Riding and Driving in the Parks
A greater measure of freedom could be had in Richmond Park, where the undulating landscape of grass, woodland, gardens and groves made it ideally suited for the more adventurous horseman and woman. The largest of the royal parks at two and a half thousand acres and situated only twelve miles from St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was also the perfect destination for alfresco entertainments, including walking, driving and picnics.
Keeping a horse in London was a costly business and the aristocracy therefore flaunted their wealth with the unabashed splendour of their hacks and equipages. Showy, high-stepping horses were chosen for single turnouts, while matched pairs (and teams) of prime cattle were in demand for sporting curricles, dashing high-perch phaetons and elegant barouches. Captain Gronow relates, in his Reminiscences, that Lord Petersham’s carriages were, ‘…entirely brown, with brown horses and harness’, and Lord Barrymore drove, ‘…four splendid greys, unmatched in symmetry, action and power.’
Although favoured by sporting gentlemen for its slightly raffish appearance, ladies would sometimes drive a phaeton, but in general these were the lower versions pulled by ponies. Matched teams of cream, black and grey ponies were considered all the rage. Sir John and Lady Lade each drove a four-in-hand of stunning bays, whilst on occasion Sir John was to be seen on the box behind the Prince of Wales’ six highly-bred greys. During his later years, when he became somewhat stout, George IV could be seen taking his daily exercise in Windsor Great Park. Accompanied by his grooms, he drove a low phaeton drawn by two bay or brown horses, as depicted in an engraving by Melville and in another by Dickenson. This model came to be known as the George IV phaeton.
Of course, there were inevitably those few, intrepid ladies who thought nothing of driving both perch and high-perch phaetons. Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy wickedly drove the annoying Miss Wraxton down St. James’s Street, the bastion of male preserves, in her racy, high-perch version!