I drove the cabriolet from Wellington

May 15, 2011 at 8:21 am (carriages & transport) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The title comes from the diary of Emma SmithAunt Emma to my Emma (her mother’s sister). The year is 1792 and Emma and her two sisters, Augusta and Elizabeth (not yet Mrs Charles Smith [1798] or Mrs William Chute [1793]), are on holiday:

“We left Stoke at a quarter before eight on Saturday the 28th of July. Mama & Eliza in the cabriolet; Papa, Augusta and myself in the Phaeton; and Richard and Spencer on horseback”.

At the end of her entry for July 30th, as she describes the joyous sights (and sites) of Somersetshire, she appends the words “I drove the cabriolet from Wellington.” When encountered by such a phrase, it rather takes one by surprise: how many women could “drive”? It’s possible that all Sarah Smith’s daughters did; and it was merely Emma’s turn in the cabriolet with Mama. Later in the trip, eldest sister Maria (Lady Compton at this present moment) sits with Mama.

Anyway, reading these early diaries once again this week (a second is from 1794), I thought to begin a series about CARRIAGES. This stems from two things: a tiny book I happened across a couple years ago (at my favorite New Hampshire used bookstore, Old Depot No. 6) – Victorian Horses and Carriages: A Personal Sketch Book by William Francis Freelove and an AGM talk by James Nagle entitled in part “Coaches, Barouches and Gigs, Oh My!”

The book is a later edition, reworked, of An Assemblage of 19th Century Horses & Carriages by Jennifer Lang; both feature the wonderful drawings of William Francis Freelove. (see my prior post about Freelove; and view the drawings at Bridgeman Art.) I now own both, but somehow, the smaller book is more precious to me.

So: What was a CABRIOLET?

In pictures, both that I thought most illustrative date from c1830. I just love this piece, by William Joseph Shayer – The Cabriolet in Hyde Park:

A cabriolet is pretty unanimous described as:

A two-wheeled, doorless, hooded, one-horse carriage; may come from the French cabriole, an indication of its light, bounding motion. A cabriolet can be driven by someone seated in the carriage. The design is intended to accommodate two comfortably. The collapsible leather hood allows passengers to enjoy sunny weather or shelter from rain.

London’s Science Museum has this specimen (photo from Encyclopedia Britannica):

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1 Comment

  1. Happy Birthday, Charles! | Two Teens in the Time of Austen said,

    […] is so fond of going in the Cabriole, & indeed he is so good there is no denying him; Augusta has given him up to me & I have […]

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