Posts Tagged ‘Regency Transportation’

“We are to have a tiny party here tonight; I hate tiny parties–they force one into constant exertion.” — Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 21, 1801,  while visiting her Aunt Jane and Uncle James Leigh-Perrot in Bath

Drawing of a Regency woman writing a letter

Image by Isabelle Bishop, from the Morgan Library Exhibit of Life, Work, and Legacy of Jane Austen.

Inquiring readers, 

Tomorrow it will be December, a time for parties, celebrations, family gatherings, and Christmas activities, mostly  in Christian regions. During Austen’s time, people associated this period with the religious calendar, as well as with pagan traditions observed since ancient times. Celebrations during Austen’s life began on Dec 6th, St. Nicholas Day, and lasted until January 6th, or 12th night — the Feast of the Epiphany. 

Since 2009, this blog has posted many articles about British Christmas and New Year’s traditions, with food, dress, and customs during the Regency era and before. Austen described holiday festivities in her novels, and balls, such as the one at Netherfield Park, but none of her personal descriptions are as detailed as those mentioned in this letter to Cassandra, which tells of a large musical party that her brother Henry and sister-in-law, Eliza, held in their house in London ( 64 Sloane Street) on 25th April, 1811.

snip of the letter

Detail of Austen’s letter to Cassandra. Image: British Library Online.

The reason for Austen’s visit was to work on proofs for Sense and Sensibility, her first published novel. I chose this letter because musical parties and get-togethers were given frequently, regardless of the time of year. The songs, decorations, and fashions might have changed with the seasons, but Austen’s description of this large party, the musicians, and the guests must have seemed quite familiar to her contemporaries, despite her spare details.

NOTE: I’ve related only the details of the party in the letter. Read the full transcript at this link to The British Library.

The Letter 

  1. To Cassandra Austen (# From Deirdre Le Faye’s Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters)

Thursday, 25, April 1811

Sloane St Thursday April 25

Before the party:

My dearest Cassandra

… Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations, beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, &c., and looked very pretty. A glass for the mantlepiece was lent by the man who is making their own. Mr. Egerton and Mr. Walter came at half-past five, and the festivities began with a pair of very fine soals. 

(Soals is an obsolete spelling for sole, a flat fish. Hannah Glasse described a recipe for Fricasee of Soles made with lemon soles or a larger, thicker plaice fish, which fed more people.)

In this passage, Jane described the usual hustle and bustle before a grand party that we all have felt in our own lives. In this letter, she provided more details for her sister than in her novels for her readers.)

Mr Egerton is the publisher who brought out Jane’s first novel, “Sense and Sensibility”.)

Events leading up to the party:

Yes, Mr. Walter — for he postponed his leaving London on purpose — which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose — his calling on Sunday and being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did; but it is all smoothed over now, and she likes him very well.”

(This sentence is somewhat enigmatic. Why would his postponement not give him much pleasure? How was the situation smoothed over? Mollands.net says this about Mr. Walter: [He] must have been related to Jane through her grandmother (Rebecca Hampson), who married first, Dr. Walter; secondly, William Austen. Mr. Ronald Dunning wrote a post about  Rebecca Hampson for this blog just a week ago. 

As the festivities began:

At half-past seven arrived the musicians in two hackney coaches, and by eight the lordly company began to appear. Among the earliest were George and Mary Cooke*, and I spent the greater part of the evening very pleasantly with them. The drawing-room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting passage, which was comparatively cool, and gave us all the advantage of the music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer.”

Black and white drawing of a Hackney Coach drawn by two horses

Hackney Coach, ca 1800

(Two hackney coaches carried 6 people per coach, so we may surmise that at least 12 musicians arrived with their  instruments. 

Houses in town were listed as 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th rate, fourth being the largest and first being the smallest. Henry’s house, located on 64 Sloane Street, is today unrecognizable from its Georgian size and façade. At the time he and Eliza rented the house, it was a 3rd rate house (3 windows wide), worth between £ 350 and £ 850 with from 500 – 900 square feet of floor space.) Because Henry was a successful banker during this time and Eliza had considerable means of her own, we can surmise that the house they rented was most likely on the larger side of 500 – 900 square feet of floor space.

Austen comments on a few acquaintances:

I was quite surrounded by acquaintances, especially gentlemen; and what with Mr. Hampson, Mr.Seymour, Mr. W. Knatchbull, Mr. Guillemarde, Mr. Cure, a Captain Simpson, brother to the Captain Simpson, besides Mr. Walter and Mr. Egerton, in addition to the Cookes, and Miss Beckford, and Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do. Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, and looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight and cordiality of course. Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.”

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(Fashion: While Austen did not describe the clothes worn by guests, Cassandra would have easily envisioned what people wore. Jane had a limited yearly budget for personal items. At a party held on Christmas, 1811, she would have refurbished a previously worn evening gown, from 1810 or before. The 1811 evening dresses had narrower skirts, mostly without trains, and hems cut at or above ankle length. Eliza de Fuillide, a woman of rank and fortune, would have worn the latest fashion. Henry Austen was quite prosperous when he rented the house at 64 Sloane Street and therefore was able to spare no expense in hosting this party.

Although Jane hated tiny parties because they required constant exertion, this musical party seemed to require as much of her attention as the former. Her wit was on full display in this letter.  Miss M., sadly, has not sufficient funds nor the looks to attract a possible husband, unlike Jane Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” or Cassandra Austen, as described by Lucy Worsley in “Jane Austen at Home.”

Many of the people mentioned by Jane are identified by Deidre Le Faye. Find their descriptions at the end of this article.**

Cheltenham, whose famous mineral waters were founded in 1716,  was prominent during the Georgian era. (Christy Somers noted a short article by Carolyn S. Greet, in Jane Austen Reports for 2003, “Jane and Cassandra in Cheltenham. Diana Birchall wrote: 

“In the spring of 1816 Jane and Cassandra paid a visit to Cheltenham, primarily for the sake of Jane’s health. Other members of the family had previously visited the little town, including James and his wife Mary, as Jane had mentioned in a letter of 1813. Cheltenham was then in its fashionable heyday, with its attractions being both therapeutic and social. It was still small and rustic compared with Bath, and all the buildings were still grouped along the single mile-long High Street. It was not lit with gas until 1818, and had a single set of Assembly Rooms, theatre, libraries, shops, and lodging houses. There is a description of the saline wells, which people drank from in the morning, for a laxative effect.- Reveries Under the sign of Austen

Numbers Attending the Party:

Including everybody we were sixty-six — which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, and quite enough to fill the back drawing-room and leave a few to be scattered about in the other and in the passage.”

Jane had mentioned standing in the connecting passage, which was cooler than the two drawing rooms. The image below might be a facsimile of Henry’s and Eliza’s first floor, which typically consisted of two rooms for entertaining guests. One was larger than the other. A passageway connected the stairs to the two rooms. 

The first floor:

“It was held on the first floor in the octagonal rear salon and the front drawing room. Jane told Cassandra that she spent most of the time talking to friends in ‘…the connecting Passage, which was comparatively cool, & gave us all the advantage of the Music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer.’ There were glee singers, a harpist and floral decorations” – Walking Jane Austen’s London. Louise Allen, Bloomsbury Publishing10 Jul 2013 .

None of the above images showed fashions even close to those worn in 1811. Formal menswear had not changed much, however, and the illustrations do give us an idea of how these parties were held.

Sixty-six people in a Regency London townhouse would have presented quite a squeeze. Even on a cold day in December, the rooms, with candles burning in chandeliers and candelabras, and heat rising from the kitchen in the basement, would have already been hot. In April, when this letter was written, the heat would have been substantial. The large group of guests would have intensified the heat even more. We do not know if the 66 guests included the musicians and singer. As Cruikshank’s images showed, card tables were set up, a common practice that Jane does not mention. One wonders if they were set up on the ground floor, near the dining room, and the floor just above the kitchen. This level would also have been easier for older people to reach. One can only conjecture about these arrangements.

Deirdre Le Faye mentions Winnifred Watson’s description of the interior of 64 Sloane Street, but the few remaining copies of her small out of print booklet, “Jane Austen in London,” are above my budget (one was listed at over $260) and so I could not read it. London townhouses built after the great London fire followed strict guidelines in both design and materials. Henry and Eliza at this juncture in their lives could probably afford a 3rd rate house with a larger square footage of floor space, perhaps even 900 sq. feet. 

Using Jane’s description, and Deirdre Le Faye’s mention of this house, I found this image and quickly drew the other one very badly.

The Music:

The music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela”; and of the other glees I remember, “In peace love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” “The Red Cross Knight,” and “Poor Insect.” Between the songs were lessons on the harp, or harp and pianoforte together; and the harp-player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, though new to me. There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis, all in blue, bringing up for the public line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; and all the performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, and giving themselves no airs. No amateur could be persuaded to do anything. “

This image of Regency guests listening to musicians sits on the Alamy website. Since I have not purchased it, please click on the  link to view it: https://www.alamy.com/thomas-rowlandson-a-little-evening-music-georgian-cartoon-of-a-fashionable-image9616736.html 

(Interestingly, the phrase “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela” was a special language that Jane used with her niece Fanny by placing a ‘p’ in front of every word. The only one I could decipher was Harp for Parp. https://bit.ly/3o8Nb97, Jane Austen, Her Contemporaries and Herself: An Essay in Criticism, By Walter Herries Pollock, 1899, Google Books.

Mollands.net adds:  Jane and her niece Fanny seem to have invented a language of their own–the chief point of which was to use a ‘p’ wherever possible. Thus the piece of music alluded to was ‘Strike the harp in praise of Bragela.’)

Miss Davis was a professional singer in London. Jane mentions that no amateur stepped up to play after listening to these fine players and singer.

About musicians during this time: 

“Amateur orchestras in city taverns or in gentlemen’s clubs competed with the professional concerts that began to sprout up in public places. (- The Rage for Music, Simon McVeigh) Local musicians would be hired for assembly balls in small towns. Musicians with a more professional background would be enlisted to play at more stylish events, like the Netherfield Ball. The lady asked to lead a set would choose the music and the steps, and relay her request to the Master of Ceremonies. “  https://janeaustensworld.com/2010/07/12/jane-austen-and-music/

Cities like London or Bath provided steady incomes for musicians. In order to make ends meet, those living in rural areas traveled from town to town to the different public assemblies or parties.


Glees were quite popular at this time. Jane mentioned glee songs in Mansfield Park. “Fanny Price was the only one of Austen’s heroines who never receives any musical training at all.” Fanny was unsuccessful in enticing Edmund to go outside to look at the stars. As soon as he hears singing, he says to her, “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny.” She was mortified.

Austen also mentioned glees in this letter to Cassandra, which during her time were songs for men’s voices in three or more parts, usually unaccompanied, popular especially c. 1750–1830. These songs, by the way, were nothing like the productions created for the TV series, Glee, which ran from 2009-2015. I found one glee recording on YouTube: Reginald Spofforth- 18th Century Glee Club: L’ape E La Serpe, from Vanguard Classics. 

In Peace Love Tunes the Shepherds Reed, the glee was meant for three voices, with words supplied by Walter Scott. Instrumentals were accompaniments for Piano Forte & Harp, or two performers on one Piano Forte. This glee was written by J. Atwood

This Rosabella score by John Wall Calcotte (1766-1821) in this link is for a cappella (originally). Piano accompaniment was added later by William Horsley. The lyrics were by Walter Scott.

The Red Cross Knight was written by Callcott, 1797. Also written by Callcott is the Poor Insect, a refrain from “The May Fly.”

Comforts of Bath-The Concert-Rowlandson-Google Art Project-Wikimedia Commons

Detail: The Concert, The Comforts of Bath, Thomas Rowlandson, 1798. Wikimedia Commons

At Party’s End:

The house was not clear till after twelve.” 

This party lasted a little over four hours. London had street lights that guided guests back to their lodgings and houses. In country houses, parties, which were scheduled under the light of the full moon, often lasted until the wee early hours. After a party at a country house, Jane would often spend the night as a guest at a friend’s house, at times with her dear friend Martha Lloyd if she could manage it. 

The following day:

Her party is mentioned in this morning’s paper.”  

“…in the Morning Post of 25 April, which must have been very gratifying, even if the newspaper spelled her name wrong: ‘Mrs H Austin had a musical party at her house in Sloane-street.” – http://what-when-how.com/Tutorial/topic-673689/London-A-Tour-Guide-for-Modern-Traveller-10.html  “Travel Reference In-Depth Information, Walk 1: Sloane Street to Kensington, A Tour Guide for the Modern Traveler.”

The guests:

* Cooke family of Great Bookham. Rev. George Cooke and his unmarried sister Mary. Their father, Rev. Samuel Cooke was Jane’s godfather. 


  • Mr. George Hampson was a baronet who chose not to use his title. He is one of Jane’s cousins through her relationship to her grandmother, Rebecca Hampson, whose second husband was William Austen.
  • Mr. William Seymour, Henry Austen’s friend and a lawyer, who, it was speculated, might have considered proposing to Jane, but he didn’t.
  • M. Wyndham Knatchbull, merchant in London, or Reverend Doctor Wyndham Knatchbull, the eldest son of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Baronet. 
  • Mr. Guillemarde is probably John Lewis Guillemarde, who lived in London
  • Mr. Capel Cure, who lived in London. His father, George, had first married Elizabeth Hampson, daughter of Sir George Hampson, but she died childless. Capel is the son of George Cure’s second wife.
  • Captain John Simpson, brother of Captain Robert Simpson. 
  • Mr. Thomas Egerton, Austen’s first publisher. He brought out S&S, P&P, and the first edition of Mansfield Park. His presence at the party, and Jane’s purpose for visiting Henry and Eliza to complete work on Sense & Sensibility connects his attendance at the party in a marvelous way.
  • Miss Maria Beckford, unmarried, lived with the Middleton family as hostess for her brother-in-law, John Middleton. When in London for the season Miss Beckford lived at 17 Welbeck Street. (Le Faye, p 495)
  • Miss Middleford. No explanation by Ms. Le Faye.)

Additional sources:

Characteristics of the Georgian Townhouse , June 3, 2009 , Jane Austen’s World, Vic

Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Deirdre Le Faye, 2011, Oxford University Press. 

Jane Austen’s visit to Sloane Street , Kleurijk Jane Austen, 9-2014

Jane Austen, Her Contemporaries and Herself: Walter Herries Pollock · 1899 – Explanation of “Poike de Parp pirs praise pof Prapela”

Georgian Terrace Houses, April 27, 2021, Random Bits of Fascination.com, Georgian Townhomes

Thank you, Tony Grant, for contributing the 3 current photographs of Hans Place (2) and of 64 Sloane Street (1).

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Another book review so soon on this blog? Well, yes. This book from Shire Publications, Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs by Trevor May, is short, just 32 pages long, but it  is filled with many facts and rare images of interest to lovers of history. In Jane Austen’s day most people walked to work, town, church, and market square, or to their neighbors. Six miles was not considered an undue distance to travel by foot one way. The gentry were another breed. They either owned their own carriages or hired a public horse cab. These equipages were available as early as the 1620’s.

Hackneys, or public carriages for hire made their first significant appearance in the early 17th century. By 1694, these vehicles had increased to such a number that a body of Hackney Coach Commissioners was established in London. The commissioners dealt out licences, which was a bit of a joke, for a mere four inspectors were responsible for over 1,000 vehicles.

Hackney Coach 1680

Most of these licensed hackney coaches were purchased second hand. All that an enterprising person needed to establish his own hackney coach business was enough money for a used carriage and three horses, two that worked in rotation, and one that could be used as a replacement in case of injury or illness. The death of a horse could lead to a cab owner’s financial ruin. Another important ingredient was housing for the horses.

Hackney Coach 1800. Image @Wikimedia Commons

By, 1823, the lighter horse cabs began to replace cumbersome hackney coaches in great quantity, and by the mid 1830’s, the hansom cab set the new standard for modern horse cabs. Aloysius Hansom, an architect, designed the first carriage. When Hansom went bankrupt through poor investments, John Chapman took over, designing an even lighter, more efficient cab, one whose framework did not strike the horses on their backs or sides whenever a carriage ran over an obstacle in the road.

Hansom Cab

Commercial cab firms tended to be small, even as late as 1892. Only one or two proprietors provided a large number or variety of equipages, like Alfred Pargetter, whose concern advertised removal carriages, cabs, and funeral coaches for hire. While cabs were licensed, their drivers were not and the road could present a dangerous obstacle course. The video clip below shows how adroitly horses and carriages managed to avoid each other with seemingly few rules (mostly towards the end of the clip). Notice how some lucky individual horses pulled relatively light loads compared to other horses forced to pull heavy carts.

These two video clips, one from 1903 and the other from 1896 (unbelievable!) show the end of an era, for by 1914, motorized vehicles were rapidly replacing the horse-drawn cart.

I recommend this book to anyone with an insatiable appetite for a pictorial history on a particular topic. Trevor May is an expert on the Victorian era, and he has managed to squeeze more information about horse-drawn cabs in this short book (more a thick pamphlet) than I have read before. The images are simply splendid.

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White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

In today’s insulated world, we can only imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the animals that inhabited Regency London alongside humans. Cows were confined inside small city dairies or allowed to graze in public parks ready to be milked at a moment’s notice. Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep were driven from the countryside through the streets to Smithfield market to feed the masses. Considering that a “horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day”, crossing sweepers were kept perpetually busy clearing the streets of dung, for by the end of the 19th century, over 300, 000 horses lived and worked in London. Despite the sweepers’ best efforts, the streets were covered in horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere.* Not a pretty image of a time that we tend to view with nostalgia.

Town planners had to take the lodging of horses and animals into account when designing new squares and terraces, which was no small effort, for stabling these animals and feeding them straw made an enormous demand on urban spaces.

The direct and indirect energy cost of urban horse-drawn transport–in terms of feeding, stabling, grooming, shoeing, harnessing, and driving the hourses and removing their wastes to periurban market gardens–were among the largest items on the energy balances of late-nineteenth-century cities. – Energy in World History, Vaclav Smil,  p. 132

In terms of urban transportation, horses reached the peak of their importance in hauling goods and transporting people between 1820 and 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly displaced by electric streetcars, automobiles, and buses. The cost of stabling and feeding horses was enormous and most Londoners walked. Those who could afford the luxury of stabling their animals and maintaining their carriages paid a steep price.

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

The difficulty and cost of horses and their stabling encouraged walking, which helped to keep the city small and dense. The limited travel span of the horse and cart further restricted urban expansion by constraining the outward movment of industry. An idea of the costs to households of private horse-based transport can be seen in the mews of the more expensive nineteenth-century West End neighbourhoods. Solely designed to house horses, carriages and livery servants, these back passageways behind the grand houses took up considerable space; whilts working horses ate prodigious amounts of feed, and livery men were often some of the best paid domestic staff. – An economic history of London, 1800-1914, by Michael Ball, David Sunderland, p. 229

Coaching houses and mews not only had to be located close enough to dwellings for convenience, but they needed to be tucked out of sight , especially in the tony West End (see image below).  These photographs of Garrett Street Stables in Islington, London demonstrate how horses were traditionally kept. The site also tallies the numbers of horses that have been stabled at that location since 1750. While these animal were housed in a well maintained stable, one can only imagine the conditions for animals who were unlucky enough to be owned by those who could barely eek out a living. Costs for maintaining horses and a carriage in London were astronomical and reserved only for the rich if they could find a convenient space to house them. If one purchased a horse, one had to find stables, as Georgette Heyer reminds us in The Grand Sophy, when Sophy shows up in a new phaeton drawn by a pair of horses:

‘Don’t hesitate to tell me which of my mother’s or my horses you would like me to remove from the stables to make room for these!’ begged Mr. Rivenhall, with savage civility. ‘Unless, of course, you are setting up your own stables!’

Gower Mews, since 1792

Gower Mews, since 1792

Relying on a carriage for transport, however, required significant wealth. They were expensive to buy and maintain, needing as they did stabling for the horses and liveries for the coachman and grooms. Even renting a carriage and pair (two horses) with a coachman cost £200–£300 a year (£10,000–£20,000 today). The two-wheeled carriages with one horse (the Ferraris of their day) were called ‘bankrupt carts’ by the Chief Justice ‘because they were, and are, frequently driven by those who could neither afford the Money to support them, nor the Time spent in using them, the want of which, in their Business, brought them to Bankruptcy’. Stabling your own horse, particularly in a city, was harder than finding a parking space today. Just feeding a horse cost £30 a year – more than feeding the groom, in fact – while the coachman’s liveries cost more than his annual salary.

On a practical level, coaches also took some time to prepare and had to be ordered several hours before they were needed. They were therefore more useful for displaying one’s wealth than for surveying one’s estate. They were necessary on long journeys, of course, or when carrying large loads, but otherwise riding a horse or a mule was much the quickest and cheapest option … – Regency House Party, Channel 4 History

The costs of keeping a horse in London are still enormous. Economist Brad DeLong estimates that with exercise, stabling, grooming, shoeing, and other facilities it costs £30,000 to maintain each horse per year, which is considerably more than driving and maintaining a car.

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Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

At the height of 19th century coaching days Northallerton in North Yorkshire had four inns that catered to travellers – the Black Bull, the King’s Head, the Old Golden Lion and, the largest, the Golden Lion. Horses that pulled the public coaches suffered mightily for the sake of speed. In a previous post I had already discussed that if forced to run at breakneck speed, coach horses did not last longer than three years. Recently I ran across this description:

The Highflyer changed horses at the King’s Head but the horses belonged to Mr Frank Hirst. This coach was driven by a coachman called Scott, a very big fellow of the Old Weller type who had to be hauled into his seat and nearly broke the coach down. The Express also stopped at the King’s Head but the horses that worked this coach stood at the Waggon and Horses and belonged to Mr Hall of Northallerton. The Wellington London and Newcastle coach changed horses at the Golden Lion and was horsed by Mr Frank Hirst. At one time it was driven by Ralph Soulsby, who was a terror to drive, and it is on record that once during a period when the Wellington was running in opposition he succeeded in killing three out of his four horses on the short stage seven miles from Great Smeaton to Northallerton. Opposition coaches were terribly hard on horseflesh; they used to gallop every inch of the road up hill and down dale, and Soulsby’s third horse dropped dead just opposite the church, and he finished his journey to the Golden Lion with but a single horse. When the railway began to supersede the road and coach after coach began to fall away, the Wellington still held on until it at last stood alone. One of the oldest and first coaches on the road, it had withstood the tide of opposition through all time until it remained the absolute last regular coach running on this section of the Great North Road. The old coaching days in Yorkshire By Tom Bradley

Coach and four

Coach and four

Horses were chattel and the general attitude towards beasts of burden during the Regency Era was one of exploitation. Fresh teams of horses were kept ready to replace an exhausted team that had just run the previous stage of a journey. These teams were contracted to stage lines or the Royal Mail. Other horses were available to be leased by individuals. Crack teams of hostlers prided themselves in changing mail coach teams in as little as three minutes. The combined refinements in coach design, and in road construction and maintenance allowed the heavy coach horses to be replaced by teams of faster half-bred or pure Thoroughbred horses. The luxurious coaches of the wealthy pulled by warmblooded horses or Thoroughbreds seemed to fly down the better roads at the unheard of speed of ten miles per hour. *

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

It wasn’t until 1821, that Colonel Richard Martin, MP for Galway in Ireland, introduced the Treatment of Horses bill. This piece of legislature was greeted by laughter in the House of Commons. The first known prosecution for cruelty to animals was brought in 1822 against two men found beating horses in London’s Smithfield Market, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century. They were fined 20 shillings each. Colonel Martin’s “Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill,” or “Martin’s Act”, as it became known, was finally passed in 1822 and became the world’s first major piece of animal protection legislation. Not much changed for working horses, however.  After a coaching horse’s usefulness ended, they were sold to labor for others**:

Mrs Mountain of the Saracen’s Head kept some 2,000 horses in her stables for the routes she served. Lord William Lennox sometime later estimated that it took some 2 pounds per week to keep coach horses. It is also estimated that the life of a coach horse was some three years. After that they were sold for they still had significant working life left. It was the nature of coaching with the strain of pulling a coach weighing more than 2 tons for an average of 10 miles at a speed of some 12 miles per hour 2 days out of 3.  Farm work seemed easy by comparison. – Coaching Inns

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

A society that lacked adequate social service systems to take care of the poor did not place a high priority on the ethical treatment of animals. Cockfighting, bear baiting, and dog fights were common”betting” sports prevalent during the Regency Period. A retired coach horse would have an easier life plowing a farmer’s field than pulling a coach. Accidents were frequent, but horses were seldom given a break, forced to struggle through blizzards and quagmire after passengers alighted and luggage was taken off to lighten the load. Not every horse led a harsh life. The following excerpt describes a private, more benevolent owner, the Rev. George Bennet, Jane Austen’s father, whose horses pulled heavy carriages over poor roads:

Coach stuck in snow

Coach stuck in snow

A carriage and a pair of horses were kept. This might imply a higher style of living in our days than it did in theirs. There were then no assessed taxes. The carriage, once bought, entailed little further expense; and the horses probably, like Mr. Bennet’s, were often employed on farm work. Moreover, it should be remembered that a pair of horses in those days were almost necessary, if ladies were to move about at all; for neither the condition of the roads nor the style of carriage-building admitted of any comfortable vehicle being drawn by a single horse. When one looks at the few specimens still remaining of coach-building in the last century, it strikes one that the chief object of the builders must have been to combine the greatest possible weight with the least possible amount of accommodation. – Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, Description of life at Steventon

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

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The 18th Century Sedan Chair

The 18th Century Sedan Chair; Image from Georgian Index

After the fire of London, in 1666, the streets were impassable, and so people of quality went on their business or pleasure in sedan chairs.They became in time such a nuisance as to obstruct the highways. – The History of Dress, The New York Times, 1884,

Modern young miss transported with her feather headress intact

Young Georgian miss transported across town with her headdress feathers intact. Click on image for larger view.

Sedan chairs were a major mode of transportation through London’s narrow streets and along Bath’s steep lanes throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and early part of the 19th century. Strong chair carriers could transport passengers down winding passageways much faster than a carriage, which had to make frequent stops in congested traffic. The chair was named after the town of Sedan in France where it was first used. By 1634, they had been introduced to London as vehicles for hire, and their popularity quickly spread to France and Scotland, as well as the rest of Europe.

These portable covered chairs, used in one form or another in other cultures since ancient times, sported side windows and a hinged door at the front. Sedan carriers inserted long wood poles into metal brackets on either side of the chair. The poles were long and springy and provided a slightly bouncy ride. They were arranged in such a manner that the chair would remain in a horizontal position as the carriers climbed up steps or steep slopes. Passenger entered and exited between the poles if they remained in place.

Early 18th c. gilt and wood Sedan chair; painted panels attributed to Charles Antoine Coypel

Early 18th c. gilt and wood Sedan chair; painted panels attributed to Charles Antoine Coypel

Sedan chair, 1760, made for the Countess of Spencer

Sedan chair in entrance hall of Althorpe House, made for the Countess of Spencer in 1760.

Chairs for the wealthy were richly carved and decorated, and stood inside the entrance hall to be used at the owner’s convenience. Footmen would summon hired carriers, who would take patrons to their destination. For the more ornate Sedan chairs, painters would create beautiful scenes on panels mounted on the sides, and many were extravagantly upholstered in silk on the inside. The less affluent hired plainer, leather covered chairs. (See 1700 image.)

Plain leather covered sedan chair, 1700. Notice the metal brackets.

Plain leather covered sedan chair, 1700. Notice the metal brackets.

Sedan chair in the Pump Room

Sedan chair in the Pump Room

Sedan chair houses were available throughout the city of Bath, as shown in the image lower down in this post, although they were also kept in hallways by those who owned them. A rather plain Sedan chair was on display underneath the stairs in the hall of No. 1 Royal Crescent when I visited Bath. One feature that made the chair so popular in Bath – a city in which invalids were transported for healing sessions to the hot mineral baths – is that the vehicle was narrow enough to be carried up the stairs and taken into the bedchamber. Once an invalid entered the chair, he or she would stay inside, unexposed to outside air. The chairs could be carried inside to the baths or to the Pump Room, as you can see in this illustration by Rowlandson, who shows a man on crutches emerging from a Sedan chair.

Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Pump Room

Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Pump Room

Because these portable chairs could be carried inside buildings, people could be transported around the city without being identified. This made it easier for people who were evading the law to go about their business, or for public personages to carry on trysts. Links-boys would light the road at night, and they waited until they were needed again to light the way back. As the painting below shows, accidents did happen!

Rowlandson, Sedan chair breaking down

Rowlandson, Sedan chair breaking down

“At Bath, Tunbridge Wells, and other fashionable places, chairmen plied in the streets as cabs and hansoms now do. Occasionally they were used by spendthrifts, who were anxious to avoid the tipstaves, as they could enter them in their own houses and be deposited in that of a friend. However, it does not appear that the Sedan chair was always a safe refuge against arrest for debt, as in one of Hogarth’s prints the tipstaves are seen to be laying hold of one they were in search of, just as he was about to descend from his supposed place of security. One of the best caricatures of the day represented an Irishman being carried through the streets in a Sedan chair by two burly men, with his feet touching the ground, some wag having taken out the bottom of the Sedan, and the chairmen, aware of the practical joke, selecting the dirtiest part of the road.” NY Times, 1875, Old Coaches and Sedan Chairs

A Rake's Progress, Hogarth, Sedan Chair

A Rake’s Progress, Hogarth, Sedan Chair

As previously stated, Sedan chairs for hire were common in London. Chairmen wore a uniform, were licensed to carry passengers, and had to display a number, like today’s taxi drivers. Three hundred chair permits were issued in London and Westminster in the early 1700’s. A similar system was later used in Scotland, where a fare system was established in 1738. A trip within a city cost six pence and a day’s rental was four shillings. It cost £1 1 shilling to hire a sedan chair for a week. The chairs were available around the clock, but after midnight the chairmen would be paid double the fare.

Sedan chair house in Barh, Queen's Parade Place

Sedan chair house in Bath, Queen’s Parade Place

Sedan chair houses, or stations, were common in cities were they were used. Only two examples of these houses remain today in Bath:

“Continue along Gay Street and turn first left into Queen’s Parade Place. On either side of an opening are the only examples of sedan chair houses in Britain. Here chairmen would rest before carrying passengers to their destinations. They were notoriously rude and unscrupulous often locking their passengers in the chair until they had paid the exorbitant fare! Beau Nash licensed them and set reasonable fares. Their demise came when a local man invented the “Bath chair,” a 3 wheeled vehicle.”  From eu-journal, 011

1840, wheeled Bath chairs outside of the Pump Room

1840, Wheeled Bath chairs outside of the Pump Room

The Sedan chair fell gradually into disuse. Horace Walpole bemoaned their waning popularity as early as 1774, and by the mid-19th century three-wheeled Bath chairs had taken their place.

“The chairmen were fine, robust men; they had little regard for foot passengers, and considered the pavement their own exclusive property. It was rather an amusing sight to witness how the men trotted off, when a chair was required, racing to be first for hire. After a time Sedan chairs got out of fashion, except at Bath, Cheltenham, and Leamington, where they wer in favor for many years after they ceased to exist in the metropolis. – Old Coaches and Sedan Chairs, NY Times, october 17, 1875

Chairmen huffing and puffing in Cranford

Chairmen huffing and puffing in Cranford

While the Sedan chair had gone out of fashion by the mid-19th Century, it played a crucial part in the recent mini-series, Cranford. One of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie showed two chairmen trying to keep apace with Miss Pole, a spinster, and Mrs. Forrester, whose cat had ingested lace, as they ran into the village seeking help. The men huffed and puffed as they carried their heavy load with Mrs. Jamieson inside, and staggered into Cranford.

More information on Sedan chairs:

UPDATE: Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide has published a sedan chair post that links to mine!

Robert Adam's Design for a Sedan Chair for Queen Charlotte, 1775. Click for a larger image.

Robert Adam Neoclassical Design for a Sedan Chair for Queen Charlotte, 1775. Click on image for a larger view.

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