The Economic History Review

The development of stage coaching and the impact of turnpike roads, 1653–1840

Volume 67 Issue 3
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Pages: 818-845Authors: Dorian Gerhold
Published online: July 9, 2014DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.12048

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This article uses newspaper advertisements to chart the changes in speeds and fares of stage coaches, identifying the main periods of increasing speeds among London coaches as the 1760s-80s and 1810s-20s, separated by a period when speeds declined. It then measures productivity growth. Fares of London coaches in 1835-6 were about 27 per cent of what they would have been but for improvements in horses, vehicles, and roads from 1750, and the two main periods of productivity growth correspond to those of rising speeds. Speeds and productivity of regional coaches increased more smoothly. The rising productivity firmly identifies road transport as one of the modernizing sectors of the economy. New figures are put forward for the growing number of London and regional coaches, indicating rapid growth in passenger miles. While turnpike trusts had little impact before the 1750s, their increasing effectiveness, together with the use of steel springs and improved horses, was crucial to the rising productivity of the 1760s-80s, and even more so to that of the 1810s-20s. The cross roads were apparently poorer than London roads in the late eighteenth century, but thereafter the gap narrowed.