Road Travel Down to Margate in 'The Good Old Days'
Featured in the January 2009 handbook.
Before the railway arrived in Margate in 1846, there were only two ways of travelling down from London. Those who preferred sea travel used the Margate hoys, sailing vessels which were supplanted by the arrival of the steamboat in he summer of 1815, when the THAMES was put onto the service following her history making voyage from Scotland to London via the Irish Sea and English Channel. Over the next few years steamboats would take an increasing share of the business of the Hoys away, to the extent that they were virtually driven from the scene. The other method, of course was by road. It must be stated here, however that the term road as we apply it to thoroughfares today hardly applies to the sort of construction faced by the users in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then roads simply consisted of dry, dusty rutted tracks in summer, and which quickly degenerated into wet deeply rutted tracks in winter. The road traveller then was a brave and hardy person who faced not only the inconvenience of a bumpy ride, but also exposure to the vagaries of the weather and the highway man.
It must not be imagined, however that the sophistication of the road transport network in any way resembled the state of the appalling routes over which it was forced to operate. The road routes linked not only with each other but also the canal network and coastal ports, thus offering a fully integrated service which made it possible to move people and goods from one end of the country to he other in a matter of days. Rough the travel might have been, but efficient it certainly was.
For the passenger with little luggage the carriage service sufficed, and for those with an excessive amount of baggage there was a service of wagons to move goods to complement the express carriage, In 1771 the Gentleman's Magazine was advertising that the service between Margate and London was extremely cheap and commodious. One coach service which left London at 5 in the morning was the equivalent of the old workmen's train, which many of us recall from our youth, and you could get a berth on that for twelve shillings, but that would have been one of the larger affairs with passengers inside and out in the weather. For those wanting a more select ride you paid fifteen shillings and left town at the slightly more civilised time of 6 in the morning, sharing your carriage with three others Both of these machines would have delivers their passengers to Canterbury at about the same time, the later lighter carriage overhauling the earlier, heavier coach on the way.
At Canterbury all the passengers transferred to another coach which then set off for Margate, the fare being Four shillings. The whole journey occupied a very long day, as evening the optimum conditions of the summer it took at least thirteen or fourteen hours for the intrepid traveller to arrive here, more than just a little grimy and only too ready to tumble into a welcoming bed.
Setting out daily (with the exception of the Sabbath) from the old Fountain Inn for Canterbury during the season of 1774, was the coach of William Brett, where it connected with the London services. And in the Kentish Gazette for May, 1781, we read that the coach of John Thornton was leaving Margate every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning at 9 in the season (earlier if required). bound for the Dolphin Inn at Canterbury at three shillings and sixpence a head, the advertisement also stated that his coach offered a return service from Canterbury on those same days. By 1796 there were as many as sixteen coaches of various descriptions running to and from Margate during the summer season, and whilst most of these were run in daylight there was a night service by three coaches to various destinations in London, and these were naturally most at risk from the
Highwayman. After the excitement of the road, a holiday would be vital!