Gentlemen Coachmen


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    The early coachmen were thought of as rather rough characters, much given to tippling alcohol


    Coach driving had a romantic and adventurous tinge to it for young gentlemen of the Regency. There had long been clubs such as the Bensinton Driving Club and the Four Horse Club to which gentlemen of the ton would hone their skills. Yet there was nothing like driving two tons of heavily laden coach drawn by 4 straining horses to really challenge an enthusiastic Corinthian, the sporting gentleman of the day.

    Thomas de Quincey in his book 'The Mail Coach' describes the change in attitude:

    "Up to 1804/5 it had been the fixed assumption of the 4 people inside [the mail coach] were of the porcelain variety that they wouldn't excahnge a word of civility with the three miserable delftware outiside. They wouldn't even share a dinner table with them."

    By the 1810's young men were far keener to travel outside, few pages later de Quincey says;

    "Bribing and rebribing to take the ribbons of the mail coach was like the hustings in a contested election, and the horse keeper, ostler or helper was held by the philosopshical at that time to be the most corrupt character in the nations."

    So while it was worth it for the ostlers, and drivers to get a little kick back it was not always safe - coaches were difficult and heavy to drive, they had no brakes and they were heavy cumbersome things. The gentlemen coachmen of the Regency were strictly amateurs and this often showed. Their enthusiasm, or their desire for mischief could overset the coach, and the passengers. It was one of the hazards of the road.

    While no gentlemen actually drove coaches professionally during the Regency (from 1810-20) at least one, the Marquess of Worcester - heir to the Duke of Beaufort, drove coaches as an amateur and later, in the 1830's, became a coach owner himself on the glamourous London-Brighton route. During the early Regency he was so keen on coaching he was known to take the reins often on the routes he travelled. He was no mean driver either and was well-respected by the professional drivers on these routes. Due to his unfortunate liaison with a well known courtesan of the time, Harriette Wilson, Worcester was packed off to Lord Wellington on the Peninsular to take part in the British war against the French there in 1812. During this time he corresponded with one of his old professional coachmen friends.

    Around the late 1820's there was increased gentility in the profession of coaching from its rough and read start - the picture at the top of the page shows the more gentlemanly demeanour of the coach drivers, as with the Guards (right) The Marquis succeeded his father and became the 7th Duke of Beaufort in 1835. He was already driving coaches between Brighton and London and sometime during this period bought a coachline which he renamed "the "Beaufort". This, unfortunately came right at the tail end of the golden age of coaching - Trains soon began to dominate travel. In Stella Margetson's book "JOURNEY BY STAGES" she notes that the Duke would often drive the Brighton coach, leaving the regular coachman to follow on by train. So that means the stage was still running after 1841, when the first train lines were extended down to Brighton. Coaches were not pushed out immediately, but rather pushed to the edges. They kept running where there were no trains, further and further out on the fringes of England. The road wasn't to see a return in popularity until the rise of the car.

    Between 1841, when the railway was opened all the way from London, and 1866, during a period of twenty-five years, coaching, if not dead, at least showed but few and intermittent signs of life. The "Age," which then was owned by Mr. F. W. Capps, was the last coach to run regularly on the direct road to and from London. The 8th duke of Beaufort wrote a series of 23 books on sporting interests in the 1880's, one of which is called DRIVING and includes some of the exploits of his father and the 'gentlemen coachmen'.

    While the Marquess of Worcester drove for fun not money, it was a different story for Sir St Vincent Cotton. He had to find an occupation having lost all his money gaming - or just about. Sir St Vincent Cotton took over the running of the Age (a Coach that ran the Brighton road) sometime in the 1830's - probably the mid to late - It had been run by a Harry Stevenson (educated at Eton) who died in 1830 and seemed to sell it first to a Mr Willaw/ow first. Certainly Sir St Vincent was still running it when the trains came through in the 1840's and almost overnight took away his business.

    The Gentlemen coachmen of the Regency seem all to have done it for laughs, experience rather than as a career until really in the late 1820's early1830's. It is interesting that they all seemed to congregate on the Brighton road which was apparently highly lucrative.

    The earliest mention of a gentleman coachman was in the mid eighteenth century and a rather disrepuatble sort of person. He was the 6th Earl of Salisbury (his son became the 1st Marquis of Salisbury) and he was known as "the Coachman Earl I quote from David Cecil's book "The CECIL'S of HATFIELD HOUSE"

    "He gave up all pretence of behaving in an manner appropriate to his station; he had already created a scandal and amusement on several occassions by appearing in the role of a pblic coachman, driving a stage coach to and from London." The 6th Earl died in 1780.

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