‘Road Rage’ is a fairly recent term, although the act itself is far from modern. Back in the 19th century our horse-powered ancestors, once behind the reigns of a four-legged beast, could be as equally aggressive as some of the road users of today.
This is evidenced from the numerous individuals apprehended for driving offences and brought before the Justices of the Peace. One such person appeared before JP George Whieldon on April 1st 1822. This was William Lake of Draycott, who on March 25th did ‘furiously’ drive his cart on the turnpike road between Blythe Bridge and Lane End (later known as Longton). Unable to control his cart, he came into contact with a timber carriage pulled by a team of horses. These belonged to Benjamin Jacques, a timber merchant of Lane End. Lake was accused of knocking down one of Jacques’s horses, the impact of which was so great that the horse in question suffered a broken rib along with other injuries. Being found guilty Lake was fined twenty shillings.
Similarly, on December 9th 1850, William Hulme of Longton unlawfully drove a cart and pony through the streets of Stoke in a ‘furious, violent and dangerous manner.’ He was fined a total of twelve shillings. Was this individual simply a ‘boy racer’ of the 19th century?
Often road users would be apprehended for what would be considered driving without due care and attention. On September 25th 1850, Thomas Clerk, a carter from Goldenhill, did ‘unlawfully ride in a cart pulled by a horse along the turnpike road without having any reins attached or anyone in front to guide the horse.’ He was fined twenty shillings for the equivalent of driving without a steering wheel and no brakes!
Attempting to evade payment at toll houses was also a frequent occurrence. On December 6th 1850 Jarvis Ridge, a carter from Longton, did ‘fraudulently and forcibly pass through Foley Toll gate with a pony and cart without paying the toll.’ His punishment was a fine of five shillings with a further thirteen shillings in costs.
Occasionally these incidents would also include public transport. In 1835 Thomas Chapman, the proprietor of a stage coach (the driver being unknown) was convicted of ‘wantonly and furiously’ allowing his vehicle to be driven in such a manner on the Wolverhampton to Birmingham Road. For the risk of endangering his passengers he was fined five pounds. Ten years earlier on the same road James Randell proprietor of a stage coach pulled by a team of four horses was fined for carrying three more ‘outside’ passengers than the permitted twelve.
The risk of falling asleep at the wheel is commonly associated with modern motorway driving. Again, however, there are comparatives with our forbearers. On December 12th 1849 Henry Wheat was driving his wagon pulled by two horses on the road from Uttoxeter to Gratwich. Unfortunately for Wheat he managed to fall asleep while driving and lost control of his wagon. This collided with a cart belonging to one John Dabb, causing considerable injuries to both Dabb and his cart. Was the reason for Wheat falling asleep due to the repetition of the swaying cart or possibly a liquid lunch in some local hostelry? For his negligence Wheat was fine three pounds, as well as being ordered to pay nineteen shillings to Dabb by means of compensation.
And if you think parking offences are a modern invention you would be wrong. On October 17th 1850 John Lee of Burslem ‘unlawfully left his horse and cart in Waterloo Road without any person in charge for a longer time than necessary to load or unload.’ He was fined two shillings and sixpence with a further ten shillings in costs.
It would appear that the road user of the 21st century is under no more of legislation while driving that those of two hundred years ago.