Since the beginning of time (I guess), transportation has always been an essential part of society. From sledges used in the Stone Age (I presume) to cars of the present, vehicles have always played a vital role in our day-to-day life. The significance attached to vehicles extends beyond their utility, as they are also associated with wealth and social status. Thus, vehicles are not just a means of travel and transport, but also, are fanciful objects that better be insured.
When I think of vehicles of our modern times, an array of automobiles conjures up in my mind. However, when I travel back in time, let’s say to Regency England, all I find are horse drawn carriages. To the uninitiated, it may seem that the carriage was the only means of transport in early 19th century England. In truth, though carriages formed an integral part of transportation in Regency England, travel and transport in Regency Era was quite varied and fashionable. The carriage, was a vehicle with many names and varying designs. Different types of carriages and were used for different purposes. Also, the importance attached to these Regency carriages wasn’t much different than that given to vehicles of present times. In Regency England, carriages signified travel, as well as, were a mark of wealth, power, and social status.
Carriages have a special place in Regency Romances. The carriage is where Mr. Elton (to his chagrin) proposes to Emma Woodhouse, it is where Catherine Morland wept after General Tilney removes her from Northanger Abbey, and it was a carriage in which Lord Sheringham elopes with his childhood friend Hero Wantage in Friday’s Child. Carriages in Regency Romances have seen it all- couples in love and those heart-broken. So, let’s have a look at the various types of carriages that never fail to charm avid regency readers.
The Regency Carriage
The Regency Era saw carriages of a wide range of designs, styles, and sizes. Despite several differences, all carriages had a common basic structure- a carriage body resting on a support section suspended on wheels. It was the carriage body where the passengers rode. The interior of the carriage varied greatly. While, some carriages were quite plain from the inside, others boasted luxurious velvet upholstery and silk linings.
Popular Types of Regency Carriages
The Barouche was an elegant four-wheeled open town carriage drawn by two, four, or six horses. The carriage had a cup-shaped body with a high driving seat at the front and a folding hood that could be lifted from the rear covering one-half of the carriage. The driving seat was wide and could easily seat the coachman and the footman together. The Barouche was mainly used in the warmer months.
2. Landau: The Landau was another popular four-wheeled town carriage of the Regency Era drawn by four horses. In shape, the Landau was similar to the Barouche except for a double folding hood that met in the middle. The Landau offered greater protection from weather and could easily cover all four passengers of the vehicle.
The Phaeton, meaning ‘the shining one’, was named after the son of the Greek God Helios. As per Greek mythology, Phaeton almost set the world on fire by drawing across the heavens the chariot of the sun in a single day. In Regency England, the Phaeton was indeed considered the height of elegance. It was a light-weight carriage with four wheels. The vehicle was an open carriage that could seat two people. It was a sporty carriage drawn by two horses and capable of great speed. The Phaeton came in a number of designs and was driven by both men and women, usually with a groom in attendance.
4. Break (Brake): The Brake was a country carriage primarily used by sportsmen. It was a four-wheeled carriage that could seat six people with their dogs and game. Occasionally, the Brake had a hood, but, most commonly, it was an open carriage.
5. Hackney: The hackney was equivalent to the modern-day cab. These were carriages or coaches with a hooded roof. The drivers of hackneys were known as Jarvey, who could be found standing at a hackney stand or could be hailed from the street.
The term ‘gig’ describes any two-wheeled carriage with a fixed seat. This type of carriage was designed to carry the driver and one passenger. The carriage had an open design and was drawn by usually one horse. The gig comprised of a cane or wooden railing around the seat and was commonly used for shopping or day trips in summer time.
2. Dog-cart: The Dog-cart was another light-weight two-wheeled carriage used to carry sportsmen and their dogs. It could seat four sportsmen along with their dogs and had a deep boot with slatted sides.
3. Tilbury: The tilbury was a light-weight, two-wheeled vehicle that could seat only two persons. Mainly used for travelling shorter distances, the tilbury was drawn by a single horse and was devoid of a roof.
4. Curricle: The most popular two-wheeled carriage that was regarded as the epitome of style in Regency England was the curricle. The name curricle is derived from the Roman word curriculum, which mean racing chariot. The curricle was drawn by two horses that were harnessed alongside each other with a curricle bar. Hence, the two horses had to be of equal height and gait. The curricle had a fixed forward seat and a rear rumble seat for the groom. Curricles were known for their speed and were frequently used for racing.
The coach was a stately four-wheeled carriage with a large closed body resting on a suspension. Coaches had a driving seat at the front and rumble seats at the back for the footmen. A coach contained two seats facing each other. Two to three people could sit easily on each seat of a coach. However, coaches built for aristocracy were much narrower and could only seat four people inside.
Popular Types of Coaches in Regency England
1. Town Coach (Chariot): The town-coach, most often a sign of aristocracy, was a closed massive carriage usually drawn by six horses. A town-coach had a hard top with the coat of arms of the aristocratic painted on the door panel.
2. Post-Chaise: The post-chaise was a much-used vehicle of the regency era with a closed four-wheeled carriage drawn by two to four horses. It was similar in design to the town coach except for the absence of the driving seat. Most times, the drivers rode postillion on one or two of the horses. The post-chaise could hold two-three people and was much faster and light-weight than the town coach. Often, the post-chaise was painted a bright yellow and hence, nicknamed ‘Yellow Bounders’.
Also known as drag, the four-in-hand was a closed carriage drawn by four horses. The four-in-hand could accommodate both passengers and freight. The carriage contained a large boot with a seat the rear that could hold outside passengers. The roof of a four-in-hand was also built to hold passengers and luggage. These carriages were sturdy and could hold six people on the inside, eight-twelve people on the back, and the roof.
4. Stage Coach:
The stage coach was a large four-wheeled carriage typically drawn by four horses. The carriage contained seats on the inside, as well as, on the roof. These carriages made stops for meals at roadside inns and also changed the horses after each ‘stage’ of the route.
The carriage, the quintessential vehicle of Regency England, could be compared to modern day cars. There were the cabs- hackneys, the Ferraris- chariots, the mini vans- stage coach, the sports cars- curricles and many more. In fact, the above list includes only the most popular and commonly used carriages of the Regency Era. This goes on to show the extensive variety of vehicular fashion, aura, and mystique that the carriages lend to the most romantic era of literature- The Regency.
- Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester- http://www.georgette-heyer.com/jen/jen_driving.html
- Phaeton: By Nikolaus Innocentius Wilhelm Clemens von Heideloff, 1761-1837 (Dresses of August 1794 from The Gallery of Fashion) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Gig: By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Four-in-hand: Samuel Henry Alken [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons