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The Golden Age of Stage Coaches
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
The 18th and early 19th century heralded the golden age of coach travel. Stage coaches competed with the Mail coaches for passengers. The fares on stage coaches were cheaper but the vehicles were not as comfortable or as well protected as those of the Mail service. By1837 Norfolk’s main links were established to London via Ely, Downham Market, King’s Lynn and Hunstanton. From 1780 macadamised cambered roads had been introduced and provided a harder, drier surface to make travel easier. This with improved carriage designs meant that on these roads speeds of up to 10m.p.h. could now be achieved in most weather conditions. Non turnpike roads were often improved by local landowners to reap the benefits of enclosure and despatch their increased harvests to market.
In 1785 Lynn to Norwich was a seven hour trip. In 1842 the day coach from Lynn to Norwich took four and a half hours at a cost of 10s. for an inside seat and 5s. if you travelled outside.
So if we travelled from Dersingham to Lynn in the 18th/early 19th century we would probably have boarded our stage coach, or perhaps used the services of one of the local carriers, at the sign of The Dun Cow to travel along the Turnpike road past Rice’s Common on our left, with Badger Fen and Cranberry Pasture on our right and on through the Sandringham area. From our vantage point on the coach we would see on our right all the way over the marshes to The Wash. Leaving Sandringham we would pass the road to our left that would take us to the small village of West Newton. The Turnpike would take us through Babingley and then bear right to pass across the bridge over the Babingley River and so up the hill to Castle Rising. (This part of the road now is only open to cyclists and walkers). We would pass the church on our right, the almshouses and then the old castle ruins on the left before continuing through the open countryside with the small village of North Wootton away to our right. In a short distance we would arrive at the equally small sister village of South Wootton and pass on our left the road that would take us to up a long hill and on to Grimston and Hillington. Today of course this is a busy crossroads controlled by traffic lights but then there was no road to the right and as we travelled on towards the village of Gaywood we would be going through open country with a clear view across the marshes on our right down to the River Great Ouse. Perhaps we could have seen the masts of all the ships entering the port of Lynn.
A short distance further on we would cross a bridge over the Gaywood River, close to the present day Marsh Lane, and just before we entered Gaywood where the road from Gayton came in on the left we would have stopped at the Toll gate and the fees would be paid. Then, passing the old Bishop’s Palace, still standing on the right and following the Gaywood River through open country we would finally enter King’s Lynn through the East Gate.
But just how would we have travelled? There were numerous options. From the trade directories of the time we can find
To LYNN REGIS John Mason and Ann Roberson, daily
To LYNN REGIS James Twiss’ cart and a sociable every morning (Sunday excepted) at six
A sociable, short for sociable coach, was an open 4 wheeled carriage which had two double seats facing each other and could be controlled from the interior by the owner-driver or have a box for a coachman. A pair of folding hoods protected the passengers and it could be drawn by a single horse or matching pair.
The cart was a two wheeled wagon drawn by one horse and was a general purpose trade or farm vehicle with no suspension.
Thomas Wales (from Hunstanton) and Daniel Rolin (from Brancaster) call at the Compasses every Monday and Friday at one.
Sharpham (from Brancaster) every Tuesday and Saturday at twelve
Thomas Howell (from Docking) calls at the Rose and Crown every Tuesday and Friday morning
Robert Smith (from Brancaster) calls at the Rose and Crown every Monday at twelve.
All these coaches and carts would use the Turnpike to Lynn and must surely have called at the Dun Cow.
There were several options for the return journey from Lynn.
Rawthorne’s cart left the Black Horse in Chapel Street every Tuesday and Saturday morning and Robinson’s cart went from The Green Dragon in Norfolk Street every evening (Sundays excepted) as far as Heacham.
Wales ‘ cart left from the Plough in King Street every Tuesday and Saturday morning to go through to Hunstanton.
James Twiss’ Van left from The Star in Norfolk Street every afternoon ( Sundays excepted) to travel back to Snettisham. The van was a light, general purpose 4 wheeled trade vehicle with a canvas to; is name derives from caravan.
From the 1839 Trade Directory we learn that Thomas Towler left from Heacham every Thursday morning to travel to Norwich. If he did not pass through our village then doubtless we could have arranged for a carrier to take us to Heacham.
Richard High and William Robinson left from the Green Dragon in Lynn to travel to Heacham by sociable every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Thomas Smith left from The Maid’s Head in Lynn for Snettisham every afternoon at 4.
Another choice we would have had as a passenger would be to use
More detail will be added about specific businesses in the future.