Monday, 20 February 2017

The driverless coach


We like to think we've invented everything and pat ourselves on the back at our own ingenuity. But the latest 'invention' the driverless car is nothing new. In 1837 a man found himself on a coach and horses with no driver. His adventure was later told in a letter to Rev Nicholls of Ravenstonedale, Westmorland (now Cumbria) and published in 1877. Here it is:

"It is about forty years ago since the writer commenced a journey to Newcastle-upon-Tyne from the Bull Inn, Sedbergh, about one o'clock one severe frosty morning in midwinter, per the old Exmouth coach. The passengers consisted of myself and a lady and gentleman inside; Willy Taylor and Tom Heavyside, the driver, outside. We travelled at a good speed up to Dicky Metcalfe's, the Cross Keys, Cautley, a distance of about five miles ; and being a very cold morning, Willy the Butcher and the driver went into the inn to have a taste of Dicky's gin, but left no one in charge of the horses. Consequently they got tired with waiting, and started full trot towards Kirkby Stephen. 

Metcalfe hearing the horses, started off and ran a considerable distance after the coach, clothed only in nightshirt and slippers; but the speed of the horses being so great he had to give it up. During this time I was looking out of the coach windows, but never mentioned what had happened  to either the lady or gentleman. This part of the road was narrow and very dangerous, being entirely unprotected from a deep rocky river, so that I decided to leave the inside and hold on behind until we reached the next steep hill, called Rawthey Brow, which was about a mile further on the road; but in alighting from the step I fell upon a sheet of ice, and this prevented me from again reaching the coach, or of informing the occupants of what had occurred; but in their case ignorance was certainly bliss in crossing the moors on that dreary morning.

Still I kept on running until I reached the inn at Cross Bank, kept by Mr. Shaw, where I engaged a horse, and without saddle followed after, expecting at the bottom of each steep hill to find the coach upset; but to my great astonishment I found it standing in front of the King's Arms, Kirkby Stephen, its usual place, and the lady and gentleman in great perplexity sitting in the inn, wondering what had become of the driver and the person who had so abruptly left his seat in the coach without speaking a word, and concluded I must have been either drunk or insane, or had robbed them. But when they found their money and watches all right they could not conjecture how they had lost the coachman, nor what had caused me to decamp, until I had revealed to them the mystery, and told of the many dangers they had escaped in their journey of ten miles without any driver, while at the same time the reins were dragging about the horses' legs. 

In consequence of the heavy drifts of snow which occurred in several parts of our journey the horses had to be driven to the very edge of the road. We waited some time in Kirkby Stephen, expecting the driver; but as he never made his appearance, I was compelled to mount the coach box and drove through Brough to Spittle, a distance of ten miles, at which place we obtained another driver. Before again proceeding on our journey I did not omit the usual practice of opening the coach door and, in joke of course, tipping my hat to the lady and gentleman, who, instead of bestowing the usual gift, very politely acknowledged their appreciation of my exertions on their behalf." 

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