I generally send my characters on journeys without too much drama, and I know what sort of speeds they can make, according to how they choose to travel. I find there are equivalents today which make some sense of travel in the past, and I'll share some lower down.
I'm thinking about this now because I my MIP (Masterpiece/mess/monster in progress) demanded that I find out more about curricles.
My hero and heroine set out in one in an urgent journey and I wanted someone to be able to nobble it at a coaching inn. Of course cutting the reins is an obvious one, but I reckon replacement reins or a substitute would be available. So I went into serious research. I found out a lot, including this illustration. It's from an 1880s book, so the fifty years ago puts it in the Regency.
It shows how very fragile a vehicle a curricle usually was. The lined bit above the wheel is the hood that could be raised against weather. The driver's seat, with space for one other, is thereabouts. The seat at the back is for the groom, sometimes called a tiger.
People in the past didn't travel as much as we do today, because travel was difficult and/or expensive, but they didn't always stay at home, either. It was no big deal to walk, even hundreds of miles. I read an autobiography of a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and when he went home, he walked. When he and his wife moved, they walked. It was completely normal for them. People regularly walked from village to village. Street hawkers in London walked out into the country to get flowers, herbs and such, then walked back into the city to sell them on the streets. All in a day's work.
I don't know for sure, but I assume they walked along the excellent network of public footpaths which still criss-cross England. If necessary they would walk along the quieter roads, but even there traffic would be a problem. I don't suppose they walked the major highways such as the Bath Road, the Brighton Road, or the Great North Road. That would have been as crazy as walking a motorway today. (The equivalent is probably an Interstate highway in the US, and North America generally lacks footpaths away from the roads.)
What other options did they have?
Wagon travel was cheap. It went at walking pace, but was good for those unable to walk long distances, such as children and the elderly. One interesting thing about wagons is that if their wheels were of a specified width or more (consider the wheels in the illustration) they were paid a certain amount per mile by the authorities, because the wide wheels acted like rollers to keep the roads smooth.
explained to me years ago by someone who asked, "Would you rather travel a hundred miles on a motorbike or in a car?" Some enthusiasts love to travel by motorbike, but even most bike owners would choose car for a long journey.
What about speed? I also thought riding would be faster, but unless there are regular changes of horse along the way, the horse would need plenty of breaks for rest, water and food, and so would the rider. The person in the coach can sleep on the way, but not the rider.
Lastly, there's the point about "luggage." I was also asked, "Do you prefer to carry a suitcase or pull it on wheels?" No contest! The same goes for a horse. It's much more efficient at pulling, even a carriage, than carrying on its back.
So away with the dashing gentleman setting off for Yorkshire on his fiery steed. If he wants to get there quickly, he'll travel by coach. He'll have options. A stage coach would be cheapest, especially if he rides outside. A mail coach, picture on the left) would be faster as it has to keep to its timetable and there's a limit on how many passengers it can take.
If he has money he'll travel post — ie changing horses every ten miles or so, each pair of horses being controlled by postilions. If speed matters, he'll probably hire a light post-chaise along with his first horses, but he could use his own carriage. He's unlikely to use his own horses for any distance because of the problems mentioned above. Horses need rest, water, and food.
In Too Dangerous for a Lady, the hero's friend, Beau Braydon, traveling in a curricle is an eccentricity.
"As Mark passed the rear of a string of inns, he looked for a quiet, out-of-the-way place and settled on the Roebuck. It
was too small to cater to public coaches or to tempt many who traveled in private ones. The only vehicle in sight was
a light sporting curricle, which no one would use for a longjourney, so the owner must be local."
“Good thing I’m driving myself,” Braydon said.
“Coach?” Mark asked with surprise.
“That was your rig I saw behind the inn? You drove from London in such a vehicle?”
“I’ve discovered I enjoy it now the toll roads are good."
Very eccentric, because my reading told me that true curricles are chancy vehicles. The light structure doesn't tolerate rough roads, and the distinctive curricle pole and harness, with the two horses abreast at the front, apparently doesn't cope well with any sort of uneveness in the road. If the horses are harnessed tightly and close then they can be injured by the pole dipping and juddering; if they're harnessed loosely all sorts of mayhem can ensue.
No wonder Kitty, in The Viscount Needs a Wife, (out soon, in April) was hesitant about traveling from her wedding to her new home in Braydon's curricle.
She halted outside the door. “A curricle?”
The two- wheeled vehicle waited, with a groom at the highbred horses’ heads. The groom was dressed in brown, red, and gold, to match the glossy paintwork. The vehicle looked so delicate, and she thought men mostly used them for racing.
“My luggage?” she asked. That thing looked as if it would be overloaded with three people.
“Has already gone ahead with Henry Oldswick. Do you mind an open carriage?”
“No, but I’ve never traveled in a curricle before.”
“Then I hope you enjoy the experience.” He handed her in, then passed Sillikin up to lie on the coach floor. He walked round and took his seat. “Are you warm enough? There’s a rug if you’d like it.”
“I have my cloak and muff,” she said, pulling the muff down to cover her gloved hands. “I hope we won’t go too
“Between here and the Abbey and on a country road?”
What a stupid thing to say. He’d think her an idiot.
In my research I found this useful book from 1796. A Treatise on Carriages: Comprehending Coaches, Chariots, Phaetons, Curricles, Gigs, Whiskies … Together with Their Proper Harness. In which the Fair Prices of Every Article are Accurately Stated, Volume 2. ( Volume 1 doesn't seem to be very informative.) I haven't even begun to get through it, but it lays out details for all types of carriages of the time, in more detail that I care to know. It's rather like a book about cars for the automobile-obsessed. My eyes glaze over! Consider this price list. I don't even know what most of the items are! BTW, a bridoon is a horse's bit: a small snaffle used in double bridles. I just looked that up.
Remember, the only reason I went digging so deep was because I needed to know how a curricle worked, and how it could be prevented from working quite simply and quickly, in a way that couldn't easily be fixed.
I found it! probably no one will care but me, but it I needed it to make sense.
You'll have to wait until 2017 to judge for yourself, and the book is as yet untitled.
Author Louise Allen has just added a lovely blog post about carriage accidents to her Jane Austen's London blog. Do check it out.
Do you have any knowledge to add?
Do you prefer the characters simply to get from A to M with as little fuss as possible, rather than have details?
Do you have a favourite traveling incident from a book?
Smooth journeys always!