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Early Public and Private Transport in Scotland
by R. S. Rodger
Part 1: The Stagecoach


Inn Courtyard c. 1840 The first attempt at establishing a stagecoach service in Scotland occurred on 6th August 1678, when the magistrates of Glasgow entered into an agreement with William Hume, an Edinburgh merchant, whereby he would "Have in readiness ane sufficient strong coach, to be drawn by sax able horses, to leave Edinbro ilk Monday morning, and return again (God willing) ilk Saturday night". By way of a minor perk, the burgesses of Glasgow were always to receive preference, so if the coach was full and one or more of these illustrious gentlemen desired to reach Edinburgh, somebody had to get off. Since the fare was 4 pounds 16 shillings Scots (8 shillings sterling) in the Summer months and 5 pounds 8 shillings (9 shillings sterling) in the Winter months, it stands to reason that the sort of individual who could afford the trip would not easily be ejected from his seat.

A Town Coach in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh To ensure that the service continued come what may, the Glasgow magistrates allowed Hume the sum of 200 merks a year for five years, with two years being paid in advance. Hume's undertaking was that the coach would run as agreed and without fail whether or not any passengers required the service.

Unfortunately, Hume's stagecoaching empire did not last beyond the agreed period and for a long time there was no regular service. By 1713 the sum total of Scotland's contribution to the world of coaching were two stagecoaches plying between Edinburgh and Leith, and a once-a-month coach from Edinburgh to London, which was twelve to sixteen days on the road, depending on conditions.

When a service was re-established between Edinburgh and Glasgow the vehicles, described by those used to southern coaches as "of the clumsiest construction", were drawn by four horses in good weather and six in bad. The passengers almost always had to leave the contraption at the bottom of a hill and climb on foot until able to join it again. Generally, and unless anything untoward happened, the journey between the two main cities took around eleven or twelve hours, progressing at the rate of three and three-quarters miles per hour, stoppages allowed for. There were two main stoppages and a variable number of minor ones. Each time the passengers dined and took tea, and a convention arose that the gentlemen making the trip always treated the ladies.

A Stage and four departing Edinburgh c. 1840 This daily service continued unabated for almost 30 years, until 1790 when the coaches were replaced by chaises drawn by two horses. These chaises reduced the travelling time by around four hours to seven and a half, and by 1799 these were in turn superseded by improved coaches drawn by six horses and capable of doing to the trip in six hours. The first of this kind was the Royal Telegraph, which started on 10th January of that year and was owned by John Gardner of the Star Inn, Glasgow.

Coach passing St. Andrew's Church Edinburgh In the years that followed, up until the advent of the railway in the 1830s, the number of stagecoaches making the daily run between the capital and the industrial capital increased to twelve, each carrying between ten and fourteen passengers and completing the journey in five hours. Also, experiments were carried out wherein coaches were drawn by two horses and changing six times instead of four was for a while considered to be the best arrangement, even reducing the journey time in some cases to three hours and forty minutes. But the greatest time-saving of all came with the establishment of the early morning stagecoach, which started at six o’clock and allowed the passengers to make a return trip in one day.

Although the coming of the railway largely put an end to the stagecoaches on the Edinburgh to Glasgow run, other parts of Scotland would remain purely horse-drawn for some time to come. In the next article we will look at the peculiar problems besetting those who attempted to establish a transport system in the Highlands.