When I was writing my most recent Regency-set historical romance, My Elusive Countess, I frequently described the hero tooling the heroine from place to place in his curricle. Fortunately, I now know what a curricle is. That wasn’t always the case.
When I first began reading Regency romances, I didn’t understand the references to the various carriages that were in use in the early nineteenth century. Since my need for information was in the days prior to the Internet, I began checking research books out of the library.
One of those books, The English Carriage by Hugh McCausland (1948), was especially helpful. From reading McCausland’s descriptions, I soon learned that the curricle was a sporty vehicle with a folding leather hood, and it seated two people, the driver and a passenger. Most curricles also had a small seat or platform at the rear to accommodate a groom.
What differentiated curricles from other two-wheeled vehicles of the time was their pole-and-bar design (as opposed to a shaft design in which a single horse is driven between a pair of shafts). The curricle was designed for a pair of horses to be driven abreast. In order for the curricle to appear to best advantage, the two horses needed to be matched, preferable in color, size, and action. Finding quality horses that fit these criteria was not inexpensive, so this carriage was basically one for the well-to-do. According to McCausland, curricles were easy on horses and thus were favorites for driving both in town and for longer distances.
McCausland seemed especially to enjoy pointing out that “modern writers” frequently make errors when writing about carriages. Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Conan Doyle, McCausland said, described a curricle with the horses in tandem (one in front of the other in single file). “Any English two-wheeled carriage might conceivable be used as a tandem cart, except only the curricle; barred because of its structure,” McCausland wrote.
I’m planning to avoid Conan Doyle’s error and always have my hero drive abreast a pair of beautifully matched horses that will carry him and the heroine wherever their hearts desire.