A Treatise on Carriages is an illustrated guide to horse-drawn carriages by London-based coachmaker William Felton. Felton writes in the Introduction that he intended the book to be a comprehensive guide to the construction, upkeep and repair of the many different kinds of carriage available in the late 18th century. The book contains information on carriages such as the landau, the post-chaise and the curricle. It presents detailed tables of prices for carriages and parts of carriages, including decorative additions.
Carriages in the late 18th century
Carriages differed not only in their appearance and price, but also in their purpose. Some were built for speed, others for stability; some were suitable for long journeys, others had open tops to enable the passengers to enjoy fine weather and scenery. The number of people a carriage could hold differed greatly according to its type.
The tables of prices in A Treatise on Carriages indicate that even quite basic carriages were very expensive. Most people could not afford to own a carriage themselves, especially if the cost of doing so would have included the upkeep of one or more horses. If people who did not have their own carriage had to travel long distances, they would go with others in a stagecoach.
Carriages and Jane Austen
Jane Austen often uses carriages to convey information about the status and aspirations of her characters. Different kinds of carriage would have had particular connotations for readers of the time, which we cannot understand so easily today. In Emma, for example, Mrs Elton repeatedly refers to her sister and brother’s barouche-landau, which ‘holds four perfectly’ (Emma, II.xiv). A barouche-landau was an expensive four-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses, with two collapsible hoods – one for the front-facing passengers and one for the rear-facing passengers. It was a smaller version of a landau (Plate XXIV). Mrs Elton talks so much about the barouche-landau in order to impress upon her neighbours how wealthy her family is.
A gig was a lighter, cheaper carriage with only two wheels, drawn by a single horse; a curricle was similar, but drawn by two horses instead of one. Both gigs and curricles were also known as chaises. They were suitable for men who wished to drive themselves and, because of their lightness, they could travel very fast. Frank Churchill in Emma and John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey both drive two-wheeled chaises – a sign of their high spirits and impetuous natures. Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice also owns a gig, though this probably reflects his inability to afford a larger, grander carriage, rather than a love of speed.