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The Clyde from the Source to the Sea
Chapter V. Conveyances


Living as we do in prosaic railway times we can only form pictures of the past coaching days, yet, from a well-appointed tourist coach in the Highlands or elsewhere we may gather some idea of what the Boyal Mail Coach with its four spanking horses, driver, and guard must have been, and the excitement which their arrival and departure caused at the towns on the way and at the terminus of the run. Professor Rankine, with happy facility, has thus sung in praise of the older method of transit:

“Ye passengers so bothered
Who snore in rattling trains,
By dusty vapour smothered,
Awake and hear my strains!
I’ll tell you of the good old days,
For ever past and gone,
Before your pestilent railways
Had spoiled all sorts of fun.
When Joe, with light but steady hand,
Hid four high mettled steeds command,
And well was known, through all the land,
The coachman of the ‘ Skylark."

One hundred years ago the mail-coach was called a diligence; and we are told in the first Glasgow Directory that “it sets off from James Buchanan’s Saracen’s Head Inn upon Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at 12 o’clock at night,—arrives up on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays at 9 o’clock at night.” Dr. S. Smiles (Lives of Engineers) tells us:

“With the progress of industry and trade, the easy and rapid transit of persons and goods had come to he regarded as an increasing object of public interest. Fast coaches now run regularly between all the principal towns of England, every effort being Bade, by straightening and shortening the roads, cutting down hills, and carrying embankments across valleys, and viaducts over rivers, to render travelling by the main routes as easy and expeditious as possible. Attention was especially turned to the improvement of the longer routes, and to perfecting the connection of London with the chief towns of Scotland and Ireland. Telford was early called upon to advise as to the repairs of the road between Carlisle and Glasgow, which had been allowed to fall into a wretched state. .    .    .

“Although Glasgow had become a place of considerable wealth and importance, the road to it north of Carlisle continued in a very unsatisfactory state. It was only in July, 1788, that the first mail-coach from London had driven into Glasgow by that route, when it was welcomed by a procession of the citizens on horseback.”

Mr. Smiles further mentions that the road had become so dangerous that the mail was often delayed, and that the bridce over the Evan water fell with the coach, several persons being killed and others injured. At length, in 1816, a Parliamentary grant of £50,000 was made, and the new road carried out by Telford, who executed the work in a substantial manner, with easy gradients, about one in thirty being the steepest inclination.

The railway system has swept away the old mail-coach; but it is curious to note how the tendency to carry on old associations exists amongst us, as in the early railway carriages much similarity existed to the older forms, the “ guards ” sat outside on the top of the carriages, and some of the carriages were open above; the run to Greenock in the open and stand-up vehicles being quite within the memory of many. In the first edition of Chambers "Information for the People", published about 1848, we read: “Carriages are usually divided into three classes, first, second, and third. The first are covered, and resemble three coach bodies united. Each compartment is double-seated, the seats being separated by cushioned arms or supporters, thus preventing the passengers crowding one another. The whole interior is lined, cushioned, carpeted, and lighted; presents as much elegance, and affords as much luxurious ease, as any nobleman’s carriage. The second class carriages— originally very uncomfortable concerns—are now covered and provided with windows, and on some lines are furnished, like the first class, with lamps, and soft cushions for seats. These are not divided into compartments, but are calculated to hold, without crowding, from four to six passengers on each side. The third class carriages were originally quite open, and in some cases entirely unprovided with seats; but now the parliamentary third class—so called from companies being obliged to run them by act of parliament—are very comfortable conveyances, infinitely superior to the outside seat of a mail or stage coach. They are covered and furnished with seats and windows.”

In connection with the opening up of the country by railways the following extract from an interesting work on the Rise and Progress of the Midland Rail-ivay, by Mr. F. S. Williams, is of much interest: “But at length the monopoly even of canals began to be threatened. A new competitor was coming into the field. The Stockton and Darlington Railway had been completed, the Liverpool and Manchester line was in course of construction, and the idea was spreading that railways were likely to succeed. Two or three enterprising men in Leicester shared these impressions, and they conferred on the subject with Mr. John Ellis, their townsman. He replied that he had no practical acquaintance with the making or working of railways; hut he did not discourage the project. At that time he was associated with some other gentlemen in the reclamation of a part of Chat Moss,—that vast morass over which George Stephenson was then carrying the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; and Mr. Ellis promised that he would ask the advice of his friend Stephenson. Accordingly, a week or two afterwards, Mr. Ellis went from Chat Moss in search of the great engineer, and found him very busy, and, we must add, very 'cross,’ in Rain-hill Cutting. ‘ Old George,’ as he was familiarly called, refused to discuss the matter. Mr. Ellis for a while forbore with his friend’s infirmity, and at length induced him to go to a village inn hard by, that they might have a beefsteak together for dinner. Here good humour soon returned; Mr. Ellis explained his plans, and George Stephenson undertook to go over to Leicester and see the country. He did so; and his report as to the practicability of a railway being carried through it was favourable. He was then requested to undertake the office of engineer. This he declined. ‘He had,’ he said, 'thirty-one miles of railway to make, and that was enough for any man at a time.’ But, being asked if he could recommend any one for this service, he mentioned the name of his son Robert, who had recently returned from South America, and the father added that he would himself be responsible that the work should be well done. The matter was so arranged; and when, not long afterwards, a difficulty arose in obtaining the requisite capital for the new undertaking,—in consequence of many of the well-to-do Leicester people being already interested in canals,—George Stephenson further showed his practical interest in the work. ‘ Give me a sheet of paper/ he said to his friend Ellis, ‘ and I will raise the money for you in Liverpool.’ In a short time a complete list of subscribers was returned.

“The Leicester and Swannington line was commenced about the latter end of the year 1830; and one spring morning in 1832 Mr. Ellis said to his son, then a lad of fifteen, ‘Edward,. thou shalt go down with me, and see the new engine get np its steam.’ The machinery had been conveyed by water from Stephenson’s factory at Newcastle-on-Tyne to the West Bridge Wharf at Leicester; it had been put together in a little shed built for its accommodation; it was named ‘The Comet;’ and it was the first locomotive that ever ran south of Manchester.

“On the 17th July, 1832, amid great rejoicings, and the roar of cannon that had been cast for the occasion the new line was opened—a line which brought the long-neglected coal-fields of Leicestershire almost to the door of the growing population and thriving industries of the country town.”

In this same volume is a racy bit of experience by an engine-driver, which shows that the iron horse has his peculiarities like his four-footed namesake. “A good engineman takes a pride like in his engine, as if, you know, she was his own property, and we know what we can coax out of her; and, what’s more, what we can’t. We have to fire the engine on the lightest part of the road, that is, when she’s running down banks and such like, and has the least blast on. If we put coal on when the blast is strong, up the chimney the small coal goes, into the smoke-box, and flies np out of the chimney. It is the fireman, you know, that watches the fire and keeps the steam up by the indicator as the driver requires him; and both driver and fireman have also to keep a sharp look-out ahead.”

The canals, doubtless, suffered by the introduction of the railways, but, strangely enough, we are now coming round to favour once more the inland water-ways; and the gigantic undertaking of the Manchester Canal now commenced, which will cost several millions, and is designed to admit sea-going vessels into the heart of the country, will be one of the greatest engineering works in the country, at least of the present time.

If the changes during a dozen years of the early part of this century were so marked, how shall we record those which have taken place during the seventy years which have elapsed? The one hundred and forty odd thousand persons have grown to some 700,000. The boundaries of the city have extended not only westward, but on all hides, until now it is difficult to define them, and the spaces between the city and neighbouring towns some miles off are getting, by mutual extensions, less and less year by year. The steamboat and the railway train have now far exceeded in power and speed the old flies and diligences, and even the “meteor-like velocity ” of the improved vehicles referred to. Hansom cabs and tram-cars, horse and steam, have superseded the clumsy “noddies” and sedan-chairs; and all these supplemented by telegraph and telephone communication. In addition we have water brought from a Highland loch, and gas for lighting and heating distributed through this industrial hive in a net-work of underground pipes.

The use of steam-power on ordinary roads was early attempted in Glasgow. One road-locomotive, spoken of as Gurney’s engine by old residenters, made some eccentric movements on the south side of the river, and exploded once or twice. These engines met with great opposition, the roads being heavily metalled to prevent their progress, which led in one case to the breaking of an axle in England, and to the final destruction of the Glasgow carriage between Paisley and Glasgow, where, pressing the steam too high to get through the heavily-metalled roadway, the boiler blew up, injuring the passengers. Gurney was a Cornishman, and, like his countryman, Trevethick, seems to have been a born engineer.

Scott Russell’s name is also associated with the Glasgow engine or coach; and it is said that Symington, the designer of the Charlotte Bunch/s steamboat, tried one in Edinburgh. In the Scots Mechanics Magazine for 1 (825 there is a drawing and description given of a propose! steam-carriage, spoken of as follows: “This improvement in the construction of steam-carriages consists in adapting separate engines to the gear of each of the wheels on which the carriage runs, instead of actuating them all by one engine.” It is doubtful if this very direct application of the power would be successful, as the traction-engines and road-steamers of the present day owe part of their success to the geared connection of the engine and the wheels. We also hear of a steam-coach in the Nodes Ambrosiance in 1827, where the Shepherd is speaking of the dry summer of 1826, and of the roads in the south towards Berwick, when North says, The steam-engine mail-coach is to run that road in spring;” and the Shepherd adds, “Is’t? She’ll be a dangerous vehicle—but I’ll tak’ my place in the safety-valve.”


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