Tuesday, 1 October 2013

On the road - the "Indicateur"

The Indicateur fidèle produced by Louis Charles Denos, cartographer and bookseller, rue Saint-Jacques, was a deluxe and indispensible guide for the eighteenth-century French traveller. It supplied route maps, timetables and indexes to the various stagecoach, coach and water routes through France and the Low Countries.  According to Wikipedia there were six updated editions between 1771 and 1777,  although in fact the copy made available by the Bibliothèque nationale and reproduced here is earlier, dating from 1765. It is a beautiful book - and serves to bring home just how formidable an undertaking even the most modest journey could be in the age of horse-drawn transport!

Map of France, showing the routes to scale with distances from Paris

Some sample routes  

These are a couple of the shorter journeys available to give a flavour of the amount of time involved.  It was perfectly possible to journey from through Flanders and right to the south of France - but you had to weeks to spare and a robust constitution!

Paris to Rennes

Note that this is a "carosse" and is slower than a stagecoach.  It leaves Paris at five o'clock in the morning, and stops at eleven o'clock - six hours and four leagues later - in Versailles for dinner.  At seven o'clock in the evening, eight hours and seven leagues later, it stops overnight at La Queux.  On Tuesday morning it is an early start: four o'clock in the morning, calling at Houdon, Dreux and  Nonancourt with an overnight stop at Tilliers.  On the following  Monday , at seven o'oclock in the evening the coach finally reaches Rennes.  It has taken eight days travel to cover the journey of  78 leagues, or 234 miles.  Google Directions offers the 21st century driver Paris to Rennes by a not dissimilar route at 218 miles, in 4 hours 36 minutes! (Mind you Google doesn't even offer suggests for public transport)

Paris to Lyons

Although this is only 1765 the Lyons "diligence" already makes much faster progress and covers the 101 leagues to Lyons in just five days.  They are some really monstrous days though - it must have been fun leaving at two o'clock in the morning and travelling for eighteen hours!   Note that the final leg of the journey from Macon to Lyons is by river with timetables varying according to the weather.


Michel, Claude-Sidoine L'indicateur fidèle, ou Guide des voyageurs, qui enseigne toutes les routes royales et particulières de la France ... dressé par le sieur Michel,... mis au jour et dirigé par le sieur Desnos,..(1765)

Wikipedia on Louis Charles Denon

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