James Pollard and The Age of the Coach

by Freya Folåsen, Cataloguer (Collections)

James Pollard was an artist and engraver working during the first half of the 19th Century. Pollard created prints of various sporting events such as fishing and racing, but he is perhaps best remembered for his many wonderful coaching prints, several of which are held in the BPMA’s prints and engravings collection. Pollard’s artistic career and the great coaching era coincided nearly perfectly and resulted in some of the finest depictions of that time in history.

The Bedford Times. Changing of Horses at the Old White Lion (1830)

The Bedford Times. Changing of Horses at the Old White Lion (1830)

The great coaching era lasted only a short time, from the early days of the 1800s until around 1840, but the history of travel by coach and of the mail coach in England goes back much further. In 1580 the first coaches were introduced to England from abroad. These coaches were without springs and made travel both slow and uncomfortable. The poor condition of the roads further reduced the comfort and speed, so in 1685 toll-gates appeared on English roads. These were to raise funds for road improvements and although they were an annoyance to coaching proprietors they were a necessary step in setting the stage for faster and more efficient road travel. Another 100 years passed before, in 1784, the first mail coaches were put on the road, an initiative started by John Palmer, Member of Parliament for Bath. Still, travel by coach would be tedious and tiresome for a few more decades, but by 1825 road improvements had made it possible for lighter and faster coaches to be made, significantly increasing the speed of coach travel. To fully take advantage of the new, faster coaches, mail terminals and coaching stations grew and needed to be tightly organised. Some terminals grew to resemble small towns, with coaching inns accommodating several 100 horses at one time. Important coaching inns sprang up in and around London, including the ‘Gloucester Coffee House’ in Piccadilly, portrayed by Pollard in ‘West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly’ from 1828.

West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly

West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly

It was during these thriving years Pollard made his most famous prints. He travelled along the routes of the mail coaches and showed both the dangers of the countryside and the hustle and bustle of the London mail coaches.

The Mail Coach in a Thunder Storm on Newmarket Heath

The Mail Coach in a Thunder Storm on Newmarket Heath

In ‘The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road’ he shows what was probably the busiest calling point for coaches in England.

The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road

The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road

The 1820s can be regarded as the high point for both James Pollard’s career and for the coaching days, but it would be short lived. The 1830s saw the introduction of the railway and with it, the decline of the stage coaches. For the mail it was the 1838 Act of Parliament authorizing the conveyance of mails by rail that ended the reign of the mail coach. In Pollard’s case, after the death of his wife and daughter in 1840 only one important print of his work was published and he spent the latter part of his life in relative obscurity. Regardless of this, Pollard and his coaching prints show us many different aspects of how the coaching and mail system once worked, and brings to life an era gone by.

Sources: Selway, N. C., 1957. The Regency Road: The Coaching Prints of James Pollard. London: Faber and Faber Limited.

11 responses to “James Pollard and The Age of the Coach

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  3. I recently purchased a very old print of “Mail Changing Horses”. It appears to be very old and has printed on it “pub- J. Pollard and also has some small print. Wondering if the piece is of any relavance or value.

  4. I purchased two framed prints several years ago; one is called ‘The Eagle Snaresbrook’ and the other ‘Mail Behind Time’. Would anyone know any background on these prints as I cannot find them listed or reproduced anywhere.

  5. To add to my last comment, The Eagle Snaresbook is of a mail coach not a gig passing The Eagle which is the one I have come across before.

  6. Whilst we have some of Pollard’s prints the difficulty in searching for them is in the title. We’ve searched other sites and some of the prints have different titles, e.g. we found ‘Mail Behind Time’ on one site as ‘Behind Time’ http://www.easyart.com/scripts/search/specificsearch.pl?start=36&totalrows=88&page=2&sc=prints.artist_id:eq:2304&page_title=James_Pollard

    We have one in our collection with Snaresbrook in the title http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk/dserve/dserve.exe?srch_AnyText=snaresbrook&dsqWords=Phrase&srch_AltRefNo=&dsqCmd=SearchBuild.tcl&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqServer=localhost&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&btnSearch=Search but we’re not sure if this is the same as you have.

    In short, we don’t have very much information, just what you can draw from the internet and from the record on our online catalogue.

    Hope this helps.

    • Further to this we have a book in our archive library which includes all of Pollard’s prints. It’s ‘The Regency Road: The Coaching Prints of James Pollard’ by N C Selway (published by Faber and Faber, 1957). If you’re able to visit our archive in London you can consult at no charge, or you may be able to find a second hand copy somewhere. Good luck!

  7. Hello,
    I have 2 color pictures by Pollard. I have 2-4 others, but I had framed them quite a few years ago and I have since packed them away in a box. The 2 that I have in front of me , I know are very, very old, although the color is still quite vibrant. They are printed on a heavy paper. They say on the left hand lower corner, printed by Jas. Pollard. in the middle Through The Floods far right lower corner Engraved by S.Rosenbourg, below this is Printed in England. the other picture is called The Edinburgh Express. and has the same printing on the bottom. I am wondering how old these might be ? and if these have any value ?

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