all night – unless the rattling monotony of the coach sent him to sleep. He certainly didn’t have a busy schedule the next day – the only appointment was to “take teas with Mr Palmer”.

I am sure that the overnight journey would not have been attempted if there had been no moon to guide the way – a reminder of just how much the Georgians were dependent upon planetary movements. In the summer Richard got up 15 minutes earlier every week from the beginning of April, meaning that he would be rising at 4 a.m. by the end of August – but in the winter he hibernated, unless, of course, the moon was full so that he could prowl the Gloucester countryside…

Aug 182017

Following on from my recent post describing how to catch a boat to France in 1750, and looking at the problems of post-chaise travel on French roads, I thought it worth looking at Paris itself.

First, a reminder of the French monetary system prior to the French Revolution:

The Louis d’Or was first issued in 1640 on the order of Louis XIII and showed a portrait of King Louis on one side of the coin; the French royal coat of arms on the reverse. It actually came in multiples of one, two, four and eight , along with fractions of a half and a quarter. This is what the 4-Louis d’Or looked like, and a mighty fine coin it was:

The half ecu. or as the book describes it, the demi-ecu equivalent to three livres and similar to the British halfcrown, was a silver coin:

½ Écu - Louis XIV - obverse½ Écu - Louis XIV - reverse   As the guidebook explains, the livre was a unit of value but was not represented by an actual coin. It is interesting to see from the explanation below that whereas in Britain coins remain legal tender from one monarch’s reign to the next, meaning that coins were often in circulation for a century or more before they got hopelessly worn and illegible, the French called in their currency whenever the king died. Presumably French coins were therefore  kept to a far higher quality than British coinage and French coinage was therefore less susceptible to counterfeiting. British coins, especially in the second half of the eighteenth century, were generally rubbish and stayed that way until the Great Re-coinage in 1814.

There follows the writer’s list of where to stay en route to Paris:

Amiens (a good champagne and a merry landlady) is obviously an excellent place to stay, but perhaps Luzarche is even better with its reference to ‘good things and a handsome Landlady’. France then, as now, has so much to offer….

So we have it: you will be thoroughly searched when entering the city of Paris, but the good news is that for 30 sous a day you can get away with not having to feed your servant because he will make do with your left-overs! That still leaves the food itself….Handy to know what it will cost you for your ‘water bottle, bason and towels’ and very good to know that your tea-making perquisites are obtainable, albeit at a price.

Ah, here we get to the nub of the problem: the Beef and Veal are not much good, so it is always wise to choose the Mutton; the soups are so poor no self-respecting Englishman will go near them  and. as the guide says “I must again remind you, that ’tis dangerous either to drink much Water, or too great draughts of their small wines, for so doing will most assuredly throw you into a violent Looseness, and no Place in the elegant or delicate World is so ill-provided with Conveniences for such a condition as Paris is: Wherefore, that you may have no extraordinary Calls to use them, mix your Water always with the common Wines of about 30 sous a bottle, and drink no wine under that price, for the low pric’d wines are only fit for the servants ….”

So there we have it: the loos in Paris are terrible, and if you fail to water your wine you will assuredly get the runs and live to regret it.

Thomas Rowlandson’s sketch of the Place des Victoires, Paris

The guide goes on to describe the various attractions in Paris which the tourist should see – the Tuileries, the Louvre and so on, before extending the French experience by visiting Versailles. Then, as now, it must have been an impressive sight for the English traveller.

But to end with, the Holy Grail, the list of wines which were drinkable for the visitor to Paris. I like the idea that whereas the knowledgeable wine connoisseurs of England drank fine ‘Burgundies and Clarets’ Parisians had no use of them. They stuck with the ‘tolerable’ Preignac – wine from the Gironde area which we would probably know better as Barsac and Sauternes, I’ll drink to that!

Aug 152017

In my current book,  ‘In Bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire’ I mention the small-but-beautifully-formed ‘pocket rocket’ known as  Gertrude Mahon. As a teenager she decided to run away to France to get married to an impecunious Irish fiddle player, much against her mother’s wishes.  Bow Street runners were sent to intercept the pair before they could leave Dover, but the resourceful Mr Mahon invited his captors to have a few libations with him before he returned with them to go before a judge. He promptly drank them both under the table thereby enabling him to escape to France with young Gertrude. Once in Paris he got  married, got Gertrude pregnant, and then left her for another woman.

It raises the question: just what was it like travelling over to France, both in terms of the Channel crossing, and in terms of packing, safety, cost and so on? My ancestor Richard Hall kept a delightful little guide describing a five-week trip across the English Channel in order to visit Paris and Versailles. Richard  obviously operated a sort of lending library for his close friends, since this volume was numbered 15 and he refers to loan books, by number,  in some of his papers.

The original booklet was published in 1750, priced one shilling, and although the name of the author is not given, the booklet ends on page 38 with the words “I am, Dear Sir, your most assuredly, A.Z., Middle Temple, June 15, 1750”. I thought it might be fun to reproduce part of it, since it gives a vivid picture of what travel was actually like in the middle of the eighteenth century. All aspiring historical novelists please note – this is a chance for you to tell it as it really was….!

So, you started with your portmanteau trunk, acquired your ‘common necessaries’, got yourself a French dictionary and called on your banker for a letter of credit. The writer recommends taking twenty guineas in gold, and as the note at the foot of the page explains, he is assuming a budget of £45 for a single gentleman, £25 each for a pair  travelling together, and a very reasonable £20 a head for four people. Clothing costs were extra…

Extract from R P Bonnington’s ‘Seascape off Calais’, showing a packet boat approaching the shore, and shown courtesy of the British Museum.

For one guinea you could cross the Channel in a ‘tight but good vessel’ and it was handy to be reminded to take a collation of cold meat with you in case the pangs of acute hunger set in. The three bottles of wine probably helped with the tedium. And for those who preferred not to have to travel with hoi polloi, there was much to be said for forking out the five guineas and having the vessel all to yourselves.

It is interesting to hear about the procedures for clearing French customs (apparently the Governor’s aged cook was known to perform the checks of your person, presumably giving you a good pat down with a wooden spoon….). I was intrigued at the idea that your suitcase would then be searched before being plumbed, i.e. sealed with a lead seal so that you were unable to access the contents before you reached Paris.

Handy to know that half a crown slipped into the pocket of the guy at the Customs House was all that was necessary, plus a few pence to the porters and half a crown (three livres) to your attendant ‘who is himself too proud to carry anything bigger than a small hand-basket.’

A nice comment about French horses – whereas in England we are used to good strong steeds, the French will palm you off with something little bigger than a greyhound, so goodness knows how it will cope with a heavy trunk. But in general, with good roads, you will cover six miles in the hour – described as being ‘one post’. Handy hack: always carry a lot of binder twine with you because the French will rip you off if you try and buy cordage to tie your cases down. 5 or 6 livres for a ball of string! Outrageous conduct, quite appalling….

Thomas Rowlandson’s The Paris Diligence

Good to know that the Silver Lion and, later on, the Red Lion, are to be recommended, and Handy Hack number 2 is to insist always on a  carriage  that is hung upon springs and with good glasses (ie clear windows for looking out at the French scenery). I rather like Handy Hack number 3 – ‘pray observe not to be too free with their small wines, which, like the water in Paris, will certainly flux you, if you drink them in draughts.’ Oops, gotta run…

Ah the joys of French bedding! Handy Hack number 4 has to be that you insist on seeing that the linen on the bed is properly dried and aired before use. I like the mental image of French beds piled high with mattresses, topped with damp, clammy sheets. I recall reading a similar complaint in a letter from one of George I’s ministers, complaining about wet bedding on his frequent trips accompanying His Majesty back home to his beloved Hanover.

At this point I will leave off the summary of the “do’s and don’ts” when travelling through France: next time. French money, French wines – and the appalling state of French loos.

My ancestor’s paper cut-out of a coach and four

Apr 192016

Today I am delighted to hand over the reins of the blog to Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, who have just brought out a long-awaited biography on the life of one of the most fascinating courtesans of the Georgian era. So, Sarah and Joanne, take it away …


1 book cover frontGrace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823) is best remembered to history as a courtesan after her divorce from Dr (later Sir) John Eliot (she was first the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley, then the duc d’Orléans and finally the Prince of Wales who was reputed to be the father of her child) and also from her experiences as a prisoner in France during the Revolution. However, her notoriety belied her true self and we hope our biography on Grace and her family will finally give a true picture of her life.

Her maternal family has lain largely hidden from view and it was a thrill when we unlocked Grace’s ancestry to discover that so many more members of her family had experienced adventures too, and we couldn’t help but document them alongside Grace.

It’s a long forgotten fact that Grace’s maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had achieved what Grace herself failed to – she had gone from being the mistress of an earl to being his countess. After bearing several children to Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough, they finally married and she bore him two more children. One of the escapades of Grace’s Mordaunt cousins mentioned in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot ended in disaster.

Having read Mike’s post about George Pocock and his splendid Charvolant, we thought you might enjoy this story about Robinaiana’s sons Henry and Charles Mordaunt, who would definitely have benefitted by some assistance from George Pocock!

Henry Mordaunt, born before his parents’ marriage and therefore ineligible to inherit the earldom, was sent to India to make his fortune as an officer in the East India Company’s army. Whilst home on a visit from India he had borrowed and overturned a coach belonging to his younger brother during an escapade to Portsmouth in the snow with his friend, the memoirist William Hickey (who fortunately left behind an account of their adventures).

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

The younger brother and owner of the coach, Charles Henry, had been born after the 4th Earl had married Robinaiana and, as the only legitimate son, he had succeeded to the earldom after his father’s death in 1779, around eighteen months before this coaching contretemps. For Henry, it was something of a bitter pill to swallow seeing his younger brother inherit and knowing it was denied to him because of an accident of birth and he did, perhaps understandably, have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

The overturned coach could not be repaired and, around March 1781, John Hatchett of Long Acre was contracted by the young earl to build a replacement. The whole project seems to be a fine example of a young gentleman about town with far more money than good sense, and it provides us with a glimpse into the character of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s cousin, the new Lord Peterborough.

 John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett was responsible for the principal improvements in carriages in London between 1770 and 1790. However, although carriages intended for use on the Continent were built to be stronger than those destined for use in England, as the condition of the roads abroad meant that six horses needed to be used to pull the carriage instead of the usual two used at home, adding extra and unnecessary weight was totally impracticable. Though he was advised against it for that very reason, Charles seems to have set out to build what sounds like a very early version of a Gypsy Vardo or travelling caravan, albeit a very elegant and sumptuous one.

Hickey and Henry Mordaunt visited the coach maker to view their progress:

In size it was nearly, if not full as large as the Lord Mayor of London’s state carriage. It accommodated three persons on each side with superabundant room. In the centre there drew up from the bottom, by springs, a table, sufficiently large to dine six persons comfortably. Under the floor were all the requisite apparatus of saucepans, gridiron, &c., for cooking, likewise knives, forks, plates, dishes and other articles of a sideboard. Beneath the seats complete bedding for four persons was stowed, which, when wanted for use, were taken out and placed upon a frame, crossways, four capital beds being made ready in five minutes. In a projection from the back of the body of the carriage and the same forward was ample stowage for wines and all sorts of liquors, handsome cut glass bottles of various sizes being secured in fixed frames, so that no motion, short of an absolute upset, could injure or derange them. In short, this stupendous vehicle was a moving house, having in and about it every convenience appertaining to a mansion. It was finished in point of workmanship and decorations in the highest manner, the Peterborough arms and heraldic ornaments being painted in a style of taste and with a delicacy that did the artist infinite credit.

5 Miseries of Human Life Lewis Walpole LibraryThe young Earl’s object in building so uncommon a vehicle was to ensure for himself every common comfort when travelling upon the Continent, especially through Italy, where by woeful experience he knew the inns were execrable, abounding in dirt and filth, the beds swarming with bugs, fleas and vermin of every description… [William Hickey] asked the coach maker whether he did not apprehend its extraordinary weight might prove so serious as to render it useless, to which the mechanic candidly replied, “Undoubtedly it will, sir. Its weight is an insuperable impediment to its ever being of any real use, much less that for which it is intended, for no number of horses that could be attached together in harness would ever be able to drag it along the dreadful roads of Italy, Germany and many parts of France and so I have taken the liberty of telling his Lordship over and over again since this carriage has been in hand and although I am convinced his own good sense satisfied him of the truth of what I said, he insisted upon my completing the work.

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Whilst Henry and his companion Hickey were at the coachbuilders, Lord Peterborough arrived. He acknowledged the mechanic’s opinion of his coach, agreed that he would probably never be able to use it in the way he first intended, but had no regrets as, “it certainly has been a source of much amusement to me and my friends whilst building.” He offered the carriage to his brother Henry, should it not prove up to travel on the Continent, as, in his opinion, it would suit Henry and his Oriental ‘sultanas’ very well.  More money than sense would certainly seem to be an apt description of the young 5th Earl of Peterborough who had no other object than his own pleasure and entertainment in view.

6 The baron on his voyage to Africa

For more information on Grace’s life and her wider family see An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott available from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

You can also visit us at where we blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.

Feb 052016

Today let us hear it for a Bristol school teacher called George Pocock. O.K., he was mildly eccentric, and yes, maybe his invention of a machine to spank multiple miscreants at the same time was perhaps ahead of its time but hey, discipline was important at the George Pocock Academy at Prospect Place St Michael’s Hill, Bristol. He called his invention the Royal Patent Self-acting Ferule and of course it is a travesty of history that George never made a fortune from his brilliant idea. Synchronised spanking – it could have made it as an Olympic sport….

Instead we have to remember George for a splendid flight of fancy called the  charvolant – a kite-based form of transport which astonished the public and royalty alike, from 1826 onwards.

George had been born in 1774. When he was 26 he had opened his Prospect Place Academy in Bristol with the stated objective of turning boys into successful young businessmen. He was a wonderful eccentric and had devised a number of curious things as an aid to learning, including the idea of celestial globes (inflatable balloons 45 to 65 feet in circumference filled with air, inside which the teacher could stand on a pedestal lecturing his attentive pupils on astronomy. Transparent holes in the globe would mimic the positions of the stars, enabling those inside to get the impression of being in the centre of the Universe admiring it through eye glasses).

George had always been fascinated by kites. He wrote how as “a little tiny boy, I learnt that my paper kite would draw along a stone on the ground, tied to the end of its string.” Years later he strapped his daughter Martha into an arm chair, attached it to a pair of kites, and flew her 300 feet into the air. She subsequently recovered and went on to become the mother of England’s most famous cricketer – W G Grace.

In subsequent experiments he harnessed a pony chaise to a pair of kites and discovered that it was possible to move up to half a ton on the carriage, depending on wind strength. He made a number of ‘charvolants’ for these first horseless carriages, and it was claimed that the Pocock kite carriages could race mail-coaches from Bristol to London and back. A pilot kite was fed out first, followed by one or, if needed, two main kites. The four ropes enabled the “charioteer” to steer even along a road at right angles to the wind. “Thus,” he found, “whatever road the car may travel by a side-wind, the same road it may return by the same wind; and where there is space for traverse, as on plains or downs, it is possible to beat up against the wind.”

To slow down or stop the driver would slacken off one of the ropes, collapsing the main kite and forcing a hoe-like brake into the surface of the carriageway.

In 1826 Pocock obtained a patent for his char-volant and 2 years later demonstrated it at Ascot racecourse to King George IV. Immediately afterwards, he raced against horse-drawn coaches on the road between Staines and Hounslow, winning easily.

The charvolant could allegedly reach speeds of twenty miles per hour. Pocock wrote about journeys from Bristol to Marlborough stating that the charvolant beat one of the London stages to Marlborough by twenty-five minutes, even though the stage had a fifteen minute head start. Of this journey Pocock comments:

“This mode of travelling is of all others the most pleasant: privileged with harnessing the invincible winds, our celestial tandem playfully transpierces the clouds, and our mystic moving car swiftly glides along the surface of the scarcely indented earth; while beholders, snatching a glance at the rapid but noiseless expedition, are led to regard the novel scene rather as a vision than a reality.”

Pocock wrote a book with the handy little title ‘The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails’ which was published in 1827 . In it he describes an instance when the charvolant had the impertinence to overtake the carriage of the Duke of Gloucester – a mark of extreme bad manners. He made up for his rudery by stopping and allowing the Duke to overtake, thereby commending himself to the Duke.

One added advantage of the machine was that it escaped all road tolls. Toll gate operators sought to charge drivers according to the number of horses using the road – but as no horses pulled the charvolant  no fee could be levied. As Pocock remarked

“There is a peculiar satisfaction in not being detained at toll-bars. The pains and the penalties which there arrest common travellers, never intercept this celestial equipage. The Char-volant, then, has the distinguished prerogative of conferring this Royal privilege; and those who travel by kite travel as Kings”.

“The herald-bugle is sounded — the gates fly open — you pass unquestioned” Pocock marveled.

On 18 July 1828 at the Liverpool Regatta ten men crossed the Mersey against strong tides and winds with a kite-drawn two-masted boat, “to register great surprise among the nautical parties who witnessed it” (The Engineer).

Pocock was carried away by the potential of his kite-drawn invention, announcing that he estimated that a party of six might cross the Sahara in 10 days and 10 hours for a total cost of about £80. “Is it too fond a hope that, by the system of æropleustics, those sands may be navigated as the sea, and thus a most speedy and safe communication be opened between the east and the west of the interior?”

He was convinced kites could be used to assist sailing ships i.e. as auxiliary sails. He also suggested using kites in the case of a shipwreck, using them to drop anchor. Pocock does, however, acknowledge that “portions of the plan are not practicable”

For a number of years the use of kites seemed on the point of reaching a breakthrough in everyday transport, but then came the railways and eventually the motorcar, and Mr Pocock and his splendid invention were consigned to history’s rubbish bin… I think it is a shame, so let us hear it for a mad school teacher with a flight of fancy. George, you are a hero!

Aug 102015

P1A fortnight ago I visited London in order to give a talk to the City of Westminster Guides’ Lecturer’s Association – great fun, and very well received, but I have to confess that as a country boy I really don’t like big cities. London always make me feel as if I need a bath…

One of the highlights of the trip was the chance to call on an antiquarian bookseller called Hawk Norton. He publishes a catalogue of books, mostly relating to the City of London, and visiting him at his home in Brentford is like entering an Aladdin’s Cave of wonderful old books. In fact I bought a few, including one I had no idea I wanted (!) namely Paterson’s ‘Roads’. The story behind the book is interesting – Daniel Paterson was born in 1739 and he joined the Army as an Ensign before rising through the ranks to become lieutenant, then captain, then major and finally, on 1 January 1798, lieutenant-colonel. For many years he had been Quarter-Master General of His Majesty’s forces at the Horse Guards in London.

For some reason he decided that what the army really wanted was a book listing all the cross roads in England, and in 1771 he published “A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain, containing:

  1. An Alphabetical List of all the Cities, Boroughs, Market and Sea-port Towns in England and Wales;
  2. The Direct Roads from London to all the Cities, Towns, and Remarkable Villages in England and Wales;
  3. The Cross Roads of England and Wales;
  4. The Principal Direct and Cross Roads of Scotland;
  5. The Circuits of the Judges.”

Not the punchiest of titles! Nevertheless, the army were most appreciative of a book which gave exact marching distances between towns and villages across the land. A second edition followed in 1776 when it was called “Paterson’s British Itinerary: being a new and accurate Delineation and Description of the Roads of Great Britain” and it ran to two volumes.

Extract from Paterson's map showing the route between East Bourne and New Shoreham

Extract from Paterson’s map showing the route between East Bourne and New Shoreham

Subsequent editions sold by their thousands, as Paterson added more and more information, both useful and useless. The original slim volume of  a hundred pages had grown to some seven hundred pages of factual information. By the time it hit its 18th edition in 1826 its title hinted at the encyclopaedic nature of the work. It was now called “Paterson’s roads : being an entirely original and accurate description of all the direct and principal cross roads in England and Wales, with part of the roads of Scotland” and it stated that it included “topographical sketches of the several cities, market towns, and remarkable villages; and descriptive accounts of the principal seats of the nobility and gentry, the antiquities, natural curiosities, and other remarkable objects throughout the Kingdom: the whole re-modelled, augmented, and improved, by the addition of numerous new roads and new admeasurements, and arranged upon a plan at once novel, clear and intelligible, is deduced from the latest and best authorities: including a table of the heights of mountains from the grand trigonometrical survey of the Kingdom; also a table of the population, from the census of 1821; to which is annexed the arrival and departure of the mail together with the rates of postage; and an entirely new set of maps.”

Hey, what’s not to like! Oddly Paterson didn’t have anything to do with any of the books after his fifteenth edition. He was such a recluse that everyone thought that he had died, and thus editions sixteen onwards were authored by Edward Mogg, who assumed that the original author was long gone. Not so, he was leading a hermit-like existence in Clewer, near Windsor. He actually died in 1826.

Stage coach travel was never without its risks - here, Rowlandson's The Runaway Coach shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

Coach travel was never without its risks – here, Rowlandson’s The Runaway Coach, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

Poor Paterson: his magnum opus was dogged by litigation. When he first entered into a contract with the bookseller Thomas Carnan to print and publish the first edition of the book in 1771 he could not have known that other writers would then seek to plagiarise the work, making free use of his maps and pinching his ideas. Indeed the doctrines about copyright which lay behind court decisions made as a result of the Paterson litigation cases continue to resonate in our modern Copyright laws. I rather suspect that all that litigation was responsible for Paterson becoming such a recluse. No wonder he chose to lie low!

p2His work remains as a lively, fascinating picture of the topography of Britain towards the end of the Georgian period. If you want to visualise what it was like to get the stage coach from, say, London Bridge to Exeter (“172 ½ miles”) or how you could branch off during the journey to visit Dorchester, or to see all the coaching stops, distances, sights to be seen etc, then this is invaluable. So, a warm thanks to Hawk Norton for flogging me something I never knew I wanted, and which has proved to be such a compulsive waste of my time that I am continually picking it up and delving into – even though, if truth be told, I am not actually likely to be putting any of the information to practical use! After all, who needs a Paterson’s Roads when you have a SatNav – but I know which one I prefer most. Back it up with one of the fascinating linear maps which were available at the time and you can really imagine the journey…

Bowles Post Chaise Compoanion showing a linear map of the journey from Bourton to Bristol (own copy).

Bowles Post Chaise Companion showing a linear map of the journey from Bourton to Bristol (own copy).

Thank you Paterson – and thank you Hawk! Anyone interested in looking at his catalogue of old and second hand books can contact him on but the link should come with a health warning: the catalogue is fascinating, and could distract you for hours!

Aug 152014

It is fascinating to read of some of the experiments which took place in the Eighteenth Century linked to the carriage – in  particular the idea of a horseless machine. When preparing a talk for the Stamford Georgian Weekend, back in September, I came across this newspaper extract for a self-moving phaeton.


It claims to precede “Mr Moore’s machine” but all I have been able to find out about Francis Moore is that he died in 1787 and a picture of his horseless machine appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site. It dates from 1771.2Only, perhaps I am missing something, but that looks very much like a horse pulling the carriage and isn’t the whole point of a horseless carriage that it well, doesn’t have a horse? Nice big wheels though and it made me think of other design changes.

From the same Lewis Walpole site we get this 1776 “Phaetona, or modern female taste.” I had always understood that the lady in question was Lady Archer, but quite why she has such a ridiculously small pair of horses – perhaps to contrast with her ridiculously high hat and an enormous coiffure – I do not know.3


a High-gig


What I find interesting is the way the carriage has been elevated on high springs, a feature echoed in a print from 1767  entitled “The present age 1767 : address’d to the professors of driving, dressing, ogling, writing, playing, gambling, racing, dancing, duelling, boxing, swearing, humming, building, &c., &c., &c.”


It was by L.P. Boitard, and has far too much going on for me to deal with here – save to mention the wonderful phaeton silhouetted against the rising sun. 5

Now that is what I call pimping your carriage! You would be able to peer into the  first floor windows of all the houses you pass in that, and my, how people would notice you!

In his diaries Richard Hall mentions that the most prevalent colours for carriages in the 1770’s was bright yellow, trimmed with black  and with bear-skin rugs. I suspect that our gentleman in his high chair would be in need of a few rugs if he went out in the winter like that…

And finally, a reminder that even two and a half centuries ago you still needed to pay a licence fee if you were keeping your carriage on the public highway in London: a copy of the receipt for TWO POUNDS paid by Francis Hall (Richard’s father) in 1748.6

Post script: When preparing this post I was trying to remember where I had seen a lovely print showing a fictitious phaeton with a concertina-sprung mechanism. I should have known – it is on the Lewis Walpole Library site here, and appeared in 1776. I love the idea that the fine lady, clad in an ostrich-feathered head-dress, should not be expected to have to clamber down the stairs and instead would be able to glide out through the open window in order to take her seat in the carriage. Nice one!The new fashioned phaeton - sic itur ad astra  1776The new fashioned Phaeton – Sic Itur ad Astra –  “thus the path to the stars.” It reminds me somewhat of the Ambu-lift that airports use to convey wheelchairs up to the aircraft door, so perhaps this particular pimped vehicle isn’t quite as far-fetched as first appears!