On Monday, I spoke of a need for structure in writing a story or novel. When writing about another time period or indeed even in fantasy and science fiction settings, the author needs to consider the infrastructure of their setting and the effects that will have on their characters and stories from the time travel takes, to sensible clothing choices to relevant status symbols. Today, we’ll be taking a look at transportation in the Regency Era.
Travel and transportation have only increased in speed, comfort and horsepower since the Regency Era. We take for granted the speed at which we travel dashing from one city to another often in a matter of hours instead of days or months when jet setting from one continent to another. Likewise, different sorts of conflict and obstacles are going to crop up with different modes of travel. Instead of a flat tire, the heroine’s carriage may break an axle or lose a wheel on the road past the hero’s manor house. She can’t just go in and call for a taxi and be on her way, but may be invited to stay as his guest until the vehicle is fixed, provided of course that appropriate chaperonage is available.
Types of Transportation in the Regency Era
Before the 1830s, trains had not yet spread widely across the English country side and many factories still relied on canals for the transport of raw materials and goods to market. The postal system and its need to carry mail and people along particular routes required reform and refurbishment of the infrastructure during the late Regency period. Thomas Telford and John McAdam (of the Tar-McAdam or tarmac fame despite his not using tar in his construction, but possibly because of family business in the 18th century involving tar and shipbuilding) led to widespread renovations and improvements (in terms of the roads taking people where they wanted to go) on the Roman roads, including the Great North Road, the corridor between London and Edinburgh that is now called the A1.
The designs of the various carriages during the Regency Era reveal the inadequacies of the roads for which they were meant to compensate. Lighter carriages that were well sprung were the sports cars of their day. One’s mode of transportation was tightly tied to one’s economic prosperity. As you climb the rungs of the economic ladder, vehicles move from heavy and ponderous to become lighter and more lavish. However, walking was universal. The poorest people walked because they no other alternatives and the more affluent walked for exercise and, one suspects, freedom from the bumps and jolts of traveling in a conveyance over rough roads. While it wasn’t fashionable to ride one’s horse instead of riding in a carriage, the maneuverability and freedom gained was surely preferable for some gentlemen.
While many carriages were built to order, you could also walk into a show room and purchase a new vehicle off the premises much the same as the modern car dealership, without the hard-sell one would hope. Unfortunately, many of the carriages from the Regency haven’t survived due to rapid advances in design where older vehicles were either scrapped or renovated.
Entertainment or Transportation?
In January 1818, the first ‘running machine’ was patented by a German named Karl Drais. This pre-cursor to the modern bicycle was wooden and one straddled the contraption and propelled it along with one’s feet in a running motion. This prototype was of little practical use as it was only possible to ride on well-maintained paths in parks or gardens.It was promptly copied and became popular in England and France. This ‘running machine’, ‘swiftwalker’ or ‘dandy horse’, as it was often called in Britain being favored by the dandies, gained in popularity and the term ‘velocipede’ was first used in the 1860s when Pierre Michaux, Pierre Lallement and the Olivier brothers built the first bicycle equipped with pedals, the ancestor of the modern bicycle.
Which travel nightmares do you think you would hate to have encountered the most in the Regency Era or which ones would you glad trade all the speed and comfort of now to avoid by traveling back in time?
For more information regarding Regency Transportation, Carriages and Horses and a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page.