Saturday, November 6, 2010
A carriage is a wheeled vehicle for people, usually horse-drawn; litters (palanquins) and sedan chairs are excluded, since they are wheelless vehicles. The carriage is especially designed for private passenger use and for comfort or elegance, though some are also used to transport goods. It may be light, smart and fast or heavy, large and comfortable. Carriages normally have suspension using leaf springs, elliptical springs (in the 19th century) or leather strapping. A public passenger vehicle would not usually be called a carriage – terms for such include stagecoach, charabanc and omnibus. Working vehicles such as the (four-wheeled) wagon and (two-wheeled) cart share important parts of the history of the carriage, as does the fast (two-wheeled) chariot.
The word carriage (abbreviated carr or cge) is from Old Northern French cariage, to carry in a vehicle. The word car, then meaning a kind of two-wheeled cart for goods, also came from Old Northern French about the beginning of the 14th century; it was also used for railway carriages, and was extended to cover automobile around the end of the nineteenth century, when early models were called horseless carriages.
A carriage is sometimes called a team, as in "horse and team". A carriage with its horse is a rig. An elegant horse-drawn carriage with its retinue of servants is an equipage. A carriage together with the horses, harness and attendants is a turnout or setout. A procession of carriages is a cavalcade.
Some horsecarts found in Celtic graves show hints that their platform was suspended in a frame, elastically. Four wheeled waggons were used in prehistoric Europe, and their form known from excavations suggests that the basic construction techniques of wheel and undercarriage (that survived until the age of the motor car) were established then.
The earliest type of carriage recorded was the chariot during the 9th century. Used in Egypt, the near East and Europe, it was typically a component of war, which was made up of a light basin and two wheels essentially. The light basin held one or two passengers and was pulled by one to two horses. The chariot was so successful in war because it made a soldier faster. Chariots however, quickly became outdated and were not capable of carrying enough people to be used as a method of transport.
First century BCE Romans used sprung wagons for overland journeys. The kingdoms of the Zhou Dynasty and Warring States were also known to have used carriages as transportation. With the decline of these civilizations these techniques almost disappeared. It is likely that Roman carriages employed some form of suspension on chains or leather straps, as indicated by carriage parts found in excavations.
The medieval carriage was typically a four-wheeled wagon type, with a rounded top ('tilt') similar in appearance to the Conestoga Wagon familiar from the USA. Sharing the traditional form of wheels and undercarriage known since the Bronze Age, it very likely also employed the pivoting fore-axle in continuity from the ancient world. Suspension (on chains) is recorded in visual images and written accounts from the 14th century ('chars branlant' or rocking carriages), and was in widespread use by the 15th century. Carriages were largely used by royalty, aristocrats (and especially by women), and could be elaborately decorated and gilded. These carriages were on four wheels often and were pulled by two to four horses depending on how they were decorated (elaborate decoration with gold lining made the carriage heavier). Wood and iron were the primary requirements needed to build a carriage and carriages that were used by non-royalty were covered by plain leather. Another form of the carriage was the pageant wagon of the 14th century. Historians debate on the structure and size of pageant wagons however, they are generally miniature house-like structures that rest on four to six wheels depending on the size of the wagon. The pageant wagon is significant because up until the 14th century most carriages were on two or 3 wheels; the chariot, rocking carriage, and baby carriage are two examples of carriages which pre-date the pageant wagon. Historians also debate whether or not pageant wagons were built with pivotal axle systems, which allowed the wheels to turn. Whether it was a four or six wheel pageant wagon, most historians maintain that pivotal axle systems were implemented on pageant wagons because many roads were often winding with some sharp turns. Six wheel pageant wagons also represent another innovation in carriages; they were one of the first carriages to use multiple pivotal axles. Pivotal axles were used on the front set of wheels and the middle set of wheels. This allowed the horse to move freely and steer the carriage in accordance with the road or path.
One of the great innovations of the carriage was the invention of the suspended carriage or the chariot branlant (though whether this was a Roman or medieval innovation remains uncertain). The 'chariot branlant' of medieval illustrations was suspended by chains rather than leather straps as had been believed. Chains provided a smoother ride in the chariot branlant because the compartment no longer rested on the turning axles. In the 15th century, carriages were made lighter and needed only one horse to haul the carriage. This carriage was designed and innovated in Hungary. Both innovations appeared around the same time and historians believe that people began comparing the chariot branlant and the Hungarian light coach. However, the earliest illustrations of the Hungarian 'Kochi-wagon' do not indicate any suspension, and often the use of three horses in harness. Most importantly, the passengers were typically men and not women.
Under King Mathias Corvinus (1458–90), who enjoyed fast travel, the Hungarians developed fast road transport, and the town of Kocs between Budapest and Vienna became an important post-town, and gave its name to the new vehicle type. The Hungarian coach was highly praised because it was capable of holding 8 men, used light wheels, could be towed by only one horse (it may have been suspended by leather straps, but this is a topic of debate). Ultimately it was the Hungarian coach that generated a greater buzz of conversation than the chariot branlant of France because it was a much smoother ride. Henceforth, the Hungarian coach spread across Europe rather quickly, in part due to Ippolito d'Este of Ferrara (1479–1529), nephew of Mathias' queen Beatrix of Aragon, who as a very junior Archbishopric of Esztergom developed a liking of Hungarian riding and took his carriage and driver back to Italy. Around 1550 the 'coach' made its appearance throughout the major cities of Europe, and the new word entered the vocabulary of all their languages. However, the new 'coach' seems to have been a concept (fast road travel for men) as much as any particular type of vehicle, and there is no obvious change that accompanied the innovation. As it moved throughout Europe in the late 16th century, the coach’s body structure was ultimately changed, from a round-top to the 'four-poster' carriages that became standard by c.1600.
The coach had doors in the side, with an iron step protected by leather that became the 'boot' in which servants might ride. The driver sat on a seat at the front, and the most important occupant sat in the back facing forwards. The earliest coaches can be seen at Veste Coburg, Lisbon, and the Moscow Kremlin, and they become a commonplace in European art. It was not until the 17th century that further innovations with steel springs and glazing took place, and only in the 18th century, with better road surfaces, was there a major innovation with the introduction of the steel C-spring.
It was not until the 18th century that steering systems were truly improved. Erasmus Darwin was a young English doctor who was driving a carriage about 10,000 miles a year to visit patients all over England. Darwin found two essential problems or shortcomings of the commonly used light carriage or Hungarian carriage. First, the front wheels were turned by a rotating front axle, which had been used for years, but these wheels were often quite small and hence the rider, carriage and horse felt the brunt of every bump on the road. Secondly, he recognized the danger of overturning.
A rotating frontal axle changes a carriage’s base from a rectangle to a triangle because the wheel on the inside of the turn is able to turn more sharply than the outside front wheel. Darwin proposed to fix these insufficiencies by proposing a principle in which the two front wheels turn about a centre that lies on the extended line of the back axle. Darwin argued that carriages would then be easier to pull and prevent carriages from overturning.
Carriage use in the U.S. came with the establishment of England’s thirteen colonies. Early colonial horse tracks quickly grew into roads especially as the colonists extended their territories southwest. Colonists began using carts as these roads and trading increased between the north and south. Eventually carriages or coaches were sought to transport goods as well as people. As in Europe, chariots, coaches and/or carriages were a mark of status. The tobacco planters of the South were some of the first Americans to use the carriage as a form of human transportation. As the tobacco farming industry grew in the southern colonies so did the frequency of carriages, coaches and wagons. Upon the turn of the 18th century wheeled vehicle use in the colonies was at an all time high. Carriages, coaches and wagons were being taxed based on the number of wheels they had. These taxes were implemented in the South primarily as the South had superior numbers of horses and wheeled vehicles when compared to the North. Still, when comparing the colonies to the Europeans; Europe still used carriage transportation far more often and on a much larger scale than anywhere else in the world.
Carriages and coaches began to disappear as use of steam propulsion began to generate more and more interest and research. Steam power quickly won the battle against animal power as is evident by a newspaper article written in England in 1895 entitled “Horseflesh vs. Steam”. The article highlights the death of the carriage as the means of transportation.
The most complete working collection of carriages can be seen at the Royal Mews in London where a large selection of vehicles is in regular use. These are supported by a staff of liveried coachmen, footmen and postillions. The horses earn their keep by supporting the work of the Royal Household, particularly during ceremonial events. Horses pulling a large carriage known as a "covered brake" collect the Yeoman of the Guard in their distinctive red uniforms from St James’s Palace for Investitures at Buckingham Palace; High Commissioners or Ambassadors are driven to their Audiences with The Queen in Landaus; visiting Heads of State are transported to and from official arrival ceremonies and members of the Royal Family are driven in Royal Mews coaches during Trooping the Colour, the Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle and carriage processions at the beginning of each day of Royal Ascot.
An almost bewildering variety of horse-drawn carriages existed. Arthur Ingram's Horse Drawn Vehicles since 1760 in Colour lists 325 types with a short description of each. By the early 19th century one's choice of carriage was only in part based on practicality and performance; it was also a status statement and subject to changing fashions.