Before the coming of the railway in the mid-nineteenth century Eye had been a major stopping place on the road to London, with the coaches from Norwich and from Great Yarmouth changing horses at the White Lion inn. It had been a coaching inn since at least the 15th century. In the early part of the 19th century the “Monarch” coach called there on the way from Norwich to London and back, while the “Star” went from Yarmouth via Beccles and Bungay and Eye.
I should think that most people who travelled the whole way from Yarmouth to London or to Ipswich went by sea. It is true that the turnpikes had made the roads much better by 1830; and by road you were less at the mercy of the weather – unless you were an unfortunate traveller on one of the outside seats! But by boat your journey was probably slightly more comfortable and certainly cheaper, though perhaps slower. By the late 19th century paddle steamers were the inexpensive and reliable option for tourists going on their annual holiday from London to Yarmouth. Sea was thus a real option for travellers from the capital before the First World War, and cheaper than rail. But for people going from inland places in East Anglia like Eye or Bungay travel by horse drawn transport was the only option before the coming of the railways.
Eye was by no means the only posting place near the borders of Suffolk on the road to London. The 17th century inn at nearby Scole was a fine alternative, used by the “Herald” coach en route from Ipswich to Norwich. This was one way to London that was later duplicated by the main railway line. Another route to the capital took travellers from Norwich via Wymondham, Thetford and Bury St Edmunds or Barton Mills, the way that later became known as the A11. The journey was begun at Norwich in the evening and arrived in London by late morning, with a stop at around 8 a.m. for breakfast. When Parson Woodforde made his one of regular journeys to Somerset in 1789 he left from the Kings Head Inn in the Walk in Norwich. An inside seat cost 24 shillings for the “Expedition” coach to London; this was a lot of money and even an outside seat for his servant cost 14 shillings. Luggage was extra, as were generous tips for the coachmen. At least being June the first few miles would have been made in daylight. Travelling through the night they arrived in London at 11 a.m. the next morning; seventeen hours on the road! No wonder they spent a few days recovering in The Angel Hotel at St Clements before starting the next leg of the journey to Salisbury. But even that was made uncomfortable by the activities of the resident bed bugs!
On an earlier occasion James Woodforde and his neice Nancy did not leave till 9 p.m. and had an early meal at Sudbury in Suffolk, arriving in London at 2 in the afternoon. On their return they stopped in Newmarket for half an hour and changed coaches, not merely horses before going on to Thetford and Norwich. In the next fifty years the number of coaches grew with the ever expanding population until a great change abolished them overnight. This was the coming of the railway.
When the railway arrived in Suffolk in 1846 travel to London became a fast and smooth journey, and as the iron road spread it was soon not just the capital that drew people in.Travel became an option for nearly all, instead of just for the seriously wealthy. As the railways spread to almost every corner of the land the people of Norfolk were liberated from their enclosed communities. In the 18th century the canals had already drawn people as well as goods to the industrial heartlands, but this transport system never extended into East Anglia. Eye lost out to nearby Diss (4 miles away) as a stop on the main line from London to Norwich. The worthies of the town lobbied hard for the line to through Eye but without success. Eye later got a short branch from Mellis but it was never very successful and closed to passenger traffic in 1931, and completely in 1964. Do not expect to drop into the White Lion for a pint either; the building was converted to housing in 1986.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA