Georgette Heyer's Regency World
by Dr Jennifer Kloester
Chapter 8: All Kinds of Carriages.
Carriages and coaches were the main form of transport during the Regency and ranged from the cumbersome public stage to the elegeant town coach or barouche, the head-turning sporting curricle and the dashing high-perch phaeton. Carriages varied enormously in size, style and design but they all had two things in common: a body in which the passengers rode and a carriage or support section suspended on wheels on which the body rested. Some carriages were elegant, luxuriously appointed vehicles with velvet upholstery, silk lining and leather trim while others were purely practical, no-frills modes of transport. The basic coach was a four-wheeled vehicle, with a large, closed body hung over the centre of the suspension. It had a driving seat at the front for the coachman and a rumble seat at the back for one or two footmen with two seats inside, facing each other, which generally held two or three people each. Coaches built for the aristocracy were often built to be narrow, leaving room for only four people inside. The town coach or chariot was very similar to the coach and was often a showpiece for the aristocracy who would have their coat of arms emblazoned on the door panel and a sumptuous hammer cloth made to throw over the box or driving seat, with the footmen's liveries to match. Kit Fancot, making a visit of ceremony in the place of his twin brother Evelyn in False Colours, was driven to Lord Stavely's Mount Street house in the Denville town carriage which had the family arms on each door. A much-used form of transport was the post-chaise which was similar in design to the chariot but without the driving seat. It held two or three persons and did not have a coachman or driver but was driven or steered by one or more postilions mounted on the horses. A post-chaise was lighter than the town chariot and did not hold the road as well and this, along with the propensity to paint them yellow, led to their being nicknamed 'Yellow Bounders'.
One of the most elegant town carriages was the barouche. An open carriage drawn by two, four or six horses, it was designed mainly for town use in the warmer months and had a cup-shaped body and a high driving seat at the front with room for both the coachman and footman to sit together. It also had a folding hood covering one half of the carriage which could be lifted from the rear during inclement weather. In Friday's Child, Lord Sheringham brought his new bride a smart, yellow-bodied barouche for town use and a stylish travelling chariot for longer journeys. Another elegant town carriage, the landau maintained its popularity throughout the Regency although some among the younger set, including Lady Buckhaven in Cotillion, thought it dowdy and more suitable for the older generation. Although similar to the barouche in shape, the landau had a double folding hood which met in the middle and offered passengers greater protection from the weather. The phaeton, on the other hand, was one of the most popular vehicles of the Regency. Named for the son of Helios, the Greek god who allowed Phaeton to draw the chariot of the sun across the heavens for a single day until he almost set the world on fire, Phaeton meant 'the shining one'. Considered by many to be the height of elegance, the phaeton was a light, four-wheeled vehicle with seating for two which came in a wide range of designs from the stylish high-perch model, such as the one bought by Sophy Stanton-Lacy in The Grand Sophy with its seat high above the front wheels, to the famous and elegant Highflyer with its seat evenly suspended between its large rear wheels and smaller front ones. Usually drawn by two horses, the body could be hung forward or back, depending on the design, and was owner-driven by both men and women, often with a groom in attendance on the box. The Prince Regent was himself a notable whip and in his younger years was famous for driving not only a phaeton and four, but also a high-perch phaeton and six, a feat which appears to have been considered a royal prerogative and was not generally imitated.
The term 'gig' could be used to describe any two-wheeled carriage with a fixed seat. Designed to carry the driver and one passenger, and usually drawn by one horse - although two could be harnessed to the shaft in tandem - they were a popular form of conveyance throughout the nineteenth century. Its open design and cane or wooden railing around the seat made the gig a fair-weather carriage ideal for day trips, shopping or a summer tour. Jenny, Lady Lynton, in A Civil Contract, found a gig the ideal conveyance when driving herself about the estate and visiting the tenantry at Fontley Priory. Similar to the caned whisky and the chair-back gig, the tilbury was named after its maker, the famous designer and builder of coaches John Tilbury, and was a common sight on Regency roads. A lightweight two-wheeled vehicle with seating for only two persons, no boot and no roof of any kind, it was drawn by a single horse and used mainly for shorter distances rather than overnight travel. It was particularly popular among the gentry. Among two-wheeled carriages, the curricle was considered the epitome of style during the Regency and was much favoured by those sporting men with a penchant for speed. In The Quiet Gentleman, Lord Ulverston arrived at Stanyon Castle driving a curricle and four which, as the Earl of St Erth told his cousin Theo, marked his friend as a veritable Nonesuch. Named for the 'curriculum' or Roman racing chariot, the curricle had a fixed forward seat and was drawn by two horses harnessed side by side to the carriage using a curricle bar, which made it essential for them to be of equal height and gait. The presence of a groom on the rear rumble seat meant there was no weight on the horses' backs which gave them an easy forward movement. Racing curricles were frequently pulled by a perfectly matched pair of high-stepping steeds with the ability to reach speeds of up to sixteen miles an hour when driven by a skilled driver on a good road.
The four-in-hand, also known as a drag, usually referred to a closed carriage pulled by four horses such as the Mail and the public stagecoach. Similar in design to each other, these carriages were built to accommodate both people and freight, with a solid central body suspended over a wooden perch undercarriage with springs, a large boot at the rear with a seat for outside passengers and another space for luggage under the driver's box. The roof was also built to hold passengers as well as luggage and the total weight of a four-in-hand could sometimes exceed three tons. A sizeable coach had room for six people inside and eight to twelve persons could find room on the back, on the roof and on the coveted seat next to the driver.
Although not a coach, the pedestrian curricle or 'hobby horse' was a popular recreational vehicle in the last years of the Regency. An early form of bicycle, the curricle tempted many a daring and intrepid rider to experience the thrill of propelling himself along London's streets and reaching speeds of up to ten miles an hour. The pedestrian curricle had no pedals or brakes but was pushed along with the feet as the rider leaned forward to grip the handlebars while resting his elbows on a small padded block. Jessamy Merriville in Frederica became extremely skilled on his hired machine and enjoyed the heady excitement of lifting his feet from the ground and coasting down Piccadilly before coming to grief with a man mending chairs.
Copyright © Jennifer Kloester 2005