Distance and Time In Regency England
By Wade H. Mann, author of A Most Excellent Understanding
When you read a lot of Regency fiction, the two things that seem to be the most confusing are travel times and money. Both are difficult to square up with modern knowledge. For example, I've seen travel times from London to Pemberley ranging everywhere from a few hours to five days. Most writers have settled on four days, so that’s what you’ll see most often. You'll also see someone send an express to London and have someone back the next day. Let’s take a closer look.
The excellent book Mapping Pride and Prejudice gives a good guess to the various locations. It’s generally agreed that Jane Austen was well travelled, and she based her locations on real places. Meryton was either Harpenden or Ware. Pemberley was probably Chatsworth House, Gracechurch Street is a real place in London, and Rosings was near Westerham.
A reasonably good (but imperfect) way to look at how horses might have travelled between these locations is to get walking directions from a map site. It's obviously not exact, but not as bad as you might think. For instance, a modern-day map shows that you could walk from Rosings to Pemberley in about 57 hours, stopping for tea with the Gardiners and the Bennets. If the roads were good, the average person could do it on foot in about seven days. (I had to work that out for one of my stories, because I wanted Lizzy to walk from Longbourn to London. I was surprised by how relatively easy it was.)
Chop off the Rosings leg and you end up with about 150 miles from London to Pemberley—which you could walk in 50 hours, assuming no impediments—or 125 miles for Longbourn to Pemberley.
To put that in perspective, the entire UK is slightly larger than my home state of Washington. Pemberley to London is about the same as Seattle to Portland or, in Europe, from Paris to Brussels.
So, what's is the fastest way to go from Point A to Point B? Does having infinite money make it any easier? The first clue is in Chapter 47 of Pride and Prejudice: “They travelled as expeditiously as possible, and, sleeping one night on the road, reached Longbourn by dinner time the next day.” That means that the Gardiners travelled from Pemberley to Longbourn in two long days. That gives the Gardiner carriage traveling expeditiously an average speed of about 60 miles per day. Assuming they were in a panic, but not throwing money at it like crazy, it seems a doable distance.
Longbourn to Gracechurch Street is exactly 24 miles by canon, and they began it so early as to be in Gracechurch Street by noon. That means 24 miles is a matter of three to four hours, as it’s hard to imagine getting Sir William, Maria, and Lizzy into a coach before nine a.m. Once again, this gives you 50-60 miles per day relatively easily.
Darcy boasts in Hunsford: “And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day's journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.” At first glance, considering the Gardiners only managed 60 miles per day, that statement might seem overly boastful, but not crazy (especially if you're trying to impress a woman—no telling what us men will say). Later though, we can see the effect of a big budget. In Chapter 56, Lady Catherine used a chaise and four driving up the lawn and the horses were post. That means that she had four horses, and she stopped along the way to rent fresh horses. A horse can move at around 10-12 miles per hour, but just like any animal, they get tired. In general, to maintain maximum speed, you should change them out about every 10 to 20 miles, or stop for an hour or two to ‘bait” them (let them eat, drink and rest). Lady Catherine made it to Longbourn in the morning, so you can see that Darcy’s boast of “little more than half a day’s journey” is actually accurate—given infinite money—while Lizzy’s assertion that it was a long distance for someone of the Collins’s income also holds true.
Thus, if you’re willing to throw money at it, you can make fifty miles in half a day, and presumably get fresh horses and do another fifty, so that puts a reasonable distance, according to canon, of 60 to 100 miles per day. Do the math, and Pemberley to London should take two to three days. If you’re in a hurry, just match your ancient aunt’s rate for three half-days in a row, and you can eat dinner at Pemberley on the second long day.
Now, let’s just suppose that you’re an express rider tasked with taking a message from Pemberley to Longbourn. Once again, it all depends on money. A good rule of thumb is you can ride 40 miles a day easily, 50 miles normally, and 60 miles if you push it. Why the discrepancy with coach travel? Because coaches had several horses, and wheels reducing the rolling resistance.
Of course, that all assumes a single rider and a single horse, so much of the day is spent resting the horse, and much of the day riding a tired horse. If you’re riding an exchange mount with frequent changeouts, you could expect 100 miles per day—but then you have to wonder why you bothered sending an express rider instead of Lady Catherine in her chaise and four. Well, 100 miles per day for one man only takes a two or three fresh horses, and he doesn’t have to put up with the grand lady. Riding 100 miles in the Darcy or de Bourgh coach would take at least three sets of four horses.
It's interesting to note that Roman chariots in Caesar’s time were good for 100 miles per day—showing travel speeds didn’t change much in twenty centuries. In fact, the distance that an army could move did not really change from the Roman era to World War I, and the amount an infantry soldier can carry today is the same as that of a Roman legionnaire. Infantry soldiers with a full pack move 20-30 miles per day whether they are a Roman legionnaire or a doughboy.
Now suppose you do not have infinite money to change out carriages, or didn't have a carriage or a horse at all? That’s where the post coach came in. For about 1P/mile you could move at eight to ten miles an hour, or a good 100 miles per day, at a cost that, while onerous for a servant, was well within the reach of the Bennets or anyone of their class. Every 10 to 20 miles, they stopped for a few minutes to change horses, and moved on whether the passengers were on board or not. Just like with modern mass transit though, it all depended on the schedules and where you wanted to go. You might be moving 10 miles an hour for half the day and then spend a whole day waiting for another coach; the worst-case scenario for a rich person would see them resting for an hour or two and moving on. In one of my stories, I had Lizzy and Darcy leave Derbyshire the same day, with Darcy riding and changing out horses like crazy, while she took the post. They both arrived the same day. I didn't even have to cheat to make it work out, but Lizzy took a much larger chance of a schedule mishap, while Darcy took a bigger chance of falling off his horse and breaking his neck.
So, a range of 60 to 100 miles a day seems to be the going rate, depending on luck and finance. What if you really want to push your luck? Let's finish out with two other examples.
The Mongol Empire was the largest land empire in history, and in the 13th and 14th centuries, it had the forerunner to the 19th-century Pony Express. The Mongols had relay stations about every 25 miles, and a single courier routinely covered 300 miles in a single day. Six centuries later, they did the same thing from New York to California, but neither the roads not the horses were as good, so they only managed 200 miles per day… still not bad. If you could manage Mongol-era speeds (which certainly was possible given sufficient motivation and money), then a round trip from Pemberley to London could have been done in two days. It would be tough, bordering on impossible, but it could be done.
Now, if you don't have any horse or money, you’re left with your good old two feet. That's not quite so complicated, and in fact, it was how most people did most of their travel. Even Lydia walked into Meryton (one mile each way) nearly every day; with the Bennet horses frequently used on the home farm, the coach was not always available.
On a good surface, almost everyone walks 3 to 3.5 miles per hour; ordinary people can walk 10 to 24 miles per day. Twenty-four miles is the exact distance from Longbourn to Gracechurch Street, so even on foot, it’s only a hard day’s walk. Elizabeth’s three-mile walk to Netherfield that so freaked out Caroline Bingley was about an hour’s walk—hardly anything. In fact: “No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.”
That means that even a gentlewoman (admittedly a good walker) thought nothing of walking six miles before dinner. Dinner at Netherfield was at 6:30, but probably earlier at Longbourn. Either way, Lizzy was not intimidated by a six-mile walk.
Naturally, nobody would think twice about sending a servant to Longbourn and back, two or three times a day, on foot. Our characters are always sending notes here and there on the slightest provocation, and we don’t mention that many of those would be on foot. It’s doubtful the guy who delivered Jane’s note to Longbourn bothered with a horse.