Travellers’ tales

Travel difficulties are uppermost in many people’s minds at the moment, but life was much trickier in the eighteenth century. Many roads were virtually impassable, particularly in winter, private carriages were expensive and journeys by public coach were slow, around two hours to cover 12–14 miles; road improvements through turnpike levies did not happen until the second half of the century. Judith Madan wrote of one eventful journey in which a servant was killed:

the roads were intolerable bad & dangerous, so I cannot express my concern & dread… they were forc’d once all to get out of the coach, & the children were carry’d a good way on horse back, before they durst venture them in again, & then so violent the jolting & so deep many of the sloughs, the servants had much adoe to prevent the childrens being thrown against the sides of the coach, or against one another, which occasion’d a misfortune that has given me great pain, & I trust will you, poor Morange was by a violent jolt thrown out, & run over by the wheele which as you may easily suppose left her dead. I am heartily sorry for the accident but thank God it was the worse we met with.

Travelling light was sometimes not an option. Martin Madan sent instructions to his wife who was setting out from Northill (their house in Bedfordshire) to spend some time with her husband in Gloucester. Writing on April 11th, he said:

I have taken 5 bed chambers, two parlours, a kitchen & cellar for which I am to pay two guineas a week, the first week in May I expect you, I shall send a pair of Lady Stapletons horses to Northill to be there the last of this month, if you set out the next day, you will be at Chiltenham the 3d of May. I forgot to tell you sheets & linnen of all sorts you must bring with you, I recommend your bringing a doz of silver knives, forks & spoons, the casters & little salvers, which will be plate enough, & I believe the rest of the plate had better be sent to Mr Palmers – China the landlady is to furnish.

A week later he gave detailed instructions for the route:

I will mention to you the route I wou’d have you take, from Northill to Newport Pagnell, where you’ll dine, & lye at Buckingham, from thence to Chipping Norton. If I remember the distance, you may perform it without baiting, if you shou’d, you may easily lye at Stow in the Wold, & the next day dine at Cheltenham. The first days journey is the only long one, but if you are in the coach at six, you will reach Buckingham in good time.

Nor were travels unaffected by the weather. Martin wrote from Brussels during the War of Austrian Succession:

I told you in my last that our orders were to march the 13th, but the violent snow that fell for 15 days successively has render’d the roads impracticable beyond Maestrich, & as most of the advanced divisions of our army have not been able to stir we were obliged to remain here. The weather is now changed and we are order’d to hold our selves in readiness to march next Teusday, however, I cannot think we shall move so soon, for by a letter to day from Aix la Chapelle we are inform’d that the floods are out, & what gives me great pain, no news is come to us of General Ligoniers command which pass’d the Rhine above ten days ago. Prince George of Hesse said this day that 20 dragoons with their horses were lost by sloughs, I suppose smother’d. Our route will take up 31 days march, so that I may reasonably hope by the length of day & great power of the sun the roads will be much mended before we enter this terrible countrey.

At least they didn’t have to cope with a volcano as well!

Bodleian Library, The Madan papers, MS Eng. Lett. c.284: 100-101, April 18th, 1728; MS. Eng. lett. C.285: 59, April 11th, 1742; 63, April 17th 1742; 87, April 16th, 1743.

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