The Georgian era

History of transport

During the first half of the 18th century (before 1760's), the roads of Britain grew worse as coach and wagon traffic increased. Deep ruts and holes were made far worse in winter by thick mud. Not all turnpike trusts spent their toll money honestly on repairs and they did not cover all of the main roads. But it was the turnpike trusts who employed road engineers like John Metcalfe (1757-1834) and John Macadam (1756-1836), to build better roads towards the end of the century.

Metcalfe, otherwise known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough (he had been blind since the age of six) built 180 miles of good turnpike road in Yorkshire by building up a raised surface, which drained into side ditches. Thomas Telford, the son of a Scottish shepherd, also realised the importance of good drainage. His roads were deeper-dug with large stones at the bottom and two layers of smaller stones on top to make a curved surface, draining into side-ditches.

Telford's roads were good but expensive. John Macadam's cheaper method involved rolling a hard layer of stones into the soil and covering it with gravel, which would be ground into powder by the iron-rimmed wheels of the traffic.

The speed at which travellers made their journey depended on the money in their wallets. Wealthy people could afford the post chaise, a lightly covered carriage drawn by two or four horses changed every dozen miles or so at inns or posting houses.

Pickfords developed the use of the fly wagon

Stagecoaches were still making regular runs between the chief towns of Britain. On the new surfaces built by road engineers they travelled at up to 12 miles per hour (19kph). Around this time, Pickfords developed the use of the fly-wagon, a cross between the slow goods carrying stage-wagon and the speedy passenger carrying stagecoach.

The fly-wagon was a light, well-sprung vehicle pulled by a team of four-horses with the driver sitting at the front. Carrying passengers and goods, the vehicle covered the 190 miles (304km) between London and Manchester in just four and a half days.

Faster running meant more journeys could be made, and by 1788 a Pickfords wagon was leaving London six days a week to travel to Northampton, Leicester and Derby.

Pickfords shortens London to Manchester journey to 36 hours

In the early 1800's, Pickfords offered an even faster service for parcels. The fly-van, built like a stagecoach, could do London to Manchester journeys in 36 hours.

In Georgian times, there were several famous highwaymen, including Dick Turpin, a hose thief and burglar, Claude Duval, 'a handsome scoundrel', and Captain Maclean, the son of a clergyman. However, by the end of the 18th century, highwaymen were rare; not only were coaches able to travel faster and protected by guards, but passengers would use cheques or paper money rather than risk carrying gold.

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