24 September 2015

Mail coaches - London departure points

'The mail coaches in their early years departed from the General Post Office in Lombard Street every week-night between 8 and 8.20pm. It was a great sight; and even more spectacular after the new GPO was opened in 1829 in St Martin's le Grand.

During the day the vehicles were greased, cleaned, and polished in the coachyard at Millbank, Westminster. Then, about five o'clock, two horses drew them slowly along the cobbled streets to various inns near the GPO. The Swan with Two Necks, in Lad Lane, a thoroughfare near Gresham Street which, like the inn, has since disappeared, was one of the most important. From its yard departed the mail coaches for Exeter, Bath and Devonport; Salisbury and Exeter; Exeter, Devonport, and Falmouth; Nottingham and Halifax; Birmingham, Shrewsbury, and Holyhead (for Ireland); Peterborough, Lincoln, and Hull; Lichfield, Warrington, and Liverpool; Ipswich and Norwich; Bristol and Pembroke; Manchester, Carlisle, and Port Patrick; Southhampton and Poole; Cirencester and Stroud; Cambridge, King's Lynn, and Wells-next-the-Sea; and Dover.

From the Golden Cross at the Charing Cross end of the Strand mail coaches left for Gloucester and Carmarthen; Dover; Nottingham and Halifax; Hastings; Cirencester and Stroud. From the Bell and Crown, Holborn, the coaches took on passengers for Salisbury and Exeter; Boston and Louth; Cambridge, King's Lynn, and Wells-next-the-Sea. At the Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street, the routes covered were Exeter, Devonport, and Falmouth; and Peterborough, Lincoln, and Hull. At Blossom's Inn, Lawrence Lane, stood the Brighton coach. At the Bull and Mouth, St Martin's Lane, Wetherby, Carlisle, and Glasgow; Nottingham, Sheffield, and Leeds; Worcester and Ludlow; Exeter, Falmouth, and Penzance; Edinburgh and Thurso. From the Saracen's Head, Snow Hill, the coach for Boston and Louth. From the White Horse, Fetter Lane, Portsmouth; and Ipswich and Yarmouth. From the Belle Sauvage, Ludgate Hill, Newmarket and Norwich; and from the Bolt-in-Tun, Fleet Street, Portsmouth and Hastings.

In the yards of these inns the four horses to take the coach on its first stage were harnessed, while the luggage was stowed on board and passengers settled down for their long journey through the night. The scenes must have been as bustling and exciting as anything at a modern railway terminus, and the onlooker at the Swan with Two Necks must have marvelled at the fact that within this single yard travellers could step aboard a vehicle which would take them to the four corners of the country - to Ipswich or Falmouth, Holyhead or Leeds. Eight coaches all due to leave simultaneously to take up their position in a single file outside the GPO was a sight that Londoners loved to see, and was a matter of wide-eyed wonder to the rural traveller on his first visit to the Metropolis'.

- F. George Kay, Royal Mail. The Story of the Posts in England from the Time of Edward IVth to the Present Day, London, 1951, p51-2.
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