Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Hazards of Traveling by Chaise, c. 1770

Sunday, November 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Traveling was not easy in Georgian England. We modern folk tend to think of carriages as romantically portrayed by Hollywood, traveling merrily over modern roads, but the reality was much more hazardous. Even the wealthy and titled (who were the only ones who could afford to own and maintain a carriage and the horses to draw it) expected a certain amount of peril on every journey.

This excerpt is from a letter written by Hester, Countess of Chatham, to her husband, William Pitt the Elder, first Earl of Chatham, describing her journey from London to their estate at Burton Pynsent in Somerset, a distance of about 135 miles. Today the trip can be made in about 2-1/2 hours; in the 1770s, it took considerably longer.

What strikes me about Lady Chatham's account is how matter-of-fact she is regarding rutted roads, broken traces, falling horses, bad meals, and even "a view of Stonehenge." And yet this passage still only describes half their journey!

There's also a noteworthy mention of "William Footman", who behaves heroically in the face of near-disaster. The practice of addressing servants by their position - William Footman, John Coachman - has been much discussed in novel-writing circles, and even dismissed as a modern exaggeration. But since I'm willing to bet that Lady Chatham's footman was not baptized William Footman, here's primary-source proof of the practice.

"The road from King's Weston to Aynsford Inn, greatest part narrow causeway, like the Ilminster Way, requires careful driving; we performed it very well. The chaise horses broke two rotten traces, not from any fault of theirs, but it is all for the better, they cannot serve again. Wheel of said Chaise broke as it got to Aynsford Inn. Road very well from hence till within two miles of Hindon. Then very heavy, not being made, but safe. At Hindon find our horses. The landlord does us the honour to ride as postillion at wheel himself, because nobody could ride the horse he did, but himself. Went very safe, the road for the next couple of miles very bad indeed, broke only one trace this post. After the two mile on to Deptford, good enough. House [inn] at Deptford very bad....From hence to Amesbury, road very good, but fortune did not favour Bradshaw and the damsels [the servants following in another coach]. About 3 miles from Deptford the wheel horse fell down, the postillion under him, but the admirable care and dexterity of William Footman whose cleverness in travelling I cannot enough praise, extricated him from this perilous situation without his receiving much hurt. We set forward again. Within a quarter of a mile short, in two breaks the perch [the pole connecting the fore and hind running parts of a carriage] of their chaise. We took our party immediately, brought our two maids into our coach, with trunk, band boxes, etc., put on one pair of the unfortunate chaise horses to our four in consideration of the additional weight, sent William forward to fetch a fresh chaise from Amesbury to meet Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his grippine*. We continued our way with our three postillions most happily to Amesbury, taking a view of Stonehenge in our way. We went directly then to Andover with excellent horses and got in about seven."

*I have no idea what 'grippine' might be, especially in this context. Does anyone else know?

This quotation appeared in William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by Brian Tunstall (London, 1938), and comes to us via historian and writer Jacqui Reiter. Her blog is one of my favorite "rabbit holes" for history-reading on the internet; devoted to her research regarding the Pitt family, it's filled with all manner of fascinating insights into the politics and lives of these important Georgians. Well worth checking out!

Above: The Marquess of Bath's Coach, by John Cordrey, Private Collection, ©The British Sporting Art Trust.

18 comments:

Helena said...

"... Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his grippine*". I'm aware of the word "grip" which used to mean a small piece of luggage, a bag used for travelling, and I wonder whether this might be what a grippine is? Maybe that's the origin of the word "grip" used n that sense? Although why the poor man should have to carry his bag when it should have been possible to fit it into or onto the chaise, I don't know.

Jacqui Reiter said...

I always assumed it was his horse-- either the variety of horse, or the name of the horse. Alas I have never seen the MS of the extract (if I ever do come across it, I'll let you know!) but it may have been capitalised.

Julie Lewis said...

Grippine might be a small suitcase. My grandmother called her suitcase her grippe.

Anonymous said...

My guess falls with Jacqui, that "grippine" refers to a horse. Perhaps the name is a variation of the Roman empress's name Agrippina, since classically-inspired names were so popular in this era for favorite animals. The suitcase suggestion, while accurate by definition, makes little sense in the context of letter. Why would the man be walking on foot until they brought him his suitcase?

Joanna Waugh said...

"Grippines" today are bike pedal traction covers. Could this be the another term for pattens? "Grippe" is also an old term for the flu. "Grippine" was a mild case of it.

Joanna Waugh said...

Maybe "grippine" is another expression for wellies.

Anonymous said...

But if this referred to overshoes or pattens, then why would it be singular? Also the implication is that he ceases "march[ing] on foot" once the item is brought to him.

What a mystery!

Jacqui Reiter said...

One of those turns of phrase that presumably meant something to the recipient but leaves us scratching our heads!

Femme Malheureuse said...

I wonder if it is possible to read an image of the actual letter itself, for several reasons.

-- What letters I've read by Lady Hester have been through at least one or more "interpreters," by which I mean family member(s) who have documented in print what was written with quill pen, possibly by a non-family member in other cases, and arranged by a typesetter. I cannot tell from this post how much diluted or distorted are Lady Hester's original words.

-- Lady Hester had a habit (probably not uncommon among women of her class and age) of sprinkling her writing with French words. She also used some form of emphasis, which has been translated using italicized font in typeset, but it's not clear how she indicated emphasis using quill pen. Both the sporadic use of French terms and emphasis could have distorted the original word, resulting in a misinterpretation.

More examples of her letters are available under, The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, at Archive.org. (I don't believe the letter in the text above is included in this work at Archive.org.)

Given the context surrounding the word printed as "grippine," and finding no such word in French, I wonder if Lady Hester actually wrote, "grimpe," a French noun referring to climbing, or to a device like a step to allow one to rise up (in this case, step into an elevated vehicle).

Food for thought.

Jacqui Reiter said...

I have actually ordered the Tunstall biography now -- hoping he gives a reference. If it's in the Chatham Papers it should be easy to track down the letter. Lady Chatham's handwriting was quite unusual but, by and large, extremely legible, so I think it's unlikely to have been mistranscribed. Agree though context may have been removed. And obviously there could have been a blot or a tear making it more difficult than usual to make out.

~N. said...

Is she referring to a saddle of some sort, perhaps? Is Bradford riding postillion on the chaise?

Seems to make sense if I've got the math right (it's like an 18th C. math word problem!) Two vehicles, drawn by four horses each -- after the accident, six are to draw the larger carriage with the extra passengers and luggage, while William Footman goes ahead on one horse to fetch a new chaise to replace the broken one, and Bradford goes along on foot, leading a horse until this mysterious object arrives. Does that sound right?

So William Footman has one saddled horse, one of the six horses now drawing the coach is saddled for the postillion (presumably the landlord who joined them at Hindon along with the fresh horses), and poor Bradford is stuck with the eigth, unsaddled horse hence his needing to "march on foot" until the "grippine" arrives.

Then, once they're all together again, they now have those three postillions she refers to.

Make sense? I'm not at all familiar with the minutiae of 18th C. tack, and "crupper" is the only thing I can find that's remotely close to "grippine", although it doesn't seem a particularly necessary piece of equipment.

Anonymous said...

Given the context and that he was on foot until the grippine, I would imagine that it was an alternate ride, be it on the back of some farmer's wagon (they were close to their destination, after all), his own personal mount, or some the "fresh chaise" where he copped a ride on the back, or even the seat? I'm also thinking that it might mean that he got to ride on top of the luggage on said alternate chaise...
All I know is that I'm loving all the possible answers given, and I'm so glad to ride these days by motorcar!

Jacqui Reiter said...

I must say I'm loving these theories. The saddle one is probably one of the most likely so far in my opinion.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Like Jacqui, I love all these suggestions for the mysterious "grippine"! I agree that it sounds as if the ones involving a horse are probably closest to the mark. Many thanks to Jacqui for checking in, too - perhaps if she does have the chance to review the original letter, the true answer may reveal itself. :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mea culpa - In an earlier version of the blog, I wrongly referred to the Countess of Chatham as "Lady Hester" when in fact at this time she would have been "Lady Chatham." What makes this error especially confusing is that her daughter, also named Hester, was in fact Lady Hester Pitt, as was her granddaughter, Lady Hester Stanhope (who became quite famous in her own right as an intrepid traveller.)

In any event, this is now corrected in the blog.

Jacqui Reiter said...

Hester was definitely a Pitt family name. Apparently it was reasonably unusual. It's true that I've not seen many Hesters in the period.

Anonymous said...

A Grippen is a type of quarterhorse.

KP Pryce said...

Grippine, as I have encountered it in my examination of historical documents, was commonly used as a dimunitive of 'grippe' which in those days was a very old fashioned term for influenza. I strongly suspect, from the context of the letter and the prevailing weather conditions described by the writer - not to mention the physical exertions of William Footman - that by the time the help arrived, William Footman now had flu.

 
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