Before trains came into wide usage for long-distance travel in the mid-1800s, people relied on carriages and horses. A popular traveling carriage was called a post-chaise.
Jane Austen’s works also refer to this carriage as a “chaise and four” meaning a chaise pulled by four horses. This is opposed to a lighter type of chaise normally pulled by only one horse.
While heavier than a one-horse chaise, carriage makers still designed post-chaises to be as lightweight as possible to optimize traveling speeds. This focus on lightweight design made them leave off much of the embellishment and extras an average family carriage would have.
Because of this travel-specific design, people did not keep a post-chaise as their main carriage. Wealthy families would buy one for more convenient travel, but they would use other carriages in their everyday affairs. A post-chaise cost about £112 in 1795.
Meanwhile, many travelers rented the post-chaise from the same businesses that rented out post-horses.
Whether they owned the post-chaise or not, travelers would rent the horses to pull it. Businesses along travel routes had horses ready for hire. A traveler could rent a pair of horses for 1 shilling per mile, and slightly less than 2 shillings for four horses.
They would hire horses for a certain number of miles until they made their next stop to “change horses.” This constant changing for fresh, well-rested horses allowed the traveler to go faster and farther than attempting the trip with the same horses who they would have to stop and rest.
Public post-chaises were painted yellow and served a similar function to stagecoaches in providing passage to a group of strangers. But they were more expensive to take than a stagecoach.
Main Features of a Post-Chaise
Since a post-chaise didn’t have a coach box, they relied on a man who rode the front left horse to guide the carriage. He was called a postilion and usually came with the horses when renting post.
Fast and Lightweight
Post-chaises had four wheels and were enclosed. This did make them heavier than the usual open, two-wheel, one horse chaise. However, it was still relatively light to ensure speed.
Coachmakers designed them without a coachman box on the front. This let passengers enjoy a clear view of their surroundings instead of staring at a coachman’s back.
Pulled by 2 to 4 Horses
Two passengers and little to no luggage could travel with two horses. But more passengers or heavier luggage required at least four horses. Some countries had specific regulations regarding how many horses were required for the number of passengers and luggage.
Front luggage rack
They stowed luggage in the front of the chaise where the missing coachman box would have been.
2 to 4 Passengers
Depending on the design of the specific chaise and the size of the people, a post-chaise could generally hold 2 to 4 passengers.
Post-chaises in Jane Austen’s Books
In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh expresses concern about the propriety of Elizabeth and Maria Lucas traveling post alone to London. She says,
“Mrs. Collins, you must send a servant with them. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post by themselves. It is highly improper.”
Elizabeth lets her know that they will be accompanied by her uncle’s servant. Her uncle’s servant could have served as an outrider, a servant who rode a separate horse alongside the carriage to act as a protection. It would cost about 1/2 a shilling to rent a horse for an outrider.
Later, Lady Catherine turns her attention to when they will change horses:
“Where shall you change horses? Oh! Bromley, of course. If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to.”
Elizabeth and Maria will travel about 12 miles from Hunsford to Bromley. There they will change horses and then finish another 11 miles to her Aunt and Uncle’s house in Cheapside London.
Travelers preferred going post than on a stagecoach. But to deal with the extra cost they would try to travel with friends and acquaintances headed the same way if they could to split the expense. We see the Miss Steeles traveling this way in Sense and Sensibility:
“Not in the stage, I assure you,” replied Miss Steele, with quick exultation; “we came post all the way, and had a very smart beau to attend us. Dr. Davies was coming to town, and so we thought we’d join him in a post-chaise; and he behaved very genteelly, and paid ten or twelve shillings more than we did.”
Traveling post was also a great way for young lovers to run away to Gretna Green. Wickham and Lydia used a post-chaise during the first part of their elopement. And in fact, Mr. Bennet plans to track down and question the postilion who drove the rented horses and chaise his daughter fled in.
[Elizabeth] then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.
“He meant I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions and try if anything could be made out from them.”
Oh, the possible drama of traveling post.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, January 26). post chaise. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/technology/post-chaise
Felton, W. (1795). A Treatise on Carriages: Comprehending Coaches, Chariots, Phaetons, … Together with Their Proper Harness. In which the Fair Prices of Every Article are Accurately Stated. By William Felton, …. United Kingdom: sold.
Johnson, S. (1850). A Dictionary of the English Language: In which the Words are Deduced from Their Originals; and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers. United Kingdom: Henry G. Bohn.
Starke, M. (1828). Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent. United Kingdom: A. and W. Galignani.
The Post-chaise Companion: Or, Travellers Directory, Through Ireland. … To which is Added, a Dictionary, Or Alphabetical Tables. Shewing the Distance of All the Principal Cities, … from Each Other. (1786). Ireland: author.
Willcock, J. W. (1829). The Laws Relating to Inns, Hotels, Alehouses, and Places of Public Entertainment: To which is Added, an Abstract of the Statute for the Regulation of Post Horses. United Kingdom: Saunders and Benning.
Wheels: A Pictorial History. (2002). United States: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Images courtesy of the MET