We welcomed Charles Lewis to our May meeting; the committee was really pleased that we had 38 members in the hall listening to Charles who gave a really impressive talk on “Norfolk in the Stage Coach age”.
The talk was full of facts that gave support to Norwich being the second most important City, next to London, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Until the middle of the 17th century the only form of transport over land was by either foot or horseback. During this century wide earth roads linking cities developed. The roads were full of deep ruts that filled with water ensuring a bumpy ride. Gradually in the 18th century a timetabled network was built up across the country. London, Newmarket, Norwich was an important, prominent route as was London to Chester which provided access to Ireland. The 190 mile journey to Chester took 5 days. Turnpikes sprung up preventing passage until a toll had been paid; the proceeds were used to maintain and improve the roads. The opening of inns along the routes provided much needed water for the horses and rest and food for the drivers and passengers. The Maid’s Head Hotel and the Bell Hotel in Norwich were two inns that were developed during this important period. They are both still hostelries today. The mail coaches transporting mail provided swifter journeys. Highway men caused hazards’ to journeys as did luggage and passengers placed on the top of the coaches causing the coaches to become top heavy, allowing them to overturn. However a much faster and safer form of transport was becoming more readily available with the advent of steam. A railway network was built. This made travel safer and speedier. An interesting statistic - Norwich to London took 5 days by coach but now the time for rail is 90 minutes.