The Life of the Lady’s Maid

Forbidden_350Nicola here. The third series of Downton Abbey starts in the UK this week and so today I thought I would look at the role of the lady’s
maid. The lady’s maid has frequently had a bad press. Dramatists of the 18th
century portrayed her as a vain, twittering creature. Lower servants tended to
dislike the lady’s maid, partly for her affectations to gentility and partly
for the fact that she had the ear of the mistress of the house. Certainly in Downton Abbey Lady Grantham's maid O'Brien is a complicated and interesting creation who reflects many of these elements but has a few saving graces. However the
role of a lady’s maid was an exacting one.

 The maid of all work

 Margery, the heroine of my latest book, Forbidden, was a
lady’s maid when her life was turned upside down with a sudden and unexpected
inheritance. It was interesting to study the sort of work Margery did and the
way her life had progressed up until that point in order to see how
dramatically it would change with her elevation to the Ton.

Margery’s story is fictitious, of course, but it is based on
the kind of life any number of women might
Laundry duty have had in service at the turn of
the 19th century. She started her working career at the age of
twelve as a maid of all work in a modest household in a small country town.
(Her back story is given in an earlier book in the Scandalous Women of the Ton
series, One Wicked Sin.) Her employer, Mrs Goodlake, was the wife of a
successful tradesman. As such Mrs Goodlake had a small staff, much smaller than
one would find in a grand country house. Rather than having a specific
function, such as scullery maid or housemaid, Margery had to turn her hand to
most jobs, from working in the kitchens to carrying the water up to the
bedrooms. These “general maids” played the part of housemaid, parlour maid and
cook as the need arose. Whilst a nobleman and his family might employ twenty or
more indoor servants (there were, for example, twenty eight indoor servants at
Ashdown House in the Regency period) a gentry or middle class household might
be able to afford only two or three.

The fact the Margery could turn her hand to anything came in
useful when she went to work for Lottie in One Wicked Sin. Lottie had a small
cottage and only one female servant to answer the door, do the cooking and take
care of just about everything else. Margery performed much the same role for
Susanna in Notorious. The benefit of such a role was that she became close to
her employers and was warmly appreciated, as much a friend as an employee. It
was through the connections of these ladies that Margery progressed in her
career because next she went to be lady’s maid to the Marchioness of Darent and
then to Lady Grant and so became a senior servant in a large household at the tender
age of only twenty three, with the potential to become a housekeeper in good
time. This was a huge leap for maid-of-all-work.

The Senior Servant

The lady's maidA lady’s maid was a personal servant and as such was senior,
highly-prized and comparatively well paid. One of the perks of being a lady’s maid was that you received your mistress’s cast off clothes to wear or sell as you pleased (which gave Margery the original idea for exchanging her confectionery for cast offs in the bawdy house.) A noblewoman of the highest rank
might in fact possess several personal servants. In 1772 the Duchess of Marlborough had a lady’s maid, three housemaids, two footmen and a male French
hairdresser in her personal entourage. The hairdresser was very skilled and
earned £42 per annum, almost at the top of the servant pecking order, but more modest households than Blenheim Palace would expect the lady's maid to pick up the hairdressing responsibilities. 

So what were the requirements of a good lady’s maid? She had
to be discreet, cheerful, obedient, healthy enough to be able to work long
hours, considerate enough not to fall asleep on her employer in the carriage,
virtuous enough to withstand the attention of male servants, honest enough to
care for the jewellery, educated enough to read to her mistress, and have an expert
knowledge of needlework, hairdressing and fashion. In return she would be rewarded with a room of her
own, she would take her meals with the housekeeper and in a superior household
she would be expected to attend only one lady. 

Contemporary opinions on the nationality of lady’s maids are
very amusing. French maids were considered to be the height of chic for their
fashion sense and their skill with a needle and comb. However in times of war
they were a liability in case their loyalties were compromised. Swiss maids
were considered safer and more trustworthy but were criticised for lacking

The lady’s maid had to dress, undress and re-dress her
mistress as many times as was necessary during
Tight_lacing the day. She would lay out her
mistress’s clothes in the morning and tidy the room after the mistress was
dressed. She would then occupy her day with sewing and ironing unless required
to accompany her mistress on an outing. She repeated these activities during
the day as required until it was time for her mistress to retire to bed,
whereupon she would brush her hair for a half hour as well as help her undress.
It doesn’t sound very exciting unless one was maid to a lady who travelled a
great deal, in which case you would get to see the world.

One aspect of the maid’s work that did sound rather more
interesting was the creation of various concoctions to help a lady with
problems such as freckles and sunburn. These potions would be made in the
stillroom using anything from herbs such as lavender and rosemary to milk,
lemons, lard and bullocks’ gall, which the housemaids also used to clean

A lady dressingA rather sad reflection on the role of the lady’s maid comes
from one contemporary writer: “Your elevation into comfort and luxury – your
better clothes, your seat in the dressing room and in your master’s carriage –
are only circumstances in your service and are not given to you to last…” It is
a clear indication that as a lady’s maid got older not all could rely on the
loyalty of their mistress in keeping them at her side.

Some lady’s maids did become housekeepers but this was not common
and it was a promotion resented by the housemaids who felt that they had more
appropriate experience. Some also married above their station but again they
were warned on the dangers and temptations: “If you have any personal
attractions, beware of the least familiarity with any of the gentlemen of the
family. Anything of the kind will lead to improper consequences.”

AbigailI have collected a pretty extensive collection of books
about life below stairs and it was fun to be able to draw on this for the
background to Forbidden. It was such a different world from that of high
society and to explore it gives a very different perspective of Regency
society. It also emphasises how different life was with servants in the sense that there was a lack of privacy that was taken for granted at the time whereas these days many of us would shudder at the thought of a personal maid who had so much intimate knowledge about persons and our lives! I think I would much prefer to have been an outdoor servant (if only they had employed women gardeners) or perhaps the stillroom maid!

Do you think you would you have enjoyed any of the roles in the Servants' Hall? Do you have the skills – or the patience – to ba a lady's maid? Would you have preferred living in a large aristocratic household or a small one?

Forbidden: The Last Scandalous Woman of the Ton!

Forbidden - USNicola here! Tomorrow sees the official publication of Forbidden, the
last in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series (although the book has been
sighted online and in various retailers already!) It’s been huge fun to write
this series and I can’t quite believe that it’s over. I started with the idea –
inspired by my research – that during the Regency period there were many women
doing extraordinary and exciting things such as travelling and working for a
living which would also have been considered scandalous at the time. I also
threw in some more “conventional” scandals – a heroine who had been divorced
and now, in this final book, a pretender.

The Tichborne Claimant

There have been pretenders to titles for as long
as there have been titles. There have been pretenders
Orton (1) to thrones: Perkin
Warbeck, who claimed to be (and may well have been) Richard Plantagenet the
younger son of King Edward IV. One of my favourite books, Brat Farrar by
Josephine Tey, deals with a young man who claims to be the long lost son of a family who thought that he was dead. On Friday, Wench Jo blogged about
a different sort of pretender, Princess Caraboo. And there is the case of the
Tichborne claimant, which was the case that inspired me.

Roger Tichborne was born in 1829, the eldest son
of Sir James Tichborne. In 1854 the ship he was sailing on to the West Indies
foundered and it was presumed that all on board were lost. Roger was declared
dead and his younger brother inherited the title. Roger’s mother, however, was
certain that her son was still alive and placed advertisements in the national
and international press seeking information about her son. Eventually in 1866 a
man contacted Lady Tichborne from Australia, claiming to be Roger. He said that
he had been rescued from the wreck, taken to Australia, where he had become a
postman and a butcher. His story seemed very unlikely but was given credence by
the fact that Roger Tichborne had suffered from a genital malformation and so
did the claimant. Lady Tichborne was certain that he was her lost son.

“Roger” came to England with his wife and child and set out
to prove his case in the courts. In both a civil and subsequent criminal trial
he was identified not as Roger Tichborne but as Arthur Orton (pictured on the right) son of a ship’s
victualler from Wapping. You can read more about the case here. Roger/Arthur
ended up as a celebrity and a music hall act!

Would you like to win the lottery?

Cakes and pastriesIn Forbidden, Margery isn’t really a pretender to the
Earldom of Templemore because she never sets out to claim it for herself. It is
other people who identify her as the heir. In fact in the first twist to the
story Margery is actually pretty happy with her life as it stands – she may be
a maidservant but she is a senior one and she has plans to open a
confectioner’s shop when she has saved enough money. One of the ideas I enjoyed
playing with was that perhaps being the most sought-after heiress in the Ton
isn’t all a bed of roses. Some people have suggested to me that it’s unrealistic
that Margery wouldn’t be thrilled to discover she’s granddaughter to an Earl
but I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. To me it’s a similar thing to winning
the lottery. Yes, it would be great in some ways but it would change your life
completely and not all of that would necessarily be good. In Margery’s case as
well she had so much more freedom as a maidservant that she does as a
closely-chaperoned heiress. Suddenly she is a Regency celebrity, a Cause
Celebre, the heiress who has come back from the dead. It’s a huge shock to
someone who is a very private person, who has grown up in a close-knit family
which turns out not to be her family at all. I think that would be an enormous adjustment for anyone to make and there would be times when you would wish you
could just go back to the way things used to be.

 The Fairy Tale

Buscot HouseThere is also a fairy tale element in the transformation of
a maidservant into a Cinderella and I had a lot of fun with Margery’s new
wardrobe and all the other trappings of her new life. I gave her a beautiful
country house to live in, based on Buscot Park (in the picture) packed full of
priceless objects. Margery doesn’t care for it too much because it
feels like a mausoleum to her. There’s a twist in the fairy tale, though: in
becoming the heiress, Margery displaces Henry, her very own Prince Charming,
because he was heir to the estate until she was found. So as her fortunes rise,
Henry’s fall. I liked that Henry paid the price for Margery’s social rise
(maybe I just enjoy making my hero’s life as difficult as possible!) and Margery's wealth and Henry's fall become a big
stumbling block in their relationship because Henry is not
the sort of man who wants to appear a fortune hunter.

 A note on titles

I'm expecting some comments along the lines of "a woman can't inherit a British title – can she?" because this does confuse some readers. I made Margery heiress to a title that could be inherited in
the female line. Most British titles “remainder” as it is called to male heirs
(hence the whole inheritance plot at the centre of Downton Abbey) but it is
entirely possible for a woman to inherit if that has been agreed when the title
was originally established. In this case a title would pass to a female heir if
a peer has daughters but no sons (or in this case, a granddaughter.) Again Wench Jo give more information here.

 To add to the confusion, Margery’s real name is Lady
Marguerite and she has the prefix of “lady” because her father was a French
Count and so as a courtesy she is granted the same title as the daughter of an
Earl would have. Phew!

Golden slipperHere’s an extract from Forbidden:

“Thank you for your kindness,”
she said quickly, “but there was no need-” She stopped abruptly as Henry took
her hand. Her breath caught in her throat. Her pulse fluttered.

“No need to see you again?” He
said softly. His thumb brushed her gloved palm and she shivered.  She felt hot and melting, trembling on the
edge of something sweet and dangerous. “But perhaps,” Henry said,  “I am here by choice. Perhaps I am here
because I wanted to see you.”

Margery closed her eyes against
the seduction of his words. She wondered if she had run mad. Maybe there would
be a full moon tonight to account for her foolishness. For she knew she was
being very, very foolish.  There was nothing
more imprudent than a maidservant who succumbed to wicked temptation and a
rake’s charm. Margery knew exactly what Granny Mallon would say. She could hear
her grandmother’s words as clearly as though she was standing there.

“You mark my words, my
girl. You’re asking for trouble and you’ll get all you ask for and more.”

Trouble. She knew exactly the sort of trouble that might take
place between a man and a woman and it had never tempted her before. Now she
craved it.

Her life had always been busy but
somehow it had lacked excitement. All the adventures had happened to other
people. She had merely watched. But tonight felt different. For a little while
at least she was having a small adventure of her own and she was going to enjoy
it. She would be careful. And she would make sure she did not get into trouble
no matter how tempted she might be.

She took the arm that Henry
offered her and they started to walk again, more slowly this time, her hand tucked
confidingly into the crook of his elbow. She had thought it would feel like
walking with Jem or another of her brothers. She could not have been more
wrong. Even through the barrier of her glove she could feel the smoothness of
Henry’s sleeve beneath her fingers and beneath that the hardness of muscle. The
sensation distracted her; she realised that Henry had asked her a question and
that she had failed to answer.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I asked where we were going.”
Henry sounded amused, as though he had guessed the cause of her disturbance.
She blushed to imagine that he knew the effect he had on her.

I am going to Bedford
Square Gardens.” Margery said. She hesitated and cast him a shy glance at him
from beneath her lashes. “I suppose you may accompany me if you wish.”

He slanted a smile down at her
and her wayward heart did another little skip. “That,” he said, “would be
entirely delightful. Do you go there often?”

“As often as I have an evening
free and good weather,” Margery said.

“Alone?” Henry said.

“Of course I go alone,” Margery
said. “It is only a step. I am not going to sit inside on a beautiful evening
because I lack a suitable escort.”

Henry’s lips twitched. “How very
practical of you,” he murmured. “I hope that you are not troubled by importunate
men when you are out alone.”

Margery looked at him. “Only
tonight,” she said dryly.

His smile was rueful. “Touché,”
he said.

“It is not a problem because I do
nothing to draw attention to myself,” Margery said. “A maidservant is nothing
more than a fool if she does. Besides-” She stopped on the edge of further
confession. It seemed fatally easy to confide in Mr Henry Ward.

Henry looked at her. “What is
it?” He asked.

Margery blushed. “Oh, it is

“You were going to say that no
one notices you,” Henry said. “But I do. I see you.”

They had stopped walking, though
Margery had not realised. “How did you know?” She demanded. “How did you know I
was going to say that?”

Henry smiled. He put his fingers
beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. Margery met his eyes and felt
fear as well as excitement shimmer down her spine. There was something in his
expression that was as bright and hot and searing as on the night in the
brothel. She shivered.

“You are always trying to hide,”
Henry said quietly, “but you cannot hide from me. I noticed you from
Forbidden_350 the

I am offering a copy of Forbidden to one commenter between
now and midnight Tuesday. The question: How would you feel if your life changed
overnight as Margery’s does – if you inherited a fortune, won the lottery or
became a celebrity? What would you do with your new-found money or fame? Or
would you prefer your life to stay just as it is?

An Interview with Katherine Kellgren!

Katy Kellgren Nicola here! I am thrilled to have as my Word Wench guest today Katherine Kellgren! Katherine has recorded over 125 audiobooks, including winners of the Audie Award, the American Library Association’s Odyssey Honor, the Earphones Award, the Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Audiobook of the Year. She was named one of AudioFile Magazine’s Best Voices of the Year for 2008, 2009, & 2010 and last year she was added to AudioFile's list of Golden Voices. Amongst her titles are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and now my very own audiobook, Notorious!

Katherine and I first got chatting when she contacted me to discuss some aspects of the characterisation in Notorious in the advance of the recording. The process of narrating and recording a book intrigued me and so I thought it would be interesting to invite Katherine to talk about her work.

Katherine, welcome to the Word Wenches! How did you come to work as a professional narrator? What is it about the job that appeals to you?

As a child and teenager, I spent hours in my room listening to audiobooks and spoken word recordings. My particular heroes were John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Edith Evans, and I spent countless hours listening to recordings of them performing in the plays of Shakespeare, Wilde, Sheridan & etc. and reading poetry. I had wanted to be an actress since a very young age, but part of what drew me into me into that desire was listening. After I graduated drama school (I did a three-year training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), my father (who was in New York) began to suffer from the effects of Parkinson's disease, one of which was that he could not focus to read properly. He had always been a great reader, so I went to the library and took out a book by his favorite out-of-print detective author, bought myself a hand-held recorder, and made him an audiobook of the title. When I moved back to the States I spent a lot of time reading to him, and somewhere along the line I began to realize that since listening to recordings and being read to had always been such an important part of my life, I should try to pursue audio narration.

What was the first book that you narrated?

The first audiobook I narrated professionally was WICKED WIDOW by Amanda Quick, which I recorded Wicked Widow for Random House Audio.

What qualities do you think you need to be a good narrator?

The patience and ability to work hard and really apply yourself to each title you record in terms of preparation and research. Concentration and stamina when you are in the studio are also very important, for when you spend all day recording you can't let your attention or focus waver for a second or it will show in the finished product. Also the traits that every actor needs to have – the intelligence to best interpret the will of the author, ability to embody characterizations & etc. Added to this, the ability (once you are armed with all the preparation possible) to let yourself go when you are recording and ride the arc of the story. You don't get to rehearse like you do in the theatre, and it can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride recording a book.

Take us through the preparation that you do for each book. How do you develop the characterisation, emotional interpretation and voices/dialects?

I first read the book through at home, making note in the margins as I go of any descriptions of tone the author has provided (i.e. "he said sullenly" "she said, shocked"), as well as any specific physical descriptions of characters provided. I make note of all the accents and dialects needed (and see a dialect coach if I need to brush up on or study them), and look up words which I'm not sure how to pronounce. Then I go back through and mark each character's dialogue in a different color of highlighter pen. This takes time, but really helps me attack each voice with more confidence when I'm in the studio.

I read that you also did some singing in some of the books, which sounds great! Are you a singer as well as a professional narrator?

 My first job when I left drama school was in a musical, but since I'm now entirely focused on audiobooks the only chance I get to sing is when a song pops up in the text. I always find it quite fun when that happens!

How does an audiobook get made? What happens in the recording studio?

Well, the process is different for different books, but for example, when I recorded your lovely title Notorious_350 NOTORIOUS it took me just under four days recording from 10AM to 4PM. I worked in the studio with a wonderful director/engineer called Nikki Banks who provided guidance, and kept me on the straight and narrow when I fluffed or accidentally said the wrong word (a big sin!) and also took care of the rough audio editing as we went. 

A newspaper recently said that: “The right voice can send an audiobook up the charts.” Do you think this is true?

I absolutely agree. I am a big listener to audiobooks, and I often buy them because I love the work of a particular narrator.

How many books do you record a year?

 It varies by year, but somewhere between 25 – 30.

Do you have to take special care of your voice?

I drink an awful lot of tea in the studio, and if I start to get a touch husky, I find hot water with honey remarkable soothing.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading – or listening to?

 P_-g_-wodehouse-thank-you-jeeves-cd-unabridged-audio-book-1477-p I used to be a big fan of 18th century English literature (and still am), but find that because I read a lot for work I do a lot less pleasure reading. When I do snatch the chance to read for pleasure nowadays it's often something like P.G. Wodehouse that does not require tremendously deep thought or analysis – not that I'm dissing P.G. Wodehouse – I worship him! As far as audiobooks go, I'm always listening to something. I often revisit the old spoken word recordings I loved when I was growing up, and I listen to a lot of new titles too. I'm a big fan of the work of Jim Dale, who is an unbelievably gifted narrator of children's audio. 

Katherine thank you so much for joining us here today and giving us such a fascinating insight into the world of audiobooks! I can’t wait to hear your reading of Notorious!

Now it’s over to you for any comments or questions for Katherine! To kick off the discussion I wonder how many audiobook listeners we have here? If you enjoy audiobooks, what is it that you like about them? Do you have any favourites? And what makes a good listening experience for you? I'm offering a gift voucher for the audiobook of your choice from Audible to one commenter between now and Sunday!


Notorious - US Nicola here! With just over a week to go until the publication of my new book, Notorious, I am extremely excited! Notorious is book 4 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series and it features many of the characters who have appeared earlier in the series including Alex and Joanna Grant from Whisper of Scandal.


As you know, ideas for books come from many different places and one of the inspirations for Notorious was Pride and Prejudice. When Lydia Bennet runs off with Wickham her sister Jane laments: “So imprudent a match on both sides!” Elizabeth, in speaking to Mr Darcy about the elopement is even more outspoken, believing that Wickham will ruin Lydia and certainly not marry her: “She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to… She is lost forever.”

Mr Darcy, of course, saves the day, by compelling Wickham to marry Lydia. Money changes hands to Wickham seal the deal. The match is made. And the idea came into my head: “What would happen if money changed hands to ensure that a match was broken rather than made?”

In the literature of the Georgian age, in the archives and in fiction we frequently read of imprudent matches and disapproving parents. Money, marriage and scandal could be closely linked. Servant girls were paid off if they became pregnant (I’ve come across a couple of examples of this in my researches into the Craven family!) Parents and trustees bought off fortune hunters in order to save their heiress daughters from throwing themselves away on unsuitable men. When I was researching a Yorkshire gentry family in the Regency period I came across a very curious payment in the ledgers to a young local man who was paid "to go away to London." At the time the family had a teenage daughter who was an heiress. Naturally my writer's imagination started to spark; perhaps he had been involved with the girl and the family wanted her to make a more upwardly moblile match so they paid him to go away… Thus the idea for Notorious was born; my heroine would be a match-breaker rather than a matchmaker, paid to distract impressionable young men of good family if they looked inclined to make an unsuitable match or to tempt rakes away from heiresses.

The Hero 

Whisper of Scandal - US I didn’t have far to look for a hero for Notorious. After Whisper of Scandal came out a number of readers contacted me to ask if James Devlin, cousin to Alex Grant in Whisper, was going to have his own story. The idea appealed to me very much. Dev is the sort of man my late grandmother would have described as “cocky.” She would have said it with a smile because Dev is handsome, self-made and a little bit brash but so charming that he gets away with it. He is a little too confident of himself and of his ability to attract women. In short he needs to be taken down a peg or two and my heroine, Susanna, is just the woman to do it.

Of course life for Dev is nowhere near as smooth as it appears on the surface. He is engaged to an heiress and appears to have the world at his feet but it is a fragile world. Both Dev and his sister Chessie are fortune hunters and in Notorious I try to show what a precarious and at times desperate situation that could be. Dev's other problem is that he is bored with a capital B. He's been a sailor, adventurer and explorer. Now he is at the beck and call of his heiress fiancée. He is losing his self- respect, which I felt was an interesting conflict to give my hero. 

Kerry One other unusual thing about Dev. He has inherited an unusual title, that of Hereditary Knight in the Irish peerage. There are three hereditary knighthoods of feudal origin in Ireland and they sound as though they come straight out of the legends of King Arthur: The Knight of Glin (The Black Knight), the Knight of Kerry (the Green Knight) and the White Knight, which is currently a dormant title. I couldn't resist giving my Irish hero such a romantic background! The picture is of County Kerry, a stunningly beautiful place.

The Heroine and the Cover Art

I won’t give away how Susanna, the heroine, falls into her profession of match-breaker.  Susanna 1 Suffice it to say she is a very beautiful woman who realises that her looks will enable her to escape poverty and keep her adopted family together. When my editor asked me to send her some pictures of what I imagined Susanna to look like, I was immediately able to visualise her and here she is! The picture is from a very long-running and well-known advertisement in the UK for financial services. This was Susanna, beautiful, slightly mysterious and definitely intriguing. I sent in the picture to my editor and was very amused when the cover art for Notorious arrived, featuring a “headless” heroine whose most prominent feature was her enhanced cleavage. Hmm. But they did keep the red and black colour scheme!

The Title

I very seldom choose the titles of my books, mostly because I am not very good at coming up with something that my editor and the marketing team consider sounds "right." The choice of the title Notorious was interesting to me. Susanna cannot be notorious because she operates secretly. No one can know she is a matchbreaker because that would give the whole game away. So it is actually Devlin who is the infamous one. By the end of the book, however, both Dev and Susanna are as scandalous as each other!

Tattersalls There is a fun trailer for Notorious here and here is a link to an excerpt if you would like to sample the story. I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book to one person who comments between now and midnight Wednesday. Notorious is set in London and features a number of prominent London landmarks from Tattersalls bloodstock auctioneers (pictured) to St Pauls Cathedral. Do you have a favourite place in London that you have either visited or read about which you would enjoy seeing featured in a book?

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!