Hugeous stones and rutts very deep

Here's Jo, visiting my sister's place in Spain and appreciating the ease of flying and buses and all modern conveniences. This blog has no images because I forgot to bring any and can't find any on line I can legally use.

Travel in fiction.

I find travel times one of the trickiest parts of the past to write about because I struggle to really be there. I've lived in houses with few mod cons and experienced power cuts that remind us of what that's like. I've ridden and walked, but only for amusement so that experience hasn't sunk in. When my characters need to be somewhere I really have to work at being there with them, which always involves slowing them waaaaaaaay down.

Usually it means dealing with what goes on during the journey, when my storytelling mind wants them at their destination. In A Scandalous Countess I do skip over a long journey from Worcestershire to the London area because my heroine is traveling with her mother and thinks gratefully that they've survived, mostly by not talking at all.

Coach travel wasn't smooth, either. Passengers regularly had to get down when the horses had to climb a steep hill and often chose to if the horses had to go down one as the braking systems weren't very reliable.

Travel in the 18th century.

In the mid 18th century, when my Malloren books are set, travel could be really slow because the roads were often atrocious, even the toll roads or turnpikes. The idea behind a toll road was that travelers paid to use it so it could be kept in good condition, but apparently that wasn't always so. I thought I'd share some first hand knowledge from Thomas Young's A six weeks tour, through the southern counties of England and Wales, 1768

"But my dear sir, what am I to say of the roads in this country! The turnpikes! as they have the assurance to call them; and the hardiness to make one pay for. From Chepstow to the half-way house between Newport and Cardiff, they continue mere rocky lanes, full of hugeous stones as big as one's horse, and abominable holes. 

The first six miles from Newport, they were so detestable, and without either direction posts or milestones that I could not well persuade myself I was on the turnpike."

Now that is Wales, notoriously wild! However, consider this.

"The country from Tetford to Oxford is extremely disagreeable, barren, wild, and almost uninhabited. The road called by a vile prostitution of language, a turnpike, but christened, I apprehend, by people who know not what a road is. It is all of chalk stone, of which loose ones are everywhere rolling about to lame horses. It is full of holes, and the rutts very deep; and withal so narrow that I with great difficulty got my chair out of the way of the Witney waggons, and various machines which are perpetually passing." (A chair is what they called a light vehicle, similar to a gig.)

Of course I had to know more about Witney waggons, and discovered that they carried the famous woven wool products of Witney. There's more here.

"Witney is very famous for its woollen manufactory, which consists of what they call kersey pieces, coarse bear skins, and blankets. The two first they make for the North American market, vast quantities being sent up the river St. Lawrence and likewise to New York." (Soon to be affected by those rebellious colonists!)

I don't know what "bear skin" means in the woolen trade. Anyone?

Here's some interesting info about wages in Witney.

"There are above 500 weavers in this town… Journeymen in general, on an average, earn from 10s to 12s a week, all year round, both summer and winter; but they work from four to eight, and in winter by candlelight; the work is of that nature that a boy of fourteen earns as much as a man. One of seven or eight earns by quilling and cornering 1s 6d and 1s 8d a week, and girls the same.

Old women of 60 and 70 earn 6d a day in picking and sorting the wool. A good stout woman can earn from 10d to 1s a day by spinning; and a girl of 14 four or five pence." (I highlighted the ages because again it shows that life expectancy was not short. Even today we might consider 60 and 70 as "old", though those of us in the group could disagree. Clearly such women weren't a wonder to Young.)

"they work from four to eight," Does that mean that they regularly worked from four in the morning till eight at night???? Of course they were working in their homes rather than by the clock, but that's extraordinary. I think Young's "but" indicates that he thought the same.

For reference, he gives these prices for food in that area. I assume they are per pound.

Mutton, 4d

Beef  5d

Veal, 3 1/2

Bacon 8d

butter 6d

Another window into the past, and as usual it throws up interesting details. If you have time I recommend browsing Young's book for life in the 18th century.

Do you find that people in historical fiction travel too easily and too quickly? Or do you prefer a little fudging there rather than have to share their slow journeys and many hazards?

Do you think you'd enjoy a day of coach travel, even on reasonable roads? I doubt I would.

Jo

 

60 thoughts on “Hugeous stones and rutts very deep”

  1. I also regularly wrestle with the travel time issue. I usually write in the Regency, when roads were somewhat better, but even so, motorways they weren’t! So I tend to fudge a bit. “…Once they arrived in London….” and skipping the process by which they got there unless it’s relevant to the story. Unless one is writing a road book, and then the transport becomes almost a character in the story!

    Reply
  2. I also regularly wrestle with the travel time issue. I usually write in the Regency, when roads were somewhat better, but even so, motorways they weren’t! So I tend to fudge a bit. “…Once they arrived in London….” and skipping the process by which they got there unless it’s relevant to the story. Unless one is writing a road book, and then the transport becomes almost a character in the story!

    Reply
  3. I also regularly wrestle with the travel time issue. I usually write in the Regency, when roads were somewhat better, but even so, motorways they weren’t! So I tend to fudge a bit. “…Once they arrived in London….” and skipping the process by which they got there unless it’s relevant to the story. Unless one is writing a road book, and then the transport becomes almost a character in the story!

    Reply
  4. I also regularly wrestle with the travel time issue. I usually write in the Regency, when roads were somewhat better, but even so, motorways they weren’t! So I tend to fudge a bit. “…Once they arrived in London….” and skipping the process by which they got there unless it’s relevant to the story. Unless one is writing a road book, and then the transport becomes almost a character in the story!

    Reply
  5. I also regularly wrestle with the travel time issue. I usually write in the Regency, when roads were somewhat better, but even so, motorways they weren’t! So I tend to fudge a bit. “…Once they arrived in London….” and skipping the process by which they got there unless it’s relevant to the story. Unless one is writing a road book, and then the transport becomes almost a character in the story!

    Reply
  6. Bearskin (per Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles) is a heavy twill woolen overcoating with a nap on the face. Sort of a heavy wool flannel. I’m so going to have to use that in a book!
    And I agree with you about traveling. My last book is a road book. I made it as fast as was humanly (horsely?) possible, assumed perfect road conditions and fast changes, but the pace still drove my editor nuts. I ended up removing all specific mentions of days/weeks to try and help disguise it.

    Reply
  7. Bearskin (per Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles) is a heavy twill woolen overcoating with a nap on the face. Sort of a heavy wool flannel. I’m so going to have to use that in a book!
    And I agree with you about traveling. My last book is a road book. I made it as fast as was humanly (horsely?) possible, assumed perfect road conditions and fast changes, but the pace still drove my editor nuts. I ended up removing all specific mentions of days/weeks to try and help disguise it.

    Reply
  8. Bearskin (per Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles) is a heavy twill woolen overcoating with a nap on the face. Sort of a heavy wool flannel. I’m so going to have to use that in a book!
    And I agree with you about traveling. My last book is a road book. I made it as fast as was humanly (horsely?) possible, assumed perfect road conditions and fast changes, but the pace still drove my editor nuts. I ended up removing all specific mentions of days/weeks to try and help disguise it.

    Reply
  9. Bearskin (per Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles) is a heavy twill woolen overcoating with a nap on the face. Sort of a heavy wool flannel. I’m so going to have to use that in a book!
    And I agree with you about traveling. My last book is a road book. I made it as fast as was humanly (horsely?) possible, assumed perfect road conditions and fast changes, but the pace still drove my editor nuts. I ended up removing all specific mentions of days/weeks to try and help disguise it.

    Reply
  10. Bearskin (per Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles) is a heavy twill woolen overcoating with a nap on the face. Sort of a heavy wool flannel. I’m so going to have to use that in a book!
    And I agree with you about traveling. My last book is a road book. I made it as fast as was humanly (horsely?) possible, assumed perfect road conditions and fast changes, but the pace still drove my editor nuts. I ended up removing all specific mentions of days/weeks to try and help disguise it.

    Reply
  11. I know about ruts in the road. Our two tenths of a mile driveway was filled with deep, deep ruts when we bought the property…after copious DG and recycled asphalt and several gradings and folding green stuff, it is in reasonablely good condition.
    I think the travel time and delays tend to give the reader a sense of what it was like way back in history.

    Reply
  12. I know about ruts in the road. Our two tenths of a mile driveway was filled with deep, deep ruts when we bought the property…after copious DG and recycled asphalt and several gradings and folding green stuff, it is in reasonablely good condition.
    I think the travel time and delays tend to give the reader a sense of what it was like way back in history.

    Reply
  13. I know about ruts in the road. Our two tenths of a mile driveway was filled with deep, deep ruts when we bought the property…after copious DG and recycled asphalt and several gradings and folding green stuff, it is in reasonablely good condition.
    I think the travel time and delays tend to give the reader a sense of what it was like way back in history.

    Reply
  14. I know about ruts in the road. Our two tenths of a mile driveway was filled with deep, deep ruts when we bought the property…after copious DG and recycled asphalt and several gradings and folding green stuff, it is in reasonablely good condition.
    I think the travel time and delays tend to give the reader a sense of what it was like way back in history.

    Reply
  15. I know about ruts in the road. Our two tenths of a mile driveway was filled with deep, deep ruts when we bought the property…after copious DG and recycled asphalt and several gradings and folding green stuff, it is in reasonablely good condition.
    I think the travel time and delays tend to give the reader a sense of what it was like way back in history.

    Reply
  16. Great post, Jo. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy coach travel at all — long, slow journeys of continuous jolting and bumping and swaying, and without the excellent spring systems we have today.
    I’ve written a quite few journeys in my books, but I tend to skip over the parts that have nothing to do with the story. I wrote a short story recently in which the details of the journey are relevant, so are very much included.

    Reply
  17. Great post, Jo. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy coach travel at all — long, slow journeys of continuous jolting and bumping and swaying, and without the excellent spring systems we have today.
    I’ve written a quite few journeys in my books, but I tend to skip over the parts that have nothing to do with the story. I wrote a short story recently in which the details of the journey are relevant, so are very much included.

    Reply
  18. Great post, Jo. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy coach travel at all — long, slow journeys of continuous jolting and bumping and swaying, and without the excellent spring systems we have today.
    I’ve written a quite few journeys in my books, but I tend to skip over the parts that have nothing to do with the story. I wrote a short story recently in which the details of the journey are relevant, so are very much included.

    Reply
  19. Great post, Jo. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy coach travel at all — long, slow journeys of continuous jolting and bumping and swaying, and without the excellent spring systems we have today.
    I’ve written a quite few journeys in my books, but I tend to skip over the parts that have nothing to do with the story. I wrote a short story recently in which the details of the journey are relevant, so are very much included.

    Reply
  20. Great post, Jo. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy coach travel at all — long, slow journeys of continuous jolting and bumping and swaying, and without the excellent spring systems we have today.
    I’ve written a quite few journeys in my books, but I tend to skip over the parts that have nothing to do with the story. I wrote a short story recently in which the details of the journey are relevant, so are very much included.

    Reply
  21. Though I know people had to travel, I’m grateful for the authors *points to the left* who make their journeys short and sweet or don’t go into great detail. As a reader, we want some of the fantasy that transports us to an earlier time. For my reality, I drive the mile down the dirt road I live on where even my truck bottoms out at the bottom of the hill. I can’t imagine days of that.
    As a writer, I’m pretty sparse in my descriptions anyway so my readers don’t have too many rocks to worry about ;o)

    Reply
  22. Though I know people had to travel, I’m grateful for the authors *points to the left* who make their journeys short and sweet or don’t go into great detail. As a reader, we want some of the fantasy that transports us to an earlier time. For my reality, I drive the mile down the dirt road I live on where even my truck bottoms out at the bottom of the hill. I can’t imagine days of that.
    As a writer, I’m pretty sparse in my descriptions anyway so my readers don’t have too many rocks to worry about ;o)

    Reply
  23. Though I know people had to travel, I’m grateful for the authors *points to the left* who make their journeys short and sweet or don’t go into great detail. As a reader, we want some of the fantasy that transports us to an earlier time. For my reality, I drive the mile down the dirt road I live on where even my truck bottoms out at the bottom of the hill. I can’t imagine days of that.
    As a writer, I’m pretty sparse in my descriptions anyway so my readers don’t have too many rocks to worry about ;o)

    Reply
  24. Though I know people had to travel, I’m grateful for the authors *points to the left* who make their journeys short and sweet or don’t go into great detail. As a reader, we want some of the fantasy that transports us to an earlier time. For my reality, I drive the mile down the dirt road I live on where even my truck bottoms out at the bottom of the hill. I can’t imagine days of that.
    As a writer, I’m pretty sparse in my descriptions anyway so my readers don’t have too many rocks to worry about ;o)

    Reply
  25. Though I know people had to travel, I’m grateful for the authors *points to the left* who make their journeys short and sweet or don’t go into great detail. As a reader, we want some of the fantasy that transports us to an earlier time. For my reality, I drive the mile down the dirt road I live on where even my truck bottoms out at the bottom of the hill. I can’t imagine days of that.
    As a writer, I’m pretty sparse in my descriptions anyway so my readers don’t have too many rocks to worry about ;o)

    Reply
  26. Great information. I remember reading a book where the people lived 5 miles away and it too far to travel home that night. I live about 4 kms (3 miles?) out of town and think nothing of going in to town to get the forgotten pint of milk. I suppose in Regency times, I just went out and milked the cow. I Live in southern Tasmania and before roads were made (early 20th cent) all the small towns around the coast were provisioned by sea from Hobart. Never mind the bumpy roads, you were more likely to get sea sick.

    Reply
  27. Great information. I remember reading a book where the people lived 5 miles away and it too far to travel home that night. I live about 4 kms (3 miles?) out of town and think nothing of going in to town to get the forgotten pint of milk. I suppose in Regency times, I just went out and milked the cow. I Live in southern Tasmania and before roads were made (early 20th cent) all the small towns around the coast were provisioned by sea from Hobart. Never mind the bumpy roads, you were more likely to get sea sick.

    Reply
  28. Great information. I remember reading a book where the people lived 5 miles away and it too far to travel home that night. I live about 4 kms (3 miles?) out of town and think nothing of going in to town to get the forgotten pint of milk. I suppose in Regency times, I just went out and milked the cow. I Live in southern Tasmania and before roads were made (early 20th cent) all the small towns around the coast were provisioned by sea from Hobart. Never mind the bumpy roads, you were more likely to get sea sick.

    Reply
  29. Great information. I remember reading a book where the people lived 5 miles away and it too far to travel home that night. I live about 4 kms (3 miles?) out of town and think nothing of going in to town to get the forgotten pint of milk. I suppose in Regency times, I just went out and milked the cow. I Live in southern Tasmania and before roads were made (early 20th cent) all the small towns around the coast were provisioned by sea from Hobart. Never mind the bumpy roads, you were more likely to get sea sick.

    Reply
  30. Great information. I remember reading a book where the people lived 5 miles away and it too far to travel home that night. I live about 4 kms (3 miles?) out of town and think nothing of going in to town to get the forgotten pint of milk. I suppose in Regency times, I just went out and milked the cow. I Live in southern Tasmania and before roads were made (early 20th cent) all the small towns around the coast were provisioned by sea from Hobart. Never mind the bumpy roads, you were more likely to get sea sick.

    Reply
  31. On smoothing out roads, the wide-wheeled wagons did some of the work. At some point, but certainly by the regency, they were paid so much a mile as long as their wheels were wide enough.
    Jenny, I think they could do 5 miles if they wanted to, but weather and safety were considerations. But as long as the road or track was firm it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour on a horse or by carriage. Even walking it would be less than 2 hours, and they were great walkers! But one can certainly see why they might choose not to make such a journey at night.
    Jo

    Reply
  32. On smoothing out roads, the wide-wheeled wagons did some of the work. At some point, but certainly by the regency, they were paid so much a mile as long as their wheels were wide enough.
    Jenny, I think they could do 5 miles if they wanted to, but weather and safety were considerations. But as long as the road or track was firm it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour on a horse or by carriage. Even walking it would be less than 2 hours, and they were great walkers! But one can certainly see why they might choose not to make such a journey at night.
    Jo

    Reply
  33. On smoothing out roads, the wide-wheeled wagons did some of the work. At some point, but certainly by the regency, they were paid so much a mile as long as their wheels were wide enough.
    Jenny, I think they could do 5 miles if they wanted to, but weather and safety were considerations. But as long as the road or track was firm it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour on a horse or by carriage. Even walking it would be less than 2 hours, and they were great walkers! But one can certainly see why they might choose not to make such a journey at night.
    Jo

    Reply
  34. On smoothing out roads, the wide-wheeled wagons did some of the work. At some point, but certainly by the regency, they were paid so much a mile as long as their wheels were wide enough.
    Jenny, I think they could do 5 miles if they wanted to, but weather and safety were considerations. But as long as the road or track was firm it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour on a horse or by carriage. Even walking it would be less than 2 hours, and they were great walkers! But one can certainly see why they might choose not to make such a journey at night.
    Jo

    Reply
  35. On smoothing out roads, the wide-wheeled wagons did some of the work. At some point, but certainly by the regency, they were paid so much a mile as long as their wheels were wide enough.
    Jenny, I think they could do 5 miles if they wanted to, but weather and safety were considerations. But as long as the road or track was firm it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour on a horse or by carriage. Even walking it would be less than 2 hours, and they were great walkers! But one can certainly see why they might choose not to make such a journey at night.
    Jo

    Reply
  36. The funniest mistake about travel time that I’ve run into was in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood. They arrive in England at the White Cliffs of Dover (unmistakeable) and the next day are shown hiking along the Roman Wall!
    Georgette Heyer, who did do her research, has one of her characters refer to “15 mile an hour tits” as an example of high speed, so that was probably the top speed available with a racing curricle and one’s own horses on a good turnpike.

    Reply
  37. The funniest mistake about travel time that I’ve run into was in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood. They arrive in England at the White Cliffs of Dover (unmistakeable) and the next day are shown hiking along the Roman Wall!
    Georgette Heyer, who did do her research, has one of her characters refer to “15 mile an hour tits” as an example of high speed, so that was probably the top speed available with a racing curricle and one’s own horses on a good turnpike.

    Reply
  38. The funniest mistake about travel time that I’ve run into was in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood. They arrive in England at the White Cliffs of Dover (unmistakeable) and the next day are shown hiking along the Roman Wall!
    Georgette Heyer, who did do her research, has one of her characters refer to “15 mile an hour tits” as an example of high speed, so that was probably the top speed available with a racing curricle and one’s own horses on a good turnpike.

    Reply
  39. The funniest mistake about travel time that I’ve run into was in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood. They arrive in England at the White Cliffs of Dover (unmistakeable) and the next day are shown hiking along the Roman Wall!
    Georgette Heyer, who did do her research, has one of her characters refer to “15 mile an hour tits” as an example of high speed, so that was probably the top speed available with a racing curricle and one’s own horses on a good turnpike.

    Reply
  40. The funniest mistake about travel time that I’ve run into was in the Kevin Costner remake of Robin Hood. They arrive in England at the White Cliffs of Dover (unmistakeable) and the next day are shown hiking along the Roman Wall!
    Georgette Heyer, who did do her research, has one of her characters refer to “15 mile an hour tits” as an example of high speed, so that was probably the top speed available with a racing curricle and one’s own horses on a good turnpike.

    Reply

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