Paterson's Roads describes itself as "a new and accurate description of all the direct and principal cross roads in England and Wales." It lists all the cities, towns and "remarkable villages" in the country, arranged by the roads a traveller must take to get to each of them. My copy is of the 11th edition, from 1796. It cost three shillings when new (sewn but unbound), but I had to pay a little more than that. However, as a research tool it will be, I think, invaluable.
Suppose we wished to post down to Cheltenham from London. What route should we take, and where would we change horses?
Looking up Cheltenham in the index, we establish that it is in Gloucestershire, that market day is Thursday, and that the route is given on page 93. Turning to page 93 we discover that the route is only given from Northlech (Northleach), but the route to Northlech is on page 82.
The route gives the various villages through which we pass, with mileage between each, and cumulative mileage. Post-towns or stages are given in italics, principal towns in capitals. Combining the details on the two pages, our route, which starts from the Tyburn Turnpike (now Marble Arch) looks like this:
|To Bayswater, Mid.||-||1|
|Gerard's Cross, Bucks.||5||20|
|Stoken Church, Oxf.||5||36|
|At 48¾ l, to Wheatley||1||49|
|At ½ Mile from Frogmill turn to the r. to Dowdeswell||1½||88½|
I'm not sure whether we would use the stage at Dowdeswell if we were finishing our journey at Cheltenham, but in any case this journey involves six changes, which would presumably have been at roughly two-hour intervals, making this more than a day's journey in all but the best conditions.
Paterson's Roads also gives an account of the "remarkable seats" that are near the road. On the way to Cheltenham we would pass two dozen such places including Bulstrode House and Park, owned by the Duke of Portland; Headington-House, home of W. Jackson Esq; and even West Wycombe Church, "on the tower of which is a Ball that will contain six People, and may be seen from a little beyond Beaconsfield".
A quick look at Abe suggests that there are a number of later editions available - particularly the 18th, from 1828. The 1808 edition is apparently available on CD-ROM from GenFair.
No traveller should be without a copy.