The golden years of stage coaching in Ilford

The Coach and Horses, Ilford by James Pollard, c.1832. Picture: Jef Page

The Coach and Horses, Ilford by James Pollard, c.1832. Picture: Jef Page - Credit: Archant

In this week’s heritage column, Jef Page, chairman of the Ilford Historical Society, takes a look at the time of stage coaching and how artist James Pollard was inspired by his visits to Snaresbrook and Ilford

The great age of stage coaching was 1800-1850, when the Great Essex Road resounded to the sounds of coachmen’s shouts and whip cracks, the thundering of horses’ hooves and ironbound wheels along country lanes.

It’s difficult to realise now how exciting it was to hear the sound of the post horn as it heralded the approach of the mail coach bringing loved ones home or love letters, newspapers and even general election results.

Artist James Pollard (1792-1867) enjoyed recording such scenes.

He came to Ilford and Wanstead at least twice and showed coaches storming past the Eagle at Snaresbrook, or stopping to change horses at the Coach and Horses at Ilford.

In 1832, he showed the Yarmouth Mail coach halting in Ilford (on the Romford Road near where the North Circular passes overhead today) on its way back to Aldgate: the inter-city coach has travelled down from Norfolk making its last change of horses.

The old team are clip-clopping back to the stables for a well-earned rest, whilst all the passengers have assembled, waiting for the off after taking some refreshment.

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The inn’s landlord Mr Glover looks upon the scene from the doorway of his well-appointed country house.

The coach driver has taken up his position on top amongst the men – one of whom is toasting the publican.

The ladies sit inside and the guard, carrying a bag of valuables and letters, makes his way to the back of the coach.

Like car accidents today, coach travel wasn’t always rosy.

Cigar smoke could make the coach’s interior smelly and you could get squashed by the other passengers (as on the Central Line) and if it was raining or snowing and you were sitting on top you’d get frozen or soaking wet.

Speeding was a danger on an overcrowded coach.

In 1823, two coachmen were each heavily fined for recklessly racing through Chelmsford: at 14-15mph!

The number of accidents I‘ve recently seen on Ilford Hill make it just as dangerous now.