St Olave’s Grammar School – Assembly Hall Painting

“Reminiscing the Past”

In 1953, St Olave’s Grammar School commissioned a famous artist, Alan Sorrell, to visit the school on several occasions and paint four watercolours – one of the exterior and three of the interior scenes. Sorrell was an important artist at that time. This painting was made while he was sitting on the balcony that ran around three sides of the main hall.

Being a Victorian building, the hall has large windows on the south side to let in as much daylight as possible. The hall was designed in a mock-Tudor style, with huge beams supported by hammer beams along each side. From the main beams, large lamps were suspended. They were removed when the building was converted into the Lalit Hotel. The artist sat at the eastern end of the balcony, looking west at the stage complete with a table, a large chair, a reading lectern, and a grand piano. The hall was used for assembly which was held for all the 600 boys first thing in the morning, at 9.00 am, and at the end of the afternoon which was about 4.00 pm.

Although 600 boys could be accommodated standing or sitting on stackable chairs, in the middle of the day for school lunch there were two sittings. The space occupied by the tables and the chairs only allowed sufficient space for 300 boys. The tables on the far left were reserved for the masters and mistresses. Rather than queuing up, the boys eating lunch were required to find a seat at one of the tables and they were waited on by boys from the sixth form who took their order and carried the plates of food to the appropriate table. This happened twice – once for the main course and once for the desert. Every day there was a choice of two for each course.

In passing, note the school pipe organ at the far end of the balcony. That organ was removed and is now installed in the present school hall, at Orpington. In the far left-hand corner of the hall at ground level is the war memorial, commemorating ‘Old Boys’ who died in the two World Wars. That is also installed in the new school.

The hall looks very different today. The ceiling has been painted deep blue and the oak paneling has been stained in a darker colour. The old lamps hanging from the wooden beams have been replaced with modern glass chandeliers. The first link contains a page with a recent view.

See also – St Olave’s Grammar School is now a Hotel

See also – St Olave’s Grammar School – Classroom Painting


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Longton Hall, Sydenham (Post Card)

Above: Postcard showing Longton Hall after it had become a school. Westwood Hill is to the left and Longton Avenue slopes away from it.

Longton Hall was a large rambling house that stood between Taylor’s Lane and Longton Avenue where they both used to join onto Westwood Hill. The site is harder to determine these days because although Taylor’s Lane does still exist in part, the southern end of the lane no longer meets with Westwood Hill. Sydenham has had many large houses over the last century – mainly due to the many wealthy people who liked to live on the high ground near Sydenham Hill either because they thought that high land was healthy to live on or because they wanted to live near the newly built Crystal Palace.

Gradually, the houses have become fewer in number for various reasons. Firstly, large houses are hard to maintain these days and many owners have sold their houses and grounds to developers who have built many smaller residences on the plots of land. Secondly, many large houses were destroyed due to bombing in the Second World War and their sites have become modern housing estates.

Longton Hall was a large relatively narrow house in use as the Longton Hall Hydropathic Hotel. For such a large house, the surrounding garden was quite small. No date for when the hotel opened is known.

The premises became Sydenham Girls’ School which was founded in Longton Hall in 1887. The school’s Website gives a graphic account of the old house – “The building provided romantic appeal and great character, but it was not always convenient, warm or easy to navigate for pupils who regularly got very lost. The art studio was in the Winter Garden, the laboratory in the Conservatory, and the Turkish baths became known as the Dungeon, due to their lack of windows.” Numbers at the school rose rapidly from 20 to 200 in only two years. The building was used by the school until 1934 when the school relocated to another impressive Victorian residence on the opposite side of Westwood Hill, called Horner Grange.

The large elegant house called Longton Hall gradually declined in its latter years and was finally taken down around the 1970s. No trace of the building remains to be seen today.


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Sydenham Road (Post Card)

Above: Postcard showing part of Sydenham Road.

The ‘Penny Post’ was inaugurated in 1840 by Sir Rowland Hill, who was an English teacher, inventor, and social reformer. He campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system, based on the concept of Uniform Penny Post and his solution of pre-payment facilitated the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters. Until that time, it was the person receiving a letter who had to pay when it was delivered and charges varied according to how far the letter had travelled. Rowland Hill had the idea that all mail should be delivered according to a flat rate – the famous ‘Penny Post’ payable by the sender. The idea was immediately popular and its concept has continued until today.

In a world that lived mainly without telephones in their homes, householders began sending letters in large quantities. For short letters, illustrated postcards started to appear where the back of the card had one half set aside for the address of the person receiving it and the other half provided on which to write a relatively few sentences. The postage for a card was less than that of a letter and, since there was no envelope, the contents of the message could be read by the postman who delivered it. Around the turn of the 1900s, postcards were being sent in very large numbers. In London, there were so many daily deliveries of the mail that a card posted in the morning was usually delivered by the afternoon. Now, over 100 years later, the same cannot be claimed for today’s postal service.

The postcards often had photographs of localities and the sender would buy them for when the need arose to get in touch with a friend or relative. The view seen here is that of Sydenham Road, looking east at the sloping part – with a shop on the far left of the view, on the corner of Sydenham Road and Silverdale. The long terrace of shops is mostly still in existence on the north side of Sydenham Road. The date of the photograph is not known but it is probably between 1900 and 1930. The turning called Newlands Park on the far right of the view can just be made out, just before reaching the large tree. Further in the distance is another large tree that used to stand near the corner of Sydenham Road and Mayow Road.

Notice the elegant lamp posts which probably remained in place until at least the end of the Second World War, maybe into the 1950s or 1960s. What is remarkable about the photograph is that there is not a single motor car or bus to be seen. Several people are using bicycles which on a relatively steep incline must have been hard work to pedal up. A pedestrian is seen casually strolling across the road from the right-hand side. Just behind him, the milkman, dressed in white has set his milk cart almost in the middle of the roadway while he draws milk from a large churn, probably to deliver the pint bottle to the doorstep of one of the shops or doorways seen in the photograph.

Above: Enlarged excerpt from the same postcard.

All the terraced shops, from the far left of the picture down to the shop with the very high steep sloping roof-line, are still in existence today. Further in the distance is a fairly regular low roof-line which is almost unbroken. During the Second World War, three or four shops were hit by a bomb and the resultant site was rebuilt in a more modern style. It was used as an ‘F W Woolworth’ store and is currently in use by Superdrug.


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Riverdale Mill

Above: The renovated mill building stands beside Molesworth Street.

The site of this mill has a history going back to the Domesday Book (1086) when it was one of eleven mills recorded as being on the River Ravensbourne. Water power from the fast-flowing river was due to it falling towards the Thames at Deptford from the high ground at Keston in the London Borough of Bromley.

Above: A small part of Rocque’s map (1746).

The mill is shown on John Rocque’s small-scale map of London (1746). The mill outline can be seen across the River Ravensbourne with the name ‘Leather Mill’. The River Ravensbourne is shown in blue. A large mill pond is shown adjacent to the mill. Running parallel to the river (on the eastern side) is a road now known as Lewisham High Street. Lewisham parish church, called St Mary the Virgin, is marked ‘The Church’. This is now a district known as Ladywell but the parish church has had a long history. At the northern end of Lewisham High Street, a tiny stream is shown as a single line – called the River Quaggy. It is shown on the map flowing from Lee (on the far right of the map). It eventually flows into the River Ravensbourne to the north of the map.

Above: Part of the old mill pond and the restored water wheel.

The present mill is a plain four-storey watermill, with a projecting weather-boarded hoist, dating from about 1828. By the middle of the 20th century, it had fallen into disrepair being no longer used. However, the structure of the mill was basically sound and it was restored as the centre-piece of an office development that was built around it in 1980-81. The whole site stands on the opposite side of the dual-carriageway to the Riverdale Shopping Centre. Between the two, is Molesworth Street. Today, the 1980s development is now in use as apartments.


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Faringdon Elizabeth Line Station

Above: The impressive concrete ceiling, formed in a diamond shape.

The name Farringdon Station was first used for the underground line. It opened in 1863 as the terminus of the Metropolitan Railway which then ran just four miles (6 km), from Farringdon to Paddington. It was the world’s first underground passenger railway and is one of the oldest surviving underground railway stations in the world.

In 1988 the Thameslink line opened, carrying trains typically from Brighton to Bedford. It ran over the Thames at Blackfriars and stopped at a newly created pair of platforms at Farringdon Thameslink Station which is below ground, opposite the underground station.

In 2022, a third station was opened deep in the ground below the Thameslink station as a stop on the newly constructed Crossrail line. The central section ran between a new station at Paddington and an existing station at Abbey Wood with two new platforms. The line was called Crossrail while under construction and the Elizabeth Line when it became operational. Its full extent was from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east, with two spurs – one leading to Abbey Wood Station and the other extending to Heathrow Airport.

The new Elizabeth Line station has platforms 800 feet (244 m) in length. They are so long that they have separately named entrances, one at each end of the platforms. The entrance at the eastern end is called Barbican Station and is situated at the eastern end of Smithfield Meat Market.

See also – Barbican Elizabeth Line Station

We shall now describe the western end of the Elizabeth Line Station which is Farringdon Elizabeth Line Station (or Farringdon Station on the Elizabeth Line). The entrance at street level is in Cowcross Street, opposite the entrance from street level to Farringdon Underground Station. The new Elizabeth Line station was mined, being 98 feet (30 m) below ground. The platforms are accessed by two sets of escalators and lifts which convey passengers from the ticket hall.

Above: Black and white ‘cutout’ designs on the walls beside the upper escalators representing multi-faceted diamond designs.

The new station entrance is only a short distance from London’s famous diamond quarter which is to be found in a street called Hatton Garden. With this in mind, the large entrance to the ticket hall has used this theme as part of the overall design. Above the ticket hall entrance is a huge concrete ceiling, 82 feet (25 m) wide and weighing 360 tons, supported from above. with its beams forming diamond shapes (as seen in the top picture). On the walls leading down from the ticket hall – on either side of the upper escalator flights – are intricate shapes formed from sheets of stainless steel, that look as if they were made by cutting holes in enormous sheets of paper with oversized scissors. The patterns represent the many faces of cut diamonds.

Art plays a large part in the elegant design of nearly all the ten new Elizabeth Line stations in Central London. Sometimes, the art takes the form of special artwork and at other times it is the special designs that are incorporated into the architecture of a station. Transport for London has carried on the tradition, started many decades ago on the London Underground for employing high-profile artists to add their designs to many stations and improve the overall passenger experience of using stations in London in general.


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Strand at the Western End

Above: Photograph taken on 18 August 1970 looks east from Trafalgar Square.

The above picture was taken by a photographer standing with their back to Trafalgar Square at the junction of Strand with the SE corner of Trafalgar Square. You could stand on the same corner today which has not changed geographically. The view is from the north side of Strand with the south front of Golden Cross House on the far left of the picture. The building is so-named because it stands on the site of a large old coaching hostelry called Golden Cross Inn. The fruit stall is long gone – as have many similar fruit stalls that were once a common sight at many locations in Central London.

On the south side of Strand is a large building, almost in the middle of the picture, set back from the roadway. It is part of the Charing Cross Hotel which stands above the entrances from the forecourt to Charing Cross Station. Working toward the camera, there is a small cream-coloured building that was later replaced with a much taller office block.

In front of that is the much larger Strand Corner House building, with only the first two words lit up in neon. Lyon’s Corner House in the Strand was one of quite a few similar establishments situated at busy locations in Central London. They were started in 1894 and remained until 1977. The first Lyons Corner House opened in 1909 on the northwest corner of Coventry Street and Rupert Street – just east of Piccadilly Circus. The second was on the south side of Strand (shown here) – between Charing Cross Station and Trafalgar Square. That building was later demolished and replaced with a modern one that is far less interesting. The Oxford Corner House was built 1926-7 to the design of F J Wills. There were other similar establishments called Maison Lyon’s.

A Lyon’s Corner House catered to a more up-market client. Lyon’s ran many smaller restaurants and tea rooms all over London. They were, in the main self-service and provided a quick ‘cuppa’ as well as a relatively cheap meal for shoppers and office workers. Lyon’s Corner Houses were rather more swish, often with a small three-piece group of musicians to entertain the customers while they enjoyed a leisurely meal. After years of austerity due to rationing during the Second World War, the Corner Houses were, for Londoners, their first experience of a more elegant menu when they sat down to eat in a restaurant in grand surroundings.

One last item that appears in the picture is the Police Post. The tall slender box contained a telephone that was wired directly to the nearest Police Station and was for the use of patrolling police on their beat. The picture relates to a time when there were almost no mobile phones. Those that did exist were so large that they were built into Police cars. To enable Police personnel walking their beats to have easy access to a telephone in an emergency, these Police posts were to be seen on pavements across London. The one shown in the picture (towards the left of view) no longer exists – made redundant by the profusion of mobile phones carried by every Policeman or woman while they are on duty.

For those who have known London since the 1960s, this photograph is typical of its time and a real snapshot of daily life in London that has quietly passed into history.


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Camberwell Old Cemetery New Gates

Above: Cemetery gates at the corner of Wood Vale and Langton Rise.

Camberwell Old Cemetery is situated beside Forest Hill Road. Its main entrance stands beside that road with a second entrance to be found in Wood Vale, at the junction with Langton Rise. When the cemetery was officially opened, in 1856, it was part of the parish of Camberwell which, in 1899, became the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. It now is now in the London Borough of Southwark.

Originally, people were buried in churchyards which often surrounded a parish church. As the population of London grew, more parish churches were built with their own churchyard. However, the need for land for burials soon outstripped the amount of available land in those churchyards. It should be remembered that burial by cremation was not legal until 1884. Victorians did not rear dying but what to them seemed unreasonable was the thought that Aunt Maud or Uncle Albert could not be buried because there just was no space for them in a particular cemetery. To alleviate the problem of cemetery space, many smaller public cemeteries were created in London, as well as in many other parts of Britain.

The advantage to many people who did not attend church or who did not believe in it was that public cemeteries often had land that was unconsecrated in which non-conformists could be buried. This meant that those who did not worship in a Church of England were not bound by the State religion. Many cemeteries were opened, most of them run as profitable businesses.

Camberwell Old Cemetery is typical of a cemetery that opened in the middle of the 19th century. It still has its main lodge to be seen just inside its main entrance gates. It once had two chapels but both of them have been demolished. Many cemeteries have elegant entrance gates and those at Forest Hill Road remain from the original opening. At the smaller entrance in Wood Vale, the gates needed to be replaced a few years ago and the modern replacements are a worthy sight. The project was undertaken for Southwark Council by Moxley Architects who designed new gates for the corner entrance, positioned between the original Grade II listed masonry gate posts.

The new gates bear the name of the cemetery around the top and, instead of iron bars, the design is formed of wrought iron shaped like branches and leaves. Many people still visit the cemetery, either because their loved ones have recently been buried in the cemetery or those who just wish to enjoy a leisurely walk around the grounds. For anyone who desires to use the cemetery, the gates are an attractive addition to the land.


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Express Dairy Tea Rooms, Borough High Street

Above: The mosaic on the east side of Borough High Street, under the railway girder bridge.

Do you remember the time when your milk was delivered to your doorstep? It was a long time ago. Only a very few milk deliveries are made these days and most of them are not done by milkmen working for large milk distributors. After the Second World War, in particular, nearly every household had milk delivered on a daily basis and that continued to be the norm up to the 1970s and into the 1980s. The service gradually declined in London until it was just not viable to deliver to so few people and the whole concept collapsed.

There were several factors that caused the collapse. One was the simple fact that wives were going out to work and when the milkman called to collect the money, usually once each week, there was nobody at home to answer the door and so paying the milkman became a problem. Secondly, households began to realise that supermarket milk was much cheaper than the price the milkman was charging and they started to switch to buying milk in large plastic cartons, in the hope that it lasted for a whole week.

The distribution process was very efficient with milk being driven to the customer’s door by electric milk floats from a central depot. In London, there were two main companies operating – United dairies and Express Dairies. They each had electric milk floats as well as their own shops in many high streets that also sold milk in glass bottles along with associated products, like cream and other dairy products. In general, the shops all closed down around the time of the end of home delivery of milk and the companies became a thing of the past.

In 2022, several railway arches were acquired by a new property company and renovated. They stood at the untidy corner beside Borough High Street where the old Victorian railway girder bridge crosses the roadway. It is part of a group of shops built into the brick railway arches that include the famous shop once known as Findlater’s Corner. The brickwork supporting the eastern end of the girder bridge was structurally sound but it certainly needed cleaning up after years, if not decades, of soot and grime building up, making the walls beside the footways very unsightly. All this work proceeded slowly and carefully for several months in 2022. The process was necessary to establish how much restoration of the brickwork needed to be carried out as well as to provide a better experience for the many people – everyday Londoners and also visitors to the capital – who pass by every day. There is a blog about the old shop called Findlater’s Corner being renovated.

See also – Findlater’s Corner Renovated

The Express Dairy was founded by George Barham in 1864 as the ‘Express County Milk Supply Company’. It was so named because they only used express trains to get their milk to London where a large bottling plant took the milk in bulk and bottled it before being sent out on milk floats. The company had a profitable existence until well after the Second World War. It was taken over on more than one occasion and the company continued under various names until just after the year 2000. House-to-house milk delivery, however, was not a common sight in London after about 1990.

As well as milk delivery and also a chain of shops selling milk and mainly dairy products, Express Dairy had a few tea shops operating in London. When renovation took place in 2022 on a dirty wall under the eastern end of the girder bridge, beside the pavement in Borough High Street, a surprise for the workmen was awaiting them. In this wall was discovered a large doorway that had once led into an Express Dairy shop that also had tea rooms. The premises acted as a shop for anyone passing by to purchase milk. Additionally, there was a parlour where milkshakes were served along with meals and cups of tea. Around the outside of the doorway, workmen found the wall was still decorated by a large mosaic which was the work of the celebrated mosaicist Jesse Rust. The architect for the restoration site, O’Looney, believed that the mosaic pieces, known as tesserae, may have come from Venice. He said: “The mosaic might be the last surviving Express Dairy signage in the UK”. The unusual Art Deco lettering has now been cleaned and it can be seen by anyone passing by.

Inside the shop, when it was operating, there was also a Ladies’ Room, a rare haven for Victorian women conducting their business away from the prying eyes of husbands and fathers. Such places were vital headquarters for the early suffragettes. This shop certainly has had an interesting history. One point that should be mentioned is that the premises would have been quite noisy from the rumble of overhead trains which passed over the large iron girder bridge. Although no doubt, the restaurant was pleasant enough, it would hardly have been a relaxing place in which to enjoy a meal or a cup of tea.

Another part of the mosaic sign mentions a “Smoking Room” – an activity that today is not permitted in any public enclosed premises. The external wall of the shop advertised “Luncheons” and “Afternoon Teas”. This was a restaurant catering for workers around London Bridge. So far, nobody has been able to provide a date for when Express Dairy Co Ltd ran the shop. The firm of Jesse Rust filled buildings across Britain with their mosaic work, especially floors as well as some walls. Examples are now to be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Their mosaic firm was moved from Lambeth to settle at 353 Battersea Park Road in 1892. Jesse Rust was succeeded by his son Henry Jesse. Jesse Rust owned the firm known as the Vitreous Mosaic Company.


Posted in /Sou-Southwark | 2 Comments

Mail Coach Floundering in Snow

This painting by E Cook is titled “Mail Coach Floundering in Snow”. It shows a really terrifying scene on a country road in the depths of winter. There is no doubt that the coach is owned by the Royal Mail. The passenger door bears the royal coat of arms and on the side of the coach is the royal cypher “VR”, indicating that the picture refers to travel after 1837 when Queen Victoria became Queen. Mailcoaches kept to a punishing schedule on normal occasions. In fact, they were the fastest mode of road transport on four wheels. One reason was due to the Royal Mail operating teams of four well-maintained horses to haul the coaches, steered by well-trained drivers. In addition, mail coaches did not have to stop at toll gates to pay any tolls. All toll-gate keepers were required by law to open the gate to let the coach and four pass through when they heard the coach approaching. Failure to do so incurred a fine if they were reported. A third reason that contributed to their speed was that mail coaches made fewer stops for food than normal stagecoaches.

The scene shows problems with the coach as it approaches a dip in the road where snow has built up into a drift. The coach itself has almost turned over onto its side. The front two horses are clearly in difficulty. What is surprising about the picture is that it shows the coachman remaining seated on the mail coach. One man is trying to assist one of the horses. Another man is about to get down from near the front of the coach. A third man, probably a passenger, is alighting from the coach via the passenger door. It might have been assumed that the first person to assist the horses would have been the coachman. If one of the horses had been injured, the normal procedure was for one of the coach party (usually the driver) to uncouple one of the uninjured horses and ride off to the nearest inn. Stagecoaches, as their name implied, travelled from stage to stage which were usually inns spaced about 10 to 15 miles apart along the route. At each stage, the team of four horses were changed and the coach then travelled on its way.

By riding off to seek help and possibly a fresh change of horses, the horses caught in the snow were probably taken back to the stables of an inn and the new team of horses could be coupled up with the coach. The scene depicted by the artist has caught the situation at its most critical. This mailcoach would not be keeping to its tight schedule on this occasion!


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Mail Coach Delayed by a Snow Storm

One of the main problems of traveling by stagecoach was that its fragile structure was woefully inadequate to cope with deep snow. Even today, heavy snow can render roads impassable for cars and even for really heavy transport lorries. The first passenger railway train in Britain ran in 1825. The first railway line in London was the London and Greenwich Railway which opened in 1836. The following year saw the publication of the above scene and only a few years later stagecoaches were to be consigned to history.

In the scene above, this was not any old stagecoach. It was one of the Royal Mail coaches, driven by an experienced driver with six elite well-trained horses to haul it. Even so, with such adverse conditions as are shown, nature had proved too much for their gallant efforts. The scene depicts, according to the caption below it, “The Devonport Mail, assisted by six fresh post-horses, crossing the downs near Amesbury, leaving their own jaded horses behind”. It was drawn by James Pollard, a very well-known artist in his day, who was a British painter noted for his mail coach, fox hunting, and equine scenes. It was published by Ackermann and Co, 96 Strand in February 1837. The original colour lithograph includes the information that it was made on stone which probably accounts for the soft shading and the very realistic portrayal of the winter sky.

We can work out the scenario by careful observation of the picture. It can be assumed that heavy snow had fallen while the coach and six horses were crossing open land near Amesbury – a small town, not far from Stonehenge, in the County of Wiltshire. The Mail Coach was on its way from London to Devonport, which is a district of Plymouth, situated near the Devon border with Cornwall. Devonport has always been important because of the Royal Naval shipyards situated there. The route by coach is very similar to that of today – a distance of about 240 miles. These days, using the M4 and M5 Motorways, the journey takes an estimated time of about five hours of non-stop driving. With most stagecoaches travelling at a maximum speed of just over 10 miles per hour, the journey would have taken around 24 hours to complete. By any standards, it was a grueling journey for a coach driver. Then add the hazards of snow storms and you begin to see the picture.

Amesbury is on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain. The land is mainly flat and very exposed. Unless there was no wind at all – which would be very unusual in the middle of winter – when it snows, it mainly snows horizontally. Snow drifts would soon build up and that seems to be exactly what had happened. By the early 1800s, simple compacted stone macadam surfaces for some roads had been invented by the Scottish engineer, John Loudon McAdam. It is not known the state of the road surfaces in Wiltshire but even if they were good, the surface would soon have been covered in deep snow. With no road markings and no road signs, it would take a very experienced coach driver to steer a mailcoach across the land. His detailed knowledge of the land in recognising trees and other minor landmarks was all he had to guide him.

The grim facts are gradually building up. With a heavy fall of snow, the horses would have tired very quickly and the coach would have gradually slowed until it could go no further. No matter what the weather conditions, the driver of a mailcoach was under strict instructions to see that the journey was completed – because the arrival of the mail depended on it. The title of the picture simply states that the coach was “near Amesbury”. This could mean that the coach was approaching Amesbury or that it had just left the town which is only a few miles from the City of Salisbury. The journey of the coach was about half-completed.

The driver would have left the stranded coach and taken one of the horses to ride into Amesbury to seek help from an innkeeper. The coachman would have explained the position and, because he was a Post Office official, he had the authority to order the innkeeper to supply him with six of his strongest horses so that the coach could continue its journey through the snow. No innkeeper would dare to refuse the driver of such a mailcoach. The innkeeper also knew that the Post Office would compensate him handsomely for helping out in such an emergency. Most inns on any stagecoach route had a good supply of rested horses, to change when another coach called there. Inns could have at least 40 rested horses in the stables, some had many more if they were on a busy coaching route.

In the view, we observe that the tired horses have been left in the snow and the new team of fresh horses is making good headway along the road. We notice that each pair of horses has a driver, each with a whip in his hand. The abandoned horses are in the distance to the rear of the coach. What is not apparent in the painting is that the wretched passengers – some inside and the rest on top of the coach – would have had to sit in the freezing conditions while the coachman obtained a new team of horses. The whole process may have taken several hours. Notice, too, how the fresh snow is clinging to the wheels of the coach – giving an indication of how bitterly cold the weather was.

Notice also that in the foreground there are sheep. Had the coach left the road by mistake? Had the driver lost his way and not been able to see where the recognised road lay? We just do not know. It seems odd that the coach is shown so close to the sheep. Those of us who travel by car or use trains as a mode of long-distance transport sometimes complain in winter about the terrible conditions we have experienced. After looking at this scene and all the chaos that is implied, we can be thankful that we have never had to suffer the perils of long-distance transport by stagecoach!

It would be interesting to know what prompted James Pollard to create the dramatic picture. Had he once travelled on this or a similar mailcoach and actually experienced such a journey? Had he been sitting in an inn and heard the story of a mailcoach that had suffered a similar fate? Had a tale of a mailcoach been written up in a newspaper, causing Pollard to decide it would make a good subject for a painting? We simply do not know but it would be of great interest if we did.


Posted in Subj_Coaching Days | 6 Comments