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Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Pedestrian Curricle, or Hobby Horse

My first introduction to this forerunner of the bicycle was in the local museum, Christchurch Mansion, in Ipswich, which has been beautifully refurbished since my childhood.  Back then it stood with a sedan chair in the passage outside the kitchen, for want of somewhere better to put it. 
My later introduction to this short-lived fad was through Georgette Heyer's Frederica, the first of her novels I read, at the age of 9, and a fortuitous introduction to a rather young reader.  The adventures that Jessamy Merriville on a pedestrian curricle date the book quite accurately to 1819 and provide a hilarious interlude.

So what WAS the pedestrian curricle? 

This is the one in Ipswich, which thanks to Debbie Barnes of the Ipswich Museum I was able to go and see at the Ipswich Transport Museum where it is on loan [and thanks to for the co-operation of the staff and volunteers there who organised a backcloth for me to photograph it against for clarity].

The  Pedestrian Curricle was invented by one Baron Von Drais and was introduced to England by Dennis Johnson.  One sat astride it and propelled oneself by essentially a form of gliding stride,  with which considerable speed might be obtained. 
With regards to its history I can do no better than the excellent Kathryn Kane who has written it up here, the rise and here, the fall as well as in the book by Captain Roger Street to be obtained here; 
The intent of this blog is to add some supplemental visual material  to Kat's blog, with the photograph of our local one and a few contemporary images.

The fad was sufficiently notorious to achieve an illustrated article in 'Ackermann's Repository' in February 1819.




 Jessamy's experience was probably not unusual, and there is an extant picture by, or after, Maurice Rousseau which appears to show some kind of school for the use of the Hobby Horse.  Note that one of the gentlemen has lifted his feet to coast; some Pedestrian curricles had places to rest the feet.  The Ipswich one does not.


11 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this item, Sarah. I am a huge Georgette Heyer fan, and am currently re-reading "Frederica" (one of my absolute all-time favourites) for the umpteenth time, and just for fun googled 'pedestrian curricle'. I had found it difficult to visualise, but didn't realise that it was a forerunner of the bicycle, picturing instead a sideways and more simple construction. I really appreciate the addition to my knowledge and understanding.

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  2. So glad it was useful, Diz! yes, Frederica is one of my favourites too, and I would love to make a balloon ascent one day...
    I do consider Heyer to be my main inspiration, the true mistress of the Regency!

    I was overjoyed to obtain a Draisine, which is close enough to a pedestrian curricle for Poser, a 3D drawing program. Whether I shall use it on a cover I don't know, but I do have a sentimental attachment to the machine! I'll also be using the craze for it as an instrument of murder in a later Jane and Caleb book...

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  3. So funny! I, too, am re-reading "Frederica" and decided to google "pedestrian curricle". Thanks for posting the picture and information!

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  4. Thanks Sarah! My 4-year old nephew has a little 2-wheeled conveyance with no chain or brakes, and as I've been re-reading " Frederica " this week, I suddenly realized that what my sweet neff owns is basically a pedestrian curricle. He recently used it at high speeds (to terrorize visitors at the city zoo). I can't wait to show his mom the pictures of the original model!

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  5. Thanks Sarah! My 4-year old nephew has a little 2-wheeled conveyance with no chain or brakes, and as I've been re-reading " Frederica " this week, I suddenly realized that what my sweet neff owns is basically a pedestrian curricle. He recently used it at high speeds (to terrorize visitors at the city zoo). I can't wait to show his mom the pictures of the original model!

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  6. Haha, I suspect many of the dandies who rode them also terrorised pedestrians, though with less innocent enjoyment than a 4 year old... good luck to him in his future cycling!
    Me, I reckon a 2-wheeled vehicle needs a v-twin engine of several hundred cc capacity shoehorned into it....

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  7. I, like many others coming to your page, am re-reading Frederica, and googled pedestrian curricle!

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  8. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I do, every time I re-read it!

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  9. I'm so happy to find other Georgette Heyer fans who re-read her books! I've been doing that for many years, and now I can Google things like pedestrian curricle when I enjoy Frederica for the umteenth time!

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  10. You're by no means the only one, Kate, and if you belong to facebook there's a Georgette Heyer appreciation group that I belong to, as do a fair number of other Regency authors, all of whom were inspired by Heyer! thanks for dropping by and taking time to comment, I hope you also enjoy my post on the foods Heyer mentions and the names of her heroines.

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