Horses and Coach Proves Faster Than Modern Methods!
In the 1700’s the delivery of mail took weeks or months, if at all. A man or delivery child on a pony or with a cart and horse was expected to take and deliver the mail along roads and paths that were often no better than sheep paths. Enter a Bath theatre owner named John Palmer who decided to do something about the slow service. On the 2nd of August in 1784, the residents of Bristol cheered as the inaugural mail coach thundered down the narrow main street on its way to London. Needless to say the service was a huge success and before long set routes and timetables were put into place. Mail coaches abounded with names like Red Rover, Sporting Times, Tally Ho and their destinations like London, Guilford and Oxford were brightly painted on the doors.
As these massive coaches approached a town, the guard on the back who kept passengers in line and the schedule intact, withdrew his horn from a leather pouch and let loose with: Clear the Road, Coming By or Pulling Up. Imagine the thrill of the arrival of the mail coach for the country dwellers who lived out in the back of beyond and rarely saw another living soul from week to week.
I cannot leave this brief story of mail coaches without a final word: On August 1, 1984 a recreation of this inaugural mail run, and a mail delivery test was made. With coachman John Parker at the reins a mail coach left The Nails public house in Bristol. He drove the 131 mile trip by himself and used five teams of Norwich greys along the way. He pulled up in London at 8.30am the following day. At the same time as he left Bristol, a letter was mailed from there to Post Office headquarters in London.
Parker’s team’ consisted of 35 “helpers”: grooms, farriers, vet, horse box drivers and two liveried guards. His guards couldn’t better the horn blower record of 70 seconds in one continuous breath but his grooms beat the record later set in 1888 of 46 seconds for changing horses and the wheel switch was completed in 41 seconds flat.
In Robert Marks’s article published in This England magazine, he stated that: “the pressure on the reins compared with holding 14 bags of sugar in one hand for 17 hours.”
And who proved faster: Horsepower and man power or motor power and man power? Well, the letter arrived in London days after the coaches arrival…but you probably already figured that one out.