Book Review: Coachman by Sue Millard

A while ago I read a gem of a book by K.M. Peyton entitled The Right-Hand Man, about a four-in-hand driver (my review here). A four in hand is a carriage pulled by a team of four horses with the reins arranged in such a way that a single driver can handle them. The excitement and romance of it captured my imagination and when I came across Sue Millard’s book dealing with the same subject, I knew this was one I had to read as well. This was the book that launched my 2017 reading year.

Young coachman, George Davenport, when jobs become scarce in Carlisle, seeks employment in London and is hired as a stage coachman by William Chaplin, one of the largest coaching business proprietors based in the capital.

George is cheeky, confident, good at what he does, but also a little naive, which makes him very endearing. Coaching is in his blood and the thought of driving anything other than a four in hand is unthinkable.

George’s ambition is to drive a mail coach and participate in the annual Mail Coach Procession. But it is 1838, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, and a time when the railways are slowly taking business from the coaching trade, heralding the demise of an industry.

When his fiancée, Lucy, joins him in London, George finds himself with all the problems inherent with providing for a family, at a time when he is in danger of losing his position as a coachman. Not only does he have to deal with these worries, but also with the unwelcome advances of his employer’s frustrated daughter, Sarah.

Sue Millard has a long association with horses and carriage driving and has used her expertise to create an informative and entertaining narrative around a mode of transport that is long gone. Coachman is a fascinating insight into the organisation and resources needed to run such an enterprise, and the calibre of the men required to drive the coaches. I didn’t envy them working in all types of weather, night or day, dealing with disgruntled passengers, bad roads or any mishaps that occurred.

I enjoyed everything about this novel. The dialogue, often filled with banter, added humour and a sense of camaraderie, but most memorable are the historical details that enriched it and transported me to Victorian England, into the everyday lives of the characters. George's games of cribbage with Cherry, his friend and fellow coachman, and the coach's guard tootling a few bars of a bawdy song, The Young Coachman, on his key-bugle when he realises that Sarah Chaplin is flirting with George, particularly spring to mind. Sue Millard also includes more serious issues in her tale, which reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the era.

Coachman is a wonderful snapshot of life in Victorian England at a time of change and how a young man learns some valuable lessons regarding the importance of honesty, love and friendship!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for linking this fab review up to the British Books Challenge x

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. I'm pleased to have posted my first review for the Challenge.

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