Royal Mail Coach Horses


cattle

To horse the Royal Mail coaches the Post Office contracted with the proprietors of the large terminal public houses in London, to provide the drivers and team horses necessary for the journey. These proprietors generally provided their own horses for the first two or three stages out of London. Then they subcontracted with other inn-keepers along the route to supply teams for the other stages.

The most outstanding of the inn proprietors who provided horses and coachmen was William Chaplain. The elder Chaplain acquired the Swan with Two Necks in Ladd Lane near the new Post Office in St. Martin's in 1825. At the Swan with Two Necks 200 coach horses were housed. Chaplain also had large stables on all important roads leading out of London. At Hounslow on the Bath route he stabled 150 horses at the Crown and Cushion Inn. At the height of his business in 1838 he owned some 1800 horses. Of the 28 Mail Coaches that left London each evening half the teams were provided by Chaplain.

At the height of the mail coach era there were more than 150,000 horses in daily use for the transport of the mails. Coach horses were usually warmbloods because they combine strength and speed. Horses of the Cleveland Bay breed were a frequent choice for Mail coach teams. The lead off-side horse was usually white or gray to provide greater visibility to oncoming traffic at night. ‘Stages’ on a stagecoach or mail-coach route were usually between 10 and 15 miles apart. If a coach was not actually stopping at a stage but merely wanted a fresh team of horses, then just five minutes were allocated for the change and so the guard would blow the 'change horses' call on the post-horn in order to warn the inn-keeper to prepare the horses. The crack ostler teams of the mail routes were known to change out the teams in under three minutes.


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