Sunday, 14 August 2016

Highway Robberies; and Jane Austen's Highway Journeys

Highway robbery still occurred during Jane Austen's lifetime, though she seems never to have been a victim. (In 1793, there was a series of highway robberies not far from Steventon.)

However, travel was always a problem for her. As a respectable woman, Jane could not travel alone by stagecoach. In her genteel poverty, she was dependent on others for lifts. But her father had a carriage only for a few months of his life. 

She gives some indication of the state of roads and transport: There has been a great deal of rain here for this last fortnight, much more than in Kent; & indeed we found the roads all the way from Staines most disgracefully dirty. – Steventon lane has its full share of it, & I do not know when I shall be able to get to Deane (Letter 10); We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipt off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed (Letter 10).

Travelling from Chawton to London in May 1813, Jane reported: Three hours & a qr took us to Guildford, where we staid barely two hours, & had only just time enough for all we had to do there, that is, eating a long comfortable Breakfast, watching the Carriages, paying Mr Herington & taking a little stroll afterwards. From some veiws which that stroll gave us, I think most highly of the situation of Guildford (Letter 84). Luggage went astray: it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies. No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l.,... Mr Nottley immediately despatched a man and horse after the chaise, and in half an hour's time I had the pleasure of being as rich as ever (Letter 9).

The family's removal to Bath gives us the following: Our Journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed Horses at the end of every stage, & paid at almost every Turnpike; – we had charming weather, hardly any Dust, & were exceedingly agreable, as we did not speak above once in three miles. – Between Luggershall and Everley we made our grand Meal, and then with admiring astonishment perceived in what a magnificent manner our support had been provided for –; – We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the beef (Letter 35). From Devizes, they had a very neat chaise ... it looked almost as well as a Gentleman's, at least as a very shabby Gentleman's. They took three hours from Devizes to Bath (twenty miles).

A letter to Cassandra dated 24 August 1814 makes us aware how much one's progress was slowed down if there were a large number of passengers in the coach being pulled: We were late in London, from being a great Load (Letter 105).