Information about the Carriages and Harness

Different Types of Carriages

Horse-drawn carriages come in all shapes and sizes and the London Harness Horse Parade is one of the best places to see such a wide variety. They will come in two and four wheeled versions, some old and some new, some for trade and some for private driving. Other than coming to the Easter Parade, the carriages are used nowadays for all sorts of purposes, such as showing, competitions, delivering goods, weddings, television and film work, promotion or simply pleasure driving as a hobby. The most important factors are that they are safe and well maintained and fit the horse or pony being used.

One of the best ways to understand carriages is to imagine what they would have been used for before the advent of the motor car, when the horse and carriage was the only means of transport. This is easiest with the trade carriages which take their names from the trade or product they were used to promote, sell and deliver, such as Milk Floats, Baker’s Vans, Butcher’s Carts, Brewery or Bottle Drays, Costermongers or London Trolleys (used with fruit and vegetables), Confectionary Vans and general delivery and market carriages. The heavy horse farm wagons are often named after the county they originated in, such as Essex or Suffolk , or the load they carried, such as timber or hay.

Carriages could also be named after the company that built them, such as Lawton , the town they originated in such as the Manchester Cart or Liverpool Gig, their shape, such as Round Back or Spindle Back Gig, or a distinctive feature, such as Dennett Gig, named after the springs. They could also take their names from the designers, such as Lord Brougham who designed the first Brougham in the 19th -century, or important figures who used them such as the Victoria , popularised by Queen Victoria .

It is easy to see how some of the carriages developed into motor vehicles, such as the double decked Omnibuses, which became the buses we see today, or the Hansom Cab which was transformed into the distinctive London Hackney Cab and the horse-drawn fire engines, with their intricate steam operated water pumping mechanism.

The Harness

The harness used on driving horses has changed little in design over the years. Traditionally made from leather, with brass or nickel buckles and metal work, it must be safe, strong and fit the horse well. Today, other materials such as webbing, plastic, chrome and stainless steel are used to make harness, these materials being easier to maintain and clean. Sets of harness made out of these modern materials are more likely to be used at home for exercising and training, or during competitions. At a Parade or show, many people will use their best leather harness, mounted with brass buckles and patent leather but this takes more time to clean and polish.

The bridle is usually fitted with blinkers to protect the horse’s eyes and prevent them from seeing the carriage behind. Round the neck and front, there will be either a full oval shaped collar or breast collar, which is used for pulling the carriage. The braking system is at the back, with the breeching which goes round the quarters and the traces attach the horse to the carriage.

The Driver and Groom

The driver will often wear a hat, gloves and apron, depending on the type of turnout and the occasion. A tradesman or drayman may wear a smock. The driver will usually carry a whip which is to be used lightly on the horse as an aid, alongside the voice and hands. The driver may be accompanied by a groom who could be dressed in riding gear, a livery such as top hat and tailed coat, or a smart suit. When the carriage stops, the groom will usually dismount and go to the horse’s head. If there are passengers on the carriage, they are not expected to dismount in a similar way.