Thanks for getting back to me - and telling me about the impressive
two-man one-horse journey!
The main road from Lichfield to London has been remarkably consistent
over the centuries, with 18th century coaches following much the same
route as Roman soldiers marching along Watling Street.
The best resources for tracing the main roads of the 18th century are
the strip maps produced as part of "Britannia Depicta", the nearest
thing to a road atlas at that time. These maps were printed between
1720 and and 1764, and were based on John Ogilby's survey of 1675.
There are several descriptions of the maps on the internet, confirming
that the Lichfield to London route passed through Coleshill, Coventry,
Dunchurch, Daventry, Towcester, Stony Stratford, Dunstable, St. Albans
and High Barnet.
This is borne out by a series of county maps from 1787, which show the
road clearly, though you can only view one county at a time.
Links to 1787 maps, county by county:
You can also see the road on this map of 1756 mail coach routes:
Please note that many of the maps I refer to can be enlarged by clicking on them.
It is extremely likely that someone travelling from Lichfield to
Oxford would have left the London road at Coventry, and taken the
Coventry - Banbury - Oxford road included in the Britannia Depicta. It
would be hard to find a more direct route and the Britannia Depicta
doesn't include any plausible alternative. I haven't discovered any
solid facts about public stage coaches operating on this road in the
period but it must have been an important route. A canal was opened
along it before the end of the century.
There is a copy of the Britannia Depicta Oxford to Coventry strip map
online. Start at bottom left, follow the road to the top of the page,
and then start at the bottom of the next strip. If you click on the
map to enlarge it, you may just be able to read the minor placenames
and all the appealing details of "arrable" land, hedges, brooks, and
"comon feildes both sides". An upside-down hill means you will be
18th century map of Oxford - Coventry - Derby road
Source page for the map
Similar map from 1772
Listing for the two maps which cover the Lichfield to London road:
"London, High Barnet, St. Albans, Dunstable, Stony Stratford, Towcester."
"Towcester, Daventry, Coventry, Lichfield."
Copies for sale at:
A small image of the London to St. Albans section of road:
There was already a public coach on the London to Coventry route in
the seventeenth century. By about 1740 Samuel Smiles reports that a
"wondrous effort" would ensure the journey, starting at Chester, took
three days from Coventry onwards, although Boswell seems to have
ridden from London to Lichfield in one long day in 1779. Mr. Pennant,
quoted by Smiles, explains:
"The strain and labour of six good horses, sometimes eight, drew us
through the sloughs of Mireden and many other places. We were
constantly out two hours before day, and as late at night,and in the
depth of winter proportionally later. The single gentlemen, then a
hardy race, equipped in jackboots and trowsers, up to their middle,
rode post through thick and thin, and, guarded against the mire,
defied the frequent stumble and fall, arose and pursued their journey
with alacrity . "
"No wonder, therefore, that a great deal of the travelling of the
country continued to be performed on horseback, this being by far the
pleasantest as well as most expeditious mode of journeying. On his
marriage-day, Dr. Johnson rode from Birmingham to Derby
And it was a cheap and pleasant method of travelling when the weather
was fine. The usual practice was, to buy a horse at the beginning of
such a journey, and to sell the animal at the end of it. "
The Life of Thomas Telford by Smiles
There are still coaching inns in several of the places on the London
to Lichfield route. Towcester has several, and Stony Stratford (now in
Milton Keynes, and nothing to do with Stratford-on-Avon) even claims
one patronised by Dr. Johnson himself. Although I looked for other
inns where Johnson stayed, I didn't find any along the Lichfield to
London or Oxford routes.
In Coventry it may be relatively difficult to find coaching inns, or
even trace the original road, since the city has undergone so much
rebuilding and redeveloping. Perhaps with the 1787 map of Warwickshire
beside a current Ordnance Survey paper map, you will be able to trace
the old route, but there is no good news about inns. For more detail,
follow these links about Coventry:
"High Street forms part of the ancient east-west route through the
city from Gosford Street to Spon Street."
Spon End pubs lost include coaching inns
Pubs in historic part of Coventry
There are certainly pre-19th century coaching inns along these roads,
and I can't help thinking that some of them will have a notice on the
wall saying, "Dr Johnson dined here."
"Samuel Johnson, author of the first dictionary, stayed at The Cock Hotel."
Information on coaching inns in Stony Stratford, including link to a
1680 map showing their locations:
[In Towcester]"There were some 20 coaching inns in the early 19th
century. Charles Dickens stayed at the 16th-century Saracens Head and
mentioned it in 'Pickwick Papers'."
"Sam Weller beguiled the time until they reached Dunchurch, where a
dry postboy and fresh horses were procured; the next stage was
Daventry, and the next Towcester"
Coaching Inn near Towcester, now an antique shop
16c "Crown and Tuns" at Deddington, Oxfordshire on the way from Oxford to Coventry.
Searching out coaching inns online is a long job because of all the
webpages listing a coaching inn in one place, and a modern hotel in
the town which really interests you. Dunstable and St Albans both say
they are well-supplied with old coaching inns but don't name them. If
you want to hunt thoroughly, I would try searches like:
[name of town] + "coaching or oldest inn OR inns"
[name of town] + "coach * horses"
[name of town] + inn century courtyard OR stables
Remember "The Coach and Horses" on a pub sign, or the presence of a
wide entrance leading to a courtyard, and/or stables are all
indications that a pub or hotel may have been a coaching inn.
You could also contact the tourist information office for the area, or
a local history society.
Other information I found while searching which might be of interest.
The GenMaps site has many excellent old maps, but they are very slow to load:
More information on "Britannia Depicta":
"The first public coach service between Oxford and London started
early in Charles II's reign. At first, the journey took two days,
breaking overnight at High Wycombe or Berkhampstead; but from April
1669 the Flying Coach" achieved the journey in one day . ."
In 1673 "The journey by coach from Oxford to London took two days, but
even then, after the first experience of the mode of travel some
preferred to return to the saddle horse."
Coaching Days in the Midlands
by Brian Haughton
"This became the great age of the stage coach. Watling Street was the
road to Holyhead and hence Dublin, the second city of Georgian
Britain. Towcester once again found itself on perhaps the most
important road of the kingdom with countless travellers passing up and
down it, Swift and Dickens among them."
History of Towcester
"St Albans became a major centre during the coaching era with around
330 beds and stabling for over 700 horses provided."
"It was during the 17th and 18th Century that Coleshill became a
popular coaching town"
Turnpike Trusts and the Transportation Revolution in Eighteenth Century England
Your plan to retrace one or both of these routes sounds wonderful and
has caught my imagination.
I wish you the very best of luck with your project. I've enjoyed my
small part in it and hope this answer will be helpful. Please feel
free to ask if you would like me to clarify anything, though I'm
afraid I will be away from Thursday to Sunday.
Best wishes - Leli
coaching inn inns road routes maps
Dr. doctor Samuel Johnson Boswell travelled rode "stayed at"
mail coach stage coach chaise postchaise
antique historic old maps [county names]
[town names] coaching inn