Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Victorian London from Sketches by Boz: The Transportation

Here we are again, in the Victorian London of 19th century, still in our leisure walk together with Boz. Before this, we have seen many interesting things in London, from the amusements to the streets andshops. Boz has also introduced us to some interesting people from severaloccupations, back in the Victorian era. Today, I will accompany you in an exciting Victorian London excursion, by four different means of transportation. Of course, there are more than the four modes of transports at that time, however I choose only them which were often mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, from which I got the idea. 

And ladies and gentlemen…let us know begin our excursion…

Hackney Coach

Hackney coach—hackney means horse for hire—is a four-wheeled carriage having six seats and drawn by two horses you can hire (cab) in the 19th century.  Hackney coaches were often the discarded and outdated coaches of the nobility, often still bearing their faded coats of arms. The hackney coaches were shabby with dirty interiors. They operated out of inn yards and from coach stands located near main streets [source].

And here is how a hackney coach stand looks like, just as Dickens illustrated in Sketches by Boz:

Cabriolet (Cab)

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. But the original cabriolets were for a single passenger beside the driver and were a kind of hooded chaise. Cabs were introduced into England in the 1820s from France, and they quickly replaced hackney coaches.

There is an interesting thing about cab that Dickens wrote in Sketches by Boz, something that only people at that era who experienced being in a cab, who can described it just as Dickens did in a funny style that made me laugh by just imagining it… J

Some people object to the exertion of getting into cabs, and others object to the difficulty of getting out of them. (…) The getting into a cab is a very pretty and graceful process, which, when well performed, is essentially melodramatic.

You single out a particular cab, and dart swiftly towards it. One bound, and you are on the first step; turn your body lightly round to the right, and you are on the second; bend gracefully beneath the reins, working round to the left at the same time, and you are in the cab.

The getting out of a cab is, perhaps, rather more complicated in its theory, and a shade more difficult n its execution. We have studied the subject a great deal, and we think the best way is, to throw yourself out, and trust to chance for alighting on your feet. If you make the driver alight first, and then throw yourself upon him, you will find that he breaks your fall materially…

Really, I think it’s only Dickens can do that! And I am just wondering, whether the cab he illustrated is perhaps something like this? Can you imagine yourself getting in and getting out of it? J


In 1829, drawing his inspiration from a new and successful system in Paris, George Shillibeer launched the first regular omnibus service in London, running from Paddington to Bank, via the Angel.  They ran fixed routes and were pulled by horses. From the beginning of 1832 the fiercely competitive omnibus companies were authorised to stop for passengers anywhere on their licensed routes. Clusters of people assembled on the routes waiting for buses at peak times; the clusters, in turn, collected pick pockets. The omnibuses were designed to carry 12 or 15 passengers, but since more travelers meant more fares, people were often squashed on board, again presenting opportunities for petty thieves. By the 1880s, a circular staircase leading to the roof added more seating on top.  They carried 12 passengers inside and 14 on top. 

the inside of an omnibus
‘Omnibus Life in London’ 1859 by William Maw Egley


A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. Until the arrival of railways from 1838 onwards, steamers steadily took over the role of the many sail and rowed ferries, with at least 80 ferries by 1830 with routes from London to Gravesend and Margate, and upstream to Richmond. By 1835, the Diamond Steam Packet Company, one of several popular companies, reported that it had carried over 250,000 passengers in the year.

the Gravesend packet

In the early 19th century, Gravesend was a favorite tourist attraction for Londoners, with a very pleasant riverfront, which included a beach, onto the busy Thames and a number of pleasure gardens, including Windmill Hill, which offers unrivalled views of the estuary, and surrounding countryside.

The first steamboat plied its trade between Gravesend and London in the early 19th century, bringing with it a steadily increasing number of visitors to The Terrace Pier Gardens, Windmill Hill, Springhead Gardens and Rosherville Gardens. Gravesend soon became one of the first English resort towns and thrived from an early tourist trade.

From Skecthes by Boz, I learned that water excursion by steamer is one of Londoners favourites to do on Sundays. Sometimes they also have a water party in one of the steamers. There would be a band who played the music on the deck, a place for dancing, or some game for pleasures. The pastrycook’s men would be there earlier to prepare the dinner or lunch table in the cabin for all the guests. This is perhaps one of the water parties at Victorian era looks like…

And this is where our whole lovely excursion in 19th century London together with Boz must be ended L.
 I only hope you have enjoyed it, as well as the four others previously:

Of course, we must thank Boz for these amusements, for without him, we would never enjoy such fun in the Victorian Celebration event. If you are curious about Boz, you can find more about him in my review of Sketches by Boz.

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