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Old June 29th, 2010, 06:44 PM   #1
brisavoine
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The road from London to Paris in 1823

Imagine you were a businessman or a tourist travelling from London to Paris in the last years before the advent of the train. You had to take a (horse-drawn) coach to complete the journey. But which road did the coach follow, and how long did it take to reach Paris? The answers are here, extracted from the diary of an Englishman who travelled between these two cities in 1823.

Back in 1823, London had 1,400,000 inhabitants and Paris had 700,000 inhabitants. They were the two largest cities in Europe by far, and also nearly the two largest cities in the world. Yet the road between these two large metropolises was nothing like our broad modern highways today. It meandered in the countryside and went through the middle of villages and towns, without any bypasses. It took several days to go from London to Paris.

Here I will cover the whole itinerary in pictures day after day, from London to Paris, based on the detailed information published by that gentleman who travelled between the two cities in 1823. The road crosses hundreds of towns and villages, and I will of course not post pictures of them all. I will only post a few select pictures of the whole itinerary.
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Old June 29th, 2010, 06:46 PM   #2
brisavoine
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Day 1: London to Dover

There were several coach companies that went from London to Dover. Here we're going to take the largest coach company, Chaplin's coaches. Chaplin's coaches departed from the Spread Eagle Inn, in Gracechurch Street, next to Leadenhall Market, in the heart of the City of London.

This is how the Spread Eagle Inn and its coaches looked like in the beginning of the 19th century.


This is how it looks today:
[img]http://i49.************/2wnyeqo.jpg[/img]

The Chaplin's coach left at 8:30am and 10am every day. We'll take the 10am coach, because we don't want to wake up too early.

Day 1, 10am: we're leaving the Spread Eagle Inn. En route!
[img]http://i49.************/5fjka9.jpg[/img]

At the end of Gracechurch Street we turn right in Eastcheap:
[img]http://i46.************/2ceno2d.jpg[/img]

Then we turn left in King William Street which leads to London Bridge:
[img]http://i46.************/2v3hop3.jpg[/img]

London Bridge, the oldest bridge in London, but rebuilt several times, and now a rather ugly modern bridge:
[img]http://i46.************/dxnyph.jpg[/img]

On the other end of the bridge, we reach Southwark, with its cathedral. Back in 1823, we were already leaving the administrative London and arriving in the county of Surrey (Southwark was part of Surrey):
[img]http://i46.************/30nfdcg.jpg[/img]

We then take Borough High Street, the main street in Southwark. It is the area south of the Thames that was urbanized the earliest:
[img]http://i46.************/291hu85.jpg[/img]

After this church (St George the Martyr Southwark), we turn left into Great Dover Street:
[img]http://i48.************/4qiia0.jpg[/img]

Then we continue on Old Kent Road. I'm afraid the Channel Tunnel didn't exist back in 1823.
[img]http://i49.************/23sal44.jpg[/img]

In 1823, approximately here, at the corner of Old Kent Road and Dunton Road, only 3.2 km from our departure point, London ended, i.e. the dense urbanization ended. Beyond this point, there were still some detached houses along the road for a while, but the area was not feeling urban anymore, it resembled somewhat the country roads between Belgian cities today that are lined with houses.
[img]http://i45.************/2dlust2.jpg[/img]

After Old Kent Road we continue on New Cross Road. We then arrive in New Cross, 6.6 km from our departure point, which is the historical border between Surrey and Kent. Today this area is fully inside Greater London, but back in 1823 the border between the counties of Surrey and Kent was here. There was also a turnpike here, you had to pay to continue towards Canterbury and Dover.
[img]http://i46.************/b89zja.jpg[/img]

After New Cross Road we take Deptford Broadway and then Blackheath Road. We basically keep following the modern A2, which corresponds here to the ancient road from London to Dover. We cross the heath behind Greenwich. The modern Eurolines buses between Paris and London still cross this heath today.
[img]http://i49.************/2j4zeyr.jpg[/img]

After the heath, 9 km from our departure point, the countryside started for good in 1823. There were no more houses along the road. We had reached the open countryside.

We continue on Shooters Hill Road and abandon the modern A2 which doesn't correspond to the ancient road from London to Dover anymore. We follow the ancient road through the little village of Shooters Hill, then through the village of Welling, then through Bexley Heath and Crayford. The road here corresponds to the modern A207.

Finally, 22.9 km after our departure point, we reach the modern border of Greater London. Probably the traveler in 1823 would have found quite odd a border of London so far out in the countryside.
[img]http://i50.************/r9lph1.jpg[/img]

We now follow the modern A226 which is the ancient road from London to Dover. We reach Dartford, and the road takes us right through the center of Darford (Dartford's High Street), but I can't show you pictures because it is now a pedestrian only street, so no Google Street View.

Immediately after Dartford, we cross the M25, London's orbital motorway, 26.4 km after our departure point.
[img]http://i46.************/2s7way8.jpg[/img]

We continue along the A226 towards Greenhithe and North Fleet, then we bypass Gravesend on the B261 (the bypass is the old road to Dover). After Gravesend we're on the A226 again.

Just after Chalk, we finally reach the current end of the continuously urbanized area of London, 39.6 km from our departure point. This is the beginning of the open countryside, mixed with some exurbs of London. Of course, back in 1823, we would have been in the countryside for already more than 30 km.
[img]http://i48.************/3304ljt.jpg[/img]

We continue along the A226, which merges with the A2 just before entering Rochester.

47.2 km after our departure point, we cross the River Medway. The bridge was enlarged in the 20th century, but the road originally ran only on that side of the bridge. Across the river lies Rochester, a major stopover on the road from London to Dover. You can see Rochester Castle to the right.
[img]http://i46.************/14x13k2.jpg[/img]

On the other end of the bridge we reach the city center of Rochester.
[img]http://i45.************/xqm6hy.jpg[/img]

The road becomes Rochester's High Street:
[img]http://i50.************/ae4ayb.jpg[/img]

On the side of the road, we can have a look at Rochester Cathedral. Our modern, bland, wide highways that bypass all the interesting points of interest can't compete with this. It has changed the experience of travelling.
[img]http://i46.************/6xxm4w.jpg[/img]

Still in Rochester's High Street. Look how narrow was the road linking what were soon to become the two largest cities in the world. All the coaches from London to Paris had to take that street. No bypass.
[img]http://i49.************/s43r46.jpg[/img]

After Rochester, we continue along the modern A2 towards Sittingbourne, Faversham, and Canterbury.

We cross the beautiful Kent countryside between Rochester and Canterbury:
[img]http://i49.************/994cxx.jpg[/img]

(I'm not always writing directions, but all pictures here are basically eastbound, i.e. going towards Dover)
[img]http://i50.************/34ox9bt.jpg[/img]

Before reaching Canterbury, we cross the village of Boughton-under-Blean. Again, look how narrow was the main road from London to Paris.
[img]http://i47.************/5dry4h.jpg[/img]

Just before entering Canterbury, we again abandon the A2 (which bypasses Canterbury) and follow the ancient road from London to Dover which is now the A2050, then it becomes London Road, then St Dunstan's Street.

We enter the Medieval city of Canterbury by the Westgate, 89.9 km from our departure point. Even today, cars still go through the gate, which is rather rare in Europe these days.
[img]http://i47.************/ml6nh4.jpg[/img]

We're now on St Peters Street, the main street of Canterbury (Cantorbéry in French). It's almost France already as you can see.
[img]http://i49.************/33nf7lh.jpg[/img]

In Canterbury it's possible to stop for an hour to have dinner (according to the diary of the traveler from 1823, which is the source of all the information in this thread), and then continue to Dover, but because we don't want to waste time we will continue straight to Dover without stopping in Canterbury.

Canterbury is of course world famous because of its cathedral, the spiritual heart of England, but unfortunately we won't see it here because the road to Dover, which is Canterbury's main street, doesn't run next to the cathedral, so we can't see it.

We exit Canterbury by St George's Gate (now demolished, so I can't show you), then we take Dover Street and Old Dover Road. The smell of ocean is now distinctly in the air, and at this point the travelers that we are start to get quite excited. We can't wait to reach Dover and from there that fascinatingly exotic country called France.

After Canterbury we cross the village of Bridge:
[img]http://i47.************/1z3yy4i.jpg[/img]

Then the road merges with the A2 again. Here the ancient road from London to Dover has been considerably enlarged:
[img]http://i49.************/21bm7ux.jpg[/img]

After a few miles, we find a section of the ancient road that hasn't been upgraded and still resembles what it must have looked like in the 19th century. I don't know you, but personally I would have been afraid of being attacked by brigands here.
[img]http://i49.************/2yunfbs.jpg[/img]

We abandon the A2 just before starting our descent from the Kentish plateau towards the sea-level and Dover (Douvres in French). We go through Lydden and Temple Ewell, and our coach finally enters Dover at 7pm, 9 hours after having left the City of London.

We go down Dover's High Street, towards the harbor:
[img]http://i50.************/21osu15.jpg[/img]

Our coach will take us to the King's Head Inn, in the old harbor district, to the south of Dover's city center. The King's Head Inn was the terminus of the Chaplin's coaches from London.

In order to reach the King's Head Inn, after Dover's High Street we take Biggin Street:
[img]http://i46.************/egvnm1.jpg[/img]

We reach Market Place, the central square of Dover, partly destroyed during WW2:
[img]http://i46.************/2z7ek4j.jpg[/img]

We then take King Street:
[img]http://i45.************/rutzx4.jpg[/img]

Then we turn right in Townwall Street and continue along Snargate Street. The long Snargate Street runs at the bottom of the cliff and leads from Dover's city center to the old harbor district to the south of the city center. The left side of the street was obliterated either during WW2 or by crazy planners after WW2. To the left is the modern harbor of Dover.
[img]http://i48.************/6ekwfc.jpg[/img]

At the end of Snargate Street we reach the old harbor district (known as the Pier District) and the King's Head Inn, 116 km from our departure point. Alas, almost none of it remains today. The old harbor district was flattened down after WW2 by manic British planners, and the King's Head Inn was demolished in 1970. In the picture below you can see the oldest harbor of Dover, where the boats to Calais used to moor. It was just next to the King's Head Inn, which was very convenient for the travelers.
[img]http://i46.************/ay51sz.jpg[/img]

This is how the King's Head Inn and the old harbor district around it looked like in 1921:


The King's Head Inn was demolished in 1970. This picture was taken the day before demolition work started (the inn had been sold and turned into the Continental Express Ferry House in the 1930s):


This is how the old harbor district (the Pier District) looked like in 1835:


This is how it looks today. Almost none of it remains. The King's Head Inn is now a parking ground.


Anyway, back in 1823, according to the traveler whose diary I'm using here, we would have dined at the King's Head Inn after our 9 hour journey from London. The menu was rump steaks and potatoes, accompanied with Port wine.

And now, after our hearty dinner, let's go to bed. Tomorrow, we'll board a boat to France!
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Old June 29th, 2010, 07:26 PM   #3
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What a great idea for a thread, this must have taken hours to put together!

Can't wait for the french leg of the journey
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Old June 29th, 2010, 07:30 PM   #4
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Hear, hear!
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Old June 29th, 2010, 07:51 PM   #5
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Great thread Brisa! I can't wait for the rest.

In your first post, how long did it take to travel from London to Dover in the 1820's?
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Old June 29th, 2010, 07:52 PM   #6
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Excellent idea for a thread. Reminds me of your 'Leaving Paris' thread, so can see where the inspiration came from.

I've always thought of London as being approx 35 miles across as the crow flies and fairly uniformly distributed around the geographical centre, so it's a surprise to see you have to travel as far 24½ miles (39.6km) from the City before making it to open countryside (and would be slightly further, I guess, from the dead centre of London). As you have said in previous threads, ribbon development of the type you see near Swanscombe/Northfleet (that bridges the gap with Gravesend...just) is quite rare around London because of the Green Belt. But no such concerns in Mr Prescott's Thames Gateway region.
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Old June 29th, 2010, 08:03 PM   #7
brisavoine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heywindup View Post
In your first post, how long did it take to travel from London to Dover in the 1820's?
The answer is at the end of post #2.
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Old June 29th, 2010, 08:10 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry View Post
I've always thought of London as being approx 35 miles across as the crow flies and fairly uniformly distributed around the geographical centre, so it's a surprise to see you have to travel as far 24½ miles (39.6km) from the City before making it to open countryside
London is like a big oval mass, but there are a few tentacles of urbanization coming out of it. Here, as our route follows the Thames, we're basically in one of those tentacles, which is why the continuously urbanized area extends unusually so far out. When we arrive in Paris, it will be the opposite. We will reach the Paris urban area at a point unusually close to the center of the city (the expansion of the urban area in that direction is blocked by the CDG flight paths).
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Old June 29th, 2010, 08:13 PM   #9
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does that diary belong to Mr. Phileas Fogg?
oh no, that was in 1870s.

anyway, can you post the diary?
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Old July 5th, 2010, 11:45 AM   #10
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Missing: one 19th century traveller. Last seen 6 days ago in Dover, Kent tucking in to an unhealthy quantity of rump steak and port wine. If you have seen this gentleman, please report his whereabouts to the local constabulary.
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Old July 5th, 2010, 05:48 PM   #11
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There has been a storm over the Channel, so all communication with the Continent was cut off. It happens when you elect an island as your home country.

But we should be crossing very soon now, perhaps even today.
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Old July 5th, 2010, 06:23 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brisavoine View Post
There has been a storm over the Channel, so all communication with the Continent was cut off. It happens when you elect an island as your home country.
Famous British newspaper headline, pre-Chunnel: "Storm in Channel; Continent cut off." All a question of point of view.

Edit: Actually, I think it was "Fog in Channel...."

Last edited by Penn's Woods; July 5th, 2010 at 08:00 PM.
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Old July 5th, 2010, 07:35 PM   #13
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Following your itineray on GE, there are long straight stretches of road called Watling Street (an old briton track) in Bexleyheath, Dartford, Gillingham, Canterbury or Roman Road (in Greenhithe) that highlight that it was a primary road in England looooong before your 19th century gentleman took it.

Interesting thread by the way.
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Old July 5th, 2010, 07:41 PM   #14
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Yes œuf corse, the old road from London to Dover partly follows the ancient Roman road (I'm not sure it follows it all the way though).
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Old July 7th, 2010, 10:26 AM   #15
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J'adore ces petites maisons et ces petits villages de la campagne anglaise. Les Anglais sont incroyables, ils aiment tout faire différemment de tout le monde et parviennent à un joli résultat.
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Old July 8th, 2010, 12:04 AM   #16
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actually I find it very 'french'. arhitecture is more germanic, but type of villages and landscape is the same.
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Old July 8th, 2010, 12:04 AM   #17
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Amazing thread!
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Old July 8th, 2010, 02:21 AM   #18
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+1

Fantastic thread. Keep up the good work! Southeast England is beautiful.
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Old July 8th, 2010, 02:25 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hofburg View Post
actually I find it very 'french'. arhitecture is more germanic, but type of villages and landscape is the same.
Kent is basically an extension of northern France. Many people in Kent have probably been to Calais more times than they've been north of the Watford Gap.
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Old July 8th, 2010, 03:49 PM   #20
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