Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Carriage, plus More Substantial Steps

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Susan reports:

To follow up on our discussion of the carriages in Colonial Williamsburg, I'm adding two more photographs.  

True, we were duly dazzled by Lord Dunmore's carriage.  But I didn't want to leave you thinking everyone else was trudging through the dust on foot.  There are several other carriages in the CW collection that are every bit as handsome as His Excellency's, even more so, depending on your taste.  Here's another, left, that Loretta and I particularly like.  The original's owner was a prosperous Virginian; rich indeed, but not titled. That bulging curved piece along the back is a sword case (opened from inside the carriage) for stashing your blade, ever-ready in case of an attack by a highwayman or other nefarious 
person -- though the CW interpreters do admit that by the late 18th c., that little compartment is more for style than for actually carrying weapons.  Pretty cool, though, and sounds so much more romantic than, say, a glove compartment.

I know most of us (including Loretta and me) regarded those folding carriage steps on Lord Dunmore's carriage with trepidation.  I'm sure we had company among 18th c. ladies, too, who had to maneuver those steps in wide skirts and heeled shoes.  But there was at least one alternative, to be found in the stable yard of the Governor's Palace (and at grand houses across England as well): these sturdy brick carriage steps, right, made to the exact height of a carriage's door.  Over two hundred years later, you can still almost hear the sighs of relief from Her Ladyship and her daughters....

10 comments:

Vicky said...

Those brick carriage steps are so cool - and so is this blog. :-) Great job, ladies.

Becca said...

I agree- this blog is too cool!
Do you think gentlemen would have ever used those steps too? Or were they reserved only for the ladies?

Vanessa Kelly said...

OK, now I want a glove compartment big enough for stashing my blade. Or, at the very least, my dueling pistols.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Vicky and Becca! :)

Becca, I'm not sure if gentlemen used the steps or not, or if it was considered unmanly. I'm guessing they did, since they weren't called "ladies' steps", just "carriage steps." Probably one more sign of rank, too: "I am so rich with so much land that I can afford to have these brick steps to nowhere built just for my occasional convenience."

Vanessa, can you imagine requesting a sword box from your local car dealer? *g* OTOH, since all carriages were custom built, this likely was an "option" for a gentleman to choose. One wonders if they stuffed their sword cases full of the same junk we put in our glove compartments -- crumpled maps, a bottle opener, ancient snacks for the road...

News From the Holmestead said...

Those carriage steps remind me of another horse-related convenience: the mounting block. They looked like the carriage steps, but were used for mounting horses. Mounting blocks are still in use today, though they're mostly a sturdy portable stool consisting of two steps. I believe they had portable mounting blocks even back then. You just lead the horse into position beside the mounting block and then climb on. The CW carriage steps look wonderfully substantial. ~Sherrie Holmes

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sherrie, I thought of the mounting blocks, too. As you say, they're usually more simply designed, but they're pretty much the same idea. Which makes me wonder if perhaps these steps were also used for climbing onto a horse? For a lady in a long riding habit, wouldn't it be easier to settle onto your sidesaddle from these steps?

LorettaChase said...

The folding carriage steps weren't as solid and steady as I'd thought they would be. The small step as well as the bounce made me realize how easy it would be to stumble. But in most cases, there would be a sturdy footman, or even admiring gentleman, to help one down. (I made use of one of the straps.) Too, it would be the kind of thing one got used to, and ladies may have climbed in and out of carriages with the same ease an experienced horseman or woman mounts and dismounts. OTOH, those brick steps aren't going anywhere, and if you're pregnant or frail or not feeling well or never did get the hang of the folding carriage step, they're perfect!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Loretta, remember what our coachman told us, too: that by protocol, the highest ranking gentleman within the carriage was the first to leave it, so as to assist the highest ranking lady as she climbed down.

Another thought: I'm betting those little folding steps were particularly precarious after a long night of heavy lordly drinking....

Ms.Aquarius said...

These are wonderful pictures & full of informative details. Thank you for sharing your research trip in your blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you showed those masonry steps for carriage mounting. My aunt lives in an almost 300 year old stone house, and it still has the stone carriage steps out front. I've never used them for that purpose, but as a kid I used them plenty of times for mounting bareback. Unlikely that they would have been used for mounting sidesaddle, as all ladies would have had a groom for that purpose, and at any rate, mounting isn't something that they would have attempted by themselves. And as far as trains go, habits of the time had straight hems all the way around with no integral trains; trains were usually detachable. Habits of the day were not reserved for riding. The same garment would have been used for most outdoor pursuits, including walking, traveling, and shooting. In my opinion, the most fetching and dashing of the habits are the redingotes, which are based on a man's great coat with integral short capes around the shoulders; these were usually made of a rugged earth toned material so as not to show dirt, but were left slightly open at the bottom to show a bit of feminine petticoat in a lighter pastel shade, such as rose or sky blue.

For very good detailed information on period construction see Kass McGowen's site: www.reconstructinghistory.com. She's probably the most knowlegable re-enactor around, and has tons of information on her site about types of fabric, undergarments, etc.

Another interesting detail about these large carriages: we used to have a fairly large coach in our carriage collection, though not quite as old as those we're discussing. It had a hidden compartment under the seat...with a chamber pot in it! Talk about awkward, and the smell can't have added to the romance.

Robin

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