BRIGHTON AND ITS COACHES.* So much has been written about
Brighton, the Brighton Road, and Brighton Coaches, that it is not easy to imagine that room could be found for another work on the subject. Time, it is to be remembered, is getting on. It is over half-a-century since the Brighton Railway was opened, an event which closed the history of Brighton coaches for business purposes ; and very few actors in the coaching drama are now left amongst us, and these survivors are growing extremely ancient, and are very difficult to find. It is impossible in these days that any original information should be given about the Coaching Era, hence Mr. Blew's work is necessarily a compilation. Such its author readily admits it to be, and as a compilation it has been excellently done. It is not without errors, although these are as few as could reasonably be expected in a work of this kind, founded entirely on second-band information and on the perusal of "a bushel or two of newspaper extracts." Mr. Blew is to be complimented on having given us a book as interesting in what it contains as it is attractive in appearance. He has drawn freely from every source of information at his disposal, and in his comprehensive monograph it is not un- likely that we see the last word on the subject of Brighton coaches.
Avoiding topographical description, which, as he truly says, has been well done by others, Mr. Blew adopts the narrative form, recounts in chronological order the history of the rise and progress of the coaching interest, and records, as far as possible, the appearance and disappearance of the various lines of coaches, the efforts of their proprietors to serve the public and themselves, and the rivalries between them. He tells us much that is pertinent of the difficulties of sundry kinds with which both owners and drivers were beset. We find also many entertaining tales of the road dispersed through the volume. Few of these are new, but only captious persons will object to meeting with them again in these readable pages.
Mr. Blew's opening chapters give a short account of Old Brighton, and of the roads leading thither during the latter half of last century. The earliest coaches ran, or crawled, from Lewes, with a. presumed extension to Brighton. In 1780, a machine left the 'New Ship Inn,' Brighthelmstone, three times • Brighton n,ad i CAI tionhoe. By W. 0. A. Mew, MA. London : John 0. rimmo. 1E04, a week, passing through Steyning ; and about this time we first hear of Ornikfield and Reigate on the road to London. These early machines were known by the expressive name of " God- permits," from the saving clause always included in coaching advertisements. They were an indefinite time on the road, often taking the whole day to complete the journey. By the end of the century such improvements had been made, that there were ten or twelve coaches running daily to and from London, and the journey was performed in eight or nine hours,—which was not bad time for pair-horse coaches, all things considered. In 1801 we find two pair-horse coaches, each leaving London and Brighton on alternate days, and driven by Crosweller and Hine, men who were both destined to become famous on the Brighton road. For some time a four-horse coach had been talked of, and one day Crosweller and Hine saw it coming down Handcrose Hill. Then said Crosweller, "Here it comes at last ; now it behoves us to bo civil." At this period we read that "travelling with post- horses either in one's own carriage or in a post-chaise was the first ' stile,' and it was not until later that stage-coaching was regarded as anything more than third-class travelling." After the four-horse coaches appeared, opinion seems to have changed. Their number soon increased, and Mr. Blew gives a lot of information, showing as far as possible what coaches were started, and by whom, with the details of their perform. ances. In June, 1811, twenty-eight coaches passed daily along the road, and about this time amateur talent began to take its place on. the box-seat. In 1822 there were forty- two coaches running in and out of Brighton to London only, and twenty to other places daily during the season. About 1825, coaching had become a fine art, and was in its highest state of development. The best coaches were perfect in every appointment, and this high state of efficiency was fully main. tained until the completion of the railway swept the entire coaching business away, and the once busy road became a silent and almost deserted highway. In an interesting chapter we are told much about the cross-country coaches. Several ran between Brighton, Eastbourne, and Hastings, others to Tun. bridge Wells and Maidstone. There was a good service to Worthing, Chichester, and Portsmouth ; whilst the Red Rover' ran through to Bristol in fifteen hours (one hundred and thirty-eight miles) ; a mail-coach ran, vid Southampton, to Gloucester ; the Hero' ran on alternate days from Hine's office through Horsham, Guildford, Reading, and Wallingford to Oxford ; and the' Royal Sovereign' travelled to Windsor. After competition set in, it was a difficult thing to make coaches pay. Then there were professional informers who waged war against the coaching fraternity, and often exacted very heavy fines. Horses were constantly carried off by disease, whilst accidents were very frequent and often of a most serious character. Many of these happened to coaches put on for the season by a set of Jews and horsedealers ; they were horsed with very inferior animals, such as rejected thoroughbreds, bought for a few pounds, and worked very soon to death by reckless drivers. Indeed, there was a great deal of cruelty and suffering among the horses. Of course, the beet owners were exceptions to this ; Hine, for example, who treated his horses with much kindness, and often drove them for ten years. Hine was known as the " Father of the Road," and was beloved and respected by all. He is said to have driven one hundred thousand people to and from Brighton without an accident. There was hardly a coach that at some time or other did not come to grief, often with terrible results. Many accidents were doubtless preventible. Racing, the leaders shying or " becoming unmanageable "—a stock phrase in newspaper reports of the day—defective coach or harness, weak horses, bad weather, and bad driving were the usual causes. A frequent source of disaster arose from the coachman leaving his hopes to see after his coach or passengers, for many coaches carried no guard ; or from the horses getting away before the coachman had taken his place at starting. Hence the accident to the Alert' in the King's Road, when "from some unexplained cause the horses tried to bolt." The "unex- plained cause," Mr. Blew may be interested to learn, was this. One of the horses—only the wheelers were in the coach— was quite blind. A man came along carrying a looking-glass, the flashing of which started the other horse, whose sight was also far from perfect, with the result that both rushed across the road and fell over the cliff, as described in these pages. We believe Mr. Blew is wrong in his statement on p. 241 that Mrs. Hine, "widow of the well-known coach proprietor," had opened a shop at 52 East Street. It was Miss Hine, the eldest daughter, and right-hand of her father, who is referred to here. She was a very clever and accomplished woman, and her death, in 1872, called forth a eulogium from the Brighton Herald. Nor is it correct to say that Egerton " was one of the best coachmen on the London and Brighton road." As a matter of fact, he was only possessed of ordinary ability. But these are comparatively small matters.
The opinion that we all ought to be profoundly thankful that we live in the iron and not in the stone age of coaching is strengthened by a perusal of this volume. The railroad is better than the macadam. It is all very well to read in the pages of Dickens how the coach rattled along, and galloped, "Yo ho!" past this, and that, and the other, to the infinite delight and admiration of everybody. Many coaches never attempted a gallop, and many that did, upset during the performance. Even in " the good old times " coachmen were not always civil, nor was the weather invariably fine, and journeys had to be made ender circumstances of no little discomfort, or even of abso- lute misery. Mackintoshes were unknown, and the exposure to outside passengers in bad weather and in the winter must have been terrible. Such travelling could only have been said to give them enjoyment by the most robust or the least truthful of our ancestors.
The illustrations to this volume are from original drawings by J. and G. Temple. They give many points of interest on the Brighton road, and the incidents shown are drawn with spirit. To the public of to-day, a coach is a coach ; but an old coachman would raise the objection that all the coaches in these drawings, of whatever oolour, are precisely alike ; whilst in reality they differed in all matters of detail. The presence of the hansom-Dab in the frontispiece, "The King's Road," demands explanation. There are, we believe, but two hansom- cabs in Brighton, both private ones. At race times others make their appearance, flit uneasily about, and after brief space, are seen no more. Why, then, should one of these vehicles, conspicuous by their absence from the streets of Brighton, be shown so obtrusively careering at top speed along the King's Road ? The index at the end of the volume is of unusual adequacy, and, taking it as a whole, author, illustrators, and publisher are to be complimented on the matter and style of this handsome volume.