Austen Authors December 12, 2016: Regency Roads

As you may recall from November’s post, I spent a week in Phoenix, visiting my aunt. I travelled by air and arrived within seven hours of leaving Cleveland. The return trip was not so smooth, and I spent the night in Charlotte’s airport (with nary a race shop in sight ~sigh~), finally arriving back in Cleveland at 9:40-ish the next morning, and home around noon.  

In the Phoenix suburb where my aunt lives, we encountered a massive amount of road construction, lane closures, and travel delays. It seems that, in warm climates, there is no “construction season.” It happens 24/7/365! All this travel business got me to thinking about travel in the Regency, specifically roads.  

I knew, of course, that London to Pemberley takes three days, with two overnight stops at inns. And, I knew that rainy weather often delayed travelers, stranding them at said inns. What I did not know was the depth of the problems travel could incur.  

According to Jane Austen’s World website, most people travelled no more than fourteen miles from their home, because the roads were so bad. I was not surprised to read that most folks walked everywhere, because I already knew that not everyone could afford a horse or carriage.  


Photo courtesy of Jane Austen’s World and @Roads in the 18th Century

The roads were unpaved, and, depending on the weather, could be a muddy mess or a dusty one. The Word Wenches site has a quote from 1770 that indicates ruts could be as much as four feet deep. Even for a farm girl familiar with rutted driveways and fields, that is deep! I can’t imagine trying to ride over one in a vehicle with wood and metal wheels.  

The Georgian Index states that it was only within cities that roads were good. They were cobblestoned, in general, and well-maintained. This website also gave me some information about the first road paving. Called macadamization, the process required a raised earth foundation, built to ensure proper drainage. On top of that was a layer of stones of a specific size, that was “uniformly spread and rolled”; the road had a depth of fifteen inches in the center and was twenty feet across. This process was adopted in most places by 1823. There were other systems, but this one, developed by John Loudon MacAdam, was cheaper and easier to build than the rest. Of course, as macadamization spread, travel became easier and probably increasingly more frequent, until railroads came to England and ushered in a whole new way to get from place to place.    


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia



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