Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Horsing Around, Part I: Tilburys, Broughams, Cabriolets, Curricles, Landaus, Phaetons, and Barouches


During most of the nineteenth century, everyone horsed around.

And I mean that quite literally. If you wanted to go somewhere, chances were you used a horse to either ride or to draw a cart or carriage of some sort.

Relying on horses for transportation meant several things. It meant you had to have a place for them to live (stables and a paddock). You had to have people to take care of them (grooms and stable boys) and appropriate food and care (proper shoeing and veterinary care when necessary). And you had to have means to actually use them, like saddles and tack or a carriage…which in turn necessitated having coachmen and other staff.

As you might guess, having your own horses and carriage meant you were probably at least semi-wealthy--and the more horses and carriages you owned, the wealthier you were. Having an elegant carriage and matched horses to draw it (grays were the most popular carriage horses) was the nineteenth century version of having a Lexus or a Mercedes in the garage. Those who couldn’t afford to keep their own horse and carriage could rent one when necessary, usually from a local inn or a livery stable.

Relying on horses to get around also meant that you didn’t just up and hop on your horse to go to the mall or out for pizza on a whim…because it takes a while to get a horse saddled or hitched up to a carriage. It also meant that if you were traveling a long distance with your own horses, you could only go as far and as fast in a day as the road conditions would allow…and stop for the night when the horses were tired. Alternately, you could travel longer distances more quickly on the system of stage coaches that traveled between most of the major cities and towns of England, stopping at special coaching inns to change horses periodically.

Carriages came in many forms, and different styles went in and out of fashion over the years. They could seat as few as two or as many as six, could have two or four wheels, be drawn by one, two, or four horses, be open to the air or completely enclosed. A wealthy young man in the 1820s trying to impress the girls might drive a curricle, a small open two-wheeled, two-horse vehicle, or a tilbury (similar but drawn by one horse). His parents would have a handsomely-painted barouche, a closed carriage with four wheels that seated four passengers plus a footman or two hanging on in the back and perhaps also a cabriolet or phaeton that they could drive themselves.

Coaching was also something of a hobby for wealthy young men. Someone who was skilled in the “noble art of handling the ribbons” wasn’t doing his sisters’ hair wraps, but was an exceptionally skilled coachman ("ribbons" was slang for reins). Young men being remarkably unchanged over the centuries, coaching generally meant racing…and, of course, betting on those races. The Prince of Wales himself was known in his younger days as a keen coachman, frequently trying to shave precious minutes off his record traveling between Brighton and London.

By the 1840s rail transport began to boom and eventually replaced the stage coaches, and later on in the 1890s inventors tinkered with engine-driven cars, but the horse was pretty much it for most of the nineteenth century.

Next week: Horsing Around, Part II: Good Habits

1 comment:

SarahP said...

Cool! I always liked that bit in P&P when Jane Bennet can't have the horses for the carriage because they're needed on the farm. Not exactly a Mercedes for the Bennets, more a...beat up station wagon?