Travel in ‘Sense & Sensibility’ Part III ~ Carriages

We will now [finally!] get to how they traveled ~ you can review the previous posts on ‘Travel in Sense & Sensibility‘ here:

There is much that we do not know about Jane Austen, and the much that we do “know” has been pieced together from letters and family remembrances and historical contexts. But one thing we know for sure is that Austen was familiar with ALL the carriages of her day.  This is best illustrated by her Juvenilia piece “The Memoirs of Mr. Clifford: an Unfinished Tale” [MW 43],  written between 1787-90, when Austen was 12 – 15 years old:  this is what she says:

Mr Clifford lived at Bath; and having never seen London, set off one Monday morning determined to feast his eyes with a sight of that great Metropolis.  He travelled in his Coach & Four, for he was a very rich young Man & kept a great many Carriages of which I do not recollect half.  I can only remember that he had a Coach, a Chariot, a Chaise, a Landau, a Landaulet, a Phaeton, a Gig, a Whiskey, an Italian Chair, a Buggy, a Curricle & a wheelbarrow.  He had likewise an amazing fine stud of Horses.  To my knowledge he had six Greys, 4 Bays, eight Blacks & a poney. 

[what! no barouche!!] 

Austen used carriages in her novels as a way to indicate income and social status but also as a way to delineate character – for example, we know most everything about John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey by just listening to the way he describes his horse and carriage! [Thorpe has been called the most horse-obsessed character in all of literature!]; we know that Willoughby cannot afford the carriage and horses that he has, that he is a fast driver, and that his driving a large chaise with four horses to visit Marianne when he thinks she is dying show how much he wants to get there and quickly, at any cost [but of course he is now married to Miss Gray, so cost does not matter to him…]. 

Coaching Inns:

Austen would have also known the Coaching Inns of her day – she would have stayed in them during her own numerous travels. But in Sense and Sensibility there are only two mentions:  Edward staying at an Inn when he leaves London after he is disinherited, and Robert and Lucy Ferrars at the New London Inn in Exeter following their marriage.  But all the characters would have stayed at Inns for any of the longer trips, as was explained in the previous post.  


There are numerous specifically noted carriages in S&S.  “Carriage” is a general term: there were many variations in nomenclature and design, and big discrepancies even among the same “named” vehicle.  There were differences in “construction, function, size, speed and appearance.” [Rogers]  And there was a full class-system of horse-drawn vehicles; the wealthy often had unique designs made to order.  

Some understanding of the parts of a carriage helps to identify a particular type:  see this link at The Georgian Index for a glossary of carriage terms, as well as this diagram:

So, just a few carriage part terms:  

1.  C-Springs:  a curved spring of C-shape, made up of several overlapping plates or leaves. They where introduced in the late 18th century (shortly after the S-Spring) and replaced the primitive wooden pillar attached to the axle, from which braces extended to the coach body. 

2.  Elliptical spring: Carriage spring made up of two sets of overlapping steel plates or leaves bolted together in elliptical or semi-elliptical form. It was invented by Obadiah Elliot in England (1804) and made the ride much smoother and the carriages more stable.

3.  Lights:  called “moons” [as per Chapman]:  for dress carriages: the simplest were wax candles in tin tubes in a circular casing; for traveling coaches –  lamps with oil in square casing [Adams]

In the country, social engagements were dependent upon the moon, traveling at night unsafe:  for example in S&S, Sir John Middleton has asked other neighbors to join their party, but “it was moonlight and everybody was full of engagements.”

A few definitions about the people of the horse and carriage era:

1.   Postilion or post boy: a person who rides the leading nearside horse of a team or pair drawing a coach or carriage, when there is no coachman 

2.  Groom:  a male servant employed to care for horses; at times accompanying an owner’s carriage 

3.  Ostler:  a groom or stable boy employed at an Inn to take care of guest’s horses 

4.  Tiger:  a boy or small man employed as a groom on the back of a curricle or other small carriage.  Name derived from the yellow and black striped waist coat worm by the groom  [OED:  A smartly-liveried boy acting as groom or footman; formerly often provided with standing-room on a small platform behind the carriage, and a strap to hold on by; less strictly, an outdoor boy-servant. obs. slang. ] 

5.  Livery:  historical- distinctive dress or uniform worn by an official, retainer, or servant (and given to him or her by the employer) [term from c1290 in Old French] – a footman’s livery of two suits would cost about £20, as much as his year’s wages 



And now to the carriages ~ I will post about each type and how and where they appear in Austen’s works over the next several days:


1.  Long Wagon:  

-similar to the American covered wagon

-carried goods and passengers – did “the practical work of the nation” with 6-8 draft horses

-not specifically mentioned in Austen, except off stage

 2. Carts

 3.  the Coach:  “Kings of the Road” – called the most dignified of moving objects 

•           a large, enclosed 4-wheeled carriage, a fixed head, doors and windows

•           pulled by at least four horses, for long-distance travel, traveled @ 7 miles / hour

•           4-6 passengers, in two seats facing each other; also passengers on top

•           C-springs helped as shock absorbers

•           public use OR persons of wealth or high rank

[the term “hackney coach”  is what we would call a modern day taxi, and were most often cast-off coaches from the original owners]

Coach builders

Stay tuned for various types of coaches…

Tiger in carriage