Travel in the 1800’s

There seems to be an idea that in the past people stayed in their own little villages, only venturing as far as the next little community for particular purposes, fairs, markets, weddings, or to see relatives. In fact, from what I’ve found about my family and others I’ve researched, they travelled much further and more often than you might suppose. Just going back to my dad’s family, he and his brother and sister were each born somewhere different, which was different again from where their parents married, or the children baptised. My husband’s family in the nineteenth century were at a different address on every census, and at different addresses again in other documents I’ve found. Although there were trains from the 1840’s they did not go everywhere, and although there were also horse-drawn vehicles, I guess for ordinary people, like my family, walking was the main way of getting from one place to another.

Walking what would seem to us very long distances, was not uncommon; the first time I realised this was when I read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë as a child; Nellie is telling Mr Lockwood about how Heathcliff came to the Earnshaw family

One fine summer morning – it was the beginning of harvest, I remember – Mr. Earnshaw, the old master, came down-stairs, dressed for a journey; and, after he had told Joseph what was to be done during the day, he turned to Hindley, and Cathy, and me – for I sat eating my porridge with them – and he said, speaking to his son, ‘now, my bonny man, I’m going to Liverpool to-day, what shall I bring you? You may choose what you like: only let it be little, for I shall walk there and back: sixty miles each way, that is a long spell!’ Hindley named a fiddle, and then he asked Miss Cathy; she was hardly six years old, but she could ride any horse in the stable, and she chose a whip. He did not forget me; for he had a kind heart, though he was rather severe sometimes. He promised to bring me a pocketful of apples and pears, and then he kissed his children, said good-bye, and set off.

Sixty miles each way! Good heavens! someone on a walking holiday might do that now, but not to do business in another town!


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