top of page

1871: Progress in travel: London to Brighton

Updated: May 21, 2021

Pub mural caption see below

In 1810 a new and more direct road [London to Brighton] was made - reducing the distance to 54 miles - via Preston, Cuckfield, Crawley, Reigate, Tooting, Clapham, etc., and, before the cutting of Clayton Hill, ran close by the cast side of Piecombe Church; and the outlay for this improvement caused a serious diversity of opinion amongst the trustees for its management which led to the formation of a new road from Piecombe, through Albourne, Hickstead, etc., to avoid hills, and shortening the distance to London by two miles - lessening the distance to 52 miles, the same was opened on the 28th of June, 1810.

roads impassable in winter

In 1715, 'The Flying Machine,' as it was termed, left the Old Ship Inn (in summer) at 5.80am, and reached London the same evening; and, if we take into consideration the then state of the roads, which were, generally speaking, especially in the winter, almost impassable, it must have been a great achievement. The general mode of travelling was by pack-horses, consequently the summer was the only period available to the visitors.

The high roads of Sussex had an unenviable notoriety for their inferiority. It is recorded that on one occasion Charles II paid a visit to the Duke of Northumberland, at Petworth House (then the residence of the Percys): the vehicle in which he rode was capsized no less than a dozen times, and had it not been for the worthy boors of Sussex, who supported the carriage on each side on their shoulders, the number would have been greater.

It was not until the latter portion of the last century that any great improvement was effected in the method of travelling to the Metropolis. At this period a vehicle left Brighton for London, called 'Wessin’s Coach', by way of Bramber, Steyning, Horsham, &c., and, with the consent of the majority of the passengers, arrived at its destination in about 12 hours.

children on lap, 7s

Afterwards a new 'Post Coach', to carry 4 insides and no outsides on the top, set out from the Old Ship, at 6.30am, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in the summer, to the Golden Cross, Charing Cross, returning the alternate days at 6am, and from the limited number of passengers that this vehicle carried the price charged must have been extremely high. Another coach running to London on alternate days at 6am., at a cheaper rate, through Reigate and Cuckfield, the fares being, insides 18s, outsides and children on lap, 7s., allowed 14lbs luggage, all weight above to pay 1d per lb.

shortage of lodgings

Since this period and the commencement of the present century great improvements in time and speed in the performance of the journey to the metropolis have been introduced, consequent on the influx of visitors being greater; and it is recorded that in August, 1809, 'neither a house or lodging could be obtained for love or money'. On May 21st, 1810, the first mail coaches were put on the road between Brighton and London, and a coach called the 'Regent' commenced running September 6th, 1813, and in less than a week, on Sunday 12th, it overturned at Merstham, causing great injury to the passengers.

The traffic increased so rapidly, that in October, 1822, there were no less than 42 coaches running daily between Brighton and London alone. The first coach that performed the journey from Brighton to London, returning the same day, belonged to Mr J Whitchurch, and ran from the office corner of Prince’s Place, North Street, adjoining the Chapel Royal, and afterwards a very few of the coaches occupied more than five or six hours on their journey, and on important occasions, such as the delivery of the Queen's speech on commencement of the Session, or the prorogation of Parliament, the information has been brought down in less than four hours and a half.

goods by road

The road waggons of the past and present centuries belonged respectively to Messrs. Davis, E. Mighell, Bradford, Orton, Hope, Patching, Weller, Gander, Durtnail, etc. There were also three four-horse vans leaving this town every evening, at five o’clock, for the conveyance of goods, parcels, etc., called the 'Blue' (belonging to Messrs. Crossweller, Blaber, & Chalk), the 'Red' (belonging to Messrs. Pocock and Winch), the 'Red Rover' (from the Clarence Hotel, belonging to Messrs. Wilde, Holmes and Co.).

modern leviathan takes over

All these latter succumbing to the modern leviathan, 'the railway', and the well-appointed stage coaches gradually shared the same fate after its introduction. The railway was commenced March 19th, 1838, and, on the 9th of July, 1841, opened to Hayward’s Heath: on the 21st September following it was opened from Brighton to London.



'The History of Brighton and Environs: From the Earliest Known Period to the present time', by

Alderman Henry Martin - Mayor of Brighton - 1871 - pub John Beal.

Mural caption

This painting, now in the Queen’s Hall was rescued from the King’s Head in 1998 when it was converted from being a coaching inn and hotel to flats and houses.

The 100 sq ft (9sq m) painting was done by Tim Haws in 1983. It took four weeks to prepare and mark up the board and two weeks to paint and was done in situ in the bar. At the time, Tim explained that the job was made more complicated by people buying him drinks as he did it!

The 19 people are the regulars in the King’s Head at the time and include:

Spider, the cat. Dave Mitchell, Doc Taylor, Tom Stride, Peter Tolhurst, ? Finn, Martin Linley (Landlord 7th from left), Robin, Fluff Newnham (Clockmaker), Jay Turner, Dick Taylor, Grahaeme, Richard, Linda, Georgie, Mudge, John, Tim Haws (artist), Denise (wife of Tim?), Benge Chittenden (extreme right), Georgina Linley (on top of coach the landlady).

See the local TV news videos about the painting:

If you want to correct this caption further, especially relating to the precise location of the individuals on the painting please contact us via our website email address.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

bottom of page