Tag Archives: glasgow

All aboard the London to Glasgow mail coach

21 Sep

As part of my search for the location of Thomas KINGHORN’s accident I have been looking once again at the route of the London to Glasgow mail coach. Although I have been focusing quite specifically on the section between between Carlisle and Glasgow, it is interesting to look at the complete journey as a whole.

Obviously the complete journey would not have been made by the same driver, guard or horses (maybe not even the same coach) because the journey time was 57 hours in total. The itinerary below is based on a time bill of 1797, which recorded the stage, distances, time allowed and who was responsible for each section of the route. It is taken from the book The Mail-Coach Men of the late Eighteenth Century by Edmund Vale (Cassell & Company Ltd, London), which includes examples for all the main mail coach routes.

Time Allowed Distance
Day One 8:00 pm Depart General Post-office, London
9:15 pm Whetstone 1 hr 15 mins 10 miles
11:05 pm Brickwall 1 hr 50 mins 14½ miles
12:52 am Baldock 1 hr 47 mins 14½ miles
2:52 am Eaton 2 hrs 18 miles
4:27 am Alconbury Hill 1 hr 35 mins 13 miles
5:17 am Stilton 50 mins 7 miles
7:02 am Stamford 1 hr 45 mins 14 miles
- Breakfast 30 mins
10:22 am Grantham 2 hrs 50 mins 21 miles
12:12 pm Newark 1 hr 50 mins 14 miles
1:57 pm Tuxford 1 hr 45 mins 13 miles
3:27 pm Barnaby Moor 1 hr 30 mins 10½ miles
- Dinner 40 mins
5:52 pm Doncaster 1 hr 45 mins 14 miles
7:57 pm Ferrybridge 2 hrs 5 mins 15 miles
- Supper 30 mins
10:37 pm Wetherby 2 hrs 10 mins 16¾ miles
Day Two 12:07 am Boroughbridge 1 hr 30 mins 12 miles
1:37 am Leeming Lane 1 hr 30 mins 12 miles
2:57 am Catterick Bridge 1 hr 20 mins 11 miles
4:37 am Greta Bridge 1 hr 40 mins 14 miles
6:07 am Spittal (Inn) 1 hr 30 mins 9½ miles
- Breakfast 25 mins
8:47 am Appleby 2 hrs 15 mins 17½ miles
10:42 am Penrith 1 hr 55 mins 14 miles
1:02 pm Carlisle 2 hrs 20 mins 18 miles
- One hour break 1 hr
3:17 pm Longtown 1 hr 15 mins 10 miles
5:12 pm Ecclefeckan 1 hr 55 mins 14 miles
6:32 pm Dinwoodie Green 1 hr 20 mins 11 miles
7:52 pm Moffat 1 hr 20 mins 11 miles
- Refreshment 25 mins
11:07 pm Abingtown 2 hrs 50 mins 19 miles
Day Three 2:47 am Laverock Hall 3 hrs 40 mins 23½ miles
4:57 am Arrive Post-office Glasgow 2 hrs 10 mins 14½ miles
Total 57 hrs 405¾ miles

As you can see it was quite a journey, 57 hours in total from London to Glasgow with very few breaks along the way. In comparison the journey from London to Glasgow by train takes about four and a half hours these days and by coach/bus is about eight and a half hours.

I think about 10 minutes strapped into the seat at the back of the mail coach would have been enough for me, let alone the many hours that the mail guard had to endure in all weathers.

Finding the Broken Bridge: Part One

13 Sep

One of the key sources in finding the location of the bridge where the accident that nearly cost Thomas KINGHORN his life took place has been a book called The Manchester and Glasgow Road: Vol 2 by Charles George Harper. Published by Chapman & Hall Ltd, London in 1907 it is now available for download on Internet Archive.

Chapter 34 of the book describes the road leading up to the bridge, albeit from the opposite direction from which the mail coach was travelling on that fateful night:

The old Glasgow road, that goes up from Moffat past Meikleholmside, and so across Ericstane Muir, is everything a road should not be. It is steep, narrow, exposed, and rugged, and, except as an object-lesson in what our ancestors had to put up with, is a very undesirable route and one in which no one would wish to find himself. It has not even the merit of being picturesque.

Further along the road things did improve, apparently due to the efforts of Thomas Telford:

The road that Telford made continues onward from Beattock in more suave fashion. It follows the glen of Evan Water for nine miles, and the three of them-road, river, and Caledonian Railway-go amicably side by side under the hills, to Beattock Summit and down to Elvanfoot, where the Elvanfoot Inn of other days now stands as a shooting-lodge.

Finally the author describes the bridge where the accident happened:

Elvanfoot Bridge, that carries the road over the Evan (i.e. Avon) Water, looks down upon a pretty scene of rushing stream, boulders, and ferns, or "furruns," as a Scotsman would enunciate the word.

It all sound quite picturesque and the author even includes a sketch of the scene:

The Broken Bridge

Of course if you have read my earlier blog posts (like this one) you will know that on the night of the 25th October 1808 the bridge gave way and sent the mail coach, passengers, driver, guard and horses plummeting into the swollen river below.

The author describes the incident in some detail, although it is not clear where he got his information from, or whether it can be relied on, although the facts do pretty much tie-up with the newspaper reports. This uncertainty is a shame because the book provides an excellent piece of evidence for the exact location of the bridge:

For many years the bridge was not properly mended, funds being scarce on these roads; and the mail, slowing for it, lost five minutes on every journey. The part that fell may still be traced by the shorter lime stalactites hanging from the repaired arch. It is still known as "Broken Bridge," in addition to "Milestone Brig," from the milestone on it, marking the midway distance between Carlisle and Glasgow: "Carlisle 47 1/2 miles. Glasgow 47 miles."

That milestone would be the key to finding the location of the bridge, in the days before detailed Ordnance Survey maps and long before GPS it is a fixed point on a certain route (the road between Glasgow and Carlisle) and even if it wasn’t there now it would probably be shown on earlier maps. If all else failed I could resort to tracing the route on a map and measuring the distance.

Thomas KINGHORN narrowly escapes with his life

15 Apr

I had one of those jaw dropping moments this afternoon, I was idly Googling Thomas KINGHORN (as you do) and one of the results a long way down the list was a link to a book published in 1885 entitled The Royal Mail: Its Curiosities and Romance (by James Wilson Hyde) within the Internet Archive.

Now I haven’t read the entire book yet (I don’t read that quick!), only the section relating to the incident in which Thomas KINGHORN was involved. It literally left me speechless when I read it, my 4x great grandfather involved in such a terrible accident and he lived to tell the tale!

The story is quite long, and well worth reading in full, so apologies for the length of this post (the details about Thomas KINGHORN are in bold at the end of the text):

On the night of Tuesday the 25th October 1808, the road between Carlisle and Glasgow was the scene of a catastrophe which will serve to illustrate in a striking degree one of the perils of the postal service in the mail-coach era. The place where the event now to be described occurred, lies between Beattock and Elvanfoot (about five miles from the latter place), where the highway crosses the Evan Water, a stream which takes its rise near the sources of the Clyde, but whose waters are carried southward into Dumfriesshire. To be more precise, the situation is between two places called Raecleuch and Howcleuch, on the Carlisle road; and a bridge which now spans the water, in lieu of a former bridge, retains by association, to this day, the name of the “Broken Bridge.”

It was at the breaking up of a severe storm of frost and snow, when the rivers were flooded to such an extent as had never been seen by the oldest people in the neighbourhood. The bridge had been but recently built; and though it was afterwards stated that the materials composing the mortar must have been of bad quality, no doubt would seem to have been entertained as to the security of the bridge. The night was dark, and accompanied by both wind and rain elements which frequently usher in a state of thaw. The mail-coach having passed the summit, was speeding along at a good round pace, the “outsiders” doubtless making themselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow, while the “insides,” as we might imagine, had composed themselves into some semblance of sleep, the time being between nine and ten o’clock, when, suddenly and without warning, the whole equipage – horses, coach, driver, guard, and passengers – on reaching the middle of the bridge, went headlong precipitate into the swollen stream through a chasm left by the collapse of the arch. It is by no means easy to realise what the thoughts would be of those concerned in this dreadful experience pitched into a roaring torrent, in a most lonely place, at a late hour on such a night. The actual results were, however, very serious.

The two leading horses were killed outright by the fall, while one of the wheelers was killed by a heavy stone descending upon it from the still impending portions of the wrecked structure. The coach and harness also were utterly destroyed. But, worse still, two outside passengers, one a Mr Lund, a partner in a London house, and the other named Brand, a merchant in Ecclefechan, were killed on the spot, while a lady and three gentlemen who were inside passengers miraculously escaped with their lives, though they were severely bruised. The lady, who had scrambled out of the vehicle, sought refuge on a rock in mid-stream, there remaining prisoner for a time; and by her means a second catastrophe of a similar kind was happily averted. The mail from Carlisle for Glasgow usually exchanged “Good-night” with the south-going coach, when they were running to time, just about the scene of the accident. Fortunately the coach from Carlisle was rather late; but when it did arrive, the lady on the rock, seeing the lights approach, screamed aloud, and thus warned the driver to draw up in time. Succour was now at hand.

Something ludicrous generally finds itself in company with whatever is of a tragic nature. The guard of the Carlisle coach was let down to the place where the lady was, by means of the reins taken from the horses. Hughie Campbell – that was the guard’s name – when deliberating upon the plan of rescue, had some delicacy as to how he should affix the reins to the person of the lady, and called up to those above, “Where will I grip her?” But before he could be otherwise advised, the lady, long enough already on the rock, broke in, “Grip me where you like, but grip me firm,” which observation at once removed Hughie’s difficulty, and set his scruples at ease. The driver of the wrecked coach, Alexander Cooper, was at first thought to have been carried away; but he was afterwards found caught between two stones in the river. He survived the accident only a few weeks – serious injuries to his back proving fatal. As for the guard, Thomas Kinghorn, he was severely cut about the head, but eventually recovered.

It was usual for the coachman and guard over this wild and exposed road to be strapped to their seats in stormy weather; but on this occasion Kinghorn, as it happened, was not strapped, and to this circumstance he attributed his escape from death. When the mail went down, he was sent flying over the bridge, and alighted clear from the wreck of the coach. The dead passengers and the wounded persons were taken by the other coach into Moffat.

It may be added that the fourth horse was got out of its predicament little the worse for the fall, and continued to run for many a day over the same road; but it was always observed to evince great nervousness and excitement whenever it approached the scene of the accident.

My mind is now full of questions and sources to check, my visit to Carlisle Record Office is probably now going to have to include a visit to “Broken Bridge”, and I am going to have to see what the British Postal Museum and Archives have on this accident.

Presumably this report is taken from newspaper accounts or was there an official report, either way I have to get my hands on them and try and find out more details. Are there any other accounts of the accident available? Has anyone else researched it in any depth? Always more questions than answers!

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