The mail coaches were introduced in the late
eighteenth century, to provide a more speedy and cost effective
system of transport for the post than with the previous system. That
had involved post boys (often elderly) and others, had depended on
convenience and travellers, and often involved frequent mail thefts
and other factors which resulted in declining postal revenues.
John Palmer (1742-1818) of Bristol suggested the
establishment of a mail coach system, an idea which was taken up by William
Pitt on the suggestion of Lord Camden.
The experiment, begun in August
1784, proved an immediate success, and generated an increasing
revenue for the government. Scottish and Irish mail coaches followed
thereafter. The coaches fitted in with a range of less glamorous
forms of transport - including wagons and canal boats, as well as
boat services for Ireland (via Holyhead) and the Continent (the
Hamburg and other mails). The various Post Office directories, and other
directories of the time, listed the days for which services were
provided, along with the times
and coach names where appropriate, and the routes of regular services.
The development of the mail coach system depended
in part upon improvements in road building - including macadamisation
 and toll roads . Military factors
also played a part in
road development. There was a need for good communications in order to
counter the threat of insurgency and invasion, actual or perceived.
The development of what is now termed the Industrial and
Agricultural Revolutions also played a part, managing to increase trade and
improve materials, which resulted in a need for better
communications with sources and markets.
The coaching networks evolved over time, with routes
being extended or
changed to suit demand. They wound down from the mid-nineteenth century,
with the advent of the railways, which were quicker, more
comfortable and could carry more: the transit is noted piecemeal in
the Post Office and other directories. The last to go were the cross-country routes.
Some of the companies involved in the mail coach
business managed to survive, sometimes through investment in the railways, or by entering into, and
developing a new market, such as the provision of feeder services to the
railways, much as bus services and taxis have done subsequently.
There were also coaching inns along the way, which served much the
same functions as airport hotels and stations do today. Given the schedules and
any potential delays the coaches could arrive,
or depart, at all hours of the day or night. A number of former
coaching inns can still be identified, such as The George, Southwark (near
London Bridge), a rare survival of an original layout; Golden
Cross House, Charing Cross (next to St Martin's in the Fields)
commemorates the coaching inn that was previously on the site; and
Fleet Street was, at one time, home to a number of coaching inns.
The origin of the term 'Cock and Bull stories' is said to be in the
name of two pubs in St Albans.