How far, how fast in a horse-drawn carriage?
July 1, 2020 10:09 PM   Subscribe

 
Blog bookmarked for much later perusal.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:40 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


When the plot requires me to travel faster than accuracy allows, I simply hop on a nearby dragon or Eagle.
posted by Klipspringer at 11:40 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


Ooooh. This is nice. Thanks for posting!

One of my favourite Pride and Prejudice bits is where Darcy and Elizabeth are discussing the distance from Longbourn to Rosings- "a very easy distance" to him, more than 50 miles for her!
posted by freethefeet at 2:04 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


ACOUP.blog: How Fast Do Armies Move?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:11 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


I think it relevant to mention one of the most rapid transits from Cornwall (via Devon) to London, Captain John Richards Lapenotière (a lieutenant at the time) was dispatched after the Battle of Trafalgar (so 1805) to take home news of the English victory. Strong wind in the English Channel meant he disembarked at Falmouth, Cornwall and travelled as fast as possible to the Admiralty in London. He covered the 271 miles in 37 hours, so around 7.3mph and changed horses/carriages 21 times to do that. It would normally take a week.

There is now a commemorative route, the Trafalgar Way, which connects Falmouth and London. The latter link has a lot more info about the details of Lapenotière's journey, as well as about the other messengers sent to the admiralty with the same news.
posted by biffa at 3:13 AM on July 2 [9 favorites]


"Time is an illusion" - George R. R. Martin.
posted by srboisvert at 4:58 AM on July 2


I've never watched Game of Thrones or the Tolkien movies, but I found the ACOUP blog to be fascinating.
I think that if Martin says time is an illusion, he means it in a sense that it detracts from his preferred story line.
posted by MtDewd at 5:10 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


But doubling the horses doubles the horsepower, twice as fast.
posted by sammyo at 5:52 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


"Time is an illusion" - George R. R. Martin.

Lunch time doubly so - Douglas Adams.
posted by DreamerFi at 6:06 AM on July 2 [12 favorites]


Now I'm understanding why bicycles were such a big deal when they were invented. 8 MPH is a very comfortable speed on a bike. (Of course, that's a modern bike with gears, blah blah, but even a single speed can easily reach that on good, not-too-hilly roads.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:13 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


TIL where the word "tarmac" comes from.
posted by cooker girl at 6:28 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


I sometimes think about this when driving around the rural parts of western RI. How long would it take for a farmer with a loaded wagon to get to Providence. Too long for regular deliveries so that would determine what they raised and where they sold it. This seems like important data for understanding the rural economy during the colonial and early post-colonial periods. I'd like to know how fast a cart pulled by oxen would go and also a person on horseback.
posted by Botanizer at 6:35 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


So is this the opposite of the "British tourist assumes you can just drive from NYC to LA on a day-trip" anecdotes?
posted by thecjm at 6:51 AM on July 2 [9 favorites]


If you've ever wondered why characters in an eighteenth- or pre-railroad nineteenth-century novel arrive for visits and then stay...and stay...and stay...you've got your answer.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:26 AM on July 2 [9 favorites]


TIL where the word "tarmac" comes from.

Yeah, that was my take-away as well. That and the cockney rhyming slang of "Jericho."
posted by terrapin at 7:32 AM on July 2


This seems like important data for understanding the rural economy during the colonial and early post-colonial periods.

Cattle drive? Nooo... Turkey Drive!
posted by sammyo at 7:50 AM on July 2


A person on horseback (in modern times) can manage about thirty miles in five hours on a fit but not exceptional horse over unpaved (gravel) roads, trails, and the like. Ordinary horses, everyday horses, horses like you can buy now for under a thousand dollars apiece can do this. (You do have to have a healthy one and spend about two months fitting the horse up for actual exertion first, but this is in no way an exceptional effort for a horse.) The horse would be fine the following day, assuming properly cooled out and cared for. If you have this fit horse, are giving the horse the day off on the next day, you can do fifty miles in a day. You will be quite tired and so will your horse because of having put in a ten to twelve hour effort, but you can do it.

If you have an exceptionally fit horse and you have spent rather a lot of time fitting him up for the effort and your tack fits him perfectly and he is a solid and athletic type... you can do a hundred miles in under twenty four hours.

If you are a high-end endurance rider on a top-notch endurance horse (and odds are long that it's an Arabian), you can do a hundred miles in well under twenty four hours even on brutally difficult trails. The 2019 Tevis Cup (Western States Trail Ride) finished in fourteen hours and twelve minutes and the course is no joke The Beast of the East (The Old Dominion 100) for 2019 was finished in 13:49. To be sure, these are VERY fit horses and VERY fit riders beating out a bunch of other very fit horses and riders. You're not going to pull some Ol' Dobbin out of the back forty and manage this. More likely you're going to be riding something called, like, Bint Tobruk Shahir or whatever, some dainty little nutjob with a flouncy tail and legs like iron. Again, these are not on "roads" but on trails and stuff. With mountains. Both the Tevis and the Old Dominion are fairly notable for having mountains.

I know nothing about carriages but I do know a little bit about endurance riding and the distances that may be covered by horse and rider on unpaved roads with somewhat technical terrain.
posted by which_chick at 7:51 AM on July 2 [22 favorites]


I remember hearing a great lecture from a Wampanoag staff member at the Plimoth Plantation museum in MA. He said that before the Europeans introduced horses, people just walked everywhere. So if someone asked you how far away your brother-in-law lived, you would say "three days away," meaning that it took a three days' walk to get there. He did not specify how many miles one would walk in a day.
posted by Melismata at 7:57 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I found this last night when watching the movie about Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, and we wondered how long it would take to get from San Francisco to San Jose (where the Winchester house is) by horse and carriage.
posted by larrybob at 8:26 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


This seems like important data for understanding the rural economy during the colonial and early post-colonial periods

For understanding the developments of market economies entirely at all, possibly. The Wealth of Nations starts with how water-transport was necessary to make markets big enough to support specialists, repeat until space-travel*. Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism has lots of days-of-travel-from maps (isopleths, I think?) showing the improvement in market integration, state coherence, military projection as roads improved. Road quality and management and funding and repair turn up over and over in Beatrice and Sidney Webb's histories (which I can't find a good short version of - anyone?).

* He's sure of the Mediterranean and the Nile, points out that China and its neighbors have histories they believe to be as old, and adds that navigation in Africa is still difficult as he writes so it would always have been hard for markets there to get larger.
posted by clew at 9:59 AM on July 2


In Saskatchewan (so I was told), farms were placed within a day’s wagon drive of the railroad lines so that grain could be transported in a timely fashion. It also meant that there was a lot of rail lines. And you can see that in some parts of the province where towns are named alphabetically down a line (or where one had been).

PEI also had a lot of rail lines, presumably for the same reason but with potatoes.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:13 AM on July 2


If you have an exceptionally fit horse and you have spent rather a lot of time fitting him up for the effort and your tack fits him perfectly and he is a solid and athletic type... you can do a hundred miles in under twenty four hours.

Are horses at this level of performance predominantly male?
posted by acb at 10:25 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


If you have this fit horse, are giving the horse the day off on the next day, you can do fifty miles in a day. You will be quite tired and so will your horse because of having put in a ten to twelve hour effort, but you can do it.

A ten to twelve hour / fifty mile effort is still going to make you pretty late for that tea in Devon.
posted by hanov3r at 10:34 AM on July 2


I don't know anything about the subject, but "some dainty little nutjob with a flouncy tail and legs like iron" is a wonderful turn of phrase for which I thank you, which_chick.
posted by misskaz at 10:42 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


This is really interesting.

The folklore I've always remembered is that one day's ride on a single horse with supplies, (not a carriage, but also not on a good road) is roughly the distance between California Missions, which is typically something like 25-30 miles. Which seems to line up with this reasonably well.
posted by eotvos at 10:59 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Are horses at this level of performance predominantly male?
posted by acb at 10:25 AM on July 2


I'm far, far, far from an expert on this topic, but you'll notice that which_chick wrote: "More likely you're going to be riding something called, like, Bint Tobruk Shahir or whatever." Note the Bint portion of the name. That indicates a female horse (Bin would be the male equivalent). Those terms indicate bloodlines of the horse and relate back to its sire.
posted by sardonyx at 11:24 AM on July 2


acb asks "Are horses at this level of performance predominantly male?" and for that I refer you to the AERC standings page where you can pick a year and look for point standings (all regions). Since this is horses, there are three options. M (mares, or girl horses), G (geldings, castrated boy horses), and S (stallions, uncastrated boy horses). There are a lot of G's and M's and not very many S's.

There are a lot of G's because G's exist to be ridden. They don't make babies or have babies and their only purpose in life is to work. So, they work. There is no other career path for them. M's work and work hard. But they usually require more tact from the rider than a G. S's... can be brilliant if you can convince them to think about something other than M's. They're kind of one-track-minded that way. Also, having gonads does not make them able to beat the G's and M's or more people would ride them in spite of their one-track minds. (Maybe if there were a way to convince the S's that a M was waiting at the finish line?)

misskaz: I've been riding the Dainty Little Nutjobs With Flouncy Tails and Legs Like Iron for the last forty years. They're great fun. A+, would recommend. Also, this is what they look like, for people not up to speed on their horse breeds. Note, these are not very big horses. Note, equipped with flouncy tails. Also, they're on a hundred mile ride, so... legs like iron. You'll just have to trust me on the nutjobbery but most of them settle down after the first twenty miles or so.
posted by which_chick at 12:00 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


. So if someone asked you how far away your brother-in-law lived, you would say "three days away," meaning that it took a three days' walk to get there. He did not specify how many miles one would walk in a day.

People still do this, at least in my part of Canada. Kilometres are rarely used for longer distances; more often how long it takes to get there.

I wonder if there is a density break over for this where people primarily use distance rather than time for how far away something is.

Now I'm understanding why bicycles were such a big deal when they were invented. 8 MPH is a very comfortable speed on a bike.

Bicycles at the time (fixed gears, marginal at best tires, poor quality roads in many places) probably weren't all that faster than horses but they had the massive advantages of being easy to park, not requiring food, and were handlable by most anyone. This was a key feature at a time when many women would otherwise be burdened with an undesired escort.
posted by Mitheral at 12:52 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Family legend time: my great-grandfather was a Jewish wool merchant in the Pale of Settlement. He'd walk from town A to town B, find a buyer for stock stuck in town A and/or arrange a trade for stock in town B, then carry on to town C, before ... well, repeat until end of journey, then turn round and go home.

He met my great-grandmother in what is today south-east Poland in 1876 on his way home—about a month out, in fact—from a cross-country trade trip that took him from Lodz to Tehran. On foot. (It's a little over 1900 miles each way.) He took two years over the trip, so averaged maybe 5 miles/day.)

So there's a yardstick for mileage by an itinerant trader in the pre-railroad era.
posted by cstross at 1:01 PM on July 2 [16 favorites]


100 miles of sitting trot? No thank you!
posted by fancypants at 2:37 PM on July 2


A horse or team pulling a cart or carriage might be able to travel further in a day than a horse carrying a rider plus supplies. Pulling weight is easier than carrying it.

In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, when Jean Valjean has to travel from Montreuil to Arras, he states the distance as "twenty lieues". A lieue at this period was 4km, about 2.5 miles. So it's a 50 mile journey.

He hires a single horse and a small, open two-wheeled buggy called a "tilbury". The horse's owner imposes various conditions: he must take the tilbury rather than a larger carriage; he must travel alone and without luggage so as not to overload the horse; he must rest the horse for half an hour in the middle of the journey and make sure he gets enough oats. With these conditions met, the owner boasts that the little white horse from Lower Boulonnais will do the 20 leagues at a full trot in under eight hours.

Various accidents mean the journey takes a little longer than that, but the horse does the job. Hugo writes with the weirdly large amount of detail he gives to these seemingly minor moments, and he does seem to know what he's talking about. (He wrote the book in exile after a dramatic flight from Paris to the north coast to sail for England, so perhaps that journey was in his mind.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:44 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


Now I'm understanding why bicycles were such a big deal when they were invented. 8 MPH is a very comfortable speed on a bike.

William Randolph Hearst sponsored a cross-country bicycle race in 1896 that saw an average speed of 11mph from San Francisco to New York (which is pretty impressive considering that the average bicycle of the era probably weighed around 50 lbs on top of having just the one speed and likely needing to be walked up steep hills).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 5:36 PM on July 2


A horse or team pulling a cart or carriage might be able to travel further in a day than a horse carrying a rider plus supplies. Pulling weight is easier than carrying it.

This makes perfect sense, I don't know why I'd always assumed the opposite! Also explains why which_chick's first option is 6mph but from the article Jane Austen has 8mph for Highbury to London.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:19 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


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