Vanessa here, writing with tongue in cheek about Regency transportation.
News of the heroine’s abduction has made its way to the hero. With a quick prayer for strength, he yanks on his tailcoat and readies to chase after the villain and reclaim the lass. How will the hero get to his sweetheart in time? It all depends upon the hero’s fortune and location.
While I love the ballrooms of London or the estates found in the countryside, I also have a fondness for unusual architecture. I started my debut novel, Madeline’s Protector near one of the greatest engineering feats for England, Shropshire’s Ironbridge. The bridge was built in 1779 and was one of the first bridges made of cast iron.
Ironbridge has come to symbolize the start of the Industrial Revolution in England. It is over 100 feet wide and spans the River Severn. During the Regency, the area was heavily mined and filled with iron working operations such as foundries.
Abraham Darby I mastered the use of sand moulds to pour and set cast iron into strong shapes, which could be used for buildings. His great grandson, Abraham Darby, III continued working with iron and perfected this technique.
At twenty-nine years of age, Darby III took the design of the bridge from architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and started construction. It took three months to build the bridge. Constructed from over 1736 casting made in a foundry 500 yards away, the bridge weighs over 378 tons.
The Mystery of the Build
No firsthand accounts existed such as diaries or work notes, so it was a mystery, how the bridge was actually constructed. Most assumed the bridge was started on one side, and then built piece by piece to the other side. In 1997, a sketch was discovered showing the bridge under construction, the only drawing of its kind. The sketch showed the bridge being raised from a barge floating in the river and the casts being winched into place.
Also, by examining the bridge in detail, they discovered each part was cast to order. They put pieces in place. Measured the gap to the next piece and then adjusted the moulds / casts to fit the sections.
While it was being built, the Ironbridge area was filled with foundries. The smoke of the smelting of the iron made the area dark, like a smoke-spewing setting. Today it’s one of the prettiest and is heavily toured with lots of greenery surrounding the bridge.
One Final Tidbit.
No pictures of the Darbys exist like the other iron-masters of the day because they were Quakers and thought, that such renderings would be vane.
Sources: BBC.co.uk, Ironbridge Gorge Museum, and VisitIronBridge.co.uk
“For all races of Teutonic origin the claim is made that they are essentially home-loving people. Yet the Englishman of the sixteenth and seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially of the latter, is seen to have exercised considerable zeal in creating substitutes for that home which, as a Teuton, he ought to have loved above all else,” writes Henry C. Shelley in the preface to his 1909 book Inns and Taverns of Old London.
During the Regency, anyone who could afford to do so took to the miserable roads and toured everything from natural beauties, to mills and jails, to stately country houses. They kept journals. They took notes. They drew pictures all in the hope of getting their observations published one day.
And for these travelers and would-be authors existed a host of guidebooks full of advice. In an 1812 tour guide, Daniel Carless Webb advises, “The carriage of baggage may be justly considered an inconvenience; it is therefore proper to take as few things as possible; these carried in a light green bag (I would on no account recommend a blue one, as that might occasion you to be mistaken for a lawyer).”
One might think that a visit to a gorgeous home full of antiquities and ancient tapestries might yield the kind of glowing praise Wordsworth heaped upon the Lake District. On the contrary, many of these published guides and memoirs of travels gave advice on how nature could be improved upon and details about what was wrong with the country houses visited.
A delightful satire on this is The Tour of Dr. Syntax, an 1812 spoof on the Search for thePicturesque wherein Dr. Syntax declares to his faithful wife, “You well know what my pen can do, and I’ll employ my pencil too: I’ll ride and write, and sketch and print and thus create a real mint: I’ll prose it here, I’ll verse it there and picturesque it everywhere. I’ll do what all have done before; I think I shall and somewhat more.” And so he went off to the Lake District.”
To go on holiday, or even to market from farm or country house, the Regency traveler needed to make that journey on what were called roads, yet usually resembled nothing more than rutted tracks. In other words, the roads in Regency England barely managed to qualify for that nomenclature.
Roads were made of stones roughly broken into the size of bricks and laid in a bed of earth. They weren’t crowned (higher in the middle). Imagine the disaster that caused in a wet country like England, especially in the winter. Rain fell. Mud oozed between those stones, and the stones shifted, creating ruts and an unstable surfaces over which horses stumbled and coaches bounced. In many counties such as Cornwall, the roads simply did not exist beyond mere tracks. Around Bristol, the roads became impassible in the winter.
As a result of these bad roads, coaches often turned over, causing injury and even death to the passengers. Bridges collapsed under the weight of coaches, plunging the occupants and their luggage into the rivers below. And no passenger could count on actually riding the entire journey. Often they had to exit the coach and walk so the horses could haul the vehicle up a muddy or rutted incline. In winter, passengers sometimes froze to death in unheated coaches, as the conveyance slogged through frozen ruts of mud or over ice-slick stone.
Then Thomas Telford came along. From 1815, to 1829, he improved the road between London and Holyhead at the cost of 1,000.00 pounds per mile. His road was grated with a slope from crown to edge to ensure drainage. Stones about ten inches deep were laid upon this surface. He laid stone chippings atop this layer. Finally, a steam or horse-drawn roller compressed the top layer. The chippings compressed thus locked into a smooth mass.
John Macadam improved on this technique even further. Macadam used hand-broken stones around six ounces apiece to form a thin layer. Traffic itself compressed these angular stones into a smooth surface. Or, if one still did not wish to travel on the uncertainty of the roads, one could take a canal boat to many locations.
My thanks to the wonderful traditional Regency author Emily Hendrickson (www.emilyhendrickson.net) for allowing me to use much of her research on road conditions and improvements in the Regency.
In researching what Regency folk did on their trips to vacation towns, I was surprised how well I could relate to what they did. Some of it reminded me of trips to places like Minocqua, Wisconsin.
Because when you’re there, staying in a rustic cabin or resort on a nearby lake, you do a lot of the same things that Regency vacationers did. Bored, or having a cloudy day, we go into town and visit: the library, the coffee shop, perhaps a theater’s open somewhere. One might buy clothes (t-shirts nowadays), or hats (caps, visors), or a newspaper.
Active people took walks, made rendezvous, picnics, tours, visited waterfalls, paid to enter local attractions, went to dances and concerts, and out to breakfast. I’ve done all those activities on vacation.
It would seem our vacations aren’t as completely different as we may have thought.
What’s your favorite vacation activity? Do you go to resort/vacation communities?