Friday 15 August 2014

Posting Inns

by Marie-Louise Jensen

With the rise of travel and tourism in the 18th Century, coaching inns or posting inns began to spring up all over the country. The heyday of coaching, stagecoaches and the mail coaches wasn't until some fifty years after the period I researched for Runaway, but even in 1725, well-heeled travellers were on their way places - to London, to the newly-popular resorts of Bath, Bristol, Tunbridge Wells and Harrogate and to their grand country houses.
As slowly the roads and carriages began to improve and as the upper class became wealthy unlike ever before, they wanted to travel fast.
In order to do this they needed inns that could supply them with changes of horses as they travelled - whether for their own carriage or for a hired carriage. The early stagecoaches were also established by 1725, with regular timetables on popular routes, especially in summer, and stagecoaches too required fresh horses at each stage.
The inns provided refreshments for travellers - either in their coffee rooms or tap rooms, or brought out to the carriage. The change of horses grew more and more efficient until the best inns on the busiest roads prided themselves on scarcely keeping travellers waiting before they set forth once more on their journey. There are very few of these inns surviving, they fell out of use with the advent of the railways, but the George inn in London is one that still retains its traditionally galleried yard and is worth a quick google for images.
My question writing Runaway was not so much what is was like for travellers in these inns. I've read plenty of fictional and historical-fictional accounts of that. I wanted to know what it would be like in the stables. What kind of a life was it for the horses and the stable boys?
It doesn't take a genius to work out that it was a gruelling life. In the busy season most of the horses would do more than one shift with different drivers every time and no guarantee of being well treated. But according to what I've read, it wasn't only the work that shortened most horses' lives.The quality of the stabling was far more of a factor. Often to cut costs, at least some of the stabling would be run-down and inadequate, with holes in the roof, damp and poor care. The horses who were stabled like this had very short lives indeed.
The stable boys, as far as I can work out (information is scarce) hardly fared better. Stable boys slept in the stables with the horses, so whatever the conditions were for the horses, they shared them. They worked long hours under a great deal of pressure for little pay. I don't think it was an enviable life for boy or beast.


Caroline Lawrence said...

Fascinating! In the Wild West, stage horses would run back and forth over the same stretch of 10 to 15 miles on their part of the "relay". They got to know their roads so well they could run without lights on a moonless night! Was it the same in the 18th?

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I'm not quite sure, Caroline! At the time my book is set, stagecoaches hadn't really reached their heyday. Private hire posting horses would cover as many stages as the driver felt was approriate as far as I know. But it's quite likely that they mainly covered the same area. I love the idea that the horses in the Wild West knew the roads in the dark!

Ruan Peat said...

The village I grew up in had over 20 coaching inns at the height! my next door neighbor is an old coaching in and you still have the big doors, the stables at the back (which I and next doors youngest loved to play in) and until a recent refit you could still see some of the features :-) there were three more in the street on the way to the village centre! one is still a pub! in fact there are three working pubs for a village of just over 1200 population :-) (and 6 churches when I was a child but down to two now) and this is after they built 3 new estates on the edges of the village! I loved wandering the village 'finding' the old coaching inns, you could tell by the layout and age of the buildings! I always dreamed of working in the stables of the inn when it was running, but doubt it was anything like I dreamed :-D Thank you for putting it in context, I always thought it was older than 18th century!