|Temple Bar 1830|
Recently, I explored the mystery of Rotten Row's rules of the road.
Today, I thought we’d look at some general rules of the road for 19th century London.
To being with, there weren’t any. Right. Through most of the 1800s, with a few exceptions, you drove or rode on whatever side of the road you wanted to.
“For much of the century there were, legally, no rules for traffic in most streets. In the 1840s, buses were equipped with two straps that ran along the roof and ended in two rings hooked to the driver’s arms. When passengers wanted to get down on the left side of the road, they pulled the left strap, for the right, the right strap, and the buses veered across the roads to stop as requested. Some street had informal traffic arrangements.” One example was Paternoster Row, home of booksellers, publishers, news agents, etc. Here, One day a month, on “Magazine Day,” “‘the carts and vehicles ... enter the Row from the western end, and draw up with horses’ heads towards Cheapside.’”*
In 1852, because of traffic jams at Marble Arch, the police issued the following notice: “‘Metropolitan stage-carriages are to keep to the left, or proper side, according to the direction in which they are going, and must set down their company on that side. No metropolitan stage–carriage, can be allowed to cross the street or road to take up or set down passengers.’”
These rules are the exceptions to the lack of rules. So let’s picture the traffic.
Temple Bar Gate, which seems rather spacious in the above 1830s painting, was a little more than 20 feet across. It stood in one of London’s three main east-west routes. “Carriages were more than six feet wide, and carts often much more.” Now imagine carts, wagons, carriages (including hackneys), riders, pedestrians, all trying to get from St. Paul’s to Pall Mall, arriving at Temple Bar and making a stupendous bottleneck. The 1870 illustration below shows how much room coaches took up.
|Temple Bar 1870|
*All quotations from Judith Flanders, The Victorian City. (The book's time span actually reaches to pre-Victorian London.)
Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.