Victorian travel question

OK, it’s a bit cheeky to ask this, but I have got myself into the blocked situation where I need to know the answer to a historical question for my historical novel before I can write a single word more. Well, that’s my excuse. So here’s the question:

How would a single gentleman (i.e. travelling alone, not with a family or staff) get from London to Marseille in 1830? Train to Dover, then ferry, then train? But I think trains came later in France… So train then ferry then carriage/horse? Or was there not yet a train from London to Dover, so horse ferry horse? Rollerblades?

Any suggestions of an answer or where to find one would be extremely gratefully received!

Rail travel was very much in it’s infancy in the 1830s. The UK has the oldest rail network in the world, and did have some links in 1830, but these were focused on trade routes in the midlands and the north of England. It was the 1850s before the South East got regular railways, I believe. … at_Britain … 830_-_1922

France didn’t really get a network established until a little later (it wouldn’t have been possible to go all the way to Marsaille until at least 1856… … _in_France

So more conventional modes of transport across the land portions would seem likely. In 1830 this would probably have been stagecoach if your gentleman had luggage…
Otherwise, regular horse?

Automobiles are out of the question…

For crossing the channel, it is possible that your gentleman took a ferry. The first passenger ferry across the channel was the Rob Roy, which made it’s first trip in 1821…
(see the section on notable channel crossings -about 60% through the article)
In other words, in the realm of fiction, it is plausible that your chap could have caught a ferry, although I suspect regular schedules would be some way in the future.

Note, you might not want to do a google images search for “travel 1830” from a work computer, due to the “Club 18-30s” holiday people. :smiley:

Now you have no excuses!


Inline skates weren’t invented until 1849 (in France, though!) so that’s out of the question. Also, they did not allow the wearer to either turn or stop. Two deficiencies that would have made a journey from London to Marseille fairly traumatic. :smiley:

Roller skates generally are older. They were invented in 1760, although they weren’t popularised untol 1863 when someone invented the rocking design to the wheel plate to make turning much easier.

So actually you could have your gentleman try some roller skates, although he would get quite the reaction from everyone who saw.

Pigfender, you are just marvellous - thank you. I am rather tempted by the roller skates, but as he is a police constable on a case, I am thinking that this might draw unwanted attention.

Drat and blast - no more excuses not to write!


In the movie “A Few Good Men”, the lawyer character claims to think better with his baseball bat. One of his helpers puts the bat away after they keep tripping on it. When they reach a block in the case the lawyer says he needs his bat to think and is directed to his wardrobe where the lines of clothes spark an idea that gets things moving again.

You could use the roller skates as a similar device. Perhaps your gentleman tries them on the ferry and decides to buy them as they help him clear his mind (after all he has to focus on not crashing into things). I like the idea of a very sensible officer who wears roller skates when alone in his hotel room, no doubt confusing the hell out of anyone who hears the sound of gentle rolling over wooden floors. Then you can have him crash into something or break something that makes him have a connection that moves the case passed a block.

This narrative device is used so frequently in the tv series “House” that it’s basically considered a character trait of the lead that they will get ideas from random conversations and just wander off with renewed purpose, and he has even sought out random people to talk at to try and prompt these sorts of moments.

Just to point out … as a mere Brit … I think of “Stagecoach” as a term as coming from the US, though I may well be wrong. What I do know is that Jane Austen, writing only a couple of decades before your time, refers to it as “travelling post” … see Lady Catherine de Bourgh in P & P, haranguing Charlotte about sending a manservant with Lizzie and Maria when they return to Hertfordshire. So your man would either be travelling post, or he would “take a chaise” (equivalent of hiring a car and driver — see Persuasion end of Part 1, Anne, Wentworth and Henrietta returning to Uppercross following Louisa’s fall). If he had his own carriage, it might be a “curricle”.


Edit: And just so you don’t get slammed for inaccuracies (based on the thread title), 1830-37 is William IV, not Victoria (1837–1901). Perhaps the main events under Willie IV were the Great Reform Act of 1830 — the start of the process of making Parliament something more like a body representative of the people — and the final abolition of slavery in all British colonies and dominions in 1833. Any motives, side-plots in those? … Disenfranchised holders of seats in “Rotten boroughs”? Families with plantations in the Caribbean who wanted to see slavery continue … ?

In the age of stagecoaches, the dialects were much closer!
My very brief research done - all on wikipedia and all purely for the purpose of this post (ie I have no specialist insight or knowledge) - suggests that ‘stagecoach’ was indeed the name for the large public conveyances in the UK. The smaller carriages in cities were known as hackney carriages (so not much changes for Londoners, then). In France, the term they suggest is “diligence”

But to to sell a historical novel properly I think you have two choices:

  1. write it a long time ago
  2. do a lot of research

Option 2 is probably easier at this point.

My point is that one of the problems in Wikipedia is the origin and variety of language of the person who wrote and edited the article; meaning — with no disrespect intended — a North American would naturally refer to it as a “stagecoach”. So I have supplied a little bit of the research under part 2, by pointing the OP in the direction of an author writing just before the time in the novel, and who does not use “stagecoach”, and the expressions she does use. Also, of course, a taxi in London is still — or at least to my, soon to be on the way out, generation — a “cab” because the type of carriage used was a “hansom cab”.

I was once told that the “Hackney Carriage Act” regulating the cab business still included its original provisions, technically requiring the cabbie to carry a day’s hay for his horse. This, of course, may be an urban — or should that be “metropolitan” — myth.

It seems I have fallen foul of the dangers of single source research!

Still, the phrase “coaching inn” is one I know well from the UK, and “Coach And Horses” is a relatively common pub name, implying that the term was indeed used. I always assumed that a stagecoach was a coach used for carrying people, as opposed to a mail coach etc.

The word “stagecoach”… as far as I can guess, a stagecoach was the name for a coach that travelled in “stages”, like so:

Start in the morning, travel thirty miles, stop for a restorative lunch, (hence the name “restaurant”, a place that provided hot soup that “restores” you), change horses, start out again, travel thirty miles, stop for the night. Next day, fresh horses, travel thirty miles… and so on, stage by stage. It would carry people, parcels, goods, and mail, whatever would fit on the thing and could be economically charged for. The faster the horses went, the shorter the stages, as they grew exhausted; vice versa.

Just my two bits’ worth.

“Stage Coach”, Charles Dickens, Sketches from Boz (1836)

But Professor Landow suggests Dickens often used stage-coaches to provide an air of nostalgia, even though stage coaches left London until 1846.

I didn’t know any of this stuff until I read the discussion above, and had a micro-google, raising Mark’s Austen with one Dickens. The Victorian Web site might be a useful place to explore.

BTW, the story about Hackney Carriages and hay for the horses is true: I was taught that law as a young (non-Metropolitan Police) constable in 1980 as light relief from the joys of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations. The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 is another source of delight:

Every person who beats or shakes any carpet, rug, or mat (except door mats, beaten or shaken before the hour of eight in the morning):
Every person who fixes or places any flower-pot or box, or other heavy article, in any upper window, without sufficiently guarding the same against being blown down:

Back to the OP: if you haven’t already looked at the The Vagrancy Act 1824 (, it might be a good source of ideas re travelling, dealing as it does with beggars, ‘rogues and vagabonds’ and the like…

As a footnote to pigfender’s Wikipedia History of European Railways, perhaps I should point out that the UK’s railway network was substantially complete - actually more complete than it is now - by 1910. And I’m sure that the same applied to France.

I actually travelled by rail in the South-East of England in the early 1950s - electrified rail! :wink:

Not that that’s at all relevant to the question in hand. And pf’s datings may of course be typos. :wink:

P.S. In the Great Transportation Debate I’m on the “post” as opposed to the “stagecoach” side of the argument. My guess is that “post” may be the generic term for the service and “stagecoach” may be the means: think “Greyhound” and “bus”.

PF’s dates are indeed terrible typos - gone back and corrected

Pigfender great history lesson:))

Don’t forget the horse-drawn boats. It was a commonly used mode of transportation for goods and people in Victorian times .
I don’t think it was the first choice for a gentleman however.

There’s an excellent and thoroughly researched chapter on canal-boat travel in C.S. Forester’s Hornblower and the Atropos. For those who don’t mind a little Hearts of Oak in the recreational reading, and who might harbor hidden desires to say arrrrrrrrrr or “I’ll have a spring on the cable, Mr. Bush.”