Before the car came along in the 1880s and spoilt everything, land-based transport was always centered around the horse and the various things that it pulled along behind it. Everyone will probably now take a long, tired yawn…go on…it’ll energise your brain for the task ahead: Four pages about the horse and cart.
Horse-drawn transport was a lot more varied than most people would think. Horse-drawn vehicles came in as many varieties as our cars do today. They performed different functions, they could travel at different speeds and they were painted different colours, as well.
So, what were some of the more common types of horse-drawn vehicles that existed during the 18th and 19th centuries?
The Horse and Cart
Duuuuuh!! Yes, the humble horse and cart. A two or four-wheeled wooden vehicle pulled by a single horse: Handy, unluxurious and as interesting as a clump of dirt. Let’s skip this, shall we?
The Dog Cart
The dog-cart was one of the simplest vehicles you could ever find. They could transport two to four people, and a small amount of luggage and were typically pulled by one to two horses. They recieved their name because they were originally used to transport hunting-dogs when the masters of sprawling country estates went out hunting.
A trap was a simple, two-seater cart (say, for a husband and wife) which was pulled by one horse. Some traps were so small, they could even be pulled by ponies! Depending on their size, a trap may or may not have had space to carry luggage at the back.
The Barouche or the Caleche
A barouche, a carriage of German origin which was introduced into England in the 1760s, was a light, fast vehicle with only a small leather folding top at the back. Barouches were high off the ground and pulled by two horses. Barouches generally carried between two to four persons (dependent on the size and design of the carriage’s interior), not including the driver. The Caleche was an earlier version of the barouche, which also seated two to four passengers.
When most people think of horses and carriages, they probably think of something along the lines of a brougham, an enclosed carriage for four people with doors on the sides, comfortable seats and glass windows. Broughams were named after Baron Henry Brougham, an English nobleman who died in the 1860s. Broughams were four-wheeled vehicles with room for luggage on the roof. They were designed to be comfortable, discreet, private and fast. The driver sat on the driver’s box up the front and the carriage was pulled by two horses.
A royal coach with Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Phillip inside
The coach is probably the ultimate horse-drawn vehicle. They of course, varied in size, style and luxury, but they were commonly seen as the limosuines of their day. They were meant to be large, bold, spacious, luxurious and a show of the owner’s wealth and power. Coaches were lavishly furnished and decorated and very comfortable, often pulled by two or even four horses and transporting anywhere from four to six passengers, not including the footmen (usually two of them) and the driver, more commonly in this context called the coachman. Coachmen had to be particularly skilled with driving and handling horses since the four horses that pulled a coach along meant more reins for the driver to hold onto. The necktie knot known as the “four-in-hand” is believed to be adapted from the four-in-hand knot which coachmen tied with their reins so that all the reins for all four horses could be easily held and controlled with one hand.
Coaches often had carriage lamps on the front of the coach to light the way in the dark, since coaches were often used for long, long journeys, since they were one of the few vehicles capable of carrying large amounts of luggage. In the days before license-plates, the coaches of royalty or the aristocracy often had coats of arms colourfully painted on the carriage doors. Wealthy people who were unable to own coats of arms (they had to be specially issued and granted), had monograms painted on their carriage doors. These monograms and coats of arms identified the coach and its occupants and who its owners were.
Horse Drawn Service-Vehicles
Apart from the various kinds of private vehicles, before the motor car came along, there were also horse-drawn versions of emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, police-vans and ambulances…
A horse-drawn ambulance from 1908
A horse-drawn fire-engine from 1915. Many horse-drawn fire-engines of this era had steam-powered water-pumps onboard, which is what that big metal thing at the back is. Earlier fire-engines had manual pumps. You can’t see it in the photo, but then, just as now, fire-engines were painted bright red so that they could be easily recognised
Horse-drawn ambulances and fire-engines often had various markers on them, indicating that they were emergency vehicles: Red lanterns, crosses, bells and sirens, to name just a few.
Horse-Drawn Public Transport
The Hansom Safety Cab
Often just called a “Hansom”, the Hansom Safety Cab was introduced into the streets of London in the mid 1830s, where it was the main form of taxicab for the next roughly 100 years, until they were finally phased out in the 1920s and 30s with the widespread replacement by motorised taxicabs. The Hansom cab had space for two passengers (three, if you crammed them in good) and the driver. As you can see from the photo above, the driver sat at the back of the cab, instead of the front. His higher vantage point at the back of the cab gave the driver a clearer view of the road and better control of his vehicle; something that was very important in the congested and traffic-jammed streets of Victorian London.
The Hansom was called the “safety cab” because it could go fast, but it could take corners quickly but without fear of being involved in a rollover accident, due to its low center of gravity. Its high wheels kept the cab off the ground and allowed it to travel very fast. It was light enough that it could be pulled by one horse.
The Hackney Carriage
The Hackney carriage, coach or cab, also called the Four-Wheeler or more rudely, a “Growler”, was the larger of the two horse-drawn taxicabs that operated in the 19th century. The Hackney carriage could carry more passengers than the Hansom due to the larger size of its cabin and number of wheels. As the names suggest, the Hackney coach made a hell of a racket when it moved through the cobbled streets of Europe, earning itself the derrogatory title of the “Growler” due to the sound of the wheels bumping, scraping and grindng along the road.
“Omnibus” is a Latin word meaning “For all”. These buses (yes, that’s what they are, horse-drawn buses!) were popular from the early 19th century until the early 20th century, when the first motorised buses took their place. Horse-drawn omnibuses were either one or two-decker buses pulled by a pair of horses along fixed omnibus lines within crowded cities, and they were an effective way to move large numbers of people quickly around a city along a predetermined and fixed route.