Edward Bates (1767–1845) the local clockmaker, whose shop was close by the King’s Head, recorded in his diary in 1819 that the London-bound Coburg coach overturned on the sharp corner at the bottom of the High Street in Cuckfield. All 11 outside passengers were hurt and one of them died.
A fuller account is given by William Blew in ‘Brighton and its coaches, a history of the London Brighton Road’ (1894). Apparently the horses were fresh and raring to go and ‘the leaders started off in 'an unruly fashion', and brought the coach into collision with a waggon.
Eleven passengers were on the roof, and all were more or less hurt, a Mr Blake, a ‘well-known London gentleman, dying next day’. Another passenger broke his arm, and five had to remain at Cuckfield, where the King’s Head was, not for the first time, turned into a hospital, as was so often the case when coaches upset. However, the inside passengers, on this occasion three in number, were unhurt.
Charles Harper in ‘The Brighton Road’ writes that ‘The Coburg’ was an old-fashioned coach, heavy, clumsy, and slow, but he reports that it was carrying six passengers inside and 12 outside.
The newer lightweight ‘safety coaches’ weighed 18-19 cwt (914 - 964kg), while the older coaches weighed as much as 30cwt (1500kgm). These made a huge commercial difference.
Blew describes a new coach service launched on 26 July 1819, ‘the Umpire', a light, elegant, patent stagecoach, for safety on a new principle’. It was used on the London to Brighton route, running from 125 North Street, Brighton to the Bull Hotel, Leadenhall Street. It achieved this in six hours, and managed a two way run inside a day. According to Harper - a one way journey in the early years of the nineteenth century would take nine and half or 10 hours.
Riding on stage coaches was a hazardous and uncomfortable way to travel. Gideon Mantell, famous for his dinosaur discoveries in Cuckfield, had a coach accident on Clapham Common which was to blight his health for the rest of his life.
On 11 October 1841 he was forced to leap for his life when the driver crashed the carriage. Mantell became entangled in the reins and was dragged across the ground. Initially he was paralysed from the waist down and would be plagued by constant pain for the rest of his life. Latterly his injury led to crippling deformity and, in a desperate attempt to dull the pain, he accidentally over-dosed on opiates in 1852 and died.
Since posting this item we came across a further account of the accident in the Hampshire Chronicle which gives us some more details and also the precise date of the event - Monday 9 August:
The Cobourg [sic] Brighton Coach, on its way to town, was overturned at Cuckfield on Monday afternoon. The accident occurred immediately After fresh horses were put to the coach. The leaders, as frequently happens, were unruly at starting, and, in spite of every effort to prevent them, brought the coach into sudden contact with a waggon, which was passing at the time, and the whole was precipitated to the ground. The consequences were most terrible. Of eleven passengers who occupied the roof, scarcely one escaped unhurt. One gentleman died shortly later, from the injuries received by the fall, and another had his arm fractured at The shoulder joint in so severe a manner as to render his recovery doubtful. Five others were detained at Cuckfield unable to proceed to town on account of the hurts they sustained.
Hampshire Chronicle, 16 August 1819
Illustration: The King’s Head, Cuckfield by J&G Temple reproduced in William CA Blew’s book, ‘Brighton and its coaches, a history of the London Brighton Road’ (1894).
Sources: Edward Bates, clockmaker diary 1819
William CA Blew in ‘Brighton and its coaches, a history of the London - Brighton Road’, 1894
'The Brighton Road' by Charles G Harper, 1906
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.