Posted by Laura W on July 12, 1998 at 16:13:07:
In response to Phaeton - another vehicle, written by RogerV on July 11, 1998 at 02:11:51
I hear you saying "arg! there he goes again with that vehicle business," but please bear with me for a little longer!
I assure you, some of us are as fascinated as you are!
In the photos section I have uploaded a print of two ladies driving a "Phaeton and two," meaning the carriage was being pulled by two horses. Apparently, a Phaeton had four wheels, but seating for only two (or three at most) and no top.
I cannot find where you uploaded this. Would you provide a link, please? However I am pretty sure I know which print you're talking about-- where you see them from the front, they look like they're about to fall out, and the costumes are circa 1795?
Looking at the picture, I am curious as to how accurately it has been rendered, as you will notice that the floor of the carriage is actually higher than the horses' backs.
Although it's a cartoon of sorts, and therefore probably slightly exaggerated, it is making fun of the very real habit for ladies who wished to appear dashing to drive one of these ridiculous contraptions.
There are many types of phaetons. They are four-wheeled carriages meant to be driven by two or more horses, with the front wheels being smaller than the back wheels. They could be small and low, as favored by children and obese older monarchs (even pulled by ponies), or they could be high and wild. The latter were called "perch," "high-perch," or "high-flyer" phaetons. There is a painting by Stubbs showing Prinny's high-flyer phaeton-- he is standing behind it, and he can just barely see the floor, which is above the backs of the horses. In a book I have, there are several pictures of high-perch phaetons, including a couple of designs for "a High Crane-neck Phaeton" for Prinny. "This type of vehicle was known as a 'Highflyer' -- the crane-neck type of perch undercarriage having been built with an arch so that the front wheels could turn under when going round corners."
So you see, it was a very sporting vehicle. But the most sporting vehicle of all was the curricle, which was the only two-wheeled vehicle designed to be driven by two horses. They were also very high, with the floor above the horses' backs. Phaetons could be completely open, or have a fold-up soft top (which was probably only used in a sudden downpour); the picture of Prinny standing in his curricle on the road to Brighton also shows a fold-down top, but I don't have any pictures of curricles without them.
There also appears to be no brake on the phaeton, but possibly brakes were a later refinement.
I have another very interesting print in this book (wish I had a scanner!). Let me quote the paragraph about it which addresses this topic somewhat:
"It was customary when driving the then currently fashionable high phaetons which could be drawn by four, six, or eight horses, for the leaders to be ridden by postillions, but this method was potentially very dangerous (as Oliver Cromwell had discovered to his cost) for, if a postillion rider were to fall off, then the driver, with only the reins of the wheelers in his hands, was powerless to control the team. Since the young Prince and his friends often drove this type of turnout, a safety device was invented consisting of a lever [pedal] which, when pressed by foot from the box-seat, could open the pole-hook and thus release [the bars to which] the leaders [were attached], and at least two engravings depicting this device were printed."
The engraving in the book shows a lady driving a very high-perch phaeton. The postillion has fallen to the ground, she has pressed the pedal, and the leaders gallop away while she reins in the wheelers. It says that the lady is believed to be Letty, Lady Lade. Her husband, Sir John Lade, was an intimate of Prinny's and a founding member of the Four-in-Hand Club. They were a very dashing and sporting couple, both extremely horse-mad, and Lady Lade's high-perch phaeton, which she drove reguarly in Hyde Park, both scandalized and awed society. A few ladies tried to imitate her prowess, and since none could equal her skill, you see caricatures like the one I think Roger posted. Many ladies did however drive, even if not high-perch phaetons; even Princess Charlotte drove a phaeton and four in the park (although my source does not say whether the phaeton was high and whether the leaders were driven by postillions).
Letty Lade was notorious for other reasons as well-- before Sir John married her she had been the mistress of a highwayman, "Sixteen-string Jack," who had been hanged at Tyburn. She was not at all genteel, and despite the Prince's pointed public attentions to her to try to make her acceptable to Society, she remained beyond the pale. For one thing, she swore like a sailor, and even the Prince said, when he heard anyone curse luridly, "he swears like Lady Lade." I have often wondered if the origin of the term "fast" regarding unladylike behaviour originated with Letty Lade.
- Uploads Roger V 20:40:57 7/12/98 (1)
- yup, those are both the ones I was thinking of! nfm Laura W 21:56:03 7/12/98 (0)
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