Monday, December 7, 2015

Turkeys on the Norfolk Coach to London...or they walked

During four days in 1793 over 2500 turkeys were sent by passenger coach from Norwich to London for Christmas. They "pay better" than the usual human passenger.  Turkeys also walked to market as seen in the last image.

"Norfolk Coach at Christmas"
"There is little exaggeration in the accompanying picture of a Lynn or Bury coach, on its town-ward journey, with its freight of turkeys, Many a time have we seen a Norfolk coach, with its hampers piled on the roof and swung from beneath the body, and its birds depending, by every possible contrivance, from every part from which a bird could be made to hang. Nay, we believe it is not unusual with the proprietors, at this season, to refuse inside passengers of the human species, in favour of these oriental gentry, who “pay better;" and, on such occasions, of course, they set at defiance the restriction which limits them to carrying “four insides.” Within and without, the coaches are crammed with the bird of Turkey;—and a gentleman town-ward bound, who presented himself at a Norwich coach office, at such a time, to inquire the “fare to London,” was pertly answered, by the book-keeper, “Turkeys.” 

Our readers will acquit us of exaggeration, when we tell them that Mr. Hone, in his Every Day Book, quotes, from an historical account of Norwich, an authentic statement of the amount of turkeys which were transmitted from that city to London, between a Saturday morning and the night of Sunday, in the December of 1793;—which statement gives the number as one thousand seven hundred, the weight as nine tons, two cwt., and two lbs., and the value as £680. It is added that, in the two following days, these were followed by half as many more. We are unable to furnish the present statistics of the matter; but, in forty years which have elapsed since that time, the demand, and, of course, the supply must have greatly increased; and it is probable that the coach proprietors find it convenient to put extra carriages on the road, for these occasions."

The Book of Christmas Thomas Kibble Hervey… Illustrations by R. Seymour.  London: 1836

Turkey drovers led turkeys, sometimes 1000s, as they walked to market in the early 1800s.  Charles Dickens wrote:

"THE TURKEY-DROVER has also a very busy time of it just now; and the Goose-drover far more. The greater difficulty attending the flocks of geese is not because they are so much more numerous than the turkeys, as on account of the perverse, irritable, and stupid conditions of mind which alternate with the goose. It is to be remembered that the warlike turkeycock (so aptly called in Scotland the bubbly-jock) and the mature fierce-necked, wing-threatening, universally-assaulting gander, being preserved by their toughness, are not present in these festive processions.  We speak only of the young and middle-aged turkey and goose…"
Charles Dickens “What Christmas is to a bunch of people” in Household Words a weekly journal. Christmas 1851   

Image - "Driving Turkeys to the Picking-House" in Harper's Weekly, December 2, 1871   
E.M. Peck's poultry-house at Newtown, Ct.


  1. What a sight it would have been to see turkey and geese drovers! thanks for sharing.

  2. How I wish I could have seen itπŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€