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For a long time, people didn’t travel. It’s challenging to imagine a world where people didn’t travel because everyone seems to suffer from wanderlust these days. 

However, back in the past, people were born where they were born, and they didn’t go further than the places where their feet took them. The wealthy had access to horses and carriages, but even with this advantage, they wouldn’t be able to travel too far because the roads were poorly maintained, and the animals would get tired quickly. The average individual who has a horse covered around 30 miles daily during the Tudor period. And should we mention that the trips were rarely safe? 

During those times, people traveled only when their job required or for the purpose of pilgrimage or war. Usually, the transport of people and goods was done mainly by water, along coastal routes, and by rivers when they were navigable. But the average British individual wouldn’t go farther than 10 miles from their hometown. 

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Carriages became available for hire in the United Kingdom around 1605, but by the second half of the century, there were so many they caused traffic jams. Also, in 1667 people found it embarrassing to travel in a hired carriage because there were services available for everyone. People felt more comfortable having their own coach and a liveried footman. We should mention that carriages were available only in London, the capital. Over the country, the transport options were quite limited, and most people wouldn’t be able to hire them because they didn’t have the financial resources. 

Let’s find more about carriages

Throughout the Middle Ages, carriages were as popular as vehicles are nowadays. However, people back then didn’t have access to the present technology that includes intelligent transport technology, and they had to rely on the animals’ instincts and training to keep them safe on the roads. In the 17th century, the roads in Great Britain were similar to tracks, and wheeled vehicles were used only for challenging trips like transporting goods from one place to another. The condition of the roads started to change later in the century with the paving of roads. 

However, technological advancement, triggered by the science of enlightenment, progressed and transport in Great Britain improved from the 17th to the 18th century. The stagecoach is the first innovation in the sector. The heavy vehicle was first introduced in 1640. The second innovation was road technology highly needed to prevent and limit highway robbery and improve travel comfort on the roads. The authorities created the Highways Act, 1663 that enabled Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cambridgeshire to ask tolls on their part of the Great North Road. Comfortable coaches with rudimentary suspension and windows were available by 1680, and people were able to travel over longer distances. They enabled people to engage in overland trips. The most popular coach design was created in Germany in 1660 and was known under the name of berlin. The travelers would sit in a compartment that had the shape of a U and a roof above to protect them from weather elements. The coach had a door on each side and could fit four people. The coachman had a special seat at the front of the carriage, above the front wheels, to drive the wheels. 

Besides the berlin, people could also use a lighter and faster two-wheeled carriage called the gig. It first appeared in Paris in the second part of the 17th century, and it was more affordable than the berlin because the owner could drive it himself. The gig is considered the first vehicle people could use when they wanted to take a drive for pleasure. 

By 1700 there were seven organizations that developed and maintained roads in Great Britain. They had the possibility to borrow capital to repair roads against the income they predicted to register from tolls. Thanks to the growth of the stock market and basic financial concepts in Europe, the turnpike industry registered great growth. From 10 to 40 turnpike trusts were established annually in the 18th century that facilitated the development of a road network. However, even these advancements were too slow by modern standards. The fact is that the transportation system evolved in the 18th century but at a slow pace. It would take people around three days to travel from York to the capital if they used a stagecoach and over ten if they wanted to travel to Edinburgh. 

Most turnpikes in Great Britain were ready to use by 1770, and sadly for a period, the transport technology faced a drawback in evolution. Let’s remember that the British people from that era had to thank the private sector for the transport advancements they benefited from. The roads were nationalized in the 19th century because the authorities concluded that they were a too valuable good to be left in the hands of private organizations. 

But the advancements in the transportation sector weren’t limited solely to roads. In 1776, James Watt created the separate condensing engine that facilitated the Newcomen’s beam engine development. The advancements in the engine sector were crucial for the Industrial Revolution that started around the same period. It transformed Great Britain through its many innovations like the processing of coal into mechanical energy. 

In 1780 Britain produced 6 ¼ million long tons of coal but used none for transport. However, a couple of inventors saw the technological possibilities it provided. William Murdoch developed a prototype steam locomotive in 1784. Richard Trevithick created the first full-scale working locomotive in 1804. In the same year on 21st February, the first railway journey took place. 

Final thoughts

In the era when cowboys were traveling on horses in America, Great Britain highly relied on stagecoaches to enable people to travel a little faster. Travelling got a little faster by 1800 when the first steam-powered locomotive, first motorcycle, and first cable car were designed. And let’s remember that it has also been the era of the railway.