Misleading AdvertsSources of Information About Stage-Coach Timetables
When researching the stage-coach timetables of early 19th century Cheshire, an advert in the Manchester Courier of 10th May 1828 appeared give exactly the information I was looking for. It shows a long list of stage-coaches departing daily from the Star Inn, Manchester, and describes their routes.
According to the advert, "a quarter before six" in the morning was a particularly busy time: the Union to London, the Eclipse to Birmingham, the Eclipse to Worcester, the Hero to Bristol, the Mercury to Bath, the Times to Exeter, the Union to Norwich, all started their long cross-country journeys at that time.
One can imagine the bustle on Market Street in front of the Star Inn. Seven coaches, as many drivers, guards, ostlers, twenty-eight horses, numerous passengers, all preparing for the road south. But that is all it is - imagination. Not one of those departures really happened. The advert is an example of the art of marketing, not of coaching.
I was interested in these coaches because they would have had to cross Cheshire to reach their destinations, but, however hard I tried, I could find no trace of their passage across the county. Eventually, after much investigation, I believe that passengers who went to the Star at a quarter before six would have been directed as follows.
The seven departures advertised for 05:45 translate into just two real departures, the 06:00 Eclipse to Birmingham, and the 06:30 Champion to Nottingham. But that is only part of the advert (transcribed in full further down this page). Overall, it shows fifty-eight stage-coaches departing daily from the Star, but only thirty of those were real departures. It took detective work to discover which were real, and illustrated just how difficult it is, now, for us to uncover the real stage-coach timetables. There was a vast network of interconnecting stage-coach services spanning the country, but the adverts of the period can give an inflated impression of the numbers of stage-coaches on the road.
The Manchester advertisers were selling a chain of coaching services, using only the name of the last coach in the chain. Misleading, but at least it gives a clue about how the service was provided. Similar adverts in the Liverpool newspapers of the period don't mention coach names, making it even more difficult to distinguish between real and phantom departures.
The time that a stage-coach was scheduled to pass through a town was usually advertised in the local newpaper and/or commercial directory for that town. In theory, the timetable for a route can be re-created by gathering together all the directory entries for the towns en-route.
When I began to study stage-coach timetables I hadn't a clue about the sophisticated marketing methods used, and took the adverts at face value. I worked methodically, listing the coaches by name, trying to trace their routes starting at the beginning and working along. Many a coach appeared to start, and arrive at its destination, but left no trace of its journey. How did the Hero get to Bristol? Which route south from Manchester; via Macclesfield?, Wilmslow?, Knutsford?, Middlewich? I drew a blank on coach after coach. It was the obvious method, but the wrong one.
A better method was to start with towns in the middle of a route, work backwards and forwards, and concentrate on coaches that left traces of their passage. The adverts and directory entries for small towns were more honest than those of the big coaching hubs. A pattern began to emerge. That way the real stage-coach timetables were unravelled.
I encountered many other problems when trying to uncover and re-create the stage-coach timetables. A quarter of a century later, the railway timetables were frozen for a season, and published in Bradshaws. But the stage-coaches competed with each-other, continually changing their timing, routes, and even their names, to gain competitive advantage. Any timetable was only as accurate as the day it was published. Tomorrow it could be different. The temporary nature of these timetables is perhaps one reason why so few are now available for research.
Each year the stage-coaches tried to go slightly faster. Collectors gathering entries for the Directories must have travelled from town to town. It is evident that they visited some towns before a schedule change, and neighbouring towns after. When some routes were collated a few of the times were disjointed, with a some coaches appearing to arrive before they had started, etc. All these things and more had to be taken into account.
The advertised times could be quite arbitrary: 1 a.m. Newcastle, 2 a.m. Stone, 3 a.m. Stafford, 4 a.m. Penkridge, 5 a.m. Wolverhampton, gives the Liverpool to Birmingham Mail the appearance of steady progress south. But how steady? Did it really travel between Newcastle and Stone at 9 mph, Stone to Stafford at 7 mph, Stafford to Penkridge at 6 mph, and Penkridge to Wolverhampton at 10 mph? Perhaps there was a "twenty minute stop for refreshment" hidden somewhere in the timetable.
Before steam, and with the exception of the mail coaches, arrival times were rarely published, although with the interlocking nature of coaching services they were obviously very important. Early adverts contained phrases such as "arrives next morning, God willing". Later adverts included phrases such as "arrives (in Birmingham) in time for the Bristol coach", which gives a clue, and on intermediate stops the arrival was probably just before departure. Almost all the arrival times in my re-created coaching schedules are my estimate.
Coach names were another problem. At one time I thought that the Express and the Royal Express competed with each-other, until I realised that they were one and the same coach. The Royal Sovereign, Royal Bruce, Royal Defiance, and Royal Mail were proudly advertsed, but directories often speak of the Sovereign, the Bruce, the Defiance, and the Mail. The word "Royal" was painted in gold on many coaches, but I suspect it was rarely spoken. It would have been "take the Bruce for Derby, Sir" and "get the horses ready for the Mail, lad".
Duplicate coach names also cause confusion. As the coaching industry expanded, popular names were re-used, and needed to be (but weren't always) pre-fixed by their destination. There was the the Birmingham Eclipse and the Worcester Eclipse, but that prefix didn't help distinguish between the three Independents that ran between Manchester and London. The two that followed the same route had different nicknames in the various towns they both visited. Near Manchester they were the Independent from the Swan, and the Independent from the Albion. Mid-route they were the New Independent and the Old Independent, although towns did not agree on which was the new, and which the old. Near London they become the Independent and Nelson's Independent.
All the above variations were taken into account. The results of the study, travel timetables for the spring of 1830, are as accurate as they can be in the circumstances. They are based on times published in Pigot's National Directory for 1828/9, updated with the changes published in local and national newspapers up until the spring of 1830. A few changes may have been missed, but most of the times will be correct.
If, at five in the an evening on any day in the spring of 1830, you happened to be in King Street, Knutsford, you really should expect to see the John Bull from Chester come clattering up to the Royal George, passing the Aurora from Birmingham changing horses at the White Bear, and the Royal Express from London dropping off passengers at the Angel.
The Advert in Full
The advert transcribed below is from the Manchester Courier of 10th May 1828. At first reading it appears to show fifty-eight stage-coaches departing each day from the Star Hotel, Manchester. But the advert is deceptive, it describes journeys that can be made, not stage-coach departures. Only thirty stage-coaches actually departed from the Star each day. In this transcription the phantom departures are shown in blue, together with links (x) to a list showing how each journey could be achieved.
The following fast COACHES leave the above Inns, at the
- Union, (a) starts at quarter before six, through Congleton, Newcas-
BIRMINGHAM. - Eclipse, starts at a quarter before six, through Wilmslow,
- Eclipse, (e) starts at a quarter before six, through Stafford,
- Hero, (f) starts at a quarter before six, through Birmingham,
- Mercury, (h) starts at a quarter before six, through Broomsgrove,
- Times, (i) starts at a quarter before six, through Birmingham,
- Union, (j) starts at a quarter before six, through Southwell,
NOTTINGHAM. - Champion, starts at half past six, through Stockport,
NEWARK and LINCOLN. - Champion, (k) starts at half-past six, through
SHEFFIELD. - Wellington, starts at half past nine, through Stockport,
WORKSOP and RETFORD.
- Champion, (l) starts at half past six, through
CARLISLE. - New Times, starts at a quarter before five, through Bolton,
- Sir Walter Scott, (m) starts at a quarter before five, through
- New Times, (n) starts at a quarter before five, through Carlisle,
- North Star, starts at a quarter before nine, through Bolton,
- Butterfly, starts at half-past six, through Bolton, Horridge,
- Regulator, starts at a quarter past five, through Eccles,
- Victory, starts at a quarter before six, through Altrincham,
- Prince Regent, (o) starts at a quarter before ten, through
- Highflyer, (p) starts at half-past five, through Chester
- Umpire, starts at half-past nine, through Oldham, Delph, Marsden
- Umpire, (r) starts at half past nine, through Oldham, Marsden,
LONDON. - Independent, starts at a quarter before three, through Macclesfield,
- Herald, (s) starts at a quarter before seven, through Stock-
BIRMINGHAM. - Rocket, starts at a quarter before three, through
- York House Coach, (t) starts at half past two, through Congleton,
- Independent, (u) starts at a quarter before three, through
- Express, (v) starts at a quarter before three, through
- Courier, (w) starts at half-past two, through Birmingham,
- Despatch, (x) starts at a quarter before three, through Birmingham,
- Regulator, (y) starts at half-past two, through Birmingham,
NANTWICH. - Shamrock, starts at half-past twelve, through Altrincham,
NORTHWICH. - Pilot, starts at a quarter before three, through Altrincham,
- Alexander, (z) starts at a quarter before four, through Stamford,
- Telegraph, (β) starts at half-past three, through Leek,
POTTERIES. - Independent Potter, starts at a quarter before three,
BUXTON. - Royal Buxton, starts at half-past two, (during the season)
LEEDS - Regulator, starts at a quarter before one, through Oldham,
WAKEFIELD. - Union, starts at half-past twelve, through Huddersfield,
NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE. - Lord Exmouth, (δ) starts at a quarter before three,
LANCASTER. - Umpire, starts at half-past two, through Bolton, Darwen,
LIVERPOOL - Union, starts at a quarter before two, through Eccles, Irlam,
MACCLESFIELD. - Royal Macclesfield, starts at a quarter past four,
BLACKBURN. - Comet, starts at a quarter before five, through Bolton, and
BOLTON. - Accommodation, starts at half-past five, to the Ship Inn, where
JONES and LANE, Proprietors.
N.B. - The Proprietors will not be accountable for any Parcel or Package
|The journeys shown in blue were probably achieved by the following means:|
|(a)||Eclipse to Birmingham, then Union to London.|
|(b)||Express to Birmingham, then Prince of Wales to London.|
|(c)||Eclipse to Birmingham, overnight in Birmingham, then Tally Ho! to London.|
|(d)||Express to Birmingham, overnight in Birmingham, then Eclipse to London.|
|(e)||Birmingham Eclipse to Wolverhampton, then another Eclipse to Worcester.|
|(f)||Eclipse to Birmingham, overnight in Birmingham, then Hero to Bristol.|
|(g)||Express to Birmingham, overnight in Birmingham, then Duke of Wellington to Bristol.|
|(h)||Eclipse to Birmingham, overnight in Birmingham, then Mercury to Bath.|
|(i)||Eclipse to Birmingham, overnight there, Hero to Bristol, then Times to Exeter.|
|(j)||Nottingham Champion to Mansfield, a coach to Newark, the Rockingham to Stamford, then the Union to Norwich.|
|(k)||Nottingham Champion to Mansfield, then a coach to Newark and Lincoln.|
|(l)||Nottingham Champion to Chesterfield, then a coach to Worksop and Retford.|
|(m)||New Times to Carlisle, then Sir Walter Scott to Edinburgh.|
|(n)||New Times to Carlisle, then Independent to Glasgow.|
|(o)||Dart to Chester, then Prince Regent to Oswestry.|
|(p)||Victory to Chester, then High Flyer to Shrewsbury.|
|(q)||Victory to Chester, lunch there, then Shropshire Hero to Shrewsbury.|
|(r)||Umpire to Leeds, then Wellington to York.|
|(s)||London Umpire alighting at Coventry.|
|(t)||Rocket to Birmingham, then York House Coach to Bath.|
|(u)||Rocket to Birmingham, then Independent to Bristol.|
|(v)||Rocket to Birmingham, then Express to Cheltenham.|
|(w)||Rocket to Birmingham, then Courier to Oxford.|
|(x)||Rocket to Birmingham, Independent to Bristol, then Despatch to Exeter.|
|(y)||Rocket to Birmingham, then Regulator to Leamington.|
|(z)||Telegraph to Leicester, then Alexander to Cambridge.|
|(β)||London Telegraph alighting at Leicester.|
|(δ)||Umpire to Lancaster, then Lord Exmouth to Newcastle-on-Tyne.|
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