The Regency saw the pinnacle of the art of carriage driving. New technologies provided opportunities to build better 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.
During this time, carriage types flourished, and perhaps the most popular of carriages were the phaetons and curricles.
Phaetons first appeared around 1788. The young Prince of Wales popularized their use in the 1790’s. In Greek, the name means “shining”, and Phaeton was a mythical character who stole his father’s sun-chariot. The carriage was 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 high perch phaeton had a straight or sightly 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. These “Highflyers”could be drawn by a pair, four or six horses. However, contemporary artists usually shown them as postillion-driver (with riders on the horse’s backs), if more than four horses were in harness.
Ladies as well as gentlemen drove phaetons, and the carriages were known as spider, park, and ladies phaetons. These 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 FinchRE and Lord Onslow set the pace.
The curricle came into fashion in the 1800’s. This was a two-wheel vehicle, built to take a pair of horses. Again, the sponsorship of the Prince of Wales (now too fat to climb into his high perch), promoted their 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 (or tiger’s) seat behind (the tiger was not the big cat, but a slang name for a small groom who could easily jump down to hold or walk the horses).
Less fortunate gentlemen had to be content with driving a gig, which remained in service from the 1780’s until the 1900’s. Originally, the gig was built high and given such names as the “suicide” gig, denoting popular opinion of the safety of such vehicles. However, since the groom’s seat sat three feet above that of the driver’s, the name might well be based on the opinion of those in service. Since carriages were built to custom order, there were many designs, and gentlemen often competed with each other for new innovations in their carriage designs.
By the 1800’s, the big and whiskey were in common use, however, Quality did not take to them until after 1815. Both were two-wheeled vehicles that could be drawn by one horse. The whiskey got its name from the fact that it was light and easy to go ‘whisking’ along.
Many noted whips designed their own carriages, hence the Stanhope gig made in 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.
At the same time the suicide gig became popular, so did the cocking cart. This two-wheeled vehicle was often driven tandem, with one horse between the shafts and the lead horse attached only by harness, so you’d have one horse in front of the other. As one might infer from its name, the cocking cart offered a boot with slatted venetian blind panels on either side for carrying fighting cocks.
In 1815, Count d’Orsay (the king of fashion in London after Waterloo) sponsored the cabriolet. This was in addition to his curricle, for a rich gentleman could afford to keep multiple carriages and teams. The cabriolet was import from France, and appeared similar to the curricle but required only a single horse. Instead of providing a seat for the groom, it held a small platform on which the ‘tiger’ stood. This carriage, like the curricle, offered a hood to help protect the driver and the passenger from weather, but it still served better as a town carriage for fair weather.
Full enclosed town coaches had been is use since 1605. However, in the late 1700’s these began to evolve away from the massive vehicles that held four and which required up to six, heavy draft horses.
The sociable appeared in the 1780’s. This low-hung vehicle offered a box seat for a driver and held four passengers (two facing backwards). In bad weather, a hood could be raised over the back seat, and the front seat could be folded down.
By the 1800’s, the sociable had evolved into the sociable-landau and the landau. Both were usually drawn by a pair of horses, and driven with postillions 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 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 landau with postillions is often the carriage still used by English royalty for events where great visibility and ceremony is required, such as for weddings, reviewing the troops, or for arrivals at the Royal Ascot race meet.)
Another town coach, the barouche did not gain in popularity until it’s heavy body and low build had been modified. However, 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.
A private drag was the slang term for a gentleman’s private coach, and these were built for four-in-hand driving.
Copying the Mail Coach, a drag offered seats inside the coach, and on the roof for the driver and for two grooms. Gentlemen drove their drags to race meetings (for grandstand viewing), to meets of the Four-in-Hand and other sporting events. A convenient tray in the boot could even be lowered to create a table for picnics.
By 1815, the heavy traveling coach had been replaced by the traveling chariot. Two or four horses could be used with this light body vehicle, and were driven by postillions or post-boys. Some offered seats at the back for servants, all offered upholstered seats in satin or petit-point.
These vehicles also served as the post-chaise carriages which could be hired on the road at posting houses. At a cost of 1s 6d (that’s one shilling and six pence) a mile for a pair of horses, and double that for four, a post-chaise was not an economical method of travel. They earned the slang name ‘Yellow Bounder’ for the almost inevitable yellow bodies.
Until the advent of the automobile, carriages continued to flourish in type and design.
In 1820, the cleche (a larger version of the barouche) came to England. In 1818, T.G. Adams introduced the briska or britzcha. The fourgon and plentum, the vis-a-vis came and went. Beauty in shape and color for carriage and horse became 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