Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Modes of Transportation: Carriages

Carriages were a very important aspect of the aristocrat's wardrobe. Well, not wardrobe, unless you were a certain famous actress who needed everything to match her newest gown. But carriages were very important for showing off just like those rich guys in their sport cars or, my personal favourite, the guys who rev their engine super loud when you walk by. Idiots.

The rich and famous used carriages in much the same way in the 18th century. A daily parade of the decorated vehicles would troll up and down the main streets of London. Your coat of arms on the sides displayed your family's wealth and influence, or maybe who you were dating at the time. The interior decoration had to be of the finest upholstery. Here are a few of the most popular types of carriages used in the Georgian era.

The coach was the basic mode of elegant transportation. It was an enclosed, four wheel carriage driven by a team. These were considered very fancy and you had to be careful to make sure you weren't over-dressed if you went out in one. For instance, your gold coronations state coach is not appropriate for driving up and down the streets on a Sunday.

The Vis-à-vis which literally means "face to face" was given its name because, you guessed it, passengers sat face to face with each other. These could be contained or roofless such as the horse drawn carriages that grace metropolitan parks for tourists. These were marketed as the social carriages.

Another pleasure carriage was the chaise which usually only had two wheels and a movable hood. They were quick and light, in case you were late for your faro game and still wanted to look fabulous and not rushed on the way over.
It was because of their aerodynamics that chaises were chosen for delivering the mail. Post-chaises had a closed body, four wheels, and could seat two to four people on the fast journeys to deliver the post. Usually the driver would sit astride the horse instead of guiding it from the carriage.

Hackney carriages may be an old-fashioned term for taxicabs but that's pretty much what they were in the 18th century too. They were simply carriages kept for hire. The first hackney licenses from England date to around 1662.

Phaetons became popular in the beginning of the 19th century, just in time for those regency romances. This springy, single horse carriages had huge wheels and were good for those country drives.

I think the Vis-à-vis would be my carriage of choice. That is, when I was not using my sedan chair, of course!


  1. wow!!! this is very interesting!!!
    i was only familiar with the coach type of transportation...wich i still love, but i also like the idea of the old fashion taxi...the hackney :P

    *hey heather thanks for the information about the museums and galleries in new york, i dont know if you remember o not... but whaterver.. thank you!!

  2. Wonderful. I am always looking for photo references of coaches.

    I wonder what it would have been like to get mowed over by one of these vehicles? Must have hurt. I remember reading that running over peasants was a pretty regular occurrence in the 18th century. Kind of sad.

  3. Cota- I'm glad you liked it! When do you go to NYC? Lauren and I were just planning a museum excursion there ourselves.

    BL- I bet it was a regular occurrence! What an awful way to go. One of my favourite tarts, Jane the Duchess of Gordon lost her finger when in got stuck in a carriage wheel, yuck. She was probably lucky she didn't loose anything else given the awful medical knowledge!

  4. I want a coach and some servants to drive it... I was born in the wrong era... sigh, that's why I reenact!

    HC- What a way to die, being hit by a carriage.

  5. Thanks for remembering the sedan chair in your post! :) I like the companionableness (is that even a word?) of the vis a vis for town travel, but I worry that it wouldn't hold all my bandboxes.
    But wait! That's why I have a footman. Not just to keep the coachman company.
    Enjoy your museum excursion! I, too, am planning a similar jaunt. Need a fix once in a while.

  6. i'm arriving in new york the 10th of january, until the 17th

  7. Wow a nice long trip, that should be plenty of time!