Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Societies - Coaching clubs

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Coaching Clubs and Road Coaches.—The Benson Driving Club, established in 1807 and broken up in 1854, consisting of twenty-five members, was the last of the old coaching clubs known to the past generation, as the Four Horse Club, which was organised a year later, expired in 1826, and the Richmond Driving Club did not last long. In 1856 however, the late Mr. Morritt succceeded in getting thirty good men together, and established the present Four-in-hand Driving Club, which soon was found to be too exclusive for the growing taste for the road, and in 1870 Mr. George Goddard and a few other gentlemen laid the foundation of the Coaching Club, which, on its first appearance in Hyde-park, turned out twenty-two drags, and last year the list of members (confined to 220) was full, with many aspirants on the books. Both clubs meet twice a year, generally at the Magazine in Hyde-park; the Four-in-hand Club's first meet being always the Wednesday before the Derby, and the other gatherings fixed later on. These clubs have no habitation or abode, but drive from their meets to dine or lunch at Greenwich, Richmond, the Alexandra and Crystal palaces or elsewhere; and the want of some congenial rendezvous was felt so much that in 1874 Major Furnival opened the Road Club in Park-place, and Mr. Hurman shortly followed suit at 100, Piccadilly, where "The Badminton" is now established, with every luxury for habitués, and capital stabling for fifty horses. The Road Club keeps a coach for the use of its members during the season, and the Badminton has always one or two teams in the yard. The Duke of Beaufort is president of both these clubs, as he also is of the Four-in-hand and Coaching Clubs. The "Brighton Age" king taken off the road in 1862, there were no stage coaches running out of London until the spring of 1866, from which date the present revival of road coaching must date, when "The Old Times" commenced the new era on the same road; and each year since there has been a steady increase, until in 1875 there were eleven coaches starting from the "White Horse Cellars," in Piccadilly; while the following (and probably more) will run during the ensuing season, viz, from about the end of April to the autumn except "The St. Albans," which runs all the year round. "The St. Albans," Mr. Selby, proprietor and coachman, leaves during the summer months at 11 am., and gets back at 6.30 p.m., giving the passengers two hours and a half for luncheon and inspection of the beautiful abbey, &c.; in the winter the times are changed to 10.30 a.m. out, and 5 p.m. back again. Sir Henry de Bathe, Major Dixon, Captain Blvthe, Mr. Wormwald, &c., are also occasionally seen driving this coach. "The Guildford," with Mr. Walter Shoolbred sole proprietor this year, with Tom Thorogood for his professional, leaves Hatchett's at 11 am., and returns to Piccadilly at 7 p.m. "The Windsor," with Messrs. Greenall and H. Bailey as proprietors, Harry Thorogood, coachman, and the well known Bob Rear as guard, leaves at 10.30 a.m., returning at 6.50 p.m. "The Dorking," Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Sheather in command, with E. Perrin as guard will commence its journey at 11.15 a.m., and get borne at 6.30 p.m. "The Box Hill," with Sir Henry de Bathe and Mr. Hunt as the amateurs, and B. Hubble as professional, will start at 10 30 am., and pull up on its return at 6.30 p.m. Another Box Hill will leave there every morning, and return from Hatchetts at 4.15 p.m., Messrs. Praed and Brand being proprietors. "The Virginia Water," running through Hounslow and Staines, will be put on the road by Captain Parker of the 18th Hussars, and will leave London at 11 a.m.1 and return at 6.45 p.m. "The Brighton" will most probably be a double coach this season, with Col. Clitherow, and Messrs. Freeman and Chandos-Pole as proprietors, John Thorogood and another as coachmen. Captain Blythe, with E. Fownes and Harry Cracknell as coachmen, will, beginning on the 5th of April, run from Oxford to Cambridge and back on alternate days, leaving either University at 9a.m., passing through Piccadilly at 2.45 p.m. where 30 min. will be allowed for luncheon, and their destination will be reached at 9 p.m. In addition to these there are rumours afloat that a coach will run to Sevenoaks; that Mr. Hoare and Lord Arthur Somerset will again bring up passengers from West Wickham, returning in the afternoon; and that coaches from Twickenham and Thames Ditton will also be on the road, up in the morning, down in the afternoon. Intending passengers by any of the above can secure their place and pay their fares, which average between 3d. and 4d. per mile, at the "White Horse Cellars," Piccadilly where the ever civil and obliging Banks Brothers are always ready to give every information.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879


Meets of the above in Hyde Park are red letter days to the police, and I believe the general public are equally interested, judging from the attendance to witness these fashionable "turn-out". They are undoubtedly one of the greatest attractions of the London Season. I am not going to attempt to describe the origin or merits of these particular clubs any more than saying that none but the highest noblemen of the land are members of rither; my humble efforts are simply confined to police duty on these occasions. As I said before, we looked forward to these events with anxiousness, as we prided ourselves on having carried out this duty on our own - no assistance from outside divisions, and, judging from the congratulatory letters received by the Commissioner from the Secretary of the Clubs, I believe everything was done satisfactorily. Every man available, of course, was required, for I must say in all my experience there was only one occasion that a greater number of people would come to the Park, and that was on the occasion of Her Majesty the late Queen Victoria driving through the Park in the Season on her return journey from Buckingham Palace to Windsor, usually about 5 p.m.; In the ordinary way the Park is pretty full at that time, but the desire to see Her Majesty and that combined, I must give that occasion precedence. Of course, I am speaking of annual events, not of those that would crop up promiscuously, such as large political demonstrations, etc.
    But to return to the principal topic of this chapter. There were usually two Meets each of these clubs during the season, as a rule one each before Ascot and one each before Goodwood Race Meetings.* ( * One out of the four of these Meets usually takes place in St. James's Park, on the Horse Guards' Parade, at Six o'clock in the evening -invariably the last of the Season.) One o'clock was the hour for the Meet to start, and about half an hour before that time they commenced to assemble on a fine piece of carriage roadway, some hundred and fifty yards long and between twenty and thirty wide, in close proximity to the Magazine. We always paraded about twelve o'clock under the trees in front of this spot, and each man told off to his respective post by the inspector in charge. And very soon work commences, for carriages, broughams, landaus, etc., begin to come from all directions to take up their positions; these the police have to rank in as even and close as possible, each side of the road, and take particular notice that only the authorised ranks take up a position, double rank one side and single the other; but, of course, this all depends upon the width of the road and at the discretion of the inspector in charge, where he considered necessary that every facility be given for the coaches to pass. The route usually taken is, starting at the Maga zine, along Ring Road to Hyde Park Corner, turning to right up Carriage Road via Albert, Prince of Wales, and Alexandra Gates, leaving the Park by Queen's Gate. As the coaches approach the starting or meeting place they are met and escorted by a mounted constable, and placed in their respective positions by the orders of the Secretary, Mr. F. R. Lovegrove, who is on the ground ready waiting for them. I must refer my readers to the members of the Press for a description of these beautiful, high.mettled, prancing "teams" -it is not in my power to give them half the praise they deserve, and I am not going to attempt it; but I certainly read the reports in the newspapers with pleasure, and not only of the horses, but the owner on the box, with reins and whip in hand, and the other occupants are alt given in the most minute details by these gentlemen.
    No vehicle of any kind is allowed on the space allotted to the "Meet" with one exception - Her Majesty Queen Alexandra (when Princess of Wales), driving in her phaeton and pair. Her Royal Highness was one of the earliest to arrive on the ground, and appeared to take great interest in the teams as they arrived. Equestrians were permitted to rank close to iron rails on the side of the roadway, and, of course, plenty of pedestrians would get in front of them, and close to the coaches as the police would allow. My post for several years, in fact up to the time I retired, on the Serpentine Bridge-myself and two constables, one at each side. My orders were that no vehicle of any kind was to remain on or near the approaches to the bridge; and a harassing time it was, for what with the turning back of the excess traffic when the ranks en route were full, and loitering and grumbling cabmen who persisted they had been instructed to wait for their fares, it was no easy matter to carry out, and I was most thankful when the signal was given the coaches had started. My orders also were that on the last coach leaving the Magazine I should at once proceed with my two men to Queen's Gate, and prevent any obstruction to the teams leaving the Park on their way to Hurlingham or Ranelagh, and as there were no police to be spared prior to this, we had to lose no time in getting there. I usually cut across the corner of Kensington Gardens, and have run nearly the whole way; and we were not the only ones that hurried up, for when the last coach had left, a rush, -almost amounting to a stampede, occurs, for equestrians, pedestrians and vehicles made a peIl-mell rush over the ; bridge for the Alexandra and Queen's Gates, to see them pass by. This in itself is an amusing spectacle to witness; everyone seems in a good humour, and takes a delight in this sharp rush for a few minutes, after standing about for so long. I have never known of any accident in consequence, for, as I have said, the bridge and road were comparatively free of traffic, so they had a clear course for their run.
    The whole of the coaches do not proceed to Hurlingham; a few of the members, upon arriving at Queen's Gate, will turn round and drive through the Park again until time to go home for luncheon. There were usually about twenty members - sometimes more, sometimes less- attend their respective club meets.

Edward Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event, etc, 
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park,

see also George Sala in London Up to Date - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - A meet of the Coaching Club

Coaching Club - photograph


At the height of the London "season" there are few more popular functions than a meet of the Coaching Club or of the Four-in-Hand Club in the Ladies' Mile, as the broad drive in in Hyde Park on the north side of the Serpentine is commonly called. On such occasions an immense crowd of fashionable persons goes to see the gathering and to discuss the horses and the people on the drags, which sometimes number between thirty and forty. It is always a very gay scene in fine weather, as may be imagined from the picture The fours-in hand assemble near the Powder Magazine, and after a time leave the Ladies' Mile for Hurlingham, Hurst Park, or some other country place. Our view embraces the stone bridge which spans the Serpentine.