Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Doing My Research

Edith here, working on bringing 1888 to life.

In 1888, if you wanted to get somewhere closer than fifty miles away, you generally traveled in a conveyance pulled by horses. There were buggies, carriages, phaetons, wagons, surreys, carts, and plenty of other varieties. Some had two wheels, some had four. They were pulled by one, two, four, or even eight horses.

I've now written two books (one is still a draft, thank goodness) featuring vaguely worded
carriages and buggies. The Quaker Midwife Mysteries are set in Amesbury, which was called the Carriage Capital of the World, shipping graceful, sturdy vehicles shipped all over the US and internationally. I'm a member of the Amesbury Carriage Museum and have seen plenty of antique carriages around, even sat in a couple as they sat unhitched to a steed.

But I'd never ridden in one. So last week I hied myself fifteen minutes north to The Carriage Barn in Kensington, New Hampshire. They provide equine therapy, carriage driving lessons, and much more. The generous director, Ann
Ann Miles, director and guru of the Carriage Barn
Miles, knows more about riding, equine therapy, AND historic carriages than her brain has a right to.

Ann showed me a couple of dozen carriages - no, there was a buggy, a runabout, a couple of sleighs, a governess's cart, a phaeton, a sailor's wagon, a wagonette, and more.
I think this is a runabout.

Governess cart

We talked about the history of the time. She lent me two volumes of the Carriage Journal. She handed me a helmet - because I was about to go riding! One of the people who come and take riding lessons, Sue, had agreed to have her lesson with me aboard.

Sue (behind), Ann, and Emily (in pink) hitching up Casey.
Sue and delightful barn employee Emily brushed and cleaned and harnessed up the patient, calm, strong Casey. Sue and Ann brought a replica carriage out and they all worked together to hitch Casey to it.

I learned that the driver's seat was always on the right, not the left, and the driver mounts first. I'd worn my homemade earlier-century long linen skirt and ankle boots to get the feel of climbing up into the carriage, and yeah, I had to keep the skirt out of the way.

Getting ready to head out in a wagonette.

We walked a few laps, and then trotted quite a few over the grassy field. Wow. The carriage lists from side to side. There's nothing much to hang onto.

Sue, who is a couple of inches shorter than I, was remarkable in holding the whip at the ready but only touching Casey gently with it when she gave him a command (and not letting the whip sag and touch him inadvertently). Casey was voice trained - who knew?

I thanked them all, and Casey, after we finished. It was a hugely useful couple of hours. I know I'll be back.

Readers: What kind of detail do you look for in an historical novel? Or even in a contemporary? Have you ever stopped reading because you found an error in fact? Writers: what do you do for research?


Anonymous said...

Definitely getting into your books! It looks like fun, but also hard work. I begin to see why ladies had to change clothes and rest upon arrival for an event.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your story, I'm definitely going to start reading your series. Loved learning about the buggies. Thanks Dawn Kramer