Back
Next

Oxford Mileways Act 1771: Coach travel


The roads into Oxford from the east and north were heavily used by coaches, and this would have increased after the Mileways Act and the creation of the new London Road through Headington, avoiding Shotover.

In his Reminiscences of Oxford, William Tuckwell (born 1829, the son of the surgeon William Tuckwell senior) described the coaches that went past his house at the east end of the High Street in the 1830s. He states that travellers drew up at the Angel, or passed on to the Mitre or the Star, and described the coaches as follows:

Along that road [High Street] or into Oxford by the St Giles's entrance, lumbered at midnight Pickford's vast waggons with their six musically belled horses; sped stage-coaches all day long — Tantivy, Defiance, Rival, Regulator, Mazeppa, Dart, Magnet, Blenheim, and some thirty more; heaped high with ponderous luggage and with cloaked passengers, thickly hung at Christmas time with turkeys, with pheasants in October; their guards, picked buglers, sending before them as they passed Magdalen Bridge the now forgotten strains of “Brignall Banks,” “The Troubadour,” “I'd be a Butterfly,” “The Maid of Llangollen,” or “Begone Dull Care”; on the box their queer old purple-faced, many-caped drivers — Cheeseman, Steevens, Fowles, Charles Homes, Jack Adams, and Black Will. This last jehu, spending three nights of the week in Oxford, four in London, maintained in both a home, presided over by two several wives, with each of whom he had gone through the marriage ceremony, and and for many years — so distant was Oxford then from London — kept each partner ignorant of her sister's existence. The story came out at last; but the wives seem not to have objected, and it was the business of no one else; indeed, had he been indicted for bigamy, no Oxford jury could have been found to convict Black Will.

The coaches were horsed by Richard Costar, as great an original as any of his men; those who on his weekly visits to the Bensington stables sat behind Black Will and his master and overheard their talk, listened, with amusement or disgust, to a rampant paraphrase of Lucretius' Fourth Book. He lived in the picturesque house on the Cherwell, just opposite Magdalen Turnpike, having two entrance gates, one each side of the pike, so that he could always elude payment.


Richard Costar (c.1766–1840)

He is almost certainly the Richard Costard, son of William & Sarah, who was baptised at Benson on 24 December 1766.

Costar coach Painting by John Cordrey in 1811 of Messrs. Richard Costar and
Christopher Ibberson's Ludlow to Worcester Mail Coach on the Road

Richard Costar died at the age of 74 on 25 September 1840, and his short obituary appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal the following day:

Yesterday morning, at his residence in St. Clement's, after a long illness, Richard Costar, Esq. the well-known and highly-respected coach proprietor of this city. Mr. Costar lived to see the best days of coaching, and it may be truly said that no man ever carried on a concern in a more creditable manner. He was most punctual in his payments to his tradesmen, and an excellent master to good servants; and many will long have to regret his loss.

On 3 October 1840 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on his funeral, stating, “The hearse was driven by a veteran who has grown grey in the service (W. Bowern, better known as Black Will); the next driver was T. Paine, a very old servant; the next Charles Holmes, the driver of the Blenheim; and after them came Stacey, the driver of the Defiance.” The coaches behind were filled with other coachmen and book-keepers in the service of Messrs Costar & Waddell. He was buried in his family vault at Benson on 2 October 1840. His obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 169, read:

Lately. Mr. Richard Costar, coachmaster, of Oxford. His body was interred at Benson. The hearse and mourning coaches were driven by coachmen who had been a number of years in his employ, viz. W. Bowers, T. Paine, C. Holmes, and W. Stacey. The bookkeepers, and most of his other coachmen, also attended the funeral.

His Prerogative Court at Canterbury will (by which he left everything to his sister Mrs Sarah Burford and her daughter Martha) indicates how prosperous Costar was: as well as his large house, stables, coach houses, and land on the site of Magdalen College School (which was then in Cowley parish), in Benson he owned land where he kept his stables and also two freehold houses occupied by a coachmaker and harness maker. In addition he owned arable land in the open fields of Cowley, a freehold estate at Ewelme, “freehold and leasehold messuages farms lands tenements tythes and hereditaments” at Littlemore, and a leasehold estate in Church Street, Soho, London held jointly with his sister.

At the time of the 1841 census Richard Costar's sister Mrs Sarah Burford (about 70) was living in what appears to be his old house with her daughter Martha (about 45) and Jane Shrubb (about 30), plus four servants. Next door was the coachman Edward Cracknell (32) and his family. Sarah Burford died there at the age of 76 and was buried at Benson on 5 January 1846.

On 21 August 1841 Edward Burford, aged 49, died at Littlemore: he was the nephew of Richard Costar and had served for several years as a stage coachman iinn his service. Once again Black Will, described a the oldest coachman still iin service in Oxford, drove the hearse to his burial at Benson. s

Stephanie Jenkins