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Thursday, 29 November 2012

17th century transport in Snow - The Gilded Lily

Today The Gilded Lily is being reviewed at The Book Garden blog. Why not take a stroll to the Book Garden and see what the reviwer makes of it. Meanwhile I'm continuing my snowy theme as The Gilded Lily takes place in the little Ice Age, a time when temperatures in London dropped as low as -30 degrees and the Thames froze solid.

In the seventeenth century a sedan chair was a favoured means of transport for a lady. Sadie Appleby is horrified when her sister Ella takes a sedan as this signifies she has gone up in the world. Originally called a 'litter', it was created by lashing two poles to a chair. For royalty or the very well-to-do, it could consist of a bed or couch for the passenger or passengers to lie on. These were carried by at least two porters in front and behind, or by horses.

For the Sedan chair -an enclosed cabin- the porters were known as "chairmen". Sedans were commonly in use until the 19th century and were accompanied at night by link-boys who carried torches. Where possible, the link boys escorted the fares to the chairmen, the passengers then being delivered to the door of their lodgings. There are still houses in Bath and London that have the link extinguishers, shaped like a candle snuffers, outside the door. On this Victorian print featuring life in earlier times you can see the link boy, except there he is carrying a lantern. It shows well how precartious this method of transport might be in snow!

Link extinguisher

There is no evidence I can find that snow shoes were used in the 17th century in England. But I did find this print of a snow-shoe race outside the Crystal Palace in London in 1867. It must have been quite hard work as the men are bare-chested. What was a common form of transport in snow in the 17th century was a sleigh or sledge. Rich people owned several carriages and at least one sleigh for use in ice and snow. They were beautiful objects but not many examples survive except in diary entries. Here is a horse-drawn sleigh  from the Saskatchewan Museum.

Above - Seventeenth Century sleigh travel (as interpreted by a Victorian artist). It looks very romantic, but probably the realities would have been harsh, with freezing conditions for the occupants, skidding horses, and hidden ruts and obstacles.

And just for fun for my american readers and to complete today's snowy journey I've added this wonderful picture of New York in a Blizzard in 1888. Picures from The Daily Glean There should definitely be a book about this blizzard, it sounds spectacular.

Madison Avenue


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