One of my favorite signs of Spring is the arrival in my email box of the Dandy Chargers annual schedule of appearances. For those of you who may not know, the Dandy Chargers are a group of gentlemen, and ladies, in Britain, who are aficionados of that particularly Regency vehicle, the velocipede. Readers of the works of Georgette Heyer may also know this vehicle as the pedestrian curricle which wreaked such havoc in her novel Frederica. These two-wheeled, pedal-less vehicles were also known as hobby-horses, draisiennes, or dandy-horses, and were very popular for a short period during the Regency.
Each year, the Dandy Chargers make appearances through the spring and summer at various venues across Britain, in full Regency costume, riding their hobby-horses. For those of you who live in Britain, or will be spending time there during the next few months, I offer the 2013 schedule of the Dandy Chargers appearances for your perusal and edification.
Sunday, 5 May 2013 — Montacute House
The first appearance of the Dandy Chargers thirteenth season will take place next Sunday, at the elegant Elizabethan estate of Montacute House in Somerset. During the Regency, the Phelps family occupied the house and lived the typical lifestyle of country gentry. If you have seen the film of Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, you have already seen parts of Montacute House, which was used as the location for a number of scenes. Montacute House has also been used as the location for a number of other films.
The Dandy Chargers appearance at Montacute House will begin at 12:Noon with their first ride. They will ride again at 2:30pm that afternoon. Weather permitting, the group is also planning a picnic lunch in the restored gardens. If you will be in the vicinity of Yeovil, Somerset on Sunday, 5 May 2013, and would like to see hobby-horses ridden through the lovely grounds of an estate, as they might very well have been during the Regency, make it a point to visit Montacute House to see the Dandy Chargers ride.
Author’s Note: Captain Street has kindly provided two photos of the Dandy Chargers at Montacute House. The first is the Dandy Chargers just about to set off on their hobby-horses. The second is the Captain’s Lady, Trish Street, in costume, next to her reproduction of a lady’s hobby-horse.
Sunday, 16 June 2013 — Parham House & Gardens
The estate of Parham Park, in West Sussex, is another late Elizabethan historic house which was the country estate of the Bishopp family. Like the Phelps family of Montacute House, the Bishopps lived the lives of respectable country gentry during the Regency and on through the rest of the nineteenth century. However, during the mid-eighteenth century, Parham House had connections to the notorious smugglers, the Hawkhurst Gang. But do not fear, the smugglers are long gone, and Parham House and its beautiful gardens are an oasis of bucolic tranquility in southeastern England.
The Dandy Chargers will begin their ride at Parham Park at about 2:30pm. They will ride along the paths to the lake and then will proceed on to the large walled kitchen garden. If you will be in the area of Pulborough, West Sussex on the afternoon of 16 June 2013, treat yourself to the sight of a group of Regency dandy-horse riders traversing the lovely grounds of Parham Park.
Saturday, 6 July 2013 — Barrington Day
The small but lovely village of Barrington, in Somerset, traces its history back into the Middle Ages, if not before. During the Regency, the population of Barrington was barely 375, while the population of the village today is less than 500. Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house, is situated nearby. The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a thirteenth-century church of unique design which is located in the village of Barrington.
Though hobby-horses were the rage in London during the Regency, they were also quite frequently seen in use in many towns and villages throughout the country. On Saturday, 6 July 2013, the village of Barrington will be holding its biennial celebration and the Dandy Chargers will be participating in that celebration. If you would like to enjoy the fun and frolic of an English village celebration and see the Dandy Chargers in action, make it a point to spend that first Saturday afternoon in July in the historic village of Barrington, in Somerset.
Saturday, 24 August 2013 — Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle really is a castle and dates its founding to the year 1067, just one year after William the Conqueror invaded England. It became, and remains to this day, the hereditary home of the Howard family and the Dukes of Norfolk. In the later eighteenth century, Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, spent a great deal of time restoring and refurbishing the castle in order to make it habitable. By the Regency, Arundel Castle had become quite a comfortable home, and the Duke often invited guests to stay there. In fact, the Duke held a grand gala there on 15 June 1815, to celebrate the 600th signing of the Magna Carta. Serendipitously, this celebration of the sextacentennial of the signing of the Magna Carta, which granted Englishmen a number of liberties, was held only three days before the Battle of Waterloo, which liberated Europe from the domination of Napoleon Bonaparte. (One wonders if, in June of 2015, Arundel Castle will hold a celebration of the bicentennial of the Duke of Norfolk’s grand gala and the octocentennial of the signing of the Magna Carta).
On Saturday, 24 August 2013, Arundel Castle, in West Sussex, will be sponsoring a Bank Holiday Multi-Period Event. This event will present characters and re-enactments of a host of events from the Roman Empire right through the Napoleonic Era. One of those events will be the rides of the Dandy Chargers. They will ride twice that day, both in the morning and in the afternoon. The residents of Arundel Castle and the surrounding area may well have ridden velocipedes and pedestrian curricles over the estate during the Regency. If you would like to take a step back into history and see such velocipede rides for yourself, not to mention a plethora of other historical re-enactments, do make it a point to visit Arundel Castle on that August Bank Holiday.
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The Dandy Chargers 2013 riding season promises to be especially delightful. My only disappointment is that I will not be able to travel to Britain this summer to see them ride. But if you have the good fortune to live in Britain, or will be traveling there during the Dandy Chargers riding season, do not miss an opportunity to see that uniquely Regency vehicle, the hobby-horse, ridden by a group of gentlemen in Regency dress, just as they might have appeared to those living during the Regency.
Author’s Note: As some of you may know, Roger Street is the Captain of the Dandy Chargers. As well as serving as the captain of this group of hobby-horse riders, he is also a dedicated scholar of these unique and fascinating vehicles. In 2011, he published his most recent book, Dashing Dandies, which I reviewed here last year. In addition to a most informative text, it is filled with a wonderful selection of full-color period images of the dandy-horse from a number of sources. Though it is only available in soft cover, it is printed on high-quality paper and is nicely bound. If you would like to acquire your own copy of Dashing Dandies, you may do so at the Artesius Publications web site.
I shall send you on your way with the traditional greeting of the Dandy Chargers: "May your strides ever be long ones!"