Thamesweb Logo

The History Zone Index

Royal Windsor Home Page

By Coach To Windsor

From The Windsor Gazette, 30th May 1874

Punch, we remember, once treated its readers to a study of a plethoric and irascible old gentleman who consigned the railways neck and crop to perdition, and expressed his own earnest and eager anticipation of the coming day when they must be done away with, and the old coaches be put upon the old roads again ! It would have indeed gladdened the heart of that most impracticable of all impracticable Tories, if he could have stood at Hatchett's, in Piccadilly, at 10 o'clock upon a certain Friday morning of not so long ago. The "White Horse Cellars" look "coachey" rather. We have not, indeed, the galleried, half-timbered inn yard, in existence when Mr. Pickwick stumbled upon Sam Weller, and even later; but a cramped and narrow booking office, half a dozen stone steps below: the level of ordinary Piccadilly-walking humanity, is not to be sneezed at as something out of one's common-place experience, especially seeing that the railings above are adorned with nearly a dozen large posters the descriptive bills of as many smart four-horsed coaches which start every day, gentle reader, from the metropolis for some where or other within about thirty miles of London. You may read all the descriptions there. I cannot go through them. There is a coach to St. Albans one to Westerham - one to Wycombe; a Dorking coach - a Tunbridge Wells coach - one to Watford one to Windsor and there are others. They represent grand efforts to keep historical tradition alive-: the healthy tradition of the road, with good horseflesh and good driving upon it. The work with which ten years ago the names of Chandos, Pole and Clithero and Angel were: associated was not a work begun, even in an age of utilitarianism, for hire. We hope it will be long kept agoing, if only for the sake of old association, and seeing that there is no counterbalancing: evil apparent. A gentleman who possesses time and money, may do worse, we submit, than to employ them both in giving his fellow creatures the chance of such a healthful and soul inspiring pleasure as a thirty mile coach ride through England's lovely spring affords in the merry month of May.

We are going to Windsor at 10 this morning; and have chartered a box seat and paid our extra half-crown for it. One of the longest coach rides going, now for Mr. Tiffany is in foreign parts, and the Brighton Tally Ho no longer holds the road let us hope only for a season. One of the longest; for, though it need not be thirty-four miles from Hatchett's to Windsor, we have thirty-four of some of the fairest miles in England for ten shillings when we start upon our journey of three hours and a half from London to the Royal borough. It is a pleasure drive, and meant to be one. We leave the straight road, wilfully, every here and there, in order to touch upon neighbouring beauties. Rather than miss Virginia Water we pay a double toll at Staines - five and fourpence a day to go and return by a short length of road, just because the powers that be will not pay as much honour to our four blood horses - our smart coach and its cheery horn - as to the "crawler" or the hansom of hireling commerce. We, of the Windsor coach, may not drive up the Long Walk to the Royal borough of Windsor ! There is an old law against it, advertised upon posts which the deer stand and look at. That law was made in the days when a stage coach was the one means of travel - was the railway train of to-day. Well, we would not memorialise Her Majesty or ask the Deputy Ranger's permission to run an iron road between the noble double avenue of elms to Windsor; but that the fly at two shillings an hour may rush in where our plucky four-in-hand teamsters fear to tread this is surely an anomaly?

There are some idlers and some loungers at Hatchett's to see us off; but not so many as formerly. The novelty has worn off a little, - the gentlemen couchees are numerous enough to have a "Road Club" of their own opposite - the thing has shaken itself down into something of a regular matter of every day's business. We are off at 10 to a minute, behind a roan and a chestnut mare for leaders, and a brace of fine bays. Five changes and twenty such bits of choice horseflesh during the thirty-four miles - what does this represent in capital? And where is its interest, looking at each day's stable bills? One of the proprietors handles the ribands to-day - and pretty often and right well he handles them - an out and out and out-of-door sportsman from his youth up - a gentleman of a name which we have the best of reasons for holding in respect. And Harry Thorogood is our guard ­ a man whose name might be a fortune to him of itself upon a coach, even apart from his own sterling merits, and from the fact that his father was an old stage coach driver, and that he has two brothers now upon the road. We meet one of the two, driving the Westerham coach up to Hatchett's for Major Furnival, as we roll along Piccadilly and exchange a flourish of horns as we pass by. He sports a dark green suit; and behind Colonel Athorp on the Tunbridge coach which started when we did, was a guard in the old regulation scarlet. I won't say we are more genteel; but we are less prononcé. We don't go beyond a white hat for Mr. Harry. Yet we are strictly professional. Our gentleman Jehu is not above an interchange of that mysterious jog of the elbow, which means so much and is so little, with every passing bus-driver; he will hail the likely-looking wayfarer and ask his patronage for a stage; he likes lending a hand at the harness himself when the change must be rapid; and he can rate the stupid or obstructive brother of the road in terms which must pierce through that erring person's bones to their very marrow, despite all his obstructiveness and stupidity. And we, as we sit by his side, begin to pick up a little technical knowledge (so as to distinguish, for instance, the near from the off leader); we, too, from our elevated position frown forth an endorsement of every passing rebuke and look down upon each successive charioteer who labours under a charge of being "all over the road," with mingled feelings of irony and contempt.

We canter merrily along Piccadilly, and by the great Albert Hall, looming through a morning haze, and past the Memorial, which at last looks like completion, and our horn - none of your curly-wurly things - the long, brazen, wicker-basketed horn of the road, makes its cheery music ever and anon from the throat of Mr. Harry Thorogood. Three passengers have forfeited their booking - more foolish they, for a slight rain has laid the dust, - the sun is beginning to shew signs of coming good temper - it is a capital day for coaching. How we appreciate, as we never did before, the old signs of road travel as we pass them at road-side houses! The 'Coach and Horses' is worthy a wind of the horn as we sweep by it; we believe the 'Jolly Wagoner' with all our hearts; and even the 'Old Pack Horse,' at Turnham Green, gets little sympathy from us for his woes, though he seems by the sign to carry no end of a load. Over the Green and past the market gardens, and in 29 minutes by the clock to the 'Star and Garter,' at Kew, where we take up a lady and little girl as outside passengers, and in four minutes off again behind a team brown and black the waters the Thames looking still and tempting as we cross Kew Bridge and make away for Richmond.

A delicate compliment awaits us there. A triumphal arch enveloped in green is thrown across the roadway, with 'A.M.C. Welcome to Richmond,' in large coloured letters upon it. This is thoughtful; and although it isn't quite finished, we can pardon that for the good intent manifested. We hear some whispering, it is true, about a forthcoming Whit-Monday Odd Fellows' procession; but we reject with scorn the notion that the arch may be erected in their honour rather than ours for what can 'A.M.C.' mean, as a subject for welcome, but 'A Magnificent Coach?' And magnificent it is, as we trot through Richmond lively as ever with ladies' colours and men in boating flannels, and turn the sharp corner by the King's Head, past the wonderful mile post which tells you all about the distance everywhere, and that it is 15 miles to Windsor; so over the broad and sunny Thames again, with a vista of road, straight but not flat, embowered in greenwood and villa surrounded. We take a peep at General Peel's shady villa; and as we pass the French contingent, and catch a glimpse of Orleans House and admire its cedars, and mark the abundant window shutters affected by the Comte de Paris in that stiff and stately mansion of his, close by Twickenham Church, we wonder whether there may yet be a chance for the House of Orleans, which will render these domiciles historical as erst the exiled abode of monarchs of France! Wending our way carefully through Twickenham's narrow streets we reject again with lofty independence the straight road to Windsor, preferring the river side, and the route by Pope's Villa to Bushey Park and Hampton and Staines.

Now we have leisure to appreciate some of the incidental charms of our route. A breath to us from blossom-laden hedges of sweet hawthorn, here and there; the same perfume tossed to us from the more genteel red blossom in a villa garden, or from a garland of honeysuckle crowning its wall. And then the colours of white and red - the profusion of laburnums' golden rain, and delicate tints of lilac! We have not even a powdering of dust to mar all this poetry of splendour, for, to say nothing of last night's rain, the road is well-watered all the way to Hampton. Well, though, that we have so much of the beautiful near at hand, for we can hardly distinguish more distant features of the landscape. When we have passed the Countess of Waldegrave's pretty place at Strawberry Hill - looking rather like a cardboard house, as one of us justly remarks - and are rolling along parallel with the river, we can't distinguish the Star and Garter at Richmond as we ought to do, and Teddington lock is scarcely visible. That the wretched little church at Teddington should be looked after by the Foundation which presents to it, we are all agreed as we pass it by - its ruined age has not even picturesqueness for its apology. In the trim grounds of the Clarence Arms at Teddington, we see something of flowing golden hair and croquet playing; then through the noble avenue of Bushey Park, with the blossom of its chestnuts still unfaded, to the King's Arms at Hampton Court, one hour and twenty-five minutes from Piccadilly.

We have a long stage coming; but our four frisky bays - one of them an old steeple chaser seem ready for it, and prove so, too. We are off again, and, with a peep at the palace roofs and the chapel over the gardens' wall, we make for the river once more, and see Hampton race- course opposite to us, and pass through the village, where a Red Lion swings another sign of welcome right over our heads en passant, reminding one of those oil lamps which hang suspended across narrow streets in the quaint old towns of Normandy. And we arrive at a dreary tract of country, stale, flat, and very unprofitable, known as the Thames Valley, crossed by a new railway with a station which we pass at Sunbury, and with only the romance of by-gone trotting matches, for which it was famous, to lend to it the slightest amount of mitigating interest. So to the Angel and Crown at Staines, with nothing of particular, interest to vary the monotony of our always spirited travel. 

By the way, another passenger attached himself to our fortunes at Hampton - a quadruped, this time, who had the good taste to take up with Mr. Williams and his coach at Windsor the other day, and who, being rewarded by the imposition of a brand new collar for his preference, now runs the stages with a strictly outside season ticket, and barks by way of paying his fare. It is fine when his considerate proprietor orders him inside at the end of a smart canter, because he will not see it, and very soon after our conductor has duly deposited him in the interior, patronized by nobody on a day like this, he duly appears looking out of the window, perched evidently on his hind legs, and ready to commence a new course of running and barking whenever circumstances permit - i.e. so soon as, upon a stoppage, he can jump down again. That dog may be a mongrel in name, but he is a gentleman of pluck in his nature.

It is a short stage from the Angel and Crown at Staines (which we reach in 2 hours 21 minutes from Hatchett's) to Virginia Water, where, at the thriving hostelry of the Wheatsheaf - a roadside 'pub' in the writer's memory, but now the recherché happy hunting ground of white chokered waiters - we change horses for the last time, hoping in 45 minutes to pull up our steaming steeds in Windsor, High-street. Of course Virginia Water does not lie on the direct route from Staines to Windsor; in fact, as before remarked, we have to trace and retrace a good deal of forest road in order to take the Wheatsheaf in, and, moreover, to pay twice the only toll-gate on the route, simply because Her Majesty's Rangers of Windsor Park persist in ranking us below cabs and crawlers, and will not allow us to drive up the Long Walk avenue to Windsor. But we get a glimpse of forest scenery, and sniff the aroma of sturdy pines; and, having partially retraced our steps from the Wheatsheaf hostelry to Staines, trot merrily over; Englefield-green to the sound of Harry Thorogood's horn, falling in with sweet Thames again at the Bells of Ouseley, and thence steering direct for our Windsor goal. We near the end. The three mile elm-avenue, unmatched in Europe, shows its long line before us; and, despite the haze, the battlements of lordly Windsor force themselves upon our vision, and give us greeting as we approach the haven of our happy journey. And we cross that splendid double avenue, gazing up to the York and Lancaster towers on our right, and far away on our left to the vast equestrian statue raised by the fourth George to his father. Then by suburban rows of building up Sheet-street, and past the Infantry Barracks, with the proud castle towers ever before us, and at last, with a flourish of the whip and a wind of the horn, we turn into the High-street of Windsor, and rattle over its stones, the observed of all observers, pulling up before a little crowd at the White Hart threshold, just as the hands of the clock in the Curfew Tower mark 20 minutes to 2. Our coach ride is over, and right heartily have we enjoyed it. We have taken our leaf from the traveling experience of our forefathers, and, for once, have preferred ten miles per hour to forty. It only remains to punish Mr. Johnson's cold collation - a task which we never felt more eminently qualified to discharge - and in the course thereof to drink success to Mr. Williams and his team, and to every other enterprise started under the auspices of a name which we heartily trust may prove always a sure passport to success!

The History Zone Index

Royal Windsor Home Page

To contact us, email Thamesweb.