What days those must have been, when the coaches with the horses rode into town – with people from far and wide….
I had thought that those days were long since gone, until I found my way into Dartford town and arrived at the first and only still truly authentic coaching inn left in the London and Kent region – The Royal Victoria and Bull.
Coz it turned out that there, sitting at the table just across from me, was this little chap happily eating his £3.95 pensioner’s meal, who claimed to remember the days that horses and coaches rode into town on their way to Canterbury and other parts of Kent, or the towns of the Medway. Whether those people were on a spiritual journey at all or not is another matter, and perhaps subject for another tale – however it was great to meet someone who remember the days of coaches and horses being used for public transport here in England.
As for me, I had just arrived there from where I’d being staying in Charlton staying in the house run by the mystical lady lawyer (as mentioned in Raising and Erasing Spirits), by way of taking the 422 bus to Bexley Heath Bus Garage , just North-East of Greenwich, and then the No. 96 from Bexley Heath shopping centre into Dartford. It was nowhere near as romantic, from the sounds of it, as those horse and coach journeys of old like this sparkling-eyed old chap fondly regaled to me – but it was still fun in being able to stay as true as possible to taking double deckers all the way to Canterbury, in true Cliff Richard and Young Ones style.
It was also nowhere near as smelly either, from all accounts, as the old man said that not only would he and other young lads run after the coaches and horses as they came into town in the early nineteen thirties – but had to be careful where they ran due to the shit left by the horses.
What’s more, the horses themselves would actually have been in the inn itself – just as much as the people staying there, as the inns were built around a space that the horses and coaches rode into.
The old man told me his name was Charlie Olsen, and he was there at the pub that day with his grandson-in-law having just come back from Cyprus where his grandson-in-law’s sister had just got married – and clearly wanting that classic English meal of fish and chips. He was just the sort of person I was looking for to tell me the history of what had gone before: from days when the last horses and carts came into town when he was but a lad, to his days working in the local lead works as a yard foreman and coming into the pub for a drink afterwards.
“I was married for 48.5 years”, he told me, “and my wife passed away 5.5 years ago. I was born in Erith, but have been coming into Dartford all my life. I can still remember days from when the horse and carts came in before the war to the Royal Victoria and Bull. – and, in my teen years, earning a few pence from cleaning up the shit from the horses on their way to the inn.”
So, a valuable snippet, learned from that was that The Canterbury Tales would have had quite a ripe, as much as a merry, air to them. Perhaps even one that helped inspire some of the bawdiness of the tales, and a few other expressions besides….