Horses and carriages in the Victorian era —Page 2

A typical working day in Oxford Street at the end of the 19th century, looking east, with New Bond Street off to the right. We can see omnibuses, hansom cabs, and delivery carts.

Private carriages were expensive and limited to the wealthier classes of people, for making visits or taking the air, or to professionals such as doctors. In the early part of the 19th century many styles of carriages were used by various types of people and for different purposes. These included: gigs (two-wheeled, sprung, carriages for one or two people that could move rapidly, normally employed by business people); tilburys (gigs with a hood to shelter the passengers, manufactured by Tilbury of Mount Street, London); stanhopes (gigs also manufactured by Tilbury’s, named after the sportsman Henry FitzRoy Stanhope); chaises (two-wheeled, single horse chariots with a hood, popular with retirees); dogcarts, otherwise known as ‘bounders’ or ‘tigers’ (high-seated, two-wheeled carriages for two people, favoured by sportsmen); wagonettes (four-wheeled, with an open back for luggage or goods), phaetons (four wheelers with a small, high body); landaus (larger, more luxurious, four-wheeled carriages for four passengers and two riders, with folding top and door for foul weather or privacy); and Victorias (four-wheeled, for two passengers and two riders, with a folding hood, popular with ladies, adopted by Queen Victoria prior to her accession).

A new type of carriage, known as the brougham, made its first appearance in 1838 and it and its variant, the Clarence, were to become very popular thereafter. The first of their kind was made by the coach-builder Robinson & Cook to the specifications of Henry Brougham, Lord Chancellor. The two-seat plus driver brougham led to the introduction of the four-seat clarence, named after the Duke of Clarence. In comparison to earlier types of carriage such as the landau their design was low, more manoeuvrable, and light enough that it could be pulled by one horse. At the end of the century the most popular carriages were the brougham, single landau, Victoria and private hansoms. It was in 1897 that horse-less, electric broughams made their first appearance.

Charles Dickens wrote in 1879:

It may roughly be said that at the best West-end houses a one-horse carriage (Victoria or brougham) will cost about 30 guineas a month; a two-horse carriage, such as a landau, about 45 guineas a month. These prices, of course, include horses, carriage, harness, coachman, stabling and forage. Horses alone, during the same months, may be hired at about 7 ½ guineas each a month, including forage and stabling; but in this case harness will be an extra charge, and the coachman’s wages will have to be paid. In ordinary jobbing work a one-horse brougham during the day-time costs about 7s. 6d. for two hours’ hiring; theatre and ball work cost from 10s. 6d. to 27s. 6d., according to circumstances and locality. For excursions a one-horse brougham, as a rule, will cost £1 1s. ; a two-horse carriage £1 10s.;  but for what the job-masters call a “long day” these charges would be increased about 20 per cent. It should be borne in mind that unless the carriage be jobbed for a lengthened period the coachman invariably expects a gratuity. The above prices, be it noted, refer to the best West-end establishments. In every district in town there are job-masters who will supply horses and carriages on considerably easier terms.

Horses played a part in most of London’s great events, such as state, and military occasions and celebrations. The south side of Hyde Park was the place for the fashionable to be seen, including Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. Horse-riders trotted along Rotten Row, while carriages took to the adjacent South Carriage Drive. One of the great entertainments for Londoners was the annual Derby Day horse races on Epsom Downs during Whitsun week. The Cart Horse Parade was established in 1885 to encourage owners to take pride in their animals. Three years later it moved to Regent’s Park and continued through most of the 20th century. The Agricultural Hall was opened in Liverpool Road, Islington in 1862 by the Smithfield Club and the annual horse show became popular:

The first horse-show was held in 1864. The Hall Company have the credit of originating a Show of this description under cover, with horses exhibited, saddled and harnessed, in an arena sufficiently large to display their paces, and accommodations which have never been excelled. A Horse-show is now held here every year in the week between Epsom and Ascot Races, and attracts the most fashionable company in London. The judges are invariably selected from noblemen and gentlemen; as for instance, the Earls of Chesterfield and Portsmouth, Lords Suffield and Combermere. There are also at Christmas, Equestrian Performances, with chariot-races, &c., reminding one of the sports of Old Rome. (John Timbs ‘Curiosities of London’, 1867)

The vast number of horses left a great deal of mess on London’s streets each day. An army of around 8,000 sweepers was dispatched every night around the capital for cleaning duties. Between seven and eight hundred worked within the City at the end of the century where they started at 8 o’clock in the evening each day and finished at 6 o’clock in the morning. Nine hundred were employed in Westminster, starting daily at midnight. With less traffic in the suburbs, cleaning could be carried on during the daytime. Wagons bringing produce into London from the countryside carried manure from stable-yards, particularly those of the omnibus companies, on the return journey.

Like humans, horses could have an illness, a broken bone, or some other medical problem. Those owners who could not afford expensive veterinary care could take their animal to the Royal Veterinary College at Camden. Such a college had been established at Lyon in France in the mid-18th century. In 1791 a group set out to found a similar institution in London. At that time Earl Camden was developing on his fields to the north of London – what became Camden Town – and he gave over some of his land to create the college. The first principal came from the college in Lyon but it was the second principal, Edward Coleman, who firmly established its good reputation. It gained its royal charter in 1844.

Of horses near to the end of their life, or those who needed to convalesce, the lucky ones could spend their time at the Home of Rest for Horses at Friar’s Place Farm, Acton. As London spread further out the home was forced to move on several occasions but continues today, based in Buckinghamshire.

Sources include: G. A. Sekon, Locomotion in Victorian London (1938); ‘Living London’ ed. George R. Sims (1903); Jerry White ‘London in the 19th Century’; Charles Dickens ‘Dickens’s Dictionary of London’ (1879); John Timbs ‘Curiosities of London’ (1867);