‘Coach and horses was main transport a century ago’

September 7, 2014

Wells Fargo Express

WESTERN THEME: This competitor in the horses and carriage section was called the Wells Fargo Overland Express. Imagine the freedom of the Wild West and this stage coach laden with gold. Wells and Fargo were major figures in the fiercely competitive express industry.


HORSE POWER: One of the five horse and carriage teams that was displaying their skills at the Dorchester Show.



EUROPEAN ORIGINS: The land carriage with horses and attendants – like this one I am pictured with in Prague in 2010 – was introduced in the 15th Century in the Hungarian town of Kocs and spread across the continent very quickly.


HORSE and carriage teams took centre stage at this year’s Dorchester Show in their main arena.

Five teams of horses and their handlers and coaches came from across the South of England to make it to the site just outside Dorset’s county town – one of the them got their horses and wagons off in their transport lorries from Gatwick at 5am on the Saturday morning.

Hours of preparation and training paid off as visitors to the show took a shine to the horse and carriage teams as they paraded around the arena.

The experienced carriage crews were dressed in traditional livery outfits and one local company called Highsteppers provides a special service providing luxury horse-drawn coaches for weddings, funerals, balls and sojourns into the Dorset countryside.

One hundred years ago the horse and carriage or cart was the mode of transport by choice – back then there were no cars, trams, buses or trains.

The word for coach (for horses) derives from the Hungarian word kocs from a post town that gave its name a fast light vehicle drawn by horses at the beginning of the 15th Century and it spread across Europe. In Czech and Slovak it is called koč.

A coach with four horses is a coach-and-four and a coach together with horses, attendants and harness is called a turnout. Coaches came to the UK in the middle of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. They were introduced from France to England by Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel.

A coach might have a built-in compartment called a boot, originally used as a seat for a coachmen but later used for storage. The luggage case on top of the coach is called the imperial. A roof, top or second-storey compartment was also called an imperial.

The rear and front axles are connected by a main shaft called a perch or a reach and a crossbar known as a splinter bar supports the springs. Coaches used to be decorated by a painter using a sable brush called a liner.

The 19th Century saw the term “coach” extended to encompass railway carriages and modern motor coaches.

The announcer on the tanoi at the showground made the following observations:  “It takes hours of preparation to get the carriages and horses in order, keep them in line and and in prime condition. There is a blue and yellow carriage that has three horses as opposed to the others that are all doubles.

“While the judges get ready to make their decision, it is worth reminding everyone that before cars and buses, this was the mode of transport to go to see the doctor, to get the shopping or to go to church.

“It was done by horse and carriage or cart and it would take at least two hours to make the journey between Wimborne and Dorchester at a steady speed of 10mph.

“They were driven on rough tracks, not asphalt road surfaces and there were several lanes, ones for the winter and ones for the summer. A coaching inn was also called a coaching house and these were always located along a route used by horse-drawn carriages.

“When you were in a coach and horses, you would make steady progress. It is hard work for the horses to pull the wagons and the bigger horses tend to do more of the work. Looking back in history it was splendid and marvellous to have them.

“The attendants, carriage and horses have to work as a team and the horses have to get on with each other.”



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hannah September 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Looks amazingly elegant – stepping back in time! How on earth did they keep those streets clean… I love the horses, flesh & blood in preference to the cold collection of metal we get around in these days. x


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