Getting Around: Carriages in Regency & Victorian Times
by Ellen Micheletti
Traveling was not easy back in the early 19th century when Prince George was the regent. Roads were poor, highwaymen roamed and equipage was expensive. The actual price of a carriage was not prohibitive, but add in the cost of horses, feeding the horses, a place to keep the horses while one was in London, a coachman, outriders, and grooms and the phrase "he keeps his own carriage" means he is a man with money. Since many members of the ton lived in the country, spent the Season in London, and drove all over London during the Season, novels set in Regency or Victorian times often mention the names of the various carriages used by those who could afford them. The modern reader might wonder what the difference is between a barouche and a landau, or a curricle and a phaeton. Here they are:
- Phaeton: A four wheeled carriage usually having the front wheels smaller than the rear ones. It also had no side protection and left the gentleman's trousers or the lady's skirts open to flying mud. A very high seat, so high that one had to use a ladder to get into it only added to the phaeton's outre looks. A phaeton was drawn by two or sometimes four horses and came in several styles. The high perch and high flyer phaetons were very popular, and Prince George drove them back when he was young and not so fat. Basically, the phaeton was a rakish, fast, and very eye catching vehicle (which is why it was so popular with the rakish, fast crowd who wanted the public to notice them), but it was very unstable and prone to tip. After George IV got too fat to climb into a high flyer, he lowered it to a reasonable height and it became known as a George IV phaeton. In the movie Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby drives Marianne in a phaeton.
- Curricle: The race-car of the regency. A curricle was a two wheeled carriage with a folding hood for protection from the elements. It was light and speedy, it was drawn by two horses and quickly became the carriage of choice for the fashionable young man about town. The curricle was a good vehicle for showing off your driving skills, and showing off your perfectly matched pair of horses. Later, in the Victorian period, the curricle was supplanted by the cabriolet, which was more economical in that it only needed one horse to draw it, while still keeping the speed and dash of the curricle.
- Barouche: The carriage for the man of means. In Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Gatewood boasts that her brother owns his own barouche, and Mrs. Elton in Emma drops the fact that her brother owns a barouche into every conversation. The barouche was a large, four passenger carriage pulled by four horses. It had a folding hood that could be raised to cover two of the passengers. This feature made it popular as a summer carriage.
- Landau: The Lincoln Continental of carriages. It was similar to a barouche in that it held four passengers and was pulled by four horses, but a landau had two folding hoods that could be raised to cover all four passengers or left open to take in the sights. This was the carriage you used when you took an afternoon ride in the park while you showed off your finery - and showed off that you could afford a landau.
- Town Coach: In the mini-series Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine deBurgh drives to the Bennett house in her large and luxurious town coach. This coach was very like a landau, but it had a hard top. I have seen it referred to as a closed carriage too. Only the very rich could afford this one, and the nobility put their coat of arms on the door.
- Brougham: This carriage became popular in Queen Victoria's day. It was like a town coach in that it had a hard top, but it was not as large and could be pulled by a couple of horses. Broughams had a staid and dull image, which is why they were popular with the staid Victorian middle class.
- Gig: This was a very popular vehicle in the country. It was a light two wheeled cart that held one or two persons and it was drawn by one horse. A gig is what the old country doctor drove around in to visit his patients, or what the squire used when his gout acted up so that he couldn't ride. In With This Ring by Carla Kelly, when Sam worries that he won't be able to ride his horse because of the injury to his back, Lydia says she can drive him in a gig.
- Dogcart: No, it's not a carriage drawn by dogs. The dogcart, like the gig, was a two wheeled vehicle that got its name because it had a ventilated box under the seat for the squire to put his hunting dogs in when they drove to the fox hunt. The box was also very handy to transport supplies as well. The dogcart held two people and had a folding bench that would seat an additional two if needed. Most people who lived in the country had a dogcart or two.
- Hansom: What Sherlock Holmes was always hailing - the Victorian taxi cab. A hansom cab was a two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse where the driver sat behind the cab and the reins passed over the top. This left the driver out in the sun, rain and snow, but the passenger stayed dry in the closed cab. The hansom was a sturdy, well balanced vehicle that proved very useful for getting around in large cities.
For those who are interested in carriages, I can recommend two excellent books about the subject. Wheels by Edwin Tunis. World Publishing Company, 1955 is beautifully illustrated with pen drawings of all kinds of carriages from ancient Egypt to the cars from 1955. Carriages at Eight: Horse-drawn Society in Victorian and Edwardian Times by Frank E. Huggett. Scribner, 1980 is illustrated with fascinating photographs from the period and has lots of information on the etiquette of carriages and how to ride in them.
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