Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1714/Mail Coaches

For works with similar titles, see Mail Coaches.

From St. James's Magazine.


The letters, Mr. Palmer proposed, should be carried in strong and well-guarded coaches made expressly for the purpose, while the post-horses should be the finest England could supply; each coach should be accompanied by a man carrying firearms, and the post-boys should be well equipped for any dangers they might encounter: the coaches laden with the London mails were all to start from London at the same hour every evening, and their departure from the country should be so regulated as to ensure as far as possible their simultaneous arrival in London every morning. This plan, admirably as it was in harmony with the English taste, even to every exact detail, and hailed as it was, accordingly, with cheers from the multitude, met with opposition from a large and powerful party, and angry discussions arose in the wayside inns, at the clubs, at the dining-table, in the drawing-room, and even in the streets; for there were in those days, as now, many who set themselves resolutely to oppose any novelty, as fraught with evils, and dangers innumerable. . . . William Pitt, with his usual sagacity, at once comprehended that it was both excellent and practicable: accordingly the country was, after a few more exclamations from the malcontents, brought to the decision that Mr. Palmer's mail-coach theory should be adopted; and Mr. Palmer was installed at the post-office as comptroller-general, which promotion enabled him to perfect all arrangements, and the first mail-coach left London for Bristol on the evening of August 4, 1784. The era of mail-coaches lasted for about half a century; these safely guarded and well-appointed vehicles increasing in number till within two years of their eclipse by the railway, when they had mounted to as many as twenty-seven, which started from the general post-office and Piccadilly every evening. "A short time before the hour of starting, the mail-coaches arrived in the yard around the post-office, from their respective inns, with the passengers already in their places. Through the iron railings, by the light of innumerable lamps, the public could see the process of packing the mail-bags. It was really a fine sight to see twenty of these vehicles drawn up, each occupying the same station night after night; the horses fine and spirited animals; the harness unexceptionally neat, and the coachmen and guards wearing the king's livery. . . . As the clock struck eight, the post-office porters dragged out huge bags, of which the guards of the different mails took charge. In a few minutes each coach, one by one, passed out of the yard, and the sound of the guard's horn became lost in the noise of the streets." About six of the mail-coaches started from the western end of Piccadilly, the bags for their mails being conveyed in light carts under the care of guards. The starting of these was a sight for the people of the West End. At about twenty minutes past eight the mail-carts drove up at great speed, the guards' horns warning passengers to make way; the bags transported to the mail-coaches, the bugles sounded, and each coach successively took its departure. So spirited was the mail-coach travelling, that we find English gentlemen of that period declaring "five years of life" to be "worth giving up" for the privilege of an outside place on a mail-coagh. Crowds would stand all along the line of the mail-coach route from London, to see it dashing past, and to catch the earliest news, especially during the occurrence of stirring events. The result of Queen Caroline's trial was shouted to the waiting crowds from the top of the mail-coach as it fled swiftly through the country roads. Such a brilliant reputation had the post-horses, that all the noblemen in England greatly desired their favorite steeds to make at least one journey with the letter-mail. A sight indeed after the hearts of the English was that of the mail-coach, with horses whose strength, celerity, and spirit were renowned throughout Europe, guards powerful and trusty, and the whole enlivened by the sound of the post-horn.