British History/Mail coach 1835


QUESTION: Hi Mark,I am writing a short history of a mail coach that crashed on the A40 in 1835 on December 19th , records state that the driver was drunk .A monument was put up on the spot in 1841 to warn coach drivers of the effect and coincidences of driving a coach while drunk . I am trying to find out how the system worked in regard to how did the mail coach service get over tiredness. Did the drivers get changed on a regular basis like the horses . And if the mail coach guard never left the coach how did he sleep .Records state that the mail coach never stopped except for a change of horses ? is this true .Very Kind Regards John .

ANSWER: Hello John.
By a strange coincidence I've not long come across an account of a stage coach that crashed off a bridge into a swollen stream near where I live during bad weather in 1799 killing three passengers.
Drivers were not changed regularly, they usually made the journey in one go. The mail would be taken to a post town where it would be transferred to another coach for the next leg of the journey. Nevertheless these journeys were long and usually overnight. Coaches stopped for meals at certain intervals which were a little longer than stops to change horses. Similar for the guard, he would accompany the mail to the end of the journey, but he wouldn't for example travel from London to Edinburgh all the way, he would only travel on one leg, albeit a long one, of the journey.

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QUESTION: Hi Mark, Thanks for your informative reply .This mail coach left Gloucester on it journey to Carmarthen a distance of 110 miles give or take a mile . The time of year was December ,so even on a good road the coach would be traveling at around 8 - 10 miles an hour .Records do not mention any bad weather like snow or rain ,and from eye witness accounts the crash happened in daylight . Apparently the coach was traveling at full gallop through a narrow stretch of winding mountain road ,when it encountered a hay wagon coming in the other direction . The spot where the crash happened has a cliff wall to its left and a deep cliff top to its right . The lead horses having no room to pass the hay cart turned sharply to the right and plunged down a 221 ft cliff . Unbelievably no passengers including the driver and post guard were seriously injured . The coach was save from plunging into the fast swollen river below by a large ash tree which stopped the coach . the horses harness broke and the team of four plunged into the river . All the horses survived ,unlike the mail coach which had suffered much damage when it hit the tree .So serious was this incident that the post master general had the monument set up on the crash site. It is very unique in the fact that is the only on of its kind ever erected to tell the worry of drinking and driving .My only query is how long would you think allowing for horse stop would the journey take ?

Overnight journeys were the norm simply to avoid accidents such as the one you describe, less traffic on the roads at night meant a quicker journey. However travel in daylight did take place on "feeder" coaches which carried the mail to and from smaller destinations. The average speed in winter was a mere 5 mph, but that is accounted for by the stops every 10-15 miles to change horses and for meals, the actual travelling speed would by faster. So a journey of 110 miles in December would take roughly 20-22 hours, which seems rather a long time to me.
I've found a directory from 1844 which states that the mail coach left Gloucester at 0445 for Carmarthen, so a 20 hour plus journey would aim to arrive around not long after midnight.

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Mark Smith


I have a good basic knowledge of British political history, but my speciality is the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland from 927 AD. Please no social history questions, it's not my strong point and I'm unlikely to answer them.


No professional experience, but a lifelong interest and access to a variety of sources of information.

"A" level in History.

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