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Northern Rural Life in the Eighteenth Century


ON the 8th day of May, 1765, when the Magistrates. of Aberdeen went forth in state to meet the Justiciary Lords coming to the town on circuit, they, for the first time, rode in chaises in place of riding on horseback, as they had always been wont to do before. In the previous year a lady had managed to ride in a chaise from Aberdeen to Finzean, over a very indifferent road; and the fact was reckoned sufficiently notable to be recorded in her diary. In going over the Cairn o’ Mount she took to horseback, and passed along what she describes as a well-made road. Up to the close of the eighteenth century, riding on horseback was the ordinary mode of performing a journey, a lady, when she travelled, frequently sitting behind a gentleman on the same horse. And the Aberdeen shopkeepers would talk of being treated. by the "English riders," which simply meant the equestrian bagmen, who visited them periodically in the way~ of business.

Up to about the middle of the eighteenth century, the mail occupied three days in its journey from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. It came through Fife, crossing the ferries on the Forth and Tay; the messenger passing his first night out at Dundee, and his second. at Montrose. About 1750 an improved system was adopted, post-boys being provided to carry the mails stage by stage on fresh horses, to all the principal towns

of Scotland, while foot-runners went on the less important routes. In October, 1755, a regular post was established thrice a week between Aberdeen and Inverness, the time consumed in the journey by the post-boys being twenty-four hours. Eight or ten years later the London mail reached Aberdeen on the sixth day after leaving the metropolis.

The establishment of public conveyances for passengers was a separate matter from the carriage of the mails. It was not till 1758, when the population of Glasgow had risen to about thirty-five thousand, that a conveyance drawn by four horses, and accomplishing the journey in twelve hours, including stoppage for dinner, was successfully established between that city and Edinburgh. There was no other stage coach on that important line of road for thirty years thereafter, nor did any acceleration in speed take place during that time.

At their April meeting of 1789, the Aberdeen county gentlemen had before them a letter from the Post Office, relative to "putting the public roads and bridges thereon, by which the mail coach is to pass, in a proper state of repair." With a view to forward the matter as much as lay in their power, they appointed their Clerk to transmit a copy of the letter to the districts of Aberdeen, Garioch, and Turriff, with an earnest recommendation to attend to the contents of it, and. "apply the whole statute labour within their bounds, for this year, towards repairing the public roads through which the mail coach is to pass; and also to cause erect mile stones on the public road betwixt~ Aberdeen and Banif." The equestrian posts went along by Oldmeldrum to Banif. Foot-runners carried the bags from Oldmeldrum to Old Rain, and Huntly, and from Fochabers to Keith. At this time it was calculated that there would be 17,912 men in the county liable for statute labour, and 1000 horses and. carts that might be called out.

The business of facilitating mail arrangements was not quickly disposed of, for in 1794 the county had represented to it the great inconvenience suffered over all the north of Scotland by detention of the north mail at Edinburgh "for near ten hours," with the result of its arriving at Aberdeen at night. The demand made on b~half of town and county was, that the mails be sent on from Edinburgh "within three hours of arrival there." Two years after, the complaint still was that all the north mails lay at Edinburgh from five or six in the morning till one or two in the afternoon—a delay equal to two and a-half days in the week, or "a space of time equal to four months and ten days in the year" during which the mails "lay dormant" at Edinburgh. Tn October, 1796, it was intimated that the Postmaster-General had agreed to run a mail coach from Edinburgh to Montrose "on and from 5th April next," and that the coach "would be forwarded to Aberdeen how soon the turnpike road was completed from Montrose." It does not appear that this promise was carried out so fully as had been expected, for in May, 1797, there was a proposal for the ill-used northern counties to unite in an application to Parliament on the subject. But at last, in July 1798, a mail coach, drawn by four horses, commenced to run through between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, performing the journey in about twenty-one hours. The time required previously by the post-boys was thirty-five or thirty-six hours.

The "Aberdeen and Edinburgh Fly" and the "Strathmore Diligence" were two of the earliest stage conveyances southward from Aberdeen, arid which supplied the wants of the travelling public in the latter years of the last and first years of the present century—the smartly equipped "Defiance" came later. The very full particulars printed on the ticket of each passenger by the Fly may be given. They are taken from a ticket endorsed on the reverse side, "A gentleman, to Edinburgh. Monday, 12th Nov., 1781. Paid, £2 0s. 0d. A. G., Clerk":—


SETS out from Mr. SMITH’s NEW INN, Aberdeen, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4 o’clock in the morning: arrives at Edinburgh next day to dinner; and from Mr. ROBERTSON's BLACK BULL INN, Edinburgh, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at 9 o’clock in the morning; arrives at Aberdeen next evening. The passengers both ways ly at Mr. JOHN CAMPBELL’s, Innkeeper, Perth, the first night, from whence the above Fly sets out every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at 5 o’clock in the morning, and arrives at Edinburgh same day to dinner; and for Aberdeen every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, same hour, and arrives at night.

Tickets between Edinburgh and Perth 11s. ; ditto between Perth and Aberdeen, 29s. ;—uptakes on the road to pay 4d. per mile, each allowed 14 lb. of luggage; all above to pay 2d. halfpenny per lb. for the whole distance, or in proportion to the miles they go.

Passengers at Edinburgh for Aberdeen must apply before 12 o’clock the preceedieg days of the Fly’s setting out, as, after that hour, seats will be given out to Perth, &c. if applied for.

Tickets for Edinburgh must be taken out at Aberdeen, before 3 in the Afternoon, of the day before the setting out of the Fly, as after that time, tickets will he given out for any intermediate distance.

Good convenience for boxes, parcels, &c. which will be regularly entered, and delivered on arrival. Carriage of goods the wholo distance, 2d. halfpenny per lb.; small parcels [7 lb or under], to pay 1s. 6d. each. The proprietors will not be accountable for valuable papers, cash, jewels, or plate, and those that send goods must observe to pack them sutflcient to undergo the friction of the carriage, otherwise they cannot answer for damages.

N. B. The Flies for Newcastle and London set out from the Black Bull every day, as usual, and from the George and Blue Boar, Holburn, London, for Edinburgli likewise a Diligence for Glasgow, &c. and from Mr. Dunbars, innkeeper, Glasgow, every day, for Edinburgh.

$$$ It is intreated of the passengers not to allow the Drivers to take up foot-travellers between stages.

The Strathmore Diligence ran ‘twixt Aberdeen and Perth every week day. One prominent advantage of travelling by it, too, was that passengers for Edinburgh and Glasgow had "the benefit of a night’s rest at Perth," and were "forwarded next morning by coaches" which left that place daily for the two cities named.

The first serious effort to establish a public conveyance to northward of Aberdeen seems to have been made soon after the construction of the Inverurie

turnpike, by an enterprising citizen named Alexander Scorgie. Post horses and post chaises had hitherto been the recognised means of locomotion on long journeys. The plod dmg craftsman of the hamlet, smith, or tailor—or the pack merchant—did not boggle at a tramp of twenty to thirty miles on foot to "the toon" when necessary; and for "gentlemen" who could afford to travel in a different style, country innkeepers had begun to let it be known that they could " accommodate," in more or less, those of them who might be disposed to make their hostelries a stage, and who happened to need horses or "a stea(ly driver." Mr. Scorgie’s idea was a bolder one. He started a passenger "Caravan" to travel on stated days ‘twixt George Street, Aberdeen, and the house of John Norris, tailor, West Wynd, Huntly. The Caravan was a covered conveyance. In its original form it stood on two wheels, and was drawn by one horse. ‘l’he covering was of painted canvas ; and four passengers might find accommodation inside, their faces looking forward. Outside, the driver sat on a flat board at one side in front, with accommodation for a passenger on the opposite end of the board.

In September, 1807, after he had run to and from Huntly fir a while, successfully it would seem, Mr. Scorgie announced that "for the more general convenience of the public," lie found it necessary to extend his journey as far as Keith ; and he would go thither accordingly froni Aberdeen every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, returning on the intervening days. At Keith, saddle horses auid gigs were provided for the conveyance of passengers going to Fochabers, Elgin, and Forres, "where places may be taken for Scorgie’s Caravan going to Aberdeen." The public are further informed that, in his anxiety to give every satisfaction, Mr. Scorgie had "an entire new and commodious Caravan in preparation," which, adopting his own description, was "upon an improved

principle calculated for greater ease to the passengers than is to be found in any other such vehicle." And he flatters himself that the new Caravan would "prove little inferior to a post chaise for convenience and pleasant riding—being adorned in the front and sides with fhll glass windows, and elegantly padded in the inside; and full room for six inside passengers and two outside." In short, "no expense" had been spared to render the improved Caravan such as to merit the approbation of those who might honour its proprietor with their favours. In closing his announcement, Mr. Scorgie assures "ladies and gentlemen wishing to send youth of either sex" to any of the places visited by the Caravan, that they might "depend upon his most tender care and attention iii conveying them in safety to the places directed."

This improved Caravan could boast of four wheels, and was drawn by two horses driven tandem. It was specified to give full room inside for six passengers, but would accommodate eight at a pinch. In addition to being padded inside, the Caravan was done up outside in bold black and yellow colours, with regular "dicky" and space for a passenger on the box seat. The "insides" gained admittance to their seats by a door behind; and when, as would occasionally happen, the proprietor-driver—a rather fussy little man, as the rustics deemed him, with a cap and big "peak" to protect him in all weathers—had no passengers, or but few, he too would take his seat inside, and contrive to steer his team through an opening in front. The pace of the vehicle was a slow trot, hardly exceeding five miles an hour on an average. But the roads were none of the best; and in the earlier days of the Caravan, at any rate, the hours of arrival and departure were by no means rigidly adhered to. For in addition to waiting any reasonable space of time at starting for an expected "fare," Mr. Scorgie, on being apprised that a possible passenger, willing to pay the hire,

might be got by diverging a few miles from his wonted route, did not scruple to make thc necessary detour, correspondingly lengthening both the journey and the time occupied by it.

Whether, and how far, the increased exertions of the proprietor of tim only original Caravan in providing an improved service, may have been stimulated by threatened opposition would bc a curious inquiry. Only ~ week after the announcement of Scorgie’s extended operations, Alexander George, a "chaise letter" in Huntly, and lessee it is believed of the Gordon Arms Inn there, announced that he, too, had commenced running a caravan between Aberdeen and iluntly. He also ran on alternate days, but so as the caravans must have crossed, in place of maintaining a side byside competition. The Huntlychaise letter stated that his conveyance was "fitted up in such a manner as to afford every comfort and convenience to passengers, and inferior to no vehicle of the kind travelling in this part of the country ;" and he charged the moderate fare of "seven shillings the whole way, and any intermediate distance in proportion."

The rival Caravan men had been justly regarded as postal celebrities ; and the name of each lived up to probably quite the average "immortality" secured to men whose deeds have made them locally famous. The tradition even yet remains of how the Marquis of Huntly, afterwards "Duke George" (of Gordon), wanting to reach Pitmachie on a day of smart snowstorm, would trust to nobody but Alexander George to post him through the wild and dreary Glens of Foudlaad. George acted post-boy to his Grace accordingly; and on the return jonrney, having stopped at Bainshole, a small hostelry in the Glens, for refreshment, the Duke was surprised to find a pair of fresh horses turned out, wherewith to resume his journey without loss of time. "Please your lordship, this is my stick o’ help," said the enterprising chaise letter in response to the Duke’s admiring exclamation at witnessing arrangements so much in advance of the period. The story conies to us also from living lips, of bow on a very stormy day, when Seorgie had reached Pitmaehie, long a well known coaching stage, some one put to him the question, "Foo ‘11 ye win through the Glens in sic a nicht I" The proprietor of the Caravan showed his mettle in the reply, "I’ll gae throu in coorse." And the saying became erystallised into a local " byeword"—" I’ll dee’t in coorse ; as Carrie gaed throu the Glens."

It was not till 1811 that regular mail coaches were established between Aberdeen and Inverness.

In the month of June, 1805, when the Inverurie turnpike had been in use five years, an alternative. medium of communication bstween Aberdeen and that royal burgh was established by the opening of the Aberdeenshire Canal, which, at the time of its eonstruction, was reckoned rather a stupendous work.~ On the opening day the committee of management "embarked" at tile Inverurie bason (named Fort- Elphinstone in honour of a leading promoter) in a barge handsomely decorated." They carried a gun at the Prow of the barge to signal their approach to the delighted crowds who had assembled at different points to witness the accomplished triumph of inland navigation. And their gaily decked vessel, " The Countess of Kintore," with its living freight, having completed the voyage of fifteen miles in seven and a half hours, was, amid general jubilation, safely moored at the bason at Aberdeen Quay. Two miles an hour or thereby might do for heavy goods ; but it was clear that a speed considerably less than the normal walking pace was inadequate for passenger traffic ; and thus, in the summer of 1807, we find a passage boat " covered and neatly fitted up for the purpose of conveying passengers and light goods" set agoing. It returned to Aberdeen the same day as it left, but did not at first ply every day. The fare was two shillings to Inverurie, and twopenee per mile for intermediate distances.

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