Sunday, 27 October 2019

Jack Selby's drive to Brighton (& back)

Passing Lowfield Heath at 20mph.

When James Selby was born, in 1844, the railways had begun to drive coaches off the road, but James was nevertheless destined to become one of the most famous professional coachmen of all time. His father was the proprietor of an hotel at Colney Hatch to which a large livery stable was attached, and this gave James an opportunity of indulging his favourite pastime of driving. 

While he was still in his twenties there was a coaching revival, and in 1870 he began his career as a coachman, driving the Tunbridge Wells coach. In 1888 Selby put his own coach, the Old Times, on the London - Brighton run. At the Ascot meeting of that year he was offered, and took, a bet of £1000 to £500 that the coach could not be driven to Brighton and back under eight hours—a bet that was to make his name famous in coaching history. 

On July 13, Selby started on his journey from the White Horse cellar in Piccadilly, giving the order to " let go " at ten o'clock precisely. He drove along Piccadilly, Grosvenor Place and Buckingham Palace Road and over the Chelsea suspension bridge, making the first change of horses at the Horse and Groom at Streatham at 10.28. This change took 47 seconds. 

At 10.45 he was passing West Croydon and maintained a speed of 13 miles an hour to the Windsor Castle, Purley Bottom, where another change took just over a minute. He reached Horley at 11.51, having driven at 20 miles an hour on part of this stage, and was at Crawley at 12.11, two minutes being lost when he was held up at a level-crossing. 

A fresh team was taken on at Peas Pottage, where he arrived at 12.23, the time for this change being 1 minute 2 seconds. Passing through Handcross, he reached Cuckfield at 12.53, changed in 68 seconds, reached Friars Oak at 1.17, changed horses in 1 minute, arrived at Patcham at 1.40, changed in 47 seconds, and was at the Ship at Brighton at 1.56. 

At the Old Ship the horses were merely turned round and he was on the return journey in a matter of minutes. With changes of horses varying from 50 seconds to 1 minute, Selby was back in Piccadilly at 5.50 p.m., where he was received with tremendous enthusiasm, for he had done the double journey with 10 minutes to spare. 

Jack died later the same year and the Old Times coach passed into the property of Mr. Bernard Mills, of circus fame.