At this very moment, I’m engaged in my own Regency Travel, visiting London for some research.
So I’m reprising an old post from August 2014. While writing my short Regency novel, Bella’s Band, I looked into means of travel. Enjoy!
I thought I knew about Regency Travel, but…
Today I’m sharing some of the research for my story, Bella’s Band. I discovered that Regency travel could be a lot more complicated than I realized.
Where did I get the notion that travelers simply climbed into a carriage and drove off? Perhaps it came from movies like “Stagecoach” or from books like Pride and Prejudice. Characters move from one place to another without very much detail that I noticd.
When Horsepower was Powered by Horses
One of the obvious details–and I blame my 21st-century sensibilities on missing this one–is that horses are not indefatigable. Changing horses was the 19th century equivalent of a fill-up, accomplished at the 19th-century gas station, a posting inn.
And, the horses were not sent off alone with the travelers who were borrowing the poor beasts.
“…the post-chaise-and-four entered on a stretch of flat country which offered little to attract the eye, or occasion remark. Miss Taverner withdrew her gaze from the landscape and addressed her companion, a fair youth who was lounging in his corner of the chaise somewhat sleepily surveying the back of the nearest post-boy.” –From the opening of Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer
Post horses were ridden by one or two postilion riders, “post-boys”, who steered the horses and the attached conveyance to the next stop, and ensured the return of the “cattle”.
That is, providing that the roads were good enough for coach travel. In The September Queen, Gillian Bagwell’s historical retelling of the life of Jane Lane, the 17th-century heroine rescued Charles II from Cromwell’s army by disguising him as a local farmer and riding pillion behind him away from danger.
I’d heard of pillion saddles in reference to motorcycle travel, but not horseback riding. And have I said in earlier posts how much I learn from reading historical fiction?
Illustrations of pillion saddles are hard to find. In this picture, the rider on the second horse seems to be seated sideways with her feet resting on the frame of the packhorse’s crook.
A true pillion saddle was an early version of a side saddle, except that the rider faced completely sideways, with her feet resting on a planchette, a small horizontal platform that dangled against the horse’s belly. It was impossible to control a horse from this position, so a male groom or servant rode in front, and the lady held on to him.
“As the horses quickened their pace, Jane realized that she had never ridden pillion behind anyone but her father or one of her brothers. She was grasping the little padded handhold of the pillion, but to be really securely seated, she needed to hold on to the king in front of her. What to do? Surely she could not simply slip her arms around the royal person, uninvited? The king seemed to sense her quandary, and turned his head over his shoulder to speak low into Jane’s ear. ‘Hold tight to me, Mistress Lane.'” From The September Queen, by Gillian Bagwell
Pillion riding was not limited to earlier centuries. The creation of turnpike trusts in the mid-18th century brought great improvements to roads and increased wheeled transportation. But in many of the small country towns and villages, even into the Regency period, “goods were still transported by packhorses, and travelers of every class rode on horseback, the women on pillions”.
From Research to Writing
So, having learned a great deal more about Regency travel since the first draft of Bella’s Band, I faced some decisions. Critical to the plot is a coach trip without postilion riders. How could I make the stars align for historical purists?
England did have some good roads during this period, so I had my heroine travel on those roads. And the very wealthy kept their own teams at posting inns, rather than renting post horses.
And, the very wealthy kept their own teams at posting inns, rather than renting post horses. So I had my heroine conducts her journey in a very wealthy friend’s carriage, with the family coachman driving the teams of horses on the family’s regular route from their townhouse in London to their country estate, changing teams as needed to the horses they maintained along the way for their travel.
Voila! Comments, thoughts, rotten tomatoes?
Sources: English Country Life, 1780-1830, by E.W. Bovill