Thursday 3 October 2013

My Postilion Has Gone Into Politics

Among all the goodies on offer at the Party Conferences, roll up, roll up, and take your pick has been the Chancellor's promise to freeze the tax on petrol etc.  This is because those on middle incomes are already being squeezed with a lot more pressure to come. 

Politically, the effective reduction in real disposable incomes not only affects votes, it also affects consumption and the government needs consumption to make the figures look good.

We are all very worried about our transport costs, personal, public, and those supplying our food and essentials.  But historically, even if oil prices do move up a good deal, they are very much cheaper than in the past. 

When you look at the historical dramas on TV and see all the coaches, horses, and the rest, much of it is flights of fancy, for the vast majority of people it was all a lot simpler.  Basically, you walked, unless you were possessed of a very good income.

If you look on the four in hand coach used for Stage or for private purposes, necessarily four horsepower and run down the potential costs they are very high.  A two horse rig would be for lighter and shorter distance work, and six horses is really at State Coach levels or magnate display purposes.

So restate say 1830 prices at 2013 levels, by calculations that relate to labour costs rather than the usual price comparisons of identifiable consumer products which have the effect of understating the real comparative costs involved.

Cost of coach new: £250,000 or more.
Cost of horses:  £15,000 each, good quality horses cost a lot more than others.
Annual forage cost:  £5000 at least for four horses.
Annual maintenance:  £50,000, given the rate of contemporary wear and tear.
Labour costs for driver, guard, postillion, ostlers, and boys, plus stabling and incidentals, then probably up to £300,000 a year or over.

For that you would get 0-6 mph in five minutes.  You might need a full service (that is change of horses) at every 15-25 miles

Commercial Operation Seat Prices for London-Bath (100 miles)
Inside - £1500; Outside rear - £1000; Outside top - £750
Partial refund for winter outside passengers freezing to death on journey

Now for freight, more complicated but still comparable one example is a ten ton log going from a woodland to the boatyard for the shipwrights to make a mast.  It would need a team of 16 heavy horses with two wagons, plus a full complement of drivers, minders, and labourers and ten miles a day would be good going.  

Try working the cost of that out in modern money.

For other forms of transport, a single horse and cart would cost much less than a stage coach, less that half, and need less support labour etc., but carry only as much as an average size van.  You are still looking at serious figures.

So why complain about motoring and transport costs today?  Because the future; all too soon, may become much more like the past. 

At least we will all have organic compost deposits in the streets free for the taking.


  1. And the broomers who swept those organic deposit to make a path for the jobs galore.

  2. "Basically, you walked, unless you were possessed of a very good income."

    Which is why we have such an excellent network of footpaths in Derbyshire.

    It can be surprising how close some villages are to each other when you take the footpath. Roads tend to wind around contours while paths are often shorter and much more picturesque. If you don't mind the hills that is.