Stagecoaches on Christmas Cards

Stagecoaches are often seen on Christmas cards. Typically they show a stagecoach charging along a snowy road, or a mail-coach bringing the town’s Christmas cards.


A stagecoach was a horse-drawn luxury carriage - so called because it travelled in stages. As well as stops, there were coaching inns, where the horses would be changed, and travellers could have a meal or drink. On longer journeys they might stay overnight. Old coaching inns in Amersham, Chesham and other towns can still be recognised by their archways, which allowed the coach and horses to pass through into the stable yard behind. When the stagecoach returned by the same route they would swap horses with the original ones. Prices varied: richer passengers could pay more to sit inside the coach, or you could pay less to sit atop the coach.

Sometimes coach drivers were tempted to take more passengers than was safe. In 1830 William Wyatt of Chesham was accused of carrying too many outside passengers on the Chesham to London route. At court, witnesses claimed that they counted 12 people atop the coach as it travelled through Kilburn, but witnesses at Bushey and Stanmore only remembered 7, and he was acquitted.

As roads and coach design improved, the stagecoaches got faster and more comfortable. The London to Oxford stagecoach went via Uxbridge, Beaconsfield and the Falcon in High Street, High Wycombe. The best stagecoach was considered to be the “Defiance” which travelled thrice-weekly between Oxford and Cambridge via High Wycombe and London. The 112 mile journey took 12 hours including stops.


A notorious local highwayman was Jack Shrimpton, a native of Penn. He was caught and hanged in 1713 and The Bull in Gerrards Cross has a bar named after him, which he is said to have frequented.

On 8th March 1820 the Chesham stagecoach was attacked at Latimer (see BFP Nostalgia December 4, 2020).

The last highwayman to be hanged was James (known as Robert) Snooks. In 1802 he was caught after a robbery at Boxmoor. He was hanged and buried near the spot where it occurred. In 1904, a stone was placed there which reads “Robert Snooks 11 March 1802”.

Cock and Bull stories

It is claimed that stagecoaches in Bucks gave rise to the expression “the Cock and Bull story”. This is said to have derived from Stony Stratford in north Bucks, which was about mid-way on the London to Birmingham route, on Watling Street, now the A5. There were 2 neighbouring stagecoach inns called The Cock and The Bull, being the first overnight stops from London. Travellers at the two inns would share their news from London and the north. Maybe they also got somewhat embellished along the way. There are other explanations of the phrase, so this might just be a cock and bull story itself.

Decline of the stagecoaches

The development of the railways from the 1830s led to the demise of the stagecoach. Soon the post was travelling by rail, and by the mid-19th century as the cheaper and faster railways spread across the country, coach routes were phased out. The London to Birmingham route lasted until 1839, London to Bristol until 1844, London to Chesham until 1846, and London to Wendover lasted until 1890.

Chesham to London coach

The Chesham to London stagecoach left The George (now The George and Dragon) in Chesham High Street at 6:45 am and got back from The Bell at Holborn in London at 8 pm. In 1796 John H. Cordery immortalised the Chesham coach in a painting. After the London North Western Railway (LNWR) opened stations at Watford in 1837 and Berkhampstead in 1838, the LNWR operated a daily horse-bus which took people to Berkhampstead, or Watford because it had more frequent trains. It left Chesham at 7:40am reaching Watford at 9am to catch the 9:10 train which arrived in London at 10am. This continued until Chesham station opened in 1889.

Wendover to London Coach

The last daily London stagecoach was called the “Banbury”. It was a three-horse coach, which left the Red Lion in Wendover at 7:30am. It stopped at the Red Lion in Great Missenden, and changed horses at Amersham and then went via Uxbridge to the Old Bell in Holborn. It arrived back at Wendover at 9pm. When William Thorogood, the driver from 1863, retired in 1870 he took over the Red Lion Hotel, (now 62 High Street) in Great Missenden. He used to tell people that he had driven the stagecoach a distance of 78 miles a day, 6 days a week for 8 years, which was equivalent to half-way to the moon. Amongst the guests he told this to was Robert Louis Stevenson who stayed at his inn in 1874 (see BFP Nostalgia 11th October 2020).

From 1870 the Wendover stagecoach driver was George Seeley of Wendover, and Joseph Senior Holland of the Red Lion at Wendover ran it when Seeley was unable to. During the great blizzard of Tuesday January 18, 1881, Seeley left London and the snow was so thick around Uxbridge, that he abandoned the stagecoach at Hayes, and passengers were led to West Drayton station. When Seeley returned to the coach the next day it was almost buried in snow. He eventually returned to London.

The London to Wendover coach ran until 1890, and then the railway stations at Amersham, Great Missenden and Wendover opened in 1892.

The Last Stagecoach

A brief local stagecoach revival happened in 1909. The “Magnet” stagecoach ran on a summer route from the White Lion in Great Missenden to Chenies, and then for a month from October to November it ran daily trips from Great Missenden to Windsor, via the Crown Hotel at Amersham, and Chalfont St Peter. This was the last stagecoach to run in the Chilterns.


If anyone knows anything more about Bucks stagecoaches please contact Neil Rees on or 01494 258328.