Friday, 16 July 2010

Marsh & Swan's vans, fly and stage waggons

Even though this sign in Ely has been restored, it must be the oldest one I've seen so far. It was painted on a range of eighteenth century cottages, two of which were used as staging post until around 1845.

Lynn, Cambridge and London
Vans, Fly and Stage Waggon
To the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street
Every Day
Isaac Marsh and William Swan

According to English Heritage this sign dates from the eighteenth century, but that may not necessarily be the case...
Several sources from the early nineteenth century mention the coach company of Marsh & Sons, based in London, Cambridge and Norwich. The company was certainly well established and well equipped by 1803. As The Annals of Cambridge for that year indicate, on March 7,
on the renewal of war with France, Messrs. Robert and I. L. Marsh and Sons of this place, the London, Cambridge and Norwich carriers, offered to furnish Government in case of invasion, with one hundred horses, twelve broad wheel waggons with twenty-four men to drive and guard the same, twenty-four flat-bottomed boats with men and horses usually employed therewith, four blacksmiths with travelling forge, two wheelwrights, and two collarmakers with their necessary appendages. The above to be employed whenever there might be occasion for their services at hour's notice.
A Guide Through the University of Cambridge published in 1808 also mentions that company. Back then Marsh and Sons' waggons
set out from Cambridge every day to the Bull, Bishopsgate-street, and return every day.
Their Swaffham and Fakenham Waggons pass through Cambridge every Thursday.
Their Downham, Ely, and Lynn Waggons leave Cambridge every Wednesday and Thursday.
Their Norwich and Yarmouth Waggons leave Cambridge every Monday and Friday.
Their BOATS to Lynn leave Cambridge every Saturday.
However, if the 1814 edition of the same guide gives the same list of departures, the name of the company has changed to Marsh & Swan. Therefore it seems the partnership between Isaac Marsh and William Swan dates from the first decade of the nineteenth century (later than 1811 in any case as documents from that year mention Marsh & Sons' general coach and waggon office at the Bull Inn). In the years that followed Marsh & Swan acquired some land in the proximity of the City to build stables, warehouses, granaries, a smithy and wheelwright shops. This suggests they transported goods in large quantities as well as passengers.

However the partnership must have come to an end after a few decades. Indeed in the 1845 edition of The Cambridge Guide the company appears as Swan & Sons. By then its passenger service out of Cambridge was:
Van, every morning (Sunday excepted), at 11 and 12 o'clock, and on Saturday evening at 8 o'clock, viâ railroad, to the Bull, Bishopsgate-street, London. -- Returns same days at 3 o'clock in the afternoon for Cambridge.
Waggon, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 9 o'clock to Brandon, Watton, Dereham, Swaffham, &c.
Van, every morning (Sunday excepted), at 11 o'clock, to Ely, Downham and Lynn.
Unless it operated new rural routes, the company may not have survived for very long after 1845. That year the railway from London reached Cambridge and one year later the line was extended to Ely and King's Lynn.

As for the Bull Inn in Bishopsgate, from where coaches towards East Anglia departed, it was immortalized by Charles Dickens in The Picwick Papers (chapter 22). It is in its yard indeed that the Pickwickians boarded the coach to Ipswich in company of Peter Magnus. After the latter checked all his bags were on board, they finally left London:
And away went the coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the whole population of that pretty densely populated quarter.
‘Not a wery nice neighbourhood, this, Sir,’ said Sam, with a touch of the hat, which always preceded his entering into conversation with his master.
‘It is not indeed, Sam,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the crowded and filthy street through which they were passing.
Sam Werrel then makes that wonderful comment:
"‘It’s a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,’ said Sam, ‘that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.’
How times have changed!

Location: Market Street, Ely, Cambridgeshire / Picture taken on: 03/07/2010

No comments: