Brougham Carriages: A Popular Carriage of the 1800s

Brougham carriages were originally designed as a light, four-wheeled, enclosed, one-horse vehicle. They also had two centers doors, and a low coupe body that enclosed a forward facing seat for two occupants. Sometimes they came equipped with two extra fold away seats, which could be used for children. Outside, at the front for the coachman, was a boxed seat or perch, known as a dickey box, also called a boot, that could accommodate another passenger, such as a footman.

Original look of Brougham Carriages, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Original brougham. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The brougham took its name from Henry Peter Brougham,* a Scottish jurist and British statesman who designed the carriage and made it fashionable. Brougham had gotten tired of driving around a one-horse, two-wheel chariot and visited Messrs. Sharp and Bland of South Audley Street, who mistakenly believed the carriage would never be popular. They were wrong because hundreds of brougham carriages were built within a few years after the first one appeared.

Henry Peter Brougham, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Henry Peter Brougham., Courtesy of Wikipedia.

First built by Robinson and Cook, this prestigious carriage, pronounced “broom” or “brohm” and rhyming with “foam,” was popular for everyday use with the aristocracy and middle classes. Its popularity was due to several reasons: it had a front window occupants could see out of; its low step design made access and egress for passengers easy; it was the first carriage to have elliptical springs — steel springs that made the ride smoother, more stable, and thus safer. Additionally, the front wheels were capable of making sharper and tighter turns than any other four-wheeled carriages, and the carriage itself was lighter and smaller than other formal coaches at the time.

Brougham of the 19th Century, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Brougham of the 19th century. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Production of brougham carriages began in the late 1830s to early 1840s. It quickly became the most fashionable carriage of its time. Because of its popularity many variations resulted. For instance, there was a sedan brougham, a depot brougham, a country brougham, and the Clarence brougham — a four-horse drawn carriage, slightly longer than a coupé, with full-framed seats inside that held four people, often called a growler. A carriage known as a “brougham-landaulet,” was also designed for all types of weather with front glass that lowered and a collapsible top — known as folding head — that folded similar to a calash or bellows but did so from the rear doors backwards.

Sedan Brougham by Studebaker Brothers, Author's Collection

Sedan Brougham by Studebaker Brothers. Author’s collection.

Private-owned brougham carriages were often converted into hackney cabs, sometimes called hacks, with vestiges of the previous owners’ coat of arms seen through faded layers of paint. Charles Dickens best described these converted broughams in his Sketches of Boz.

““[Hackneys were a] great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette,) with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms, in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green … The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. … A hackney-cab has always been a hackney-cab, from his first entry into life; whereas a hackney-coach is a remnant of past gentility, a victim to fashion, a hanger-on of an old English family, wearing their arms, and, in days of yore, escorted by men wearing their livery … progressing lower and lower in the scale of four-wheeled degradation.”[1]


Possible Hack of 1847, Public Domain

Possible hack of 1847. Public domain.

Later, the double brougham may have reversed the degradation as it became so popular with its slightly extended body and small side windows, it was adopted by the Studebaker Brothers and made into a motorized version. General Motors and Ford also got into the act in the 1950s when they adopted Brougham as the name for their exclusive, top-of-the-line Cadillac El Dorado and Fleetwood sedans, as by that time the name Brougham was synonymous with quality and elegance.

*There are several interesting side notes about Lord Brougham. First, he was a client and lover to the celebrated courtesan, Harriette Wilson who also had affairs with the Prince of Wales and the 1st Duke of Wellington, who fought Napoleon Bonaparte and beat him at Waterloo. Because of broken promises and disputes with ex-lovers Wilson eventually wrote a revealing tell all book titled Memoirs of Harriette Wilson. However, before the book was published an opportunity was given to her ex-lovers to pay cash and be excluded from being identified in her book. Brougham paid the money she wanted and his secret was secure. Secondly, Cannes may not have become such a popular destination if it were not for Lord Brougham. He found it by accident in 1835 and brought land there creating Chateau Eleanore-Louise for his daughter. Unfortunately, she died shortly after and Brougham took up residence there. This encouraged other Englishmen to purchase land in the area and ultimately created the beach front known as Promenade des anglais or “The Avenue of the English.”


[1] Dickens, Charles, Sketches by Boz, 1852, p. 54.


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