Kite Carriages or Charvolants

The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant
The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant

George Pocock was an English schoolteacher who became interested in kites and began experimenting with them. His interest gradually progressed to him using kites to lift small items and then light loads. By the 1820s, Pocock was experimenting with kites that could lift people. This resulted in Pocock rigging a chair in 1824 that lifted his daughter into the air, and, later that same year, his son also ascended in a chair above a cliff outside of Bristol.

Having concluded that kites were capable of lifting humans, Pocock then turned his attention to using kites to pull loads. He began attaching a small number of kites to carriages and, in 1826, patented the “Charvolant.”  The Charvolant consisted of two kites on a single line that was 1,500 to 1,800 feet long and was capable of pulling a carriage with several passengers at a fairly fast speed. Thus, the kite carriage was born. Continue reading

Signalling and Shouting to Cabbies

signalling and shouting to cabbies
Hansom Cab, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Traveling in a horse-pulled cab was not a quiet or relaxing affair in the Victorian Era. Such trips involved the tremendous din generated by the clip-clop of horses and the vehicle’s rattling, creaking, squeaking, jingling, and thundering as it progressed through London’s noisy cobblestone streets. To be heard, cab passengers often shouted as loud as possible, which was why it was “observed that most people when making a cab voyage are decidedly prone to be taciturn.” Yet, no matter how much passengers in the interior of a cab repressed conversations or tried to remain uncommunicative, they found at certain points they were forced to carry on a conversation consisting of signalling and shouting to cabbies (drivers) sitting in the box outside.

It was true passengers could give a cabbie orders to take them somewhere well-known and that cabbies could drive them straight to their destination without any conversation. But if passengers were traveling somewhere unfamiliar or needed to visit the suburbs that was a different story. This fact was noted by one passenger who stated:

“It behooves you to have your head and the greater part of your body out of the window, and to howl unintermittintly [sic], ‘To the right!’ ‘To the left!’ ‘No, no, not up there—stop! you can’t get through — you must turn back!'”

And, of course, such an experience was “highly disagreeable” to any passenger because even the loudest passengers could not be heard without “immense exertion” and many went hoarse from trying to be heard. Continue reading

Coachbuilding or Coach Making in the Late 1700 and Early 1800s

coachbuilding
1879 Coach Maker’s Exhibition, Author’s Collection

Coachbuilders or coach makers created “those numerous and elegant vehicles which modern refinement … invented as speedy and luxurious modes of traveling.” In building a vehicle, a coachbuilder usually relied on artisans, “wheel-wrights, smiths, painters, carvers, joiners … [and] harness-makers,” and assembled together the parts the artisans created by making a body and a carriage.

Coachbuilding also ensured the coach was adapted to the places for where it was destined to be used, whether that be town, country, or continent. According to one coachbuilder, coaches had to be built stronger for town driving than for country use, and it was even more important they be built “stronger for the continent than even for the town, as the badness of their roads obliges them to use six horses to what on a well made road two would draw with equal facility.” Although coaches had to be built sturdy, they also had to be built as lightly as possible so as not to create an additional burden on the horses destined to pull them. Continue reading

Mail Coach Robberies

Mail coach robberies
Mail Coach, Author’s Collection

Mail coaches regularly carried passengers, as well as mail, and because of this they were ripe for mail coach robberies. It did not matter that by the early 1800s “the coachmen and guards [wore] the king’s livery, scarlet, faced with blue and gold lace; and [were] an intrepid and fearless class.” It also did not matter that at the rear of the coach, the mail box, which was supposedly large enough to “hold a man doubled up,” was tightly secured. The box, approximately “three or four feet wide and deep, and perhaps a couple of feet broad,” was where the mail bags were deposited, after which the lid was securely locked with a key.

One nineteenth century traveler claimed that the signal for the horses to start and for the coach to move was “the thunder of lids locked down upon the mail-bags.” The mail was also guarded, and the guard was armed with a blunderbuss and two pistol. Moreover, guards followed strict rules that were “sternly enforced … [with] no exception … [The guard] … when sitting on his perch at the back of the coach, [was] to keep his feet on the locked lid … [and] no passenger was allowed to sit at the back of the coach with the guard.” Yet, despite all the precautions mail coach robberies often occurred. Continue reading

Mail Coaches

John Palmer, Public Domain
John Palmer, Public Domain

Postal delivery service began in England in 1635 and it existed in the same form for 150 years. Mounted carriers rode between “posts” taking letters handed to them by local postmasters until they eventually reached the proper local postmasters who in turn delivered them to the intended recipient in their area. This system was highly inefficient and the post riders were easy targets for robbers, which is why theater owner John Palmer thought he could do better.

Palmer transported actors and materials. He believed his ideas could improve mail delivery countrywide. Fortunately for Palmer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, decided to let Palmer try, and Palmer was successful: He beat the old delivery time by 22 hours and brought the mail from Bristol to London in 16 hours. A year later, in 1785, the mail coach, sometimes called a post coach, was in business delivering mail from London to Norwich, Liverpool, Leeds, Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle. Continue reading

The Gig or Chaise

Gig, Public Domain
Gig, Public Domain

In the second half of the eighteenth century, as roads improved, so did the vehicles that traveled them. Among the vehicles on the road was the gig, also called a chaise or a chair. It was a lightweight, two-wheeled cart with road springs pulled by one or sometimes two horses. Passengers rode facing forward and the driver’s seat was constructed so the driver sat higher than the shaft. This gave the driver a good view of the road and made it a favorite among tandem drivers. The gig could be used for many types of driving, including formal or pleasure driving but because it had a high center of gravity, it could be precarious when off-road. Continue reading

Hackney Coaches

Hackney Coaches: Hackney-M-1033-x350Hackney coaches, which were the idea of a man named Captain Bailey, were originally one-horse chaises. The term was once believed to have been derived from the French word “haquenée” but is now thought to have originated from the London village of “Hackney.” Eventually, nobility began to rent out their outdated and unneeded coaches, often times these were Broughams, and, when that happened, hackney came to mean a four-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses with seating for up to six people. The meaning of hackney changed again in 1834 when lighter cabriolets — two-wheeled vehicles from France — replaced the hackney coaches and the term was then modernized to “hansom cabs.” Continue reading

Brougham Carriages

Original look of Brougham Carriages, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Original Brougham, Courtesy of Wikipedia

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. Continue reading

Dalzell’s Machine

Dalzwell's Machine, Author's Collection
Dalzwell’s Machine, Author’s Collection

Although somewhat suspect, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith, is credited with creating the first mechanically propelled two-wheel vehicle. Several sources give credit to him, including an article by the Bicycling News in 1892. Another Scotsman, Gavin Dalzell, who never claimed to have invented the bicycle seems to have improved upon MacMillan’s idea of the driving gear rod, and history backs his claims. There is evidence that Dalzell used his rear-driven machine to distribute his drapery wares in and around the area of Lesmahagow in 1845. Continue reading

Phaetons

Phaetons: Phaeton No. 1
Phaeton No. 1, Author’s Collection

Phaetons were stylish, four-wheeled carriages, with or without tops that usually had no side pieces in front by the seats. The name phaeton comes from Phaëton who was the mythical son of Helios (the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology).  Phaëton was said to have driven the Sun Chariot so dangerously he almost caught the earth on fire. Fortunately, before Phaëton destroyed the earth, Zeus struck him down with a lightning bolt. Continue reading