|Mail Changing Horses at the Falcon Inn|
In the Comments section of a recent Casual Friday blog, Anonymous asked:
"Could you clarify how horses were switched out at posting houses? I can't seem to find out what happened to the horses that an owner left at the first stop. Were these privately owned horses boarded until the owner returned and took possession? After reading your blog and the Jane Austen's World blog it really opened my eyes to what a huge operation owning a posting house could be. I believe I read that there could be something like 2000 horses boarded and made ready for the mail coaches. Thanks for any insight!"
As one who loves to write road books, I’ve had a good excuse to acquire works on early 19th C travel, as mentioned here.
It's helpful to remember that the hired horses traveled only between stages, back and forth, and the stages averaged about ten miles apart (short stages over challenging terrain, longer stages over easier ground, generally speaking). Then the horses would go back to the place they came from. A Regency writer once used the U-Haul concept as an analogy.
So your fictional person’s horses probably wouldn’t have gone more than a dozen or so miles from home on the first stage. (Books Like Paterson’s Roads show the coaching routes and the places where one changed horses.) In short, the horses would be easy enough for a servant to retrieve, if the owner isn’t returning soon.
|The Runaway Coach|
According to Cecil Aldin's The Romance of the Road, "The more wealthy sent on relays of horses for the shorter journeys, or might hire post-horses where necessary." Gentlemen who constantly traveled the same route might have their own teams stabled along the way. A good alternative is to hire horses from the outset. In the case you describe, while it’s possible that a gentleman would use his fine carriage horses for the first stage of a long journey, it's equally possible he preferred to use hired animals.
I invite our horse and carriage experts to weigh in on this interesting topic!
Above left: James Pollard, Mail Changing Horses at the Falcon Inn, Waltham Cross, courtesy Wikipedia. Below right: Thomas Rowlandson, The Runaway Coach, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.