The Brighton Road

RIDE VINTAGE online magazine 1



As regards the Brighton Road there are many ways to Brighton, the classical record route being by Purley, Horley, Crawley, and Handcross. The Brighton Road was associated with the earliest bicycle performances, when plucky pioneers trundled bone-shakers there in the day. Relay rides were also a feature of the days when cyclists showed they could beat the time of the Brighton four-horse coach. Innumerable cycling records have been made on the Brighton Road, but the extension of London southwards and Brighton northwards entails so much traffic riding that very few attempt the performance now.

Common Commodities & Industries: The Cycle Industries by W. Grew, 1921


The bicycle having paved the way, with its introduction after the turn of the century the automobile was not slow to take over our roads. Observe the fantasy picture, above, from 1912, envisaging that the Brighton Road would be so crowded with traffic by 1922 that cyclists would be forced into the hedge at the side of the road.

The Brighton Road is famous for the numerous record-breaking attempts in the 1800s, pitting bicycles against the times recorded by the Royal Mail coach on the London-Brighton run.

The photograph above of the Royal Mail parcel coach is claimed to be from 1900. According to the Royal Mail Archive and various books I’ve read, by the 1840s, the railways had replaced Royal Mail coaches operating from London. I wonder if the parcel coach started up again subsequently?

Here are some excerpts from Brighton and its Coaches, published in 1894:

The remainder of the line from Hayward’s Heath to Brighton was opened on Tuesday, the 21st September 1841, and the form of the advertisements in local papers
underwent a complete change. We read nothing more of going to London in five hours, proprietors no longer sang the praises of their fast coaches ; nor does the familiar woodcut of the coach-and-four any more appear. Instead of the old order of things, we find Mr. Strevens, of the ‘Blue Coach and Railway Office,’ announcing that he had started several new omnibuses and flys for the conveyance of passengers between the Brighton terminus and various parts of the town, including Kemp Town, Brunswick Square and Terrace, and the hotels. A coach ran between Brighton and Lewes to bring people in from the latter place to catch the express train for London ; and an omnibus brought the Worthing folk to Shoreham, whence they came by train to Brighton, proceeding thence to London. The clay-mail ran between London and Brighton
till October 1841; but the presence in the town of Mr. Johnson, the Post-Office surveyor, portended a change, and this came to pass when the mails were carried by train, with the result that the Brightonians had their London letters delivered earlier than before.

…In lieu of the well-appointed vehicles the Brightonians had been accustomed to see, the Brighton streets, like those of London, were full of cabs, flys, and omnibuses. Said the Brighton Gazette of the 13th October 1842: ‘A thriving trade they seem to carry on. These omnibuses are found, both by inhabitants and visitors, extremely convenient and economical vehicles. Throughout the day they are to be met with in every part of the town ; and, though their principal object is to convey passengers to and from the terminus, other parties also find their use highly advantageous.’

…There was, however, in existence the present Four-in-Hand Driving Club, founded in 1856, and it served to prevent the driving of four horses from becoming quite a lost art, and then, in 1866, the love for stage-coach- ing once more cropped up, thanks to the late Captain Haworth, a Queen’s messenger, the author of ” Road Scrapings,” and subsequently the manager of a carriage factory somewhere in Pimlico. The Captain had for a year or two been desirous of reviving the Brighton road; and, in 1866, sought the co-operation of the Duke of Beaufort, Colonel Armytage, Mr. Charles Lawrie, Mr. Chandos Pole, Lord H. Thynne, and two or three others who fell in with the proposal, the out- come being the Old Times, a little yellow coach, which ran to Brighton on alternate days. Of course, money was lost over the coach; but not much came out of each pocket, as there were a good many to share the deficiency. In 1867 two new coaches were built by Holland & Holland, so that there was a coach each way daily.

…Nearly all those who had hitherto been connected with the Brighton coach remembered coaching as it was before the introduction of railways; but, in 1873, the road for the third or fourth time collapsed, and from that day to this it has been worked by men of a younger generation, always excepting Colonel Stracey Clitherow, who is still (1893) one of the proprietors. At one time it appeared as though there would be no Brighton coach at all; but at the last moment an American gentleman, Mr. Tiffany, was found to have the ambition to become a coach proprietor, and in his hands the road was very well done. Then, in 1874, Brighton would probably have been coachless, had not Captain Haworth, who started the season by going to Rochester, become sick of the road, and changed to Brighton. come sick of the road, and changed to Brighton.
We now come to 1875, in which year Mr. Stewart who has accepted the dedication of this book, began his connection with the Brighton road. For three years, that is to say, to 1877 inclusive, he ran The Age single-handed; in 1878 he was joined by Colonel Stracey Clitherow; in 1879 Mr. Chandos Pole, son of the former proprietor, and now Master of the Cattistock Hounds, took a share ; and in the following year Lord Algernon Lennox and Mr. Craven were associated with Mr. Freeman and Colonel Stracey Clitherow. John Thorogood became Mr. Freeman’s coachman in his first season, having succeeded Pope soon after the coach was put upon the road, and he kept his post till the end of the season of 1889, when Alexander Pennington, who had been driving the Brighton Parcel Mail, succeeded him. In 1890 William Wragg replaced Pennington. Mr. Freeman did not run to Brighton in 1881, 1884, 1885, or 1886; in the last-mentioned year, however, he put on a coach to Windsor ; while in 1881, Edwin Fownes, sen., put on the Brighton road a coach which revived the memory of The Age.

Royal Mail introduced a motorized coach in 1905, photographed below outside Brighton Post Office in Ship St.

But the road was also notorious …for many sections were believed to be haunted, and in particular the area around Pyecombe, near the junction of the A23 and A281. Perhaps Richard Middleton’s short ghost story, published in 1912 (he died in 1911) was based on some of local supernatural tales.


1939 Elswick The Brighton Road 03

1939 Elswick ‘The Brighton Road’ 

22″ Frame. 26″ Wheels


1939 Elswick ‘The Brighton Road’ Gent’s Racer 


1939 Elswick The Brighton Road 05



RIDE VINTAGE online magazine 1


RIDE VINTAGE online magazine 1

London-Brighton Royal Mail Coach pictures and info thanks to –