Monday, 30 October 2017

Ladies Riding in Regency era.

Why did ladies rarely ride a horse in Hyde Park/other parks during the Georgian/Regency?

Namely keeping horses in London was cripplingly expensive unless they were in constant use as carriage teams. Most driving horses were ride/drive trained for riding astride by postilions and or grooms in times of need, exercise, shoeing et al. Secondly, leisure riding horses were somewhat scarce on the streets due to differing wars, in particular the Peninsular Wars, which greatly affected the years running up to and during the 9 yrs of The Regency. Basically it was equally expensive to keep more than one working horse at this time and one had to be remarkably wealthy to purchase "one" let alone keep it in peak condition for all eventualities. 


Devonshire House

Few houses, barring the Duke of Devonshire and a few notables had private mews stabling. Secondly ladies side saddles were made to order to fit the ladies seat and length of upper leg (vital) for excellent balance/seat, one couldn't simply leap to a side saddle - a task not impossible from the ground with modern side saddle apron and jodhpurs, but damn near impossible in full riding attire of times past, hence a block, or serious assistance was required to mount one's horse. 

Saddle circa 1800s
Notice the left knee grip turns upward, unlike modern day side saddles. 

More modern side saddle

Aside from that, taking a ride in Hyde Park was all about one's "equipage" meaning the quality of one's carriage and horses. Though it is to be noted mounted cavalry officers/soldiers oft rode in the parks, hence romantic encounters with ladies out walking or riding around in carriages! 

Also there was a turnpike, in other words, one had to pay to gain access to Rotten Row,  to enter Hyde Park. 

The earlier Old King’s Road became the Hyde Park bridle path, which in turn became the renowned Rotten Row. Hence strict rules were applied to RR. All horses and carriages were required to abide to walk or trot. No reckless driving or riding was acceptable, given that many vehicles, high-perch curricles and High Perch Phaetons - in particular - were prone to topple over if carelessly driven at excess speeds. 

Specific areas of Hyde Park itself were set aside from the pedestrian walking paths and driving route, so that riders could partake of a canter or two. Albeit horses could be exercised along Rotten Row very early of morn by grooms and stable hands, horses led in hand by mounted grooms thus banned, which prevented ostlers at inns and jobbing handlers from exercising 1-2 horses in hand whilst mounted. 

Dress code and turnout was of prime importance and expected high standards were thus met by the rules. So who enforced the rules?          

Rotten Row 

High Perch Phaeton

High Perch Curricle

People, even the aristocracy, walked for leisure far more than we do today. And despite the general filth of narrow alleyways in the days when Gardy loo was bawled from overhead windows seconds before a chamber pot or other was emptied to the ground below, by the later Georgian period the greater thoroughfares/streets of London and Bath/other were regularly cleaned by dung boys with hand carts who collected droppings and sold them to gardeners at houses and to the larger gardens/grounds of Vauxhall et al for grand flower beds. Were the boys orphans exploited by unscrupulous orphanage or little businessmen in their own rights and supplementing a poor household? A story in there methinks...

Notice the old open sewer/drain running through the middle of the street/alleyway. Notice also the beginnings of roof drainage (shootings) and tap/sink drain pipes appearing on the facades of houses during the Regency. The Duke of Wellington was one of first to have a heating system and supply of hot water taps to sinks and baths. 

But sadly, the Thames remained the greatest stench source, as did the remaining open sewers/drains yet to be included into underground sewers.Hence sedan chairs were still in use in London and other cities for getting around places where shoes could be ruined/soiled with foul effluent. So be a tad wary in having a female character who rides, leaps off her horse and mounts at will without assistance of a strong groom or mounting block of sorts.

Victorian Print 

Believe it, putting a left foot to stirrup and then having to cross the right leg between horse and rider to achieve the correct position of right leg to upper pommel/horn of a side saddle is a dangerous manoeuvre and utterly impossible with full flowing skirts. One would have to display a vast amount of leg, not to mention skirts in a dreadful mess and impossible to untangle.

Jumping side saddle is safer than it looks - though it requires greater skill to keep one's balance in a saddle made in the 1700s and 1800s. Due to the shape of the lower pommel/horn.  

See modern apron and position of legs in jodhpurs within above pic being that of a Western ride side saddle. 
The extra foot support is not on any of my English saddles as a the jumping pic shows.

As an aside, it wasn't until Victorian times when stables hiring out "hacks" came into full swing, and ladies too could hire a horse and escort (groom) - a safety measure in case of mishaps. Hacks being the term for hired horse as were Hackney cabs/carriages. 

This particular design became a regular sight in Victorian London, the drivers of black cabs as of today, having to undergo "The Knowledge" before they were licensed to operate a hired cab. The Knowledge entailed memorising routes and street names - basically knowing the ins and outs of London thoroughfares and its side streets.  
Earlier hackney carriages resembled 

Reportedly this one is a sketch 1823 - note it has draw curtains - a damn weird contraption.

Before in earlier times cabs were strangely less basic more a Brougham in design, each carriage company with it's own style. Private hire company carriages were commonly called "Drags".

A little reminder - The first Hansom cab travelled down Coventry Road in Hinckley in 1835, similarly the Brougham was designed in 1835 based on an earlier short wheel base carriage pretty much identical barring Lord Brougham laid claim to its design and manufacture - both the former were unknown in the Regency era and prior Georgian period. The first pic is a Hansom Cab, a Victorian pre-runner to black cabs of the mechanical age. During the Regency era, cabs were referred to as "Drags" which were for hire (private hire companies) or sold as private carriages, the carriages varied in size from two-seat to four seat drawn by 1-2 or four-in-hand for full size coach. The most popular Regency drag was a post chaise, being fast with two horses in harness.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation on the Interrnet re carriages and carriage hire companies = modern myths. 

In 1829 a two-seat, two-wheeled carriage called a “cabriole” was brought from France by Monsieur le Compte d'Orsay who returned to England from France (previous brief visit) with Countess Blessington, his cabriole was so admired for its speed everyone wanted one, not least the Hackney Carriage Company who immediately copied its design and began production of a similar structure. The word “cab” was derived from and referred only to this particular vehicle as its popularity grew with Drag hire companies- thus it was a slang word used by ostlers and coachmen, whilst Drag remained the official term for a private hire vehicles operating out of Drag Yards.

Horse Guiders/Horse Guilders all members of the Guild of Coachmen was established in 1654 when Oliver Cromwell ordered regulation and uniformity of carriage hire. Now known as The Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers. But back to earlier times, river taxis referred to as a "wherry" had been the most popular form of transport in London due to the narrow streets throughout right up to the Restoration (Charles II) until the Great Fire of London 1666. With the rebuild came wider streets, and yet Sedan Chairs reached peak popularity in Georgian England due to narrow passages, alleyways, and fouled streets. Hackney carriages and Sedan chairs had been operating around London since 1643 and working out of Hackney (hence the name). The first Taxi ranks of the Regency era were called Hackney-Lines, and during the reign of William IV Hackney Cabs (short for cabriole) became the "black cab" of the day and thereafter.

Last but not least, the Sedan Chair which could lay claim as having the longest life of all in terms of use worldwide, though at its most fashionable in England from the late 17th century through to The Regency 19th century.  Its decline was rapid around the 1820s as horse breeders were once again selling horses for private use, and with the coming of the first steam engines and railways, thus the carriage and mail coaches suffered the same rapid decline as the Industrial Revolution stepped up a gear with steam driven machinery in all walks of industrial life. Sadly the country suffered for modernisation as city smogs became far more potent than they had been before, grime on houses and streets changing the face of beautiful buildings to black encrusted edifices to modernisation. Not until the mid 20th century did the big clean up begin with high pressure sand and water cleansers to bring once magnificent building back to the former glory, which continues to this day with restoration projects!            

Captain Gronow snippit:  Of the Park that, as lately as 1815, it looked a part of the country. Under the trees grazed not only cows, but deer, and the paths across it were few and far between. As you gazed from an eminence, no rows of monotonous houses reminded you of the vicinity of a large city, and its atmosphere was then "much more like what God made it than the hazy, grey, coal-darkened halftwilight of the London of to-day. The company, which then congregated daily about five, was composed of dandies and women in the best society; the men mounted on such horses as England alone could then produce. The dandy's dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top-boots; and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing.

"Many of the ladies used to drive into the Park in a carriage called a vis-à-vis, which held only two persons. The hammer-cloth rich in heraldic designs, the powdered footmen in smart liveries, and a coachman who assumed all the gravity and appearance of a wigged archbishop, were indispensable. 

The carriage company consisted of the most celebrated beauties, amongst whom were conspicuous the Duchesses of Rutland, Argyle, Gordon, and Bedford; Ladies Cowper, Foley, Heathcote, Louisa Lambton, Hertford, and Mountjoy. The most conspicuous horsemen were the Prince Regent, always accompanied by Sir Benjamin Bloomfield; the Duke of York, and his old friend, Warwick Lake; the Duke of Dorset on his white horse, the Marquis of Anglesey with his lovely daughters, Lord Harrowby and the Ladies Ryder, the Earl of Sefton and the Ladies Molyneux, and the eccentric Earl of Morton on his long-tailed grey. 

In those days 'pretty horsebreakers' would not have dared to show themselves in Hyde Park; nor did you see any of the lower or middle classes of London society intruding themselves into regions which, by a sort of tacit understanding, were then given up exclusively to persons of rank and fashion. Such was the Park and the 'Row' little more than half a century ago.

The equipages were generally much more gorgeous than at a later period, when democracy invaded the Park and introduced shabbygenteel carriages and servants.

If you enjoy novels and novellas with heroines who ride, you may enjoy Lady Louise de Winter

One grave transgression in her past and Lady Louise de Winter, has accepted all hope for love and romance is but a dream she dare not embrace. Aware her semi-closeted existence on the Harcourt Estate is no more, and a substantial inheritance awaits her pleasure, her friend Count Casarotto suddenly brings his personal troubles to her door and seeks sanctuary. Worse, pursued by officers of his majesty’s regiment of horse, Louise endeavours to conceal his presence despite qualms as to his innocence. What is more, devastatingly attracted to the senior officer, Louise battles to retain sense of propriety as burning desire within takes hold. But despite Major Fitzwilliam’s reassurance he cares not a jot about her past, the truth remains she is not as other young would-be brides. Therefore, dare she give her heart into his care?

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