Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The phaeton

In the occasional series about modes of transport, we can’t ignore the phaeton. It was introduced in the second quarter of the eighteenth century and it remained a firm favourite with a certain set right up to the popularity of the train.
In fact, it was the smart man-about-town’s sports car, his Aston Martin DBS, his Porsche 911, his Ferrari 458. Young men would discuss the merits of various models, they’d have special paint jobs applied, and they’d vie for the finest horses to draw the speed machine.
Oh yes, and a few daring women had them, too.
The top of the range was the high perch phaeton. It kept off the mud, kept the driver so high up he could look down on everyone else, and it was tricky to drive. You can almost hear the Regency buck in White’s Club, “I swear, Carruthers, I went around that corner so fast the wheels left the ground.”
They had a club for particularly daring drivers in the early nineteenth century – the Four Horse Club. The regalia, in effect an old school tie before old school ties existed, was particularly garish, blue and yellow. They would race their vehicles, be it the four wheeled phaeton or the two wheeled curricle, or a different variation on the fashionable car.
Ladies had fashions too. The whips of the day would take a fortunate woman in his carriage in the park, one of the few places they could have relative privacy in the full sight of society, although there would usually be a boy or small man, a “tiger” up behind, to attend to his lordship’s needs, should a need arrive. He could walk the horses while his master showed his charming young guest a particularly pleasant clump of daffodils or bluebells a little off the beaten path, or he could take messages. Or pick up shopping without his lordship having the necessity of getting down himself.
It does look a particularly attractive vehicle, and of course there are still examples today for us to admire. But no more races from London to Bath. It’s a shame. We have the annual vintage car rally, so a race of the carriages that were developed at the height of the carriage era would be fun, wouldn’t it?

1 comment:

Hazel Gaynor said...

Fascinating stuff - that would certainly get the neighbours talking if we rolled up in that! Love seeing and reading about these forgotten parts of our culture.