Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mr Oldman Travels to London in 1795

Inevitably in the course of writing a book I find myself working out how my characters get from A to B, how long it takes and what it costs them. I have maps of the period, road books, coaching timetables – but nothing beats original documents, so imagine my delight when I found an original expenses claim on EBay!

Sometime in December 1795 Mr Oldman, an agent of Sir John Musgrave of Edenhall near Penrith, set out on a journey to carry out business for his employer and the expenses claim is the one he sent Sir John on his return. (Prices given below are shown as £ s d ie pounds, shillings and pence).
We do not know why Sir John needed Mr Oldham to travel all the way to Kempton Park via York and London, a journey by modern routes of over three hundred miles each way, but the details of the trip are fascinating for anyone wondering what things cost in the Georgian period.

Mr Oldham started out by sharing a post chaise from Penrith to York with two others. His share of this – the hire of the chaise, driver, turnpike tolls and food cost him £2. 4s 8d and, as no cost for overnight accommodation is given, they must have accomplished the hundred miles in the day. Post chaises were an expensive mode of travel (the total bill for the three men was £6.14s), but it was faster than the public stage. The photograph below is of an original postchaise taken in the Mossman Collection (Luton, England).

Whether it was more comfortable was debateable – they had privacy and were not jammed in with total strangers possessing various degrees of personal hygiene, but the post chaises were not known as Yellow Bounders for nothing and travel sickness was not uncommon. The print below shows a post chaise driven by postillions thundering through the countryside causing chaos – although this one does contain an eloping couple, which might explain it!

Mr Oldham needed a day and a night in York to recover, which cost him 10s 6d before he then set out on the stagecoach for London. The bill for that was £3.3s for his ticket, 4s 6d in tips to the drivers, 5s 6d for his luggage and 11s 6d for eating and drinking on the way.
He would have undoubtedly been exhausted by the time he arrived at the White Horse, Fetter Lane in the City of London. The White Horse was a major coaching inn, dating back to 1766 at least, and it survived until 1899 when it was rebuilt and finally demolished in 1989. He would have expected a good room and food at such a reputable inn.
His room cost Mr Oldham 6s and then on top of that he had to find 4s 11d to tip the maid and the waiter, pay for his hot shaving water and for a cab to take him to the local stage coach stop for the Chertsey stage coach which took him to Kempton Park at a cost of 5s.

Finally, after a couple of meetings with his employer (during the course of which Mr Oldham had to lend him 6s 6d) he caught the stage coach back from London to Penrith, apparently going direct that time. It cost him £5 plus £1 for his luggage and £1.7s 9d in sundry expenses, including tips and food. The photgraph below shows the cramped seating inside a stage coach - imagine sharing these thinly upholstered benches with five other people in their thick travelling clothing for over three hundred miles! (Coach in Mossman Collection).

The entire trip cost Sir John £17. 19s . Price comparisons are not easy, but that is approximately £900 ($1,453) in today’s money.

Find details of my books at along with my Et Cetera page of Regency research.

Louise Allen


Jessica Hart said...

Really interesting, Louise! You can't beat original documents for inspiration.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

How fascinating, Louise, thanks for sharing this with us. I am always amazed at how much our Georgian ancestors travelled. It all sounds very convoluted and expesive, but I daresay they would not think much of our current transport system!

Annie Burrows said...

I love the fact that it took him a day and a night in York to recover from travelling in the Yellow Bounder!

Barbara Monajem said...

Such interesting info. When I dig out my long-under-the-bed ms about a journey from London to Lancashire, I will look it over with one eye on your blog. I got my info from secondary sources which were probably good, but nothing is as much fun as original documents. I have a page from a weather diary from 1793 which I still haven't managed to decipher completely, but it's fascinating anyway.

Love the pic of the eloping couple ;)

Ann Lethbridge said...

Oh, that was an expensive trip! I hope their conversation was worth all the effort. What an interesting post.

Deb Marlowe said...

Great blog, Louise! Love the primary info and your pics are great!

Anonymous said...

Under what heading was the document auctioned in eBay?
Personal documents when we can find them are the best source for information.

Cheryl St.John said...

Great blog and fascinating reading.

Louise Allen said...

Hi, Nancy. This was under Ephermera:Paper as I recall. There are a lot of documents for the same archive up there

Raven McAllan said...

This is really interesting, I've been working out how long it will take my heroine to get from London to Ripon in 1817, in her own coach. (and she's not eloping!)

Beth Elliott said...

Possibly Mr Oldman had severe travel sickness when he reached York - or he had secret business. the details are fascinating, Louise. Thank you for a great post [no pun intended].

Susan Bergen said...

I once heard (in a stately home)that owning a coach in those days was nearer to the equivalent of owning a helicopter (as opposed to a car) nowadays. It would make those exorbitant prices much more readily understandable. Fascinating stuff Louise.