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West WiltsWest Wilts U3A’s monthly meeting in January started with an authentic and dramatic ‘clear the road’ call on a 51 inch posthorn by Martin Horler, who was presenting a fascinating talk on Royal Mail Guards. Martin came dressed for the part of course!  The Royal Mail dates back half a millennium, at which time the Mail really was Royal, having been created by King Henry VIII for his personal communications. Initially ‘Post Boys’ carried messages, with the Post becoming public in 1635, and the first regular Mail Coach running between Bristol and London in 1784. The Bristol Coach remained pre-eminent even as the service was extended to other parts of the country: all Coaches left London at 8.00pm every night, but the Bristol Coach was always first to leave. Ralph Allen of Bath played a major part in the early development of the service. Adverse weather could be a menace – as were highwaymen and their lesser “relatives” the footpads – hence a requirement for the Guard, perched alone at the rear. Martin spent many years researching the subject, and had real weapons to show, from pistol to blunderbuss. These, we were told, might also come in useful for shooting game en route back to London to supplement the Guard’s income! Overall though, it was a serious job carried out by heroic men, enduring the elements, stopping for nothing except inns at approximately 10 mile intervals, and then only briefly to change their horses for a fresh team. A call on the horn and they would be off again. There was a variety of calls, each with a definite meaning, even down to whether the coach was going to overtake a slower vehicle on the nearside or offside, requiring it to move over – and quickly. Woe betide a toll road operator who was slow to respond to ‘clear the road’! Among the livery stables which provided horses for the Mail Coaches was one run by Thomas Hobson, who also made his horse available for hire by (wealthy) individuals, provided you accepted the ones offered -  “Hobson's Choice”. The large audience of U3A members at the usual venue of St James' Church Hall in Trowbridge thoroughly enjoyed Martin's presentation, as well as the opportunity to view the many artefacts he had brought along.

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