Coachlines - December 2023

20.12.23 Liveryman Mark Jurd

The story of the Christmas coach

Thanks to the skill and craftsmanship of London’s coachmakers, the stagecoach was this country’s fastest mode of transport 200 years ago. The role of the stagecoach took on particular importance in December, when friends and family travelled home, boys returned from boarding school and gifts and seasonal fare were distributed all over the country.

Coaching inns were busy places and although smaller than modern passenger terminals, were just as full of hustle and bustle as Heathrow airport and Waterloo Station. London’s coaching inns were the busiest of all. Passengers congregated at such wonderfully named hostelries as: the Bull and Mouth, the Belle Sauvage and the Swan with Two Necks. The brightly painted coaches were an impressive sight and once loaded would leave with timely precision. They too were named to catch the public’s imagination, The Rocket, The Meteor, and, fastest of all, The Quicksilver, which plied the Devonport road at an incredible 12mph. You may of course recognise this coach, as it was renovated by Junior Warden Mark Broadbent, horsed by him at Royal Windsor and displayed as a centrepiece at our annual banquet. The whole business had a certain air of adventure, playing its part in what we coaching enthusiasts refer to as the “romance of the road”.

Fast forward 200 years, and the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers is still inextricably linked to those industries at the forefront of transport technology: maritime, automotive, and aeronautical. These industries may seem worlds apart from the carriage builders of the past, but just as their craftsmen combined all their skill with the technical innovation of the time, so do their modern-day counterparts, who, as a result, are as much coachmakers as their 19th. century colleagues. This cultural heritage is the bedrock on which this company is founded, helping to create “an active Livery investing in young people” and to establish the “coachmakers” of the future.

What follows at this link is a little background to the story of the Christmas coach which I hope may prove entertaining in the run up to the festive season.