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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Carried Away by Carriages

            In this era of the auto, we look back on carriages as romantic—but in the English Regency, the carriage was practical, sporting, and a sign of status. It was also an era in which technical improvements resulted in faster, lighter and more comfortable carriages.
            In 1804, Obadiah Elliott of Lambeth invented the elliptic spring, lightening the weight and eliminating the need for perches. Samuel Hobson improved carriage shapes by lowering the wheels in 1820. At the same time, the engineer Jon Loudon McAdam introduced his process to pave roads to create a hard, smooth surface and double the speed at which carriages could travel.
            Perhaps the most popular of carriages for those who could afford fashionable vehicles were the phaetons, the sporting curricles, and the landau and barouche.
            Phaetons first appeared around 1788 and the Prince of Wales—then a dashing young man—popularized their use in the 1790's. They were noted for being built very high over the body, with four wheels (large wheels in back and smaller wheels in the front). They sported two types of under-carriage. A perch phaeton had a straight or slightly curved central beam that connected the two axles. The 'superior' crane-neck phaeton offered a heavier construction of iron with two beams and hoops which allowed the front wheels to turn.

            Ladies as well as gentlemen drove spider, park and ladies phaetons that were often drawn by ponies. Lady Archer, Lady Stormont, Mrs. Garden and even the Princess of Wales were noted whips. Among the gentlemen, Sir John Lade, Lord Rodney, Charles Finch and Lord Onslow set the pace.
            The curricle, a two-wheel and more sporting vehicle, came into fashion in the 1800's. The sponsorship of the Prince of Wales—who was becoming too fat to climb into his high perch phaeton—promoted the curricle’s popularity. Horses were attached to the light-weight body by harness connected pole, with a steel bar that attached to pads on the horse's back to support the pole. The curricle offered seats for two, with a groom's seat behind.
            By the 1800's, the sociable had evolved into a carriage named the sociable-landau or simply the landau. This carriage was drawn by a pair of horses, and driven with post boys (riders on the horses) or by a coachman if a box seat had been built onto the body. Hoods could be raised, front and back, so that the landau resembled a coach, or the hood could be lowered in fine weather. Luke Hopkinson of Holborn introduced the Briska-landau, which offered seats that rose six inches then the top was put down. Canoe-landaus offered curved, shallow bodies and were sometimes called Sefton-landaus, after the Earl of Sefton.
            The barouche did not gain in popularity until its heavy body and low build had been modified. When Mr. Charles Buxton founded the Whip Club in 1808 (which became the Four-In-Hand Club the following spring), its members drove "...fifteen barouches and landaus with four horses to each...." to the first June meeting on a Monday in Park Lane. Because its members often drove barouches, the Whip Club sometimes came to be called the Barouche Club.
            The barouche required large, 'upstanding' horses, with impressive action. It could be driven from the box or with postillion riders, and could accommodate a pair, four or six horses. Two passengers could be seated in the body, and a seat provided comfort for two grooms.
            Many noted whips designed their own carriages, which is how we come by the Stanhope Gig, made popular after 1815 to the design of the Hon. Fitzroy Stanhope. Carriages also bore the name of their builders. The Tilbury Gig of 1820 was designed and made by Tilbury the coach-builder. Unlike other gigs it had no boot, and the rib-chair body was supported entirely on seven springs, making it a popular vehicle for use on rough roads.
            Other carriages in use during the Regency included a drag, which was the slang term for a gentleman's private coach. These were built for four-in-hand teams and copied the mail coach with seats inside the coach and on the roof. Gentlemen drove their drags to race meetings so the carriage could act as a grandstand. A convenient tray in the boot could even be lowered to create a table for picnics.
            By 1815, the heavy traveling coach of the previous century had been replaced by the traveling chariot, a light-body vehicle usually driven by postillions or post boys who rode two of the horses harnessed to the carriage. These vehicles served as the post-chaise carriages that could be hired at various posting houses. At a cost of one shilling and six pence per mile for a pair of horses—and double that for four horses—a post-chaise was not an economical method of travel. They earned the slang name 'Yellow Bounder' for the almost inevitable yellow bodies.
            After 1830, the increasing popularity of the railroad meant the end of the carriage for long-distance travel. But until the advent of the automobile, carriages continued to flourish in type and design. But beauty in shape and color for carriages and horses are still symbols of wealth and leisure.

The Elegant Carriage, 1979, Marylian Watney
Horse & Carriage, 1990, J.N.P. Watson
The History of Coaches, 1877, George A. Thrupp
The Coachmakers, 1977, Harold Nockolds


Beppie Harrison said...

Shannon, practically everything I know about horses I've learned from you and a couple of other Beau Monde people. Thank you enormously for past and present--I'm tucking this one away with the hopes I'll be able to find it next time I need it.

Donna Hatch said...

What a wonderful, clear, and informative article, Shannon. Thank you so much!

Jules Clemmer said...

Shannon - Great info, as usual. I"m also going to mark it for future reference. Thank you!

Vonnie said...

Excellent post, thank you. The illustrations make the explanations clear.

Dhaley34 said...

Hi Shannon, I was reading this post and was very surprised to see the last drawing in your post. I have a print of this drawing and I've always wondered who the artist was, I can't read the signature. It's the last one on your post that shows 1 white horse, 1 greyish horse and 2 dark horses. There is also a man riding one of the horses holding his horse whip high in the air. Are you able to tell me who the artist is for this drawing? I guess if you post here I'll see it or you can email me at It would be great to know who the artist is if possible. Thanks, Dennis