Window Dressing!

Rose window 1Nicola here and today I’m talking about curtains. I think the topic popped into my mind when I was lying awake early this morning reflecting on the fact that now it’s lighter in the mornings, I’m going to need to get some thicker curtains to ensure I get my required eight hours sleep!  Either that or I could resort to what our ancestors did and have a curtained bed instead of curtains at the window (or both.) It fascinates me to think that we are still using a way of keeping light out and warmth in that was invented hundreds of years ago.

Windows have perhaps entered our consciousness more because of lockdown. We’ve been spending more time looking out of them at the world outside than we might normally do. Often this view is framed by a blind or a curtain or a shutter, some sort of covering that offers privacy and keeps light and draughts out.

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Out for a Drive

High perch cartoonNicola here, fresh back from a trip to North Devon and the National Carriage Museum at Arlington Court. I’ve always wanted to visit the carriage museum because although I have read a lot about 18th and 19th century carriages, and seen lots of pictures, nothing compares with the experience of seeing a carriage or riding in one. The other reason I wanted to go to Arlington is because of the connection to Ashdown House, as the Craven State Chariot is one of the stars of their collection. So here, for those of you who also have a love of elegant carriages (and fast cars!) is a quick run down of the main types of early to mid 19th century carriage in the collection and how they compare to today’s vehicles, with thanks to the National Trust at Arlington for providing me with extra information and photos. If you want to see larger versions of the pictures you can click on them for a bigger image.

The state coach or state chariot

At the top of the pile as far as carriages were concerned was the state coach or state chariot. This was
Rolls royce used only by the nobility. Frank Huggett in Carriages at Eight comments that in the 19th century, wealthy aristocrats needed seven or eight carriages to preserve their distinction from the rising middle class and provide a suitable carriage for every aspect of their social life.
The state coach was used for important occasions such as the state opening of parliament or society weddings and grand occasions. This is the equivalent of the Rolls Royce with chauffeur.

The state coach could carry four passengers in the body, the chariot two. These coaches would be pulled by a pair of horses and driven by a coachman. Two footmen would stand on the footman’s
Craven State carriagecushion, the padded platform behind the body of the coach. A state coach or chariot would have exceptionally fine decoration. The Craven chariot (pictured), for example, has silver-plated axle caps, a
silver plated family crest and other carriage “furniture.” It also has a
Carriage detail sumptuous blue damask interior. For formal occasions the coachman wore full livery with powdered wig, tricorn hat, braided livery coat, white plush breeches, white silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes. The footmen wore similar livery except that they wore bicorn or cocked hats. The Cravens also had the ultimate carriage decoration of “matching footmen,” identical twins who rode on the back. The footmen carried silver topped staves known as wands, which were used to keep the crowds at bay. They were expected to keep completely motionless except when needed for crowd control!
The Craven state chariot was absolutely gorgeous inside, the last word in elegance and comfort. That said it was also very cosy. I had imagined that there would be more space. However if one wanted an intimate chat on the way to the state opening of parliament then it would be just the thing!

The Barouche

Barouche2The barouche was the equivalent of the family car, albeit a very plush family car. The barouche could hold four passengers and it is mentioned a number of times in the writing of Jane Austen as the type of vehicle owned by a rich family – the Bertrams of Mansfield Park, for example. It was something to aspire to. Mrs John Dashwood hankered after one in Sense and Sensibility.
Originally known as German Wagons because they were first made in Germany, the early barouches were heavy vehicles. They were also the ultimate in elegance and the chosen vehicle in which to show off in the park.

On a more practical note, though, a travelling barouche was very comfortable for those long journeys
Antrobus travelling chariot between your country estates or even abroad. The travelling barouches needed to be sturdier than the town ones. It could be coachman or postillion-driven and required four horses, with the horses and postillions hired at the inns en route. The team would be changed every ten to twelve miles. If you used postillions they would ride the two nearside horses and a footman rode on the hind boot – the rumble seat – and it was his responsibility to apply the brake when travelling down hill. It was in a travelling barouche or travelling chariot that the young sprigs of nobility made the Grand Tour of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Antrobus interiorThis particular travelling chariot (above) belonged to Gibbs Crawford Antrobus who used it in his career as a diplomat. He was a junior secretary under Lord Castelreagh at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 and subsequently Envoy Extraordinary and State Plenipotentiary for George IV to the kingdom of the two Sicilies. Isn't it gorgeously plush inside!

Many travelling barouches contained a “dormeuse boot” (which my auto correct
Dormeuse changed to dormouse boot) with panels inside the coach that would fold down to allow the passengers to stretch their legs at full length in order to sleep (see picture on the right). Even so
it looked pretty cramped and I wouldn’t have fancied trying to sleep in it.

Sword holderOne of the details that I loved
in the travelling chariot was the sword case that was built into the back of the coach and accessible only from inside, a necessary precaution when one was travelling through uncharted or bandit ridden countryside!(pictured).

 The Phaeton

The phaeton was a four-wheeled carriage driven by the owner and never by their
professional coachman. It could be drawn by two or four horses and given its relatively small size I imagine it would be pretty fast with four. The high perch
Phaeton 1 phaeton was very popular at the end of the 18th century and is mentioned a lot in the books of Georgette Heyer, for example, as a fast and fashionable carriage for young men to drive and show off in. However as you get into the 19th century the phaeton became lower, safer and more practical. Lady Catherine De Bourgh drove her own phaeton in Pride and Prejudice. There were bigger, tougher versions of the phaeton that were for the country sportsman rather than for town driving. The Mail Phaeton (so called because it used the same springs that a mail coach did) was built for country driving and was the vehicle of choice of the sporting gentleman – a Land Rover equivalent or SUV.

The name phaeton, is of course derived from Greek mythology, named for Phaeton the son of Helios, the Sun God, who drove his father’s chariot. The horses bolted and almost set fire to the earth before they were stopped, a rather neat metaphor for some of the driving we would surely have seen on the Regency streets had we been there!

The Curricle

FerrariAh, the curricle! The racing car equivalent of the Regency period! There are no curricles in the collection at Arlington, perhaps because they were so light, fast and fashionable that they did not survive. Elegant and with a skeletal structure, curricles were drawn by a pair of horses, the aim being to show off your driving skills and your perfectly matched horses.

One thing I especially loved about Arlington was that it is still a working stables. You can go into the tack room and smell the leather of the harness and watch the carriage horses at work, or take a drive around the estate. You can even take carriage-driving lessons if you really want to get hands on experience.

I hope you have enjoyed this canter through the Arlington carriage collection. For more details on carriage interiors and decoration, check out the excellent blog post by Lesley-Anne McLeod here and to see the Arlington collection click here.

Do you fancy driving your own Regency phaeton or curricle, or would you prefer to travel in a coachman-driven carriage? What about travelling long distances with a dormeuse boot to sleep in? And have you enjoyed any historical romances that feature road trips or fast carriages?

Ways of keeping warm in the Regency Period

SnowAs the wind whistled in from the Arctic this week and I
added another layer of thermals I started to wonder what it must have been like
trying to keep warm in the days before there was efficient heating. I love
gorgeous old stately homes but those high ceilings and large rooms must have
been impossible to keep warm in the winter. Like my little country cottage, the
old houses were also cursed with ill-fitting windows and doors, and wicked
little draughts that spring up from nowhere to chill your ankles. In the days
before central heating I imagine people needed to be very imaginative to find
ways to keep warm.


The wood burning stove in our living room is the hub of the
house at times like this and I imagine that
Open fire the vast open fires in old houses
served the same purpose in the past, with people huddled around them. In my
last house, built in the 17th century, the inglenook fireplace was
so vast it took up half of one wall and contained a bread oven as well as a
grate. An open fire is special. It provides heat, light and comfort with the
warmth, extremely important when the rest of the house might be so cold that
ice would form on the inside of the windows.

I do remember that with a big open fire it’s possible to
have a very warm body but a cold head! Of course ladies in the Regency would
actually use a fire screen – a decorated panel on a pole – to protect their
complexions from the direct heat of the fire. Larger room screens partitioned
off warmer parts of a hall or sitting room and kept out the draughts.

Wing chairSimilarly those gorgeous wing chairs weren’t just designed
in that style for the fun of it. The high back and sides are great for keeping
out the cold. In humbler cottages wooden high back chairs served a similar
purpose. You piled them high with cushions for a very cosy seat.


Like me with my four layers of thermals, the savvy Regency
person would not wear a thin muslin dress in freezing cold weather but would layer
on a lot of clothes. Linen, cotton, wool and fur were popular with huge muffs
for ladies to wear. The heroine of my current book comments that in the
Scottish winter she was seen carrying such a huge fur muff that it gave rise to
reports that she was hiding a family of orphans inside it. Sailors on the
Arctic expeditions of the early 19th century wore coachmen’s great
coats in a vain attempt to keep out the cold.

Then there were the petticoats.
Four or five were in no way unreasonable, with socks, stockings, shawls,
gloves, caps and hats. If one was travelling on the outside of the stagecoach
every one of these layers would prove necessary in the winter and even then you
were risking death from exposure.

Keeping the feet warm

There is a school of thought that says that if you keep the
feet warm the rest of the body will follow.
Warming pan Regency footwear for women was
pretty flimsy and even the leather half boot wouldn’t necessarily keep you warm
and dry. For men the standard outdoor footwear was the riding boot, which was
considerably more hard wearing.

Carriages were not heated, so a hot brick to keep your feet
warm was essential. These would be heated up in a stove, wrapped in flannel and
could then retain their warmth for quite a while, particularly if insulated
under layers of travelling rugs.

And so to bed

The great bed of wareThese days the four poster bed is the height of luxury but
in Regency times a tester bed or four poster with thick bed hangings was a must
to keep the warmth in and the draughts out.

The earliest type of hot water bottle was the warming pan,
which dates back to the 16th century. A metal pan, it contained the
embers of the fire, and had a long handle so that it could be moved across the
bed to heat up those chilly corners! These were pretty dangerous if left in the
bed for too long since they could set it on fire, providing rather more heat than one actually wanted.

Large stone wear hot water bottles were safer. These were
also known as foot warmers. They followed the same principle as today’s hot
water bottles; they were filled with near boiling water, sealed and placed in
the bed.

If all else failed you could always go for shared bodily
warmth! You could also sleep in the same space as your animals. In many
Angus 1 cottages this is exactly what
happened; the one room housed both people and their animals. At Ashdown House
some of the servants’ quarters were above the stables. Apparently it was quite
cosy with the heat rising from the horses. And a dog or cat on the bed is as warm as a hot water bottle. More than
one of my heroines has let their pet sleep on their bed for warmth and one of
my relatives came across this on a recent stay at a castle in Ireland where the
hostess offered all the visitors a dog to keep them warm.

What about you? Do you think you could have survived a
Regency winter? What is your favourite way of keeping warm in a cold climate?

Transports of Delight!

Nicola wenchmark Nicola here! I have a manuscript to get to my editor today (eek!) and so I hope you will forgive me for dusting down and updating a blog piece I wrote a few years ago for a different blog.

The book I’m sending in today is called Desired and it is the fifth book in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. There has been a strong theme of travel throughout the series – in Whisper of Scandal the heroine travels to the Arctic on a ship, and in One Wicked Sin the hero and heroine escape in a balloon. (I had wanted them to escape on a canal barge but I thought it might be a bit slow!) Desired contains a great deal of travel in and around London, a sort of early sightseeing tour. What with all this jaunting around, plus the marvelous array of state carriages that featured at the recent Royal Wedding, I thought it might be nice to talk a little about coaches and horses. (Actually I thought the horses totally stole the show at the Royal Wedding. They were magnificent!) 

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to go to an illustrated talk about the Wedding horses history of carriages, given by Colin Henderson, who had been the Queen’s Head Coachman. Not only did he have some wonderful anecdotes about the Golden Jubilee but he had also worked as a riding specialist and stuntman on a number of films and included the role of highwayman on his CV! He gave us a brisk trot through the early history and background of carriages – the word coach, for instance, comes from the Hungarian Kote – but it was when we got onto the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that my note-taking went into overdrive because he had so many fascinating little details that I had never read in the books.

After explaining to us the difference between “the leaders” – the leading pair of horses – and the Postilion's uniform “wheelers,” the two closest to the carriage, he told us that to ride postilion meant riding one of the front horses and leading the other. This was a hazardous enterprise as it meant that one of your legs was between the two horses and was in danger of being crushed. Postilions wore a steel leg guard to protect them in this position. Here is a Russian postilion's uniform from 1825.

The provision of lighting on both the inside and outside of carriages has always Mail coach interested me so I asked if there was any illumination inside and was surprised to learn that there were candle-lamps inside a carriage as well as out. The smoke apparently made a mess of the upholstery! I had not quite appreciated what a hazardous business traveling at night could be, especially on the Mail Coach. The external lights carried no further than the first horse so you could not see the road ahead at all. Coachmen had to have extremely keen hearing to listen for the sound of approaching hooves. Since the mail carriages traveled at up to 10mph and some coachmen accelerated down the hills in order to gain momentum and make up time, the possibility of running into the back – or front – of another coach or hay wagon was very strong! I was also fascinated to hear that the coaches changed horses on average every 10 to 12 miles, or 15 on the flat, and that a change of horses took only 2 minutes, rather like changing the tires on a racing car! Mail Coaches were numbered like buses are now and 16 hands was the largest horse that could be used to pull a three and a half ton Mail Coach because anything taller didn’t fit under the coachman’s footboard. The picture is the Glasgow to London mail coach. Love the red livery!

There were also some fascinating facts about the Grand Tour. The Duke of Beaufort’s traveling carriage was decorated in Regency stripe and had secret lockers under the floor for his valuables. It was rather like a caravan; the cushions folded down to create a full-length bed! Other luxurious touches included silk-lined steps, which were folded up inside the carriage to protect them.

I enjoyed learning the derivation of a few other coaching-inspired words as well – the “fore-gone” was the carriage that you sent on a day ahead with your servants, linen and silver, so that when you arrived, everything was prepared (or concluded!) The phrase “cheerio” originally comes from calling for a sedan chair – chair ho!

Craven State carriage This picture is the Craven State Carriage, a Victorian coach said to rival in magnificence Queen Victoria’s royal carriage. It is painted with seven coats of yellow paint, the most expensive color used for livery. Queen Victoria would not have been amused to be outshone! My favorite anecdote from the Victorian period was that the footboards on ladies’ carriages were enormous because it was thought indelicate that a lady should have to sit looking at the horse’s posterior!

I hope you have enjoyed this quick gallop through a few coaching Notorious_350 anecdotes. What historical mode of transport would you choose for traveling? Would you like to drive a curricle or arrive in style in the Queen’s State Landau? I’m offering an advance copy of my next Scandalous Women of the Ton book, Notorious, to one commenter!