Stable Servants

Owning and maintaining a carriage was a lot more involved than modern people realize, and it took quite a few members of staff to drive them, tend the horses, and keep the vehicles in working order.

Coachman

His main duty was driving the carriages, which included being able to drive all sorts of vehicles and horses; a single horse handles differently than a pair or four. While there were others who handled the day-to-day duties of the stables, he had to know how to care for and train the horses.

Most households had only one coachman, though the largest estates (like those of the nobility) might have multiple with one of them assigned as the Head Coachman.

Though wages varied throughout the 1800s, it ranged from 30-50 pounds a year and included lodging and their livery. They lived in an apartment over the coach house with their family. They got one day off a week, but they were on call at all hours as required by the family.

 

In general, they wore “livery” or a servant’s uniform on formal occasions, though this did vary from household to household. A coachman’s livery varied from other servants in that their hat was a bicorn (rather than tricorn).

Postilion

Also known as a Post Boy

A rider who sits on the left-hand front horse and steers the carriage. By riding on the horse, they had greater control over the horses and steering than a coachman had. The postillion wears a false leg (an iron guard) on the outside of his right leg to stop it from being crushed by the pole that separates the two horses.

I couldn’t find specific information about the nature of a postboy’s employment, but it seems as though postilion was not a full-time position in a household. Postilions were mainly used on long journeys, and generally were contracted out. When families would change horses at various stages or posts along the way, the postboy would travel with the hired horses and ensure they were eventually returned. However, a family groom would be enlisted to act as postilion for any part of the journey in which the family used their own horses.

Postillion driven carriages can be drawn by two, four, six, or eight horses with one, two, three, or four postillions.

Groom

These servants were in charge of the day-to-day care of the horse and stables, including oiling and cleaning the harnesses. They were the all-around workers of the stables because they would clean and organize the stables and stalls, plus feed and water, exercise, and brush the horses. They were also in charge of keeping an eye out for any illness or injury among the horses.

Most households had multiple grooms, and in the larger stables, one would be designated as the Head Groom or Stablemaster. He would oversee the grooms and would deal with the ordering of supplies. If the household did not have a stablemaster, the coachman would take on those duties.

Though wages varied throughout the 1800s, it ranged from 15-20 pounds a year and included room and board; they slept either in servants quarters in the main house or in the stables. They were always on call and even traveled with the family on long journeys.

A tiger was a name for grooms that worked with cabriolets. The name came from the fact that they wore striped waistcoats when out and about. While I found many online references that say that tigers were just grooms, all my primary source material says the term only applies to cabriolet grooms. Honestly, I’ve read a lot of modern books that reference tigers, but books from the era don’t really talk about them all that much. I read an entire non-fiction book about carriages and coach driving, and there was only a single reference to tigers (and it was in reference to a cabriolet).

Stableboy

The lowest rung of the stable servants, these were the assistants to the grooms and the general grunts of the stables. Most stable employees started off as stableboys and worked their way up.

Though wages varied throughout the 1800s, it ranged from 6-12 pounds a year and included room and board; they slept in the hay loft above the stables to be on call at all times.

Additional Staff

Every stable had at least a coachman, groom, and stableboy, but there were still many more workers needed to keep the coaches running. Depending on the size and needs of the stables, they had additional staff that would be either kept on-site or contracted out from the local village. For those that were employed full-time, they were given one day off a week and lived in their own lodgings off the estate.

  • Wheelwright and/or carpenter: Repaired wheels, carriages, and the buildings.

  • Blacksmith: Shoed horses and made repairs to the wheels (the metal bits), springs, and brakes. They also repaired all tools as needed.

  • Farrier: Shoed horses. Where blacksmiths could shoe horses as well, farriers specialized in all things pertaining to hoof care. They could make and repair horse shoes and healed injuries and illnesses to the feet and lower legs.

Livery

When operating in formal situations, grooms and coachmen had official uniforms they wore called livery. Most of it was fairly standard and included a powdered wig, braided livery coat, white plush breeches, white silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes. A coachman’s livery varied from a footman or groom in that they wore a bicorn hat (while the others wore a tricorn hat). A postilion’s livery was slightly different in that they wore leather breeches, a short jacket, and leather boots, as they were riding.