A carriage is a wheeled vehicle for people, usually horse-drawn. It is especially designed for private passenger use and for comfort or elegance, though some are also used to transport goods. It may be light, smart and fast or heavy, large and comfortable. Carriages normally have suspension using leaf springs, elliptical springs (in the 19th century) or leather strapping. A public passenger vehicle would not usually be called a carriage – terms for these include stagecoach, charabanc and omnibus. The Pallenquin is a horseless carriage.
The word carriage (abbreviated carr or cge) is from Old Northern French cariage, to carry in a vehicle. The word car, then meaning a kind of two-wheeled cart for goods, also came from Old Northern French about the beginning of the 14th century; it was also used for railway carriages, and was extended to cover automobile around the end of the nineteenth century, when early models were called horseless carriages.
A carriage is sometimes called a team, as in "horse and team". A carriage with its horse is a rig. An elegant horse-drawn carriage with its retinue of servants is an equipage. A carriage together with the horses, harness and attendants is a turnout or setout. A procession of carriages is a cavalcade.
Some horsecarts found in Celtic graves show hints that their platform was suspended in a frame, elastically. First century BCE Romans used sprung wagons for overland journeys. With the decline of the these civilizations these techniques almost disappeared.
In the Middle Ages all travellers who were not walking rode, save the elderly and the infirm. A trip in an unsprung cart over unpaved roads was not lightly undertaken. Closed carriages began to be more widely used by the upper classes in the 16th century. In 1601 a short-lived law was passed in England banning the use of carriages by men, it being considered effeminate. Better sprung vehicles were developed in the 17th century. New lighter and more fashionably varied conveyances, with fanciful new names, began to compete with one another from the mid-18th century. Coachbuilders cooperated with carvers, gilders, painters, lacquerworkers, glazers and upholsterers to produce not just the family's state coach for weddings and funerals but light, smart fast comfortable vehicles for pleasure riding and display.
In British and French coaches, the coachman drove from a raised coachbox at the front. In Spain the driver continued to ride one of the horses, as also in the 1939 state visit procession in Canada.
From the 1860s, few rich Europeans continued to use their posting coaches for long-distance travel: a first-class railway carriage was the faster modern alternative. Then, in the 1890s, just as automobiles came into use, "coaching" became an upper-class sport in Britain and America, where gentlemen would take the reins of the kinds of large vehicles of types generally driven by a professional coachman.
Carriages may be enclosed or open, depending on the type. The top cover for the body of a carriage, called the head or hood, is often flexible and designed to be folded back when desired. Such a folding top is called a bellows top or calash. A hoopstick forms a light framing member for this kind of hood. The top, roof or second-story compartment of a closed carriage, especially a diligence, was called an imperial. A closed carriage may have side windows called quarter lights (British) as well as windows in the doors. On the forepart of an open carriage, a screen of wood or leather called a dashboard intercepts water, mud or snow thrown up by the heels of the horses. The dashboard or carriage top sometimes has a projecting sidepiece called a wing (British). A foot iron or footplate may serve as a carriage step.
A carriage driver sits on a box or perch, usually elevated and small. When at the front it is known as a dickey box, a term also used for a seat at the back for servants. A footman might use a small platform at the rear called a footboard or a seat called a rumble behind the body. Some carriages have a moveable seat called a jump seat. Some seats had an attached backrest called a lazyback.
The shafts of a carriage were called limbers in English dialect. Lancewood, a tough elastic wood of various trees, was often used especially for carriage shafts. A holdback, consisting of an iron catch on the shaft with a looped strap, enables a horse to back or hold back the vehicle. The end of the tongue of a carriage is suspended from the collars of the harness by a bar called the yoke. At the end of a trace, a loop called a cockeye attaches to the carriage.
In some carriage types the body is suspended from several leather straps called braces or thoroughbraces, attached to or serving as springs.
Several structural members form parts of the chassis supporting the carriage body. The fore axletree and the splinter bar above it (supporting the springs) are united by a piece of wood or metal called a futchel, which forms a socket for the pole that extends from the front axle. For strength and support, a rod called the backstay may extend from either end of the rear axle to the reach, the pole or rod joining the hind axle to the forward bolster above the front axle.
A skid called a drag, dragshoe, shoe or skidpan retards the motion of the wheels. A catch or block called a trigger may be used to hold a wheel on a declivity.
A horizontal wheel or segment of a wheel called a fifth wheel sometimes forms an extended support to prevent the carriage from tipping; it consists of two parts rotating on each other about the kingbolt above the fore axle and beneath the body. A block of wood called a headblock might be placed between the fifth wheel and the forward spring.
An almost bewildering variety of horse-drawn carriages existed. Arthur Ingram's Horse Drawn Vehicles since 1760 in Colour lists 325 types with a short description of each. By the early 19th century one's choice of carriage was only in part based on practicality and performance; it was also a status statement and subject to changing fashions. The types of carriage included the following:
The names of many of these have now been relegated to obscurity but some have been adopted to describe automotive car body styles: coupé, victoria, Brougham, landau and landaulet, cabriolet, (giving us our cab), phaeton, and limousine – all these once denoted particular types of carriages.
A man whose business was to drive a carriage was a coachman. A servant in livery called a footman or piquer formerly served in attendance upon a rider or was required to run before his master's carriage to clear the way. An attendant on horseback called an outrider often rode ahead of or next to a carriage. A carriage starter directed the flow of vehicles taking on passengers at the curbside. A hackneyman hired out horses and carriages. When hawking wares, a hawker was often assisted by a carriage.
Upper-class people of wealth and social position, those wealthy enough to keep carriages, were referred to as carriage folk or carriage trade.
Carriage passengers often used a lap robe as a blanket or similar covering for their legs, lap and feet. A buffalo robe, made from the hide of an American bison dressed with the hair on, was sometimes used as a carriage robe; it was commonly trimmed to rectangular shape and lined on the skin side with fabric. A carriage boot, fur-trimmed for winter wear, was made usually of fabric with a fur or felt lining. A knee boot protected the knees from rain or splatter.
A horse especially bred for carriage use by appearance and stylish action is called a carriage horse; one for use on a road is a road horse. One such breed is the Cleveland Bay, uniformly bay in color with black points and legs, of good conformation and strong constitution. Horses were broken in using a bodiless carriage frame called a break or brake.
A carriage dog or coach dog is bred for running beside a carriage.
A roofed structure that extends from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and that shelters callers as they get in or out of their vehicles is known as a carriage porch or porte cochere. An outbuilding for a carriage is a coach house.
A kind of dynamometer called a peirameter indicates the power necessary to haul a carriage over a road or track.
Internationally, there is intense competition in the all-around test of driving: Combined driving, also known as Horse Driving Trials is an equestrian discipline regulated by the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale, International Equestrian Federation) with national organizations representing each member country. World Championships take place on alternate years, including Single Horse Championships, Horse Pairs Championships and Four-in-Hand Championships as well as the Four-in-Hand competition at the World Equestrian Games, held every four years.
For pony drivers, the World Combined Pony Championships are held every two years and include singles, pairs and four-in-hand.