The Golden Era of Stagecoaches
The Golden Era of Stagecoaches
The improved road surfaces of the turnpikes encouraged a development of efficient wheeled transport. The earliest passenger coaches of the Turnpike era were very primitive affairs and had little in the way of suspension. Accommodation for passengers was cramped inside, and those unfortunate enough to have booked an outside seat were obliged to sit directly on the roof with their legs dangling over the edge.
By the end of the 18th century coach design had been greatly improved with the introduction of sprung axles, lighter body construction, secure luggage boots and more comfortable seats. The main catalyst for this improvement was the introduction by the Post Office of fast coach services in the 1780s, designed specifically to speed up the distribution of the Royal Mail across the country. By the 1820s, a coach journey was not such a dreadful ordeal, providing that one had the money to secure an inside seat. On stage and mail coaches there were two classes of passenger, the 'insides' and the 'outsides', each coach being licensed to carry a certain number of each class. Both stage and mail carried 4 inside, with stagecoaches carrying up to 12 'on top'. Outside passengers were initially banned from mail coaches - later a maximum of 4 were allowed, so as not to jeopardise the faster timings and to protect the mail from the 'low types' who frequented the cheaper outside seats.
A unique product of the era were the coaching inns. They not only provided accommodation for man and beast, but also acted as stopping points for a network of timetabled coaches - a direct precursor of the railway system. Most coaching inns also provided 'posting' facilities for wealthier travellers, who could hire horses and post-chaise carriages. Blackburn had a number of large inns of this type, most of which have sadly now been demolished including the Old Bull and the Golden Lion (Church Street), the Eagle & Child (Darwen Street), the New Inn (Ainsworth Street) and the Bay Horse (Salford). Still existing in rebuilt form are the Hotel (King Street) and the Old White Bull (Salford).
Each inn was responsible for horsing coaches over an agreed stage, usually extending 10 to 15 miles in each direction. This was known as the 'ground' of the inn and was jealously guarded. When another inn began horsing a rival coach over the same ground the competition was stiff, with racing being a common occurrence and the cause of many fatal coaching accidents.
During the heyday of coaching, spanning the first three decades of the 19th century, Blackburn was relatively well served by both stage and mail coaches. The following selective list gives some idea of their names and destinations:
The Shuttle - to Burnley, Colne, Skipton & Halifax from the Old Bull
The Commercial - to Haslingden from the Old Bull
The North Star - to Liverpool from the Old Bull
The Vice-Chancellor - to Liverpool from the New Inn
The Umpire - to Bolton & Manchester from the Old Bull
The Invincible - to Burnley, Colne, Bradford & Leeds from the Old Bull
The Sociable - to Preston, Lytham & Blackpool from the Eagle & Child
The Hark Forward - to Whalley, Clitheroe & Skipton from the Old Bull
The Royal Mail - to Carlisle & Manchester from the Old Bull
The 1840s saw the stagecoach decline abruptly in the face of new railway competition. However, the romantic image of the stagecoach has endured, not least through the vivid descriptions of contemporary authors such as Dickens. As for the turnpike roads, they continued in operation for another 40-50 years, gradually being absorbed into the Lancashire County Highways division. Blackburn's final toll gate was removed from Shackerley Bar (Preston New Road) in 1890.