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1891: Blizzard causes chaos for London to Brighton mail Coaches

Sussex Agricultural Express - Saturday 14 March 1891


The drivers and guards of the parcel mail coaches between London and Brighton experienced a terrible time of it on Monday night.

The London coach leaves for Brighton soon after nine every night, the Brighton coach leaves for London 9.20, and they meet at Horley and change drivers. The Brighton coach arrived in Cuckfield at 1.20, or two hours and quarter behind time. Fresh horses having been put to at Cuckfield, another start was made.

Painting by Charles Cooper Henderson of a Mail Coach in the snow c 1840

But matters grew worse than they had been in the earlier part of the journey. The coach should have been at Crawley, the next station, at 12.20. At ten minutes to three it stuck in a drift at the bottom of Staplefield hill, and further progress was barred.

The driver and guard accordingly unharnessed the horses and led them to The Jolly Tanners, after which the driver made his way over the fields to Handcross, where he roused the Postmaster, Mr. Caffyn, and got him to telegraph the state of affairs to the Inspector at London Bridge. It was about four o’clock when this message was despatched.

Meanwhile, the driver of the coach from London not finding the Brighton coach at Horley, continued the journey towards Brighton. At about six o’clock he was at the top of Staplefield Hill, within something like half a mile of the Brighton coach, and got immersed in a drift. The men unharnessed the horses and took them back to Handcross, where they stabled them at the Red Lion.

Three more telegrams were now despatched; second to the Inspector at London Bridge, one the Postmaster at Brighton, and another to Messrs. McNamara (the contractors for conveying the mails). In the meanwhile a county official appeared on the scene, and having gathered a gang of about forty men, he set them on at about ten o’clock to clear a way between the coaches.

This was accomplished in about five hours, and soon after three, Mr. Roberts, of the Comptrollers’ Department, having arrived in the meantime, the two coaches were on the road for Crawley, whence the parcels they contained were despatched to their various destinations by train. The guards returned to London and Brighton respectively by train, but the drivers remained in charge of their coaches.

On Tuesday night the parcels were sent by train.

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