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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Anachronism, Speed and Geography Rant

One of the things that jars me out of the enjoyment of a book is when there's a sudden glaring anachronism.  Gentle writer, I implore you, 'okay' is NEVER okay for the Regency era and 'alright' isn't even a real word now.  Besides even 'all right' would not be used in the context we use it now in such a time.  'Very well' 'if you wish' 'of course' 'indeed' and 'yes' depending on context would be suitable replacements that would not be anachronistic and would give a better period flavour to the story.

Some words are totally inappropriate and I find it hard to understand why readers of period pieces cannot manage to recognise if a word is dodgy and check it up.  There's an excellent online etymology dictionary at

It errs on the side of caution so some words may be earlier than it states but this is better than making a faux pas.

The internet is a wonderful resource and it is easy to check up such things as the types of carriages one's heroines might be abducted in.  Very hard to abduct someone in a curricle - too open - and PLEASE no Broughams before 1838 [and they weren't common before 1851].

I might as well include a mild rant as well about the gentle art of geography that talk of carriages has reminded me about.

Travel times were a lot better in the Regency than they were in the previous century but one did not take a drive out into Kent for the afternoon from London and certainly not to Devon. The Mail Coach which changed horses frequently and did not stop to do more than change horses and get fresh drivers could do London to York in 25 hours, an incredible speed.  Travelling in a post chaise would take 3-6 days depending on the quality of the horses, whether your own were at various posting stations, the weather, the delicacy of constitution of the traveller and whether he could stomach being bounced like a pea in a frying pan for greater speed.

Look at a map of Surrey; googlemaps will find you Leatherhead quite easily. Leatherhead is a very thinly disguised Highbury in Jane Austen's 'Emma'.  It is stated clearly as being 16 miles from London, a journey of some 2 hours.

The fastest sporting horses, the sort you would be paying 300 guineas a pair for or more, could manage 15 miles per hour, but to do that in a sustained fashion was not feasible. London to Brighton in 4 hours was a record time.  A Corinthian with a sporting curricle or a high perch Phaeton might manage London to Highbury in about an hour and a quarter.  Some of that would be negotiating the London traffic on the outskirts.  As indeed is the two hour estimate of the canon.


  1. Gah, I know without a doubt I am guilty of these mistakes.

    Thanks or for the etymology dictionary and your short geography/travel information. I know I'll be referencing both in the future.


  2. Thanks, Red, I hope it comes in handy!