The Slaugham Archives

Stagecoach arriving at the Red Lion, Handcross
The Slaugham Archive
Stagecoach arriving at the Red Lion, Handcross

Mr Alfred Vanderbilt, an American millionaire, came to England in 1908 bringing with him some 80 of his horses in order to re-create the atmosphere of the old coaching days before the railways took away much of the trade in the 1840s. On 4th May 1908, he made a trial run of the journey from London to Brighton in “Meteor” with himself driving. Subsequent regular trips were made in the “Venture”.
The first run was well promoted and crowds have gathered at the Red Lion to watch “Meteor” arrive. The change of horses can be seen in the Red Lion yard with the smartly dressed coachman looking on as two men unhitch the horses.
On the extreme right wearing the “wide-awake hat” is Mr George Heather who lived at Ashfold Lodge with his wife, Charlotte. Standing next to him is Charlie Songhurst, still wearing his cricket pads. It seems most likely that a cricket match is being played on the pitch on what is now Nymans car park, and play was suspended briefly to watch the stagecoach arrive.
Click on Large Version to view a close up of the horses being changed.

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Picture added on 29 November 2012 at 16:54
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Pubs - Handcross
While this is a beautiful photo- I'm afraid that it may be mislabeled. It's always tricky to try to identify coaches by the horses since they change them out so often- but this coach does not appear to be the same Meteor that was driven by Alfred Vanderbilt on that celebrated (and much publicised) day. The style of the browbands on the horses is the style which Vanderbilt used. The heavyset coachman sitting up on the box is not Mr. Vanderbilt nor is the smartly dressed groom on the ground. On that day Vanderbilt was wearing a lighter color heavy overcoat and black hat and black pants. I do not know the Meteor's colors- but the wheels photograph much lighter (perhaps yellow?) than these. Here is another photo which at least gives us a positive ID on the coach:

The above linked photo does confuse things by giving a year 1907 (I believe this is also a mistake) There are other articles- Harper's Weekly, Volume 52 and The Bystander: An Illustrated Weekly, Devoted to Travel , Volume 18 page 221 (both on googleEbooks) where you can see other photos accompanying the celebrated trip in Mid April 1908.
Added by Sarah Thompson on 13 March 2015
Don't know who, but not Vanderbilt, but nice photo.
Added by Bob Mitchell on 14 August 2015
As Sarah Thompson says Vanderbilt was wearing a heavy grey coat and black top hat when he took the coach Meteor to Brighton which was on the 22nd April 1908. He is seen dressed this way on the photo taken at Crawley where we see the rear of the coach (captioned incorrectly as April 1907), and on postcards taken at The Plough Inn at Pyecombe, and Hotel Metropole at Brighton. The Meteor had light coloured wheels as Sarah pointed out. I am sure that this photo shows the coach Venture at Handcross in very early May 1908 once the regular service got under way, and the coachman looks to be Charles Wilson who as well as being Vanderbilt's manager also drove the coach on occasions.
Added by Alan Barwick on 11 December 2016
Surely this is actually Venture, not Meteor.
Cuckfield Museum has a photo of the ostlers (wearing special VENTURE-printed tops) waiting in the Red Lion yard with the change of horses and sure enough the one on the left of them is a grey just as in the background of this picture. The date of that is May 4th 08. Title just says "Waiting For the Coach".
The museum has a case devoted to the London-Brighton coaching route and we are always glad to receive more information or pictures.
Added by Sue Burgess on 27 February 2017
Sue, thank you for your comments. I have been meaning to visit Cuckfield museum for decades! The photograph of the ostlers with the Venture shirts can be seen at picture #514. I had not spotted the top of the grey's head in the picture above, so thanks for that.
There are many pictures of stagecoaches on the website. A search for "stagecoach" in the search box above will yield 35 results which includes other stagecoach-related material in addition to the photographs.
Added by Barry Ray on 27 February 2017
Barry, please don't leave it any longer to come and see us at Cuckfield Museum! One of our display boards features Slaugham at the moment and you may be interested in our permanent Coaching display case.
I have enjoyed looking at all your stagecoach pictures. Is it true that the old cottage in the grounds of the Handcross garden centre used to be stabling for the extra horse(s) to get coaches up the hill?
Soon to be demolished, I think!
Added by Sue Burgess on 27 February 2017
Sue, I spent some time today searching for any evidence to substantiate the claim that the pair of cottages on the site of the garden centre was used as stabling for the stagecoaches. Please visit picture #759 to learn of my findings.
Added by Barry Ray on 28 February 2017
The horses in the non-Vanderbilt coach appear to be much commoner i.e. hairy legs, and the grey looks to be piebald.
Added by Susan Howe on 24 November 2018
Susan, I have been on one horse in my life and know little about them, but accept your point about the horses hitched up to the stagecoach. Perhaps a piebald horse is generally considered less desirable than a grey.
The grey referred to in a couple of the comments above is one of the team waiting to take over from those recently arrived. In the above photograph its head is framed by the doorway close to the Liptons Tea sign, and it also appears in picture #514.

Added by Barry Ray on 24 November 2018
I agree - hardly a matched team! The sad thing is that the Vanderbilt horses, along with thousands of others of course, were requisitioned when WWI broke out. Thus coaching as a sporting activity probably ceased as suddenly as the working stagecoaches when the railway superseded them.
I've done a bit of research on this on behalf of Cuckfield Museum and took photos of the old cottage on the Handcross Garden Centre site but where could I see the map showing the line of stables? I'd be most interested to have a look at that, if possible.
The museum has a picture (not photo) of the team with extras going up Handcross Hill.
Added by Sue Burgess on 24 November 2018
Sue, see my comment above dated 28th February 2017 where you will be directed to picture #759 and then refer to my comment of the same date.
On that page go to the Large Version to view a scan of the 1842 Tithe Map. The black text has been added by reference to the descriptions of each numbered plot within the Tithe Map.
The small plot (22 perch)(Plot 849) was mostly the almost-square building and described as "Stables and Yard". The much larger plot (3 rods 26 perch)(Plot 850) was described as "Upper Stable Yard", and includes a long thin building which I have assumed was a stable block. Or was it a bowling alley?
Please let me know if you would like to see a copy of the map without the typed notes.
Added by Barry Ray on 24 November 2018
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