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Article: The Cost of Keeping a Horse in Jane Austen's Day

The Cost of Keeping a Horse in Jane Austen's Day -

The Cost of Keeping a Horse in Jane Austen's Day

In Jane Austen's day, walking was the most common method of travel, and the vast majority of Britains could never afford to own a horse. Horses were extremely expensive, luxury items, and, in a society led by the Prince Regent whose passion for fast horses was legendary, ownership of a smart horse or team of horses gave one considerable and instant social prestige.

 A horse in Jane Austen's Day was a major financial consideration. A good carriage horse cost around £100. An unimpressive hack or a functional cob could vary from £25-40, depending on the horse's age, health and appearance. Although lacking in its potential to impress, a pony was a bit cheaper both to purchase and to feed than a horse. Miss DeBourgh's "little phaeton and ponies" in Pride and Prejudice are more likely remnants of an indulged childhood than any attempt at economy. The horse's feed would cost another £30 a year, more expensive than keeping a human servant, and then there was hay and straw to buy as well as the blacksmith to pay, and the annual luxury tax of 30 shillings a head for each horse. Housing your horse was another consideration. The cost of keeping a single riding horse in London was around £120 a year. A family carriage could be maintained for about £400.

In Sense and Sensibility, when John Willoughby offers to give Marianne Dashwood a horse, she first impulsively accepts and then is forced to decline when Elinor reminds her of the expense involved. Considering that the Dashwood women were struggling to live on £500 a year, horse ownership was completely out of the question. Pairs of horses obviously doubled the expense but quickened the pace. A good pair of carriage horses could convey one at the heady rate of about eleven miles per hour. And then there was the additional challenge of matching the pair. The trick was to find two horses as similar to one another as possible in size, color, conformation, markings, and, if possible, age. Horses eventually wore out, many literally dying in harness.

Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arriving at Longbourn, by Hugh Thompson, 1894The popularity of the Cleveland bay as the favorite breed for coach horses was possibly due to their uniformity. The fastest, most expensive, and thus most impressive method of turning the wheels on one's carriage was to have four horses, such asPride and Prejudice's Mr. Bingley has hitched to his chaise and the legendary Mr. Suckling of Maple Grove uses to pull his barouche-landau in Emma. One way to get around the financial drain of keeping carriage horses was to rent them from a nearby livery stable, and this is the course of action chosen by Mr. Knightley in Emma and by the Hursts in Pride and Prejudice.

A misery of human life--after an hour's perseverance, lash--obliged to give up--and return back. Harriet and Di in this predicament. From 'Mrs. Hurst, Dancing' by Diana Sperling, 1812-1823The most economical alternative to horse ownership was to purchase a donkey. While living at Chawton Cottage on a little less than £500 a year, Jane Austen, Cassandra, and their mother had a donkey and cart. An ordinary donkey cost about 5 shillings, and the most expensive donkey could be had for only £3. In addition to being cute and possessing considerable personal charm, a donkey would eat practically anything. The disadvantages were mainly due to the donkey's small size, making it slower and unable to pull a large carriage or more than two adults. In Emma, when Mrs. Elton's carriage horse goes lame and she is left without transportation, she waxes eloquent on the rustic pleasures of riding a donkey to Box Hill, "with my caro sposo walking by." But for all of their advantages, it is perhaps impossible to cut a dashing figure while sitting on or driving a donkey.

Sheryl Craig is an Instructor of English at Central Missouri State University. Her sources for this article include What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens KnewAn Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, and English Society in the Eighteenth Century. 


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