Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Hackney Coach in the 1830s

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Hackney coach
Loretta reports:

My characters often take hackneys.  It wasn’t a classy way to travel, but the vehicles were ubiquitous, as one of the links in this post indicates. Also, it’s a preferred mode of transport for someone who's traveling incognito.  But what were hackneys like?

Here’s Charles Dickens’s description, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - 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 box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. 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. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

Hackney cabriolet
At this time, there were two different varieties of hackneys.  The other is a hackney cab (or cabriolet), which looks a bit more like the hansom cabs that appear later in the century.  Dickens distinguishes between the two, but elsewhere the hackneys seem to be lumped together as a mode of public transportation.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.

**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
***more about watermen here.
Images are from Henry Charles Moore, Omnibuses and cabs, their origin and history 1902, courtesy Internet Archive. 
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source.


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