Saturday, 14 March 2015

The coach in the Wye - from Kilvert's Diary

I have just been looking for an extract from Kilvert's Diary to share with you, and have come across this page, which tells of the coach which was wrecked in the flood at Bredwardine:

Monday 28 November 1870

A plaintive mew outside the door.  I open the door and tabby Toby comes trotting in with his funny little note of affection.

Walked up the Cwm and found old James Jones stonebreaking.  he told me how he was once travelling from Hereford to Hay by coach when the coach was wrecked in a flood by Bredwardine Bridge because the coachman would not take the bearing reins of the horses off.  The bearing reins kept the horses' noses down under water, they plunged and reared and got the coach off the road and swimming like a boat, and an old lady inside screaming horribly.  "Don't keep such a noise, Ma'am," said old Jones, throwing himself off the roof into a hedge-row against which the coach was swept by the fierce current.  "We won't leave you before we get you out somehow."  He was followed by most of the passengers on the roof, though one very tall man fell into the water on his face all along like a log, and waded through the flood out on to the Bredwardine side.  One outside passenger was a miller of the neighbourhood who had a boat on the river.  This was sent for and the old lady pacified and pulled into it through the coach window.  The coachman was prayed and entreated to loose the bearing reins, but refused to do it.  Two horses were drowned, one wheeler went down under the pole.  The other, a leader, broke loose and plunged and pawed and reared at the bridge out of the flood until he was exhausted, and then fell over backwards into the stream and was rolled away by the current.

Life was hard for the people in the countryside.  Here is is back in Chippenham, on an outing whilst staying with his parents:

Friday March Eve 1873

I went to Hardenhuish House.  Between St Paul's Church and the Lodge an old man stood by the way-side begging.  He was quite blind, and beside him stood a pretty little girl, his grand-daughter, with curling chestnut hair and beautiful rogueish merry eyes.  She had gathered some primroses and stuck them in her brown straw hat.  And when I came up the child pretended to be shy, got behind her grandfather and seemed to be looking along the bank for more flowers.  I stopped and spoke to the old man.  "I am fourscore," he said.  "For sixty years I worked at the blast furnaces and the fire was too strong for my eyes.  I came out here to stand and try if I could gather a few coppers as it is market day."

Thursday September Eve 1871

I went up to Lower Cwmgwanon to see the old madwoman Mrs Watkins.  Her son was out in the harvest field carrying oats, and I had to wait till he came in to go upstairs with me.  While I waited in the kitchen the low deep voice upstairs began calling, "Murder!"  John Lloyd! John Lloyd! Murder!"

The madwoman's son, a burly tall good-humoured man with ah pleasant face, came to the garden gate and thought I would not do any good by seeing his mother.  So I went away.  But when I had got half way down the meadow Cwmside on my way to the Burnt House, he shouted to me to come back and asked me to go up and see her.  He led the way up the broad oak staircase into a fetid room darkened.  The window was blocked up with stools and chairs to prevent the poor mad creature from throwing herself out.  She had broken all the window glass and all the crockery.  There was nothing in the room but her bed and a chair.  She lay with the blanket over her head.  When her son turned the blanket down I was almost frightened.  It was a mad skeleton with such a wild scared animal's face as I never saw before.  Her dark hair was tossed weird and unkempt, and she stared at me like a wile beast.  But she began directly to talk rationally though her mind wandered at moments.  I tried to bring some serious thoughts back to her mind. "Whom do you pray to when you say your prayers?"  "Mr Venables." (The Vicar).  It was the dim lingering idea of someone in authority.  I repeated the Lord's Prayer and the old familiar words seemed to come back to her by degrees till she could say it alone.  When I went away she besought me earnestly to come again.  "You'll promise to come again now.  You'll promise," she said eagerly.


  1. I absolutely love Kilvert's Diary and often read snippets from it in the evening. When we used to live in Wolverhampton we used to go on regular music courses to Gregynog in Wales and we always went through Kilvery Country - also past plenty of apple orchards where the mistletoe hung heavy. That looks distinctly like mistletoe in your photograph.

  2. That diary sounds like my cup of tea. I have just embarked on reading Anthony Trollope's six novel series,The Chronicles of Barsetshire. The first novel The Warden was published in 1855, about the time of the Diary. Brilliant novel, I highly recommend it, set in a small town in west England and featuring the kind Rev. Harding.

  3. Pat - yes, Mistletoe, and plenty of it in Herefordshire, not just on the old apple trees either. I love it. Gregynog is where my friend Annie (who is so ill now) went on an Eng. Lit. course through Uni.

    Terra - yes, you would love it. I have returned - like Pat - again and again to it over the years and it never disappoints me. I read The Warden for my Eng. Lit. Access course, and have most of that series of Trollopes' - and no time to read them - the books to read are piled SOOOOOOOO high here!