Monday, November 2, 2009

What We Learned on a Carriage Ride

Monday, November 2, 2009

Susan reports:

Loretta explained our "research ride" in Colonial Williamsburg so well yesterday that all I can do is continue.  The carriage rides may seem an extravagance, an additional $12.50 to the CW admission ticket, but for us TNHG, it really was research.  


I'm not referring to the historic facts about carriages and coaching. I mean the visceral things that our characters might have experienced.  For one, it's not a very comfortable way to travel.  Even in a "luxury" carriage such as the one belonging to the Royal Governor (that's the exterior of the carriage, above left), it's a bumpy, bouncing ride over modern roads and gravel paths.  I can't imagine how badly passengers would be jostled over the course of a long journey over country roads.  It's a noisy way to travel, too; iron-bound wheels crunch and scrape, the carriage's suspension creaks and groans, and the horses'  hooves do indeed go clip-clop.  Nor is an 18th c. carriage particularly spacious. Clearly those ladies and gentlemen were  slender folk, especially considering the amount of space the ladies' hoops must have occupied. 

Oh, and all those feisty heroines who impulsively fling open carriage doors and leap to the ground: couldn't have happened.  For one thing, there's no latch on the inside of the door.  For another, it's a mighty big drop to the ground from the carriage.  You NEED those little folding steps and a helpful footman besides. Without them, that heroine is going to break her ankle at the least, and her neck at the worst. 

But there's good stuff as well.  You're raised up so high above the road that there are splendid views all around.  If you are fortunate enough to be riding in a carriage with a peer's arms painted on the door, you'll have bystanders bowing and curtsying in acknowledgement and taking photographs. And as Loretta
demonstrated earlier, it's the perfect height for conducting conversations with accompanying gentlemen on horseback.  

More, of course, to come.  In the meantime, here's a link to a short video clip about the horses in Williamsburg.  

Many thanks to our favorite coachman/interpreter, Susan, (a coachman being called a coachman even when she's a coachwoman) shown here in His Lordship's livery with her team – that's Matthew and Mark, and yes, Luke and John are employed elsewhere in CW – before the Dunmore carriage.


Katy said...

Interesting (and fun) research!

News From the Holmestead said...

I remember how shocked I was to hear there were no handles on the inside of the carriage doors! As you state, a heroine couldn't just open the door and leap out. However, what kind of door handle was on the outside? Could she reach through the window and lean down and unlatch the door? (Just curious.) ~Sherrie Holmes

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sherrie, yes, that Feisty Heroine could in theory reach through the window and unlatch the door -- though it would be very awkward to do. If you click on the top picture to enlarge it, you can see the latch.

This is also assuming that there are no windows or carriage panels in place. These carriages are open because they're for the tourist-trade *g*. Being inquisitive NHG, we visited the stables and saw the glass windows and the wooden panels that would have been used in those openings depending on the weather and the owner's wishes for the day.

Yes, the windows in the door did open and close from the top by sliding the entire pane down into an channel in the door. But it was NOT an easy process as demonstrated to us, nor one that the Feisty Heroine could have done quickly enough to escape on an impulse.

We have pictures of this for a future blog...:)

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Susan! I've always wondered about those feisty heroines myself! It just goes to show you invaluable it can be to do such in-depth research. I love Colonial Williamsburg, and now I'm dying to go down and take a carriage ride to see for myself. I wish I could ride on one of the streetcars that used to fill NY before the subway. I think I need to take a trip to the transit museum.

Monica Burns said...

THIS post is why I love this blog. You two do such wonderful research and now I've got a source to refer to when it comes to carriages! Awesome! Monica

ConnieG said...

This is fascinating. You've answered questions I didn't realize I had. I look forward to more from your trip.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I'm glad you're all enjoying these posts! I have a few more photos that will go up tonight about this carriage, including more details of the brass latch and the folding steps....:)

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