A notable whip and hero of a Regency Novel inevitably drives a Phaeton – or does he have more choices for selecting his racy vehicle? A couple of weeks ago, a vehicle caught my eye at a historical hunting and carriage gala: it was slim, light and high-perched.
Being drawn by three horses and featuring two wheels, it had an air of sportiness and elegance as it drove across the park. Next to the conservative carriages like Britzkas and Victorias, it looked decidedly dashing. I spoke to the owner and learned that the striking vehicle was a Cocking Cart. – A what? I had never heard of it before.
The Cocking Cart was special-built to carry fighting cocks. It became fashionable at the end of the 1790s and was considered extravagant and dangerous. It soon rivaled the crane-neck phaeton.
The high, small body of the Cocking Cart had several advantages:
- It offered the driver a top-position to watch the cockfight,
- put him in an excellent view of the ladies and less fortunate gentlemen and
- contained a compartment with slatted sides for transporting cocks (though I don’t think the poor birds enjoyed travelling in it). Have a look at a picture here.
As the body of the cart was high-perched, it took a true whip to drive it. Less experienced drivers might have overthrown it. Driving the Cocking Cart with a team of three horses abreast instead of two made the drive even more risky as one could end up in a tangle of lines.
Thus, it wasn’t for long that the Cocking Cart was considered a dangerous vehicle. An Irish version of the Cocking Cart, built even higher, was nicknamed “suicide gig.” To the prudent, even climbing to the high driving seat seemed dangerous to life and limb.
As an alternative to the high-perched Phaeton, the Cocking Cart was the dream vehicle for gentlemen of the Regency period. But the vehicle was special-built for a certain kind of sports, so I assume only the very wealthy would buy and maintain a carriage of this type.
How to use the Cocking Cart in your Regency Novel
It is tempting to use the Cocking Cart in a Regency novel. Here are some ideas:
- Is the Cocking Cart the dashing carriage of the hero that catches the eye of the heroine, a much admired heiress?
- A young man tries to impress the heroine by taking her on a drive but overthrows, so that the hero can come to the rescue.
- The heroine has been abducted, but managed to escape from the house she was kept in. At the stables, she finds that her only chance to return to her home is by driving the risky “suicide-gig” herself. Will she make it home savely?
- As cockfights are today justly banned for animal cruelty, I image many authors would make the Cocking Cart the vehicle of the villain. Can you picture him sitting on the high driving seat, goggling at the pretty girls and secretly teasing his cocks to make them more aggressive for the fight?
Don’t forget to visit my special exhibition about carriages here.