THE BRIGHTON ROAD
As regards the Brighton Road there are many ways to Brighton, the classical record route being by Purley, Horley, Crawley, and Handcross. The Brighton Road was associated with the earliest bicycle performances, when plucky pioneers trundled bone-shakers there in the day. Relay rides were also a feature of the days when cyclists showed they could beat the time of the Brighton four-horse coach. Innumerable cycling records have been made on the Brighton Road, but the extension of London southwards and Brighton northwards entails so much traffic riding that very few attempt the performance now.
– Common Commodities & Industries: The Cycle Industries by W. Grew, 1921
The bicycle having paved the way, with its introduction after the turn of the century the automobile was not slow to take over our roads. Observe the fantasy picture, above, from 1912, envisaging that the Brighton Road would be so crowded with traffic by 1922 that cyclists would be forced into the hedge at the side of the road.
The Brighton Road is famous for the numerous record-breaking attempts in the 1800s, pitting bicycles against the times recorded by the Royal Mail coach on the London-Brighton run.
The photograph above of the Royal Mail parcel coach is claimed to be from 1900. According to the Royal Mail Archive and various books I’ve read, by the 1840s, the railways had replaced Royal Mail coaches operating from London. I wonder if the parcel coach started up again subsequently?
Here are some excerpts from Brighton and its Coaches, published in 1894:
The remainder of the line from Hayward’s Heath to Brighton was opened on Tuesday, the 21st September 1841, and the form of the advertisements in local papers
underwent a complete change. We read nothing more of going to London in five hours, proprietors no longer sang the praises of their fast coaches ; nor does the familiar woodcut of the coach-and-four any more appear. Instead of the old order of things, we find Mr. Strevens, of the ‘Blue Coach and Railway Office,’ announcing that he had started several new omnibuses and flys for the conveyance of passengers between the Brighton terminus and various parts of the town, including Kemp Town, Brunswick Square and Terrace, and the hotels. A coach ran between Brighton and Lewes to bring people in from the latter place to catch the express train for London ; and an omnibus brought the Worthing folk to Shoreham, whence they came by train to Brighton, proceeding thence to London. The clay-mail ran between London and Brighton
till October 1841; but the presence in the town of Mr. Johnson, the Post-Office surveyor, portended a change, and this came to pass when the mails were carried by train, with the result that the Brightonians had their London letters delivered earlier than before.
…In lieu of the well-appointed vehicles the Brightonians had been accustomed to see, the Brighton streets, like those of London, were full of cabs, flys, and omnibuses. Said the Brighton Gazette of the 13th October 1842: ‘A thriving trade they seem to carry on. These omnibuses are found, both by inhabitants and visitors, extremely convenient and economical vehicles. Throughout the day they are to be met with in every part of the town ; and, though their principal object is to convey passengers to and from the terminus, other parties also find their use highly advantageous.’
…There was, however, in existence the present Four-in-Hand Driving Club, founded in 1856, and it served to prevent the driving of four horses from becoming quite a lost art, and then, in 1866, the love for stage-coach- ing once more cropped up, thanks to the late Captain Haworth, a Queen’s messenger, the author of ” Road Scrapings,” and subsequently the manager of a carriage factory somewhere in Pimlico. The Captain had for a year or two been desirous of reviving the Brighton road; and, in 1866, sought the co-operation of the Duke of Beaufort, Colonel Armytage, Mr. Charles Lawrie, Mr. Chandos Pole, Lord H. Thynne, and two or three others who fell in with the proposal, the out- come being the Old Times, a little yellow coach, which ran to Brighton on alternate days. Of course, money was lost over the coach; but not much came out of each pocket, as there were a good many to share the deficiency. In 1867 two new coaches were built by Holland & Holland, so that there was a coach each way daily.
…Nearly all those who had hitherto been connected with the Brighton coach remembered coaching as it was before the introduction of railways; but, in 1873, the road for the third or fourth time collapsed, and from that day to this it has been worked by men of a younger generation, always excepting Colonel Stracey Clitherow, who is still (1893) one of the proprietors. At one time it appeared as though there would be no Brighton coach at all; but at the last moment an American gentleman, Mr. Tiffany, was found to have the ambition to become a coach proprietor, and in his hands the road was very well done. Then, in 1874, Brighton would probably have been coachless, had not Captain Haworth, who started the season by going to Rochester, become sick of the road, and changed to Brighton. come sick of the road, and changed to Brighton.
We now come to 1875, in which year Mr. Stewart who has accepted the dedication of this book, began his connection with the Brighton road. For three years, that is to say, to 1877 inclusive, he ran The Age single-handed; in 1878 he was joined by Colonel Stracey Clitherow; in 1879 Mr. Chandos Pole, son of the former proprietor, and now Master of the Cattistock Hounds, took a share ; and in the following year Lord Algernon Lennox and Mr. Craven were associated with Mr. Freeman and Colonel Stracey Clitherow. John Thorogood became Mr. Freeman’s coachman in his first season, having succeeded Pope soon after the coach was put upon the road, and he kept his post till the end of the season of 1889, when Alexander Pennington, who had been driving the Brighton Parcel Mail, succeeded him. In 1890 William Wragg replaced Pennington. Mr. Freeman did not run to Brighton in 1881, 1884, 1885, or 1886; in the last-mentioned year, however, he put on a coach to Windsor ; while in 1881, Edwin Fownes, sen., put on the Brighton road a coach which revived the memory of The Age.
Royal Mail introduced a motorized coach in 1905, photographed below outside Brighton Post Office in Ship St.
But the road was also notorious …for many sections were believed to be haunted, and in particular the area around Pyecombe, near the junction of the A23 and A281. Perhaps Richard Middleton’s short ghost story, published in 1912 (he died in 1911) was based on some of local supernatural tales.
ON THE BRIGHTON ROAD by Richard Middleton
Slowly the sun had climbed up the hard white downs, till it broke with little of the mysterious ritual of dawn upon a sparkling world of snow. There had been a hard frost during the night, and the birds, who hopped about here and there with scant tolerance of life, left no trace of their passage on the silver pavements. In places the sheltered caverns of the hedges broke the monotony of the whiteness that had fallen upon the coloured earth, and overhead the sky melted from orange to deep blue, from deep blue to a blue so pale that it suggested a thin paper screen rather than illimitable space. Across the level fields there came a cold, silent wind which blew a fine dust of snow from the trees, but hardly stirred the crested hedges. Once above the skyline, the sun seemed to climb more quickly, and as it rose higher it began to give out a heat that blended with the keenness of the wind.
It may have been this strange alternation of heat and cold that disturbed the tramp in his dreams, for he struggled for a moment with the snow that covered him, like a man who finds himself twisted uncomfortably in the bed−clothes, and then sat up with staring, questioning eyes.
‘Lord! I thought I was in bed,’ he said to himself as he took in the vacant landscape, ‘and all the while I was out here.’ He stretched his limbs, and, rising carefully to his feet, shook the snow off his body. As he did so the wind set him shivering, and he knew that his bed had been warm.
‘Come, I feel pretty fit,’ he thought. ‘I suppose I am lucky to wake at all in this. Or unlucky␣it isn’t much of a business to come back to.’ He looked up and saw the downs shining against the blue like the Alps on a picture−postcard. ‘That means another forty miles or so, I suppose,’ he continued grimly. ‘Lord knows what I did yesterday. Walked till I was done, and now I’m only about twelve miles from Brighton. Damn the snow, damn Brighton, damn everything!’ The sun crept higher and higher, and he started walking patiently along the road with his back turned to the hills.
‘Am I glad or sorry that it was only sleep that took me, glad or sorry, glad or sorry?’ His thoughts seemed to arrange themselves in a metrical accompaniment to the steady thud of his footsteps, and he hardly sought an answer to his question. It was good enough to walk to.
Presently, when three milestones had loitered past, he overtook a boy who was stooping to light a cigarette. He wore no overcoat, and looked unspeakably fragile against the snow. ‘Are you on the road, guv’nor?’ asked the boy huskily as he passed.
‘I think I am,’ the tramp said.
‘Oh! then I’ll come a bit of the way with you if you don’t walk too fast. It’s bit lonesome walking this time of day.’ The tramp nodded his head, and the boy started limping along by his side.
‘I’m eighteen,’ he said casually. ‘I bet you thought I was younger.’ ‘Fifteen, I’d have said.’
‘You’d have backed a loser. Eighteen last August, and I’ve been on the road six years. I ran away from home five times when I was a little ‘un, and the police took me back each time. Very good to me, the police was. Now I haven’t got a home to run away from.’
‘Nor have I,’ the tramp said calmly.
‘Oh, I can see what you are,’ the boy panted; ‘you’re a gentleman come down. It’s harder for you than for me.’ The tramp glanced at the limping, feeble figure and lessened his pace.
‘I haven’t been at it as long as you have,’ he admitted.
‘No, I could tell that by the way you walk. You haven’t got tired yet. Perhaps you expect something at the other end?’
The tramp reflected for a moment. ‘I don’t know,’ he said bitterly, ‘I’m always expecting things.’
‘You’ll grow out of that,’ the boy commented. ‘It’s warmer in London, but it’s harder to come by grub. There isn’t much in it really.’
‘Still, there’s the chance of meeting somebody there who will understand␣’
‘Country people are better,’ the boy interrupted. ‘Last night I took a lease of a barn for nothing and slept with the cows, and this morning the farmer routed me out and gave me tea and toke because I was so little. Of course, I score there; but in London, soup on the Embankment at night, and all the rest of the time coppers moving you on.’
‘I dropped by the roadside last night and slept where I fell. It’s a wonder I didn’t die,’ the tramp said. The boy looked at him sharply.
‘How do you know you didn’t?’ he said. ‘I don’t see it,’ the tramp said, after a pause.
‘I tell you,’ the boy said hoarsely, ‘people like us can’t get away from this sort of thing if we want to. Always hungry and thirsty and dog−tired and walking all the time. And yet if anyone offers me a nice home and work my stomach feels sick. Do I look strong? I know I’m little for my age, but I’ve been knocking about like this for six years, and do you think I’m not dead? I was drowned bathing at Margate, and I was killed by a gypsy with a spike; he knocked my head right in, and twice I was froze like you last night, and a motor cut me down on this very road, and yet I’m walking along here now, walking to London to walk away from it again, because I can’t help it. Dead! I tell you we can’t get away if we want to.’
The boy broke off in a fit of coughing, and the tramp paused while he recovered. ‘You’d better borrow my coat for a bit, Tommy,’ he said, ‘your cough’s pretty bad.’
‘You go to hell!’ the boy said fiercely, puffing at his cigarette; ‘I’m all right. I was telling you about the road. You haven’t got down to it yet, but you’ll find out presently. ‘We’re all dead, all of us who’re on it, and we’re all tired, yet somehow we can’t leave it. There’s nice smells in the summer, dust and hay and the wind smack in your face on a hot day; and it’s nice waking up in the wet grass on a fine morning. I don’t know, I don’t know␣’ he lurched forward suddenly, and the tramp caught him in his arms.
‘I’m sick,’ the boy whispered – ‘sick.’
The tramp looked up and down the road, but he could see no houses or any sign of help. Yet even as he supported the boy doubtfully in the middle of the road a motor car suddenly flashed in the middle distance, and came smoothly through the snow.
‘What’s the trouble?’ said the driver quietly as he pulled up. ‘I’m a doctor.’ He looked at the boy keenly and listened to his strained breathing.
‘Pneumonia,’ he commented. ‘I’ll give him a lift to the infirmary, and you, too, if you like.’ The tramp thought of the workhouse and shook his head ‘I’d rather walk,’ he said. The boy winked faintly as they lifted him into the car. ‘I’ll meet you beyond Reigate,’ he murmured to the tramp. ‘You’ll see.’ And the car vanished along the white road.
All the morning the tramp splashed through the thawing snow, but at midday he begged some bread at a cottage door and crept into a lonely barn to eat it. It was warm in there, and after his.meal he fell asleep among the hay. It was dark when he woke, and started trudging once more through the slushy roads.
Two miles beyond Reigate a figure, a fragile figure, slipped out of the darkness to meet him.
‘On the road, guv’nor?’ said a husky voice. ‘Then I’ll come a bit of the way with you if you don’t walk too fast. It’s a bit lonesome walking this time of day.’
‘But the pneumonia!’ cried the tramp, aghast.
‘I died at Crawley this morning,’ said the boy.
Richard Barham Middleton (28 October 1882 – 1 December 1911) was a British poet, who is remembered mostly for his short stories, in particular The Ghost Ship.
On Brighton Road copyright © 2002 Blackmask Online http://www.blackmask.com
London-Brighton Royal Mail Coach pictures and info thanks to – http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__9139_path__0p116p1519p1605p.aspx