Tag Archives: engravings

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.

Mail Coach Attacked by Lioness

 by Freya Folaasen, Cataloguer (Collections)

The BPMA Museum collection consists of a wide range of objects and ephemera including a number of prints and engravings. This small collection of around 200 works is currently being documented and will be added to the online catalogue in the not too distant future.

The prints and engravings are in a number of styles and were produced using a variety of techniques, but all show some aspect of postal history, be it images of Royal Mail coaches unloading at the GPO at St. Martin’s le Grand, portraits of Postmastera General, interior scenes of letter sorting offices or motifs of postmen and postmistresses at work. Through this collection one can learn about the workings and development of the British postal service, and the interesting incidents that happened along the way.

The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach

The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach (2009-0010)

One of the more dramatic stories told through the prints and engravings appears in two separate prints Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterslow Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday 20th October, 1816 and The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach. Their subject is, as the titles might reveal, an event that took place in 1816 where the ‘Quicksilver’ Royal Mail coach, on its way from Exeter to London, was attacked by a lioness outside the Pheasant Inn.

A lioness is not what one might expect to see in the English countryside, but not far from the Inn a travelling menagerie had stopped for the night and it was from here the lioness had managed to escape from its keepers. As the coach stopped to deliver the mail bags the lioness attacked the lead horse of the ‘Quicksilver’, setting its talons in the horse’s neck and chest. The two passengers of the coach fled into the Pheasant Inn and locked themselves inside, blocking the door for anyone else, while the mail guard attempted to shoot at the animal with his blunderbuss. A large mastiff dog from the menagerie set on the lioness “with such pluck and fierceness”[1] and grabbed one of its hind legs, which made the lioness release the horse and attack the dog, chasing and finally killing the dog some 40 yards from the coach. During this time the keepers where alerted to the situation and managed to trap the lioness under the straddle of a granary. The menagerie proprietor and his men then crawled in after the lioness, tied her legs and mouth, and then lifted her out and back to her den in the menagerie caravan, while the locals of Winterslow Hut watched on.

Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterslow Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816

Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterslow Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816 (2009-0024)

This incident became known all over the country, and at a time without telephones, telegraphs or railways it is amazing to find that a mention of the Sunday night attack was made the very next day in the London Courier, and in further publications in the following days. It also became the subject of artistic work, among them paintings by A. Sauerweid and James Pollard, which the prints in the BPMA’s collection are based on.

Another noteworthy fact about the incident, and a testimony to the efficiency of the postal service at the time, is that the attack only delayed the mail coach 45 minutes before it obtained a new post horse and continued on its route to London.


[1] ‘Mail Coach Attacked by a Lioness. Remarkable and Exciting Adventure’ by R C Tombs I S O (Ex-Controller Of HM London Postal Service) in ‘The Observer, 1911, Sep 30’ (POST 111/43).