Regency Roads

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




15 Responses to Regency Roads

  1. In 2007, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem purchased the 126-acre former Bethlehem Steel plant near where we live and since then the state, towns and casino have worked to improve and widen the road from the exit off Interstate Highway 78 north to the casino. It has only recently looked anywhere near completion. Locals quickly found back roads to take due to that road’s congestion. Buses, especially from NYC, are numerous as well as 18 wheelers traveling to the Industrial Park near the exit. An interesting newspaper series featured the fact that many from the China Town section of NYC were traveling to this area. Near the casino is now a Steel Stacks 10-acre campus with indoor & outdoor venues hosting festivals, concerts & community events as well as a shopping area with outlet stores. SO my point is that traffic can be a problem in this day and age as areas attract and then build to accommodate the expanding city areas. With the cold winter and the interstate traffic by Spring the roads have numerous potholes.

  2. They say that’s one of the ways the Romans conquered so much of the world, with roads. Also with concrete. When they did things like come in and build London or roads, they built so quickly and well that sometimes people didn’t mind being conquered at all. They greatly improved quality of life. Of course, later they cut England loose and much of what was created fell into ruin, hence the horribly rutted roads.

    I never did think much about Mr. Darcy saying fifty miles was nothing to worry over. Did Jane Austen mean it to show us how little Mr. Darcy knows of how difficult travel is for people who aren’t as wealthy as he is? Or did he say it because he wants to assure himself that Elizabeth would be willing to live as far from Longbourn as Pemberley is?

    • Good questions! I never thought much about it, as I am very much a mindless reader, but I guess I kind of thought that he hoped Elizabeth would not mind living far away from Longbourn, especially given how his largely thoughtless proposal went down. 😉

  3. Zoe, thank you for this interesting post. I am grateful for our modern modes of travel. Not so much the traffic that comes with it…

  4. Zoe, too bad about that lay-over with no race shop near by. Bless your heart, I know how much you love racing and that had to be hard.

    Living near the hills and hollers of KY, we had mule drawn wagons taking supplies and the mail from town to town. Years later, when we could travel by car, my elderly relatives always pointed out the houses along the way that used to be stopping places where travelers would refresh themselves and their horses, or it was a stop for the stage coaches. I found it fascinating. I have seen older photos of those wagon trains, and then later the Model-T looking vehicles that were loaded down with supplies. How they managed is beyond me. I so appreciate the interstate system in our country for travel and convenience. It was a good day when someone created the innovations in paving roads and building bridges over troubled spots.

    As a person who was conscious of all that went on in her domain, I wonder if Lady Catherine made sure the roads in her district were well maintained?

    • That is fascinating, those tales of mule drawn wagons! My grandpa was born in 1907 (just one year after Burton Cottage was built) and I remember him saying that he remembered travelling by horse and wagon. It’s too cool to hear about those times! Like you, though, I am glad we now have paved roads. Racing on a rutted one would be awfully difficult! LOL

      I’m positive that Lady Catherine insisted the roads around Rosings be well-maintained, and woe to the person in charge who let it slide! LOL

      And…being in racing’s central city and seeing no shops was a definite blow. It would have at least been nice to see a crew chief or car owner wandering the airport, but…I survived. I will go back there one day! 😀

  5. Definitely makes one thankful for the roads, and transport, we have nowadays. Fourteen miles seems like such a short distance to us (my shortest commute is 16 miles and takes just under 30 minutes), yet if the only option was to walk it, we’d definitely think more than twice before undertaking it, wouldn’t we?

    Thanks for reminding us Zoe.

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