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MEMORIES OF TRAVEL FROM TIVERTON BEFORE THE TRAINS CAME

 

The Angel Hotell, Tiverton c.1900
The Angel Hotel Tiverton

Pictured in a Victorian advertisement

 

From an account by Frederick John Snell:

 

"There were two mail-coaches, one having its headquarters at the Angel hotel, of which Mr. Joseph Cannon was for a great number of years the proprietor; while the other started from the Three Tuns, where the  hostess was a worthy lady, Mrs. Grace Hawkes. The former of these coaches was known par excellence as the "North Devon Coach" and travelled to South Molton via the Rackenford Bell where the horses were changed. This first stage in the journey was eight miles and occupied an hour.

 

The route taken by the other coach was in the direction of Witheridge and the first halt was at No-Man's-Land. The coachman and guard of the mail coaches wore the King's livery - scarlet coats with gold lace around their collar and sleeves - and they always appeared in a fresh suit on the first of May. In the winter when they were necessarily exposed to the utmost severity of the weather they donned great coats with two or three capes. In their way - Tom Westcombe, of the North Devon Coach, is the best remembered of them - they seem to have been smart fellows and the guard, perhaps more than his successor on the railway, expected to be liberally tipped.

 

The London Mail started from the Angel and proceeded by stages to Wellington, Taunton and Bridgewater, where another coach awaited the passengers. These mail coaches were not exactly Government institutions. They seem to have been run by a syndicate. Thus one of the persons who was in partnership with Mr. Cannon was a Mr. Whitmarsh, a wine and spirit merchant of Taunton. The fare to London was 24 shillings, seated on the outside. As the coach started at noon and took twenty-four hours in accomplishing the journey, the unlucky passengers spent the night on the top of the fast conveyance, doubtless shivering with the cold.

 

The shoeing was all done by contract. Every morning the smith examined the horses and saw they were in a fit condition for the journey. One day an employee of a Mr. Stevens (who, I am told, reaped a rich harvest from these contracts) was leading a blind horse through the market, then held in Fore street, when someone struck it with a whip. The spirited animal plunged into a boot & shoe shop and, as the real culprit could not be found, Mr. Stevens was made chargeable for the damage. It was not at all an uncommon thing for blind horses to be used in this service: indeed the pace at which they were driven seem to have had a tendency to produce this complaint. Usually there were four horses attached to a coach, but occasionally when the traffic was heavy, there were six, the two first being called "the leaders", one of which was ridden by a postillion.

 

Over and above the mail coaches, there were several private conveyances of the same description, and the competition between them was exceedingly brisk. A Mr. Lake, who lived opposite the Town hall, ran a coach three times a week between Tiverton and Exeter, and the journey, including a halt for refreshments at the Ruffwell Inn, took two hours in its accomplishment. Besides the ordinary passengers, there were pauper lunatics ( on their way to the County Asylum at Exminster); prisoners on their way to Botany Bay with irons on their legs and the like. On turning each corner, the guard was required to sound his horn as a warning to pedestrians and cart drivers to clear the road, and the strains are said to have been lively and exhilarating and, when the performers were competent, something more, positively delightful music. Nevertheless they did not always answer their purpose, as an instance is recorded of an old man being cruelly run down  in the middle of Fore Street.

 

As showing the high state of intelligence to which the horses were brought by training, I may mention the following circumstance. At the Angel, there was always at a certain hour a relay, and as the time approached, the horses stood ready harnessed and waiting the signal to depart. The moment the guard blew his horn at the corner of Westexe, the noble animals, of their own accord, left the stables and crossed the yard to the  halting-place.

 

Among the private coach owners I may mention Mr. William Paine who himself frequently occupied the box and whose stables were in Birchin Lane. Mr. Paine conducted also a large business as a wine and spirit merchant, and as all persons engaged in the sale of spiritous liquors are forced to have a sign of some kind, he chose as his emblem a Four-in-Hand.

 

Some of the coaches were perfect works of art - notably the Tally-Ho! which had its headquarters in Exeter. On the boot of this vehicle was displayed the figure of Reynard the fox going at full speed with a white tip to his tail.

 

Goods were conveyed in heavy waggons which occupied, I am told, a week in getting to London. I have, however, an advertisement card referring to "Dallimore's Original Vans" in which it is stated that starting from the Swan at Doctor's Commons, they arrived at the Mermaid Yard in Exeter after a journey of only forty hours and one of these vans daily called at Tiverton.

 

I have  omitted to say that several omnibuses used to ply between Tiverton and Exeter in the summer especially for the benefit of excursionists, and children in the street had a ditty which they used to bawl after the happy holiday makers:

"All the way to Exeter

In old Tom Allen's 'bus"

 

 
 
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