London to Birmingham Stage Coach

The London to Birmingham Stage Coach by John Cordrey, 1801. The coach,
full of passengers, includes a wedding party & is eight miles from London.   

As the London to Birmingham stage coach passes by, one friendly passenger raises his hat; another drinks heartily and seems ready to alight rather prematurely. The pace of Cordrey's coach seems very slow and easy, which could not be further from the truth. Our passengers would have been jolted all over the place as they sped over the bumpy roads, and considering that the speed of the coaches was of great importance, the comfort of passengers was often overlooked. For many wealthier travellers, the stage coach was an inferior mode of transport, the genteel Hotel on Birmingham’s Temple Row was proud to state that it did not have the ‘annoyance of stage coaches’ (visit the Hotel). Most of the other main inns in Birmingham had stage coaches running to and from them though, in 1830 you could catch one of several coaches from the Albion, Castle, Fountain, Hen & Chickens, Nelson or Swan everyday.*    

The first regular weekly stage coach between London and Birmingham was initiated by Nicholas Rothwell in 1731 (see poster) and made the journey in two and a half days (down from coaches taking four days in 1659 and three days in 1702).* By 1742 faster coaches, named 'flying coaches', were making the journey in only two days, and different proprietors ran different routes; the Lichfield and Birmingham route began on 12th April (see cutting below) and a competitor, Robert Coles, began his Birmingham and Warwick coach less than a month later, running in the summer season, when the roads were safer.* In 1747 a journey on the Birmingham and Warwick stage coach to London cost 1l 5s, but the traveller was 'answerable for jewels, rings, watches, money, or plate, unless paid for after the rate of three-pence for every twenty shillings value' revealing the possibility of attacks from highwaymen.* In May 1742 an infamous highwayman called Mansell Sansbury who worked the roads near Banbury was finally arrested with an accomplice after stealing from a London to Birmingham stage coach and later being found passed-out drunk in a field. Highwayman was only Sansbury's 'part-time job', as most of the time he worked as a grocer in Banbury.

By 1783 thirty coaches were leaving for London from Birmingham each week, and were run by inn keepers as well as indepenent companies. One London to Birmingham route went via Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon and this was the route that William Hutton travelled in 1784, and subsequently wrote about a year later (though the book relates more to his stay in London than the journey which is a shame). On the route from London, you would travel all night, take breakfast and change horses in Oxford, and then dine in the evening at Stratford before moving on to Birmingham.* Later, in the 1820s, when this journey would only take one day, the stay in Stratford was limited to only a few minutes.* The journey became much quicker, and safer, into the beginning of the nineteenth century, due to some improvements to the roads. Between the 1820s and 1840s was the peak of coach travel; more coaches were leaving and arriving in towns like Birmingham than ever before, and, after the coming of the railways, ever would again.

The railway arrived to compete with stage coach travel from the late 1830s and slowly ate into the trade of coaches, the travel was faster, more comfortable, and it was even declared that it had medical benefits:

'With respect to the comparative advantages, in point of healthful exercise, between riding on the railroad and on the ordinary roads, there can be but one opinion, the oscillatory motion of the Railway carriage being much more salutary than the swinging, jolting motion of the stage coach. Dr. Johnson, a medical man of long experience [...] says, "The former equalises the circulation, promotes digestion, tranquilises the nerves, and often causes sound sleep during the succeeding night; the exercise of this kind of travelling being unaccompanied by that lassitude aching, and fatigue which, in weakly constitutions, is the invariable accompaniment of the ordinary coach travelling, and which so frequently in such constitutions produces sleepless nights"'.*

The 'Tally-Ho' London - Birmingham Stage Coach Passing Whittington
College, Highgate. 1836 by James Pollard

Take a stage coach to London past by visiting this great post on Regency London here. On the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

* References on request

The Cock and the Redd Lyon in Digbeth, The Talbot and The Dogg in Spiceal St, The Dolphin in Corn Cheaping, The Horseshoe in St. Martins Lane, The Swan in High Street , The Garland and the Starr in High Town, The White Hart , Fleur- de- Lis in Moor St, The Angel and Hen and Chickens in High St.