Whilst looking through the Brighton street directories I came across the profession of Fly Proprietor. I hadn't heard of this before, but after checking up I discovered that 'fly' is one of several words used to describe a Hackney carriage. That led me to look into the history of coaching around Brighton, and it was soon clear that anyone travelling through Sussex before the time of the Regency was in for a comfortless and perilous journey.
Just how bad the roads were can be seen in the remarks of some of the people who travelled to brighton around that time, for example, Horace Walpole wrote to a friend in 1749:
Mr. Chute and I returned from our expedition miraculously well considering all our distress. If you like good roads, conveniences, good inns, plenty of postillians and horses, be so kind as never to go to Sussex.
And in 1751 Dr. John Burton wrote:
I fell immdiately apon all that was most bad, apon a land desolate and muddy, wether inhabited by men or beast a stranger could not easily destinguish and apon roads that were to explain concisley Sussexian.… Why comes it that oxen, the swine, the women and all other animals are so long legged in Sussex? Can it be from the difficulties of pulling the feet out of so much mud by the strength of their ankles, so that the muscles become stretched and the bones lengthened.
What I like about the street directories is the feeling that each one is a time capsule of history from a single year, and looking into them throws up little mysteries to be solved.