The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

dust jacket

The following post is the sixteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!

Artistic License

While I mean no disrespect to Canterbury and its extraordinary history, there is so much already out there on this topic that I’ve decided to skip it and focus on a particular coachman well-known and much respected for his years of service on the Canterbury-Dover Road.

Coaches On the Dover Road

dover road

112 miles round trip proved too much in one day.

Of the coaches on this Dover Road I have refrained from speaking, not because I was reserving the best thing till the last, but in point of fact for an exactly opposite reason. An indisputable subject tells me that, considering its importance as the principal route for travellers between England and France, there were not many coaches running on the Dover Road. I fancy that most people who had the wherewithal and wanted to catch a packet when the tide set, posted, and congratulated themselves. Mr. Jarvis Lorry I know was not amongst this number, but then he travelled by the Dover Mail, which was always an institution, kept good time, and carried in its day historic matter.

Mr. William Clements: Gentleman Coachman

william clements

Mr. William Clements, “Gentleman Coachman”

Of the other coaches on the Dover Road I shall make no mention. For once in the way, a catalogue, if made, would contain no sounding names in coaching story, would register no records in the way of speed, catastrophes, or drivers especially cunning, sober or drunk. Yet one coach besides the Dover Mail on this road I will mention, because next to the Mail it took high rank—in some estimations a rank above it; because with its coachman in its best days, I have had the pleasure of shaking hands. Yes! I have shaken hands with a classic coachman! No tyro he when coaching was the fashion, but an artist to the tips of his fingers—one of the old school, whom I have heard described by one who knew them well, as Grand Gentlemen; parties capable of giving Fatherly advice, to bumptious pretenders—parties who at the end of a trying journey, etc., over heavy roads took their ease at their inn with an air, disembarrassed themselves of their belchers, and sat down to a pint of sterling port.

Yes, in Mr. William Clements, who still enjoys a hale old age at Canterbury, I have chanced on a type now almost extinct, and which another generation will only read of in descriptions more or less fabulous, and wonder whether such people have ever been. Mr. Clements, who still takes a sort of paternal interest in those revivals of the coaching age which delight our millionaires during the prevalence of what we are pleased to call our summer months, lives in a snug house of his own, surrounded by memories of his former triumphs. A duchess might envy the Chippendale furniture in his drawing-room, and the bow window commands an extensive view of a rambling block of buildings which in days gone by houses the treasures of a choice stud.

As I listened to this man, it seemed to me that I came into direct personal contact with the very genius of coaching days and coaching ways—felt the impulse which throbbed in the brains of our ancestors to be at the coaching office early to book the box seat: sat by the side of a consummate master of his craft; was initiated in an instant into all its dark mysteries of “fanning,” “springing,” “pointing,” “chopping,” and “towelling.” I went through snowdrifts, I drank rums and milk; hair-breadth escapes in imminent deadly floods were momentary occurrences; I alighted at galleried inns; waiters all subservient showed me to “Concords” in all quarters of the empire. I revelled in the full glories of the coaching age in short in a moment! For had I not touched hands with its oldest, its most revered representative?

Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, Volume 69 (Free on Google Books)

In the early 20’s, when agriculture was at its best, the farmers between Canterbury and London wanted a coach that would land them in London at noon on Monday and bring them back the same day… It was settled offhand to start a coach; Mr. Chapin said, “it must be a light coach and we will call it the Tally-ho!…It was started on that fortnight and either on its first start or soon afterwards, Mr. William Clements, whom I knew for the greater part of my life, was coachman, and at first he drove the early five o’clock Monday coach from Canterbury to London in one day, 112 miles all told; but it proved too much and afterward he drove up to London, 56 miles, and down the next day… The coach was almost always called “Clements’s coach,” and he went by the name of “gentleman coachman,” for he had quite the courtesy of Sir Roger de Coverley, combined with the most finished skill in driving his team, and he seldom went a journey without having a young lady who was travelling alone committed to his charge.

Baily says that he had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clements and his “bright little wife, who was a very clever and well read lady,” and that, in fact, she had been one of the young ladies entrusted to him when he was a young man, and that they celebrated their golden anniversary before she passed away.

This is Why I Love Research!

In my next story, I believe I shall weave in a scene with this true-to-life “gentleman coachman.” In fact, it is beginning to take shape in my mind already! A young lady traveling to London unaccompanied in need of protection. Fabulous!

Henry Alken Sr. Dover to London Coach Summer

Henry Alken Sr.
Dover to London Coach Summer

 Index to all the posts in this series

1: The Bath Road: The (True) Legend of the Berkshire Lady

2: The Bath Road: Littlecote and Wild William Darrell

3: The Bath Road: Lacock Abbey

4: The Bath Road: The Bear Inn at Devizes and the “Pictorial Chronicler of the Regency”

5: The Exeter Road: Flying Machines, Muddy Roads and Well-Mannered Highwaymen

6: The Exeter Road: A Foolish Coachman, a Dreadful Snowstorm and a Romance

7: The Exeter Road in 1823: A Myriad of Changes in Fifty Years

8: The Exeter Road: Basingstoke, Andover and Salisbury and the Events They Witnessed

9: The Exeter Road: The Weyhill Fair, Amesbury Abbey and the Extraordinary Duchess of Queensberry

10: The Exeter Road: Stonehenge, Dorchester and the Sad Story of the Monmouth Uprising

11: The Portsmouth Road: Royal Road or Road of Assassination?

12: The Brighton Road: “The Most Nearly Perfect, and Certainly the Most Fashionable of All”

13: The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

14: The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

15: The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

16: The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

17: The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

18: The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

19: The York Road: The Stamford Regent Faces the Peril of a Flood

20: The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

21: The Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

22: The Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

23: The Holyhead Road: Old Lal the Legless Man and His Extraordinary Flying Machine

24: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part I)

25: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part II)

26: Flying Machines and Waggons and What It Was Like To Travel in Them

27: “A few words on Coaching Inns” and Conclusion

6 thoughts on “The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

  1. Dear Susana,
    I am working on a translation of Tristram’s book. Do you have any immediate idea what is the reference when he says here, as above, Mr William Clements gives “Fatherly advice to bumptous pretenders”? (p. 275) Surely a work of literature but who by? And who are the pretenders? Novice coachmen?


    • I don’t think that is a reference to a work of literature. (I italicized it because it was italicized in the book and the use of italics back then often baffles me.) Coachmen were not gentlemen, of course, but Clements held himself to such high standards in behavior and professionalism that he was as close to a gentleman as a coachman could be. I think by pretenders he meant those who were unskilled, took too many risks, and exhibited uncouth behavior.

      I don’t have the book here – it’s in Ohio and I’m in Florida for the winter – but that’s what I glean from re-reading the blog post.

      Good luck in the translation. It’s a fabulous read!


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