Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Changing Horses in the Early 19th Century

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Mail Changing Horses at the Falcon Inn
Loretta reports:

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!

Illustration credits
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.


Carol Dent said...

We used to live next door to an old coaching inn, on the London to Bath road. We regularly found old horseshoes in the garden.

Jeanne_Treat said...

Fascinating post. Shared.

Anonymous said...

There are several books about coaching inns such as Coahing Days and Ways, and So to Bath and one that is the size of a coffee table that has odd articles on coaching. The mail had arrangements with various livery stables where horses were kept fro their exclusive use. The stable thands there were able to change out four horses as quickly as a NASCAR pit crew can change 4 tires. .
Hobson owned a stable from which people could rent horses. He insisted taht the renter had to take the next horse up no matter the condition, hense Hobson's Choice.
Only a man who travelled frequently between two places would keep horses stabled along the way. He would probably use his own horses to the first stage and then leave them there until his return ( if soon) or until a groom could fetch them . They would be brought back to that stable when his staff had word he was returning.
The horses that were leased out were always accompanied by a postilion. This was true even if the carriage had a coachman.

The part for which it is difficult to find information is on whether or not a person could rent a single horse for a journey.

Isobel Carr said...

The part for which it is difficult to find information is on whether or not a person could rent a single horse for a journey.

You could certainly rent job horses while in London (you can find ads for this in period papers).

As a teen, I worked at a country club stable that hand close to 1000 horses (some in stalls, some in paddocks, but most loose on a 500 acre property) and that was QUITE a thing to run and maintain. Adding into it carriages arriving and departing and it would have been carefully orchestrated chaos!

Tsu Dho Nimh said...

"The part for which it is difficult to find information is on whether or not a person could rent a single horse for a journey. "

The travel diaries of John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, refer to renting a horse for some of his travels. It's been decades since I read them, but I think he had to return the horse or arrange for its return.

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