Georgian Travel: Vehicle Accidents and Breakdowns


I set out the background to the daily perils of Georgian roads and travel in my previous post. Now it’s time to delve into the specifics.

As I wrote in the first instalment, all these examples are drawn from the diaries of Mary Hardy. I did it this way because it avoids creating a false picture, for example by combing a wide range of contemporary newspapers. That might result in implying such problems were more frequent than they were in reality. Here are some examples, therefore, of the many accidents involving wheeled vehicles.

Diary entries

On June 28, 1782, Mr Thomas Lound, one of Hardy’s tenants, “got a Mischief” by overturning his cart. Later the same year, in November, Robert Lound, who worked for Hardy, fell in such a way as the wheel of his wagon passed over his thigh, crushing his hip. He was taken at once to the new Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and survived. However, it seems likely he was crippled for life, since he later appears to be living off parish Poor Relief.

In December, 1794, Thomas Baldwin, another of the Hardy’s draymen, broke his arm by falling under the wheel of his wagon. How did they do it? What’s even more amazing is that the same Thomas Baldwin did it again on December 9, 1796. This time the wagon went over his leg and broke it.

On November 4, 1785, the 8-year old son of the innkeeper at ‘The Bull’ in Holt was killed when his father’s cart overturned.

Sept 13, 1787

“I and Mr Hardy rid [rode] up to Holt, drank tea at Mr Bartells and in coming [home] being very dark we drove over a stone and over-turned our little cart and bruised my arm exceedingly, the horse ran home with the cart …”

Aug 23, 1788

A Mr Mays fell off a cart and broke his leg.

July 3, 1794

Mr and Mrs Hardy were in their chaise when “… the horse fell down with us, bruised my head, and hurt Mr Hardy’s side, broke one of the shafts of the chaise …”

May 21, 1795

A man from Norwich dislocated his neck when his cart overturned in Letheringsett. He died the next day.

Jan 17, 1797

“Mr Wilcocks overturned his cart in the field being very much in liquor and bruised his leg and broke both the shafts of his cart and came here, had our little cart to go home in.”

Aug 28, 1808

Mary Hardy and Mrs Cozens were riding in a “dicky cart” when their horse took fright at something. Horse and cart ended up in the hedge and both ladies were thrown out. “I was hurt a good deal and Mrs Cozens a little.”

Newspaper Reports

On Saturday, the 11th instant, as JOHN LOCK, a butcher of Caston, near Hingham, was returning from our market, and being asleep, as is supposed, he fell down between the horses of his breast cart, who kicked him on the head, and he soon afterwards expired.

(Norfolk Chronicle, 25 March, 1780)

On Thursday se’nnight an inquisition was taken before THOMAS MARKS, Gent. on view of the body of WILLIAM REEVE, farmer, late of Hingham, who was riding upon his father’s waggon [sic] near Earsham Church, on Wednesday evening about five o’clock, when the horses took fright, and ran furiously down the hill, which occasioned him to fall off, and the wheels passing over his groin in an oblique direction, nearly separated his left thigh from his body, in which deplorable state he languished about an hour, and then expired.–The jury brought in their verdict accidental death … It is much to be lamented, that such dreadful accidents, shocking to the principals of humanity, should not check the obstinacy of persons riding upon their waggons or carts, from which cause such calamitous catastrophes too frequently arise.

(Norfolk Chronicle, 6 May, 1780)

Last Friday evening, as the Rev. Dr SMYTH, and his eldest son, were returning from Mr KERRISON’s, at Brooke, in a single horse-chase, the horse suddenly took fright on Palling heath, and almost instantly overturned the carriage. – The Doctor and his son were thrown out at some distance from the chaise, which was greatly damaged; providentially they received no material hurt, except being much bruised by the fall.

(Norfolk Chronicle, 20 July, 1782)

Monday morning last, about two o’clock, a melancholy accident happened about five miles from Bury, on the Newmarket road: — As Mr BEACHAM, of the theatre-royal, and Mr CURTIS, both of this city, with Mr ADAMS, who some time since drove the Lynn coach, were returning from Cambridge to Bury, where they had been the day before on a party of pleasure in a light chaise cart, they were met near the five mile stone on the descent of a hill by a waggon [sic], which the darkness of the night prevented them from seeing; and their horse getting entangled between the horses of the waggon [sic], which were two a-breast, was killed, the cart torn all to pieces, and the riders thrown out. Mr CURTIS was killed on the spot, by the shafts of the waggon striking against his head, and the other two were bruised in a most terrible manner. — A dog belonging to Mr CURTIS was also killed.

The Coroner’s inquest sat on the body, and brought in their verdict Accidental Death.

(Norfolk Chronicle, 27 October, 1783)


Bird, Margaret, ed. The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809 (4 vols.). United Kingdom: Burnham Press, 2013.

Cozens-Hardy, Basil. The History of Letheringsett in the County of Norfolk. Norwich: Jarrold & Sons Ltd, 1960.

About William Savage

Author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
This entry was posted in Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Georgian Travel: Vehicle Accidents and Breakdowns

  1. noelleg44 says:

    I had no idea carriage/cart driving or riding was so dangerous. i saw it as sort of idyllic – a slower way to get someplace with time to admire your surroundings!


Comments are closed.