Coachman: 'Get out and walk up Clayton Hill'

Refreshment at the White Hart, Cuckfield

WCA Blew in 'Brighton and its Coaches' quoted from Samuel Shergold’s ‘Recollections of Brighton in the Olden Time’ published in 1853, recalls coach travel in the late eighteenth century:

The best method of conveyance on the Cuckfield road was by the pair-horse coaches. These started at eight o’clock in the morning, and, if nothing intervened, proceeded steadily and boldly as far as Preston, where they stopped at the public-house - it being a prescriptive right of all coachmen in those days never to pass a public-house without calling. Coachmen were also persons of much consideration, a great deal of the business of the country being transacted by them.

… After quitting Preston, the coach snailed it on to Withdean and Patcham, stopping, of course, a little time at each. The next stoppage was at the bottom of Clayton Hill the formidable Clayton Hill where the coachman descended from his box and civilly obliged all passengers, outside and in, to walk up, on the plea that the roads were very heavy, it being absolutely killing to his horses.

This walk to the top of Clayton Hill took about half-an-hour, and was very fatiguing, especially if a man had the gallantry to offer his arm to a fat widow.

From the top of Clayton Hill you had a most delightful view. From Clavton Hill the coach snailed it on towards Cuckfield, the coachman not deeming it proper to ask the passengers to walk above three or four times until he arrived at that little town.

At St. John's Common, on the hither side of Cuckfield, was a neat little public-house where the coachman usually took a snack, which consisted of a mouthful of bread and cheese and five or six glasses of gin and bitters, for that was the liqueur par excellence of coachmen in that day.

When the coach arrived at Cuckfield, it was usual for some of the passengers to say to one another, ‘Well, as the coach will stop here some time, we will walk on.' This walking on often consisted of a hard tug, up hill and down, over five or six miles of slimy, slippery road.

Before the coach overtook the passengers who had proposed to walk forward, they arrived at Handcross, a complete rustic inn, of which the landlord bore the impress of Sussex rusticity. With that kind and benevolent attention to the happiness and comfort of walking travellers which innkeepers by the roadside usually possess, a number of stools and benches were always placed in front of the inn to receive the wearied muscles of the promenaders.



Brighton and its coaches, a history of the London and Brighton Road, by WCA Blew P48/49. 1894

Recollections of Brighton in the Olden Time, by a Native Thereof, Samuel Shergold, 1853 in Google Books

Illustration: White hart Inn, Cuckfield in Blew's 'Brighton and its coaches'

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.