“There! you see!” cried Mary, in an ecstacy; “just as I said! Heir to Sir Walter Elliot! I was sure that would come out, if it was so. Depend upon it, that is a circumstance which his servants take care to publish, wherever he goes. But, Anne, only conceive how extraordinary! I wish I had looked at him more. I wish we had been aware in time who it was, that he might have been introduced to us. What a pity that we should not have been introduced to each other! Do you think he had the Elliot countenance? I hardly looked at him, I was looking at the horses; but I think he had something of the Elliot countenance. I wonder the arms did not strike me! Oh! the great-coat was hanging over the pannel, and hid the arms, so it did; otherwise, I am sure, I should have observed them, and the livery too; if the servant had not been in mourning, one should have known him by the livery.”
Persuasion, Chapter 12.
Last week I bored you all silly by my explanations of livery, the significance of livery colours and how they were worn in Jane Austen’s era by certain servants of the rich. Today I’d like to consider livery and coaches, for it is an integral part of the livery story and we ought to discuss it for the sake of completeness.
The passage from Persuasion quoted above is so gloriously funny-I love the way this glimpse of William Walter sets Mary Musgrove on to long descriptions of the Elliot Countenance –( shade of Mrs Austen and the Austen nose, perhaps?) – but it draws our attention to how livery was used, and how significant it was. Because Mr Elliot’s servant is in mourning for Mr Elliot’s dead wife, -he is wearing black, not the usual livery of a coachman- Mary Musgrove is unable to recognise the orange cuffs and capes of the Elliot livery. She was also frustrated in making a positive identification of her father’s errant heir by the fact that his Arms, painted onto the side panel of his curricle, are hidden from view by a great-coat.
If you were wealthy enough to afford a carriage and all its attendant expenses, and, of course, you were possessed of Arms, then you could have these painted on your coach to announce to the world just who was the owner of the vehicle. Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, at one point owned a carriage when they lived at Steventon, and this was decorated with teh Austen crest. In Jane Austen : A Family Record by Deirdre le Faye, we find these comments:
It seems that by now Mr Austen’s income was reasonably good, because entries in his bank account suggest that in the summer of 1784 he brought a chariot- a small carriage drawn by two horses and carrying three passengers- for the benefit of his wife and daughters.
Anna Austen, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother, James Austen, wrote about local rumours that spread about the carriage -which was either new or newly repainted-at the time of her uncle, Henry Austen’s marriage to Eliza de Feuillide in December 1797, and this is also quoted in Le Faye’s book:
About the time of Mr Henry Austen’s marriage with his first Wife his father set up a carriage which not unnaturally, joe on its panels( pic) the family crest; namely a Stag on a Crown Mural. The latter circumstance was accounted for, in his own way, by a neighbouring Squire, who reported that “Mr Austen had put a coronet on his carriage because of his son’s being married to a French Countess”.
THis is one of George Austen’s bookplates, and it is decorated with the Austen crest, quite as Anna Austen described it. This would have appeared on his coach, on the side door panel. The squire mentioned by Anna Austen- a Digweed?- obvious was not aware that Mr Austen was entitle to bear his own arms and crest. The glory of the Austen’s coach was short lived: in 1798 it was put away in storage for new taxes imposed on carriage owners made it far too expensive for George Austen to continue to maintain.
If we look at some images of carriage from the time, it will become clear as to where the Arms would have been on show. These images are all taken from my copy of William Felton’s Treaties on Carriages: comprehending coaches, chariots, phaetons, curricles, whiskeys, &c. : together with their proper harness (1794). Fenton was a London coachmaker and his book, in two volumes, gives us a mass of intricate detail as to how carriages in the late 18th century were made, complete with all their fittings.
The first we shall consider is a chariot, in this case a neat town chariot.
You can see, and do remember you can enlarge all these images by clicking on them, in order to examine the details, that the coat of arms of the owner and his crest are placed centrally on the door and side panel of the coach. You can appreciate that the arms and crest of the owner are clearly visible and would be very noticeable to any passer-by.
And here, below, is an image of an elegant Chariot, very elaborately decorated, but again with the arms of the owner clearly visible on the door panel.
Mr Elliot is riding from Lyme to Bath in a curricle, that smart gentleman-about-town’s vehicle so beloved of Charles Musgrove, who was eager to compare it with his own,
They had nearly done breakfast, when the sound of a carriage (almost the first they had heard since entering Lyme) drew half the party to the window. It was a gentleman’s carriage, a curricle, but only coming round from the stable-yard to the front door — somebody must be going away. It was driven by a servant in mourning.
Here is Felton’s impression of a Proper Curricle:
Here is Felton’s page illustrating the different ways in which Arms could be used to decorate a coach:
They range from the simple to the hideous in my very humble opinion.Here is his price list for adding such ornament to a vehicle :
So, that is why Mary Musgrove’s attempts to identify the owner of the curricle were stymied: in this case neither the arms nor the livery of the servant could help her because neither were on show.
I ought to tell you, however that, had Mr Elliot been in a larger coach, and had he and his servant not been in mourning for his unlamented wife, there was another way to discern the identity of the owner. Hammer clothes, which covered the coachman’s seat and which could be very decorative items, were also another way to identify the family’s livery, as they were often made in livery colours and could be embroidered with representations of the family’s coat of arms. Here is Felton’s description of them:
Hammer-cloths are among the principal ornaments in a carriage; they are a cloth covering to the coachman’s seat, made to various patterns agreeable to the occupier’s fancy. The fullness of the plaiting of the cloth , its depth and the quality of the trimmings thereon proportions the expense (sic-jfw) to almost any amount…
And here are some very elaborate examples:
John Cussans , in The Handbook of Heraldry, tells us that
The Colours of Hammercloths are regulated by the same laws as liveries.
Now, I have no reference for this but I doubt that a colourful hammer cloth covered in gold or silver lace and made in the heraldic colours of a family’s livery would be on show at a time of full mourning. If the servant who normally would have worn livery was dressed in black due to the custom of mourning, then I feel sure that a hammer cloth would also be subdued in hue. So if one had been on display it would still not have helped Mary Musgrove locate the owners identity in the inn- yard at Lyme. But as Mr Elliot was in a curricle and not a larger coach, no hammer cloth was to be seen. Poor Mary, therefore could only rely on her interpretation of The Elliot Countenance, and the information supplied to them by the waiter.