Charabanc Fever

Main image above: ‘Sebastopol Inn, Ladies Out­ing, Pre­ston’, from Pre­ston Dig­i­tal Archive on Flickr.

A few weeks ago Doreen (@londondear) made us pause and think when she said she had been puzzled by the mention of ‘charabancs’ in our recent book, 20th Century Pub, and had to look up what it meant.

Some­how, we’ve always known about chara­bancs, though they’ve been effec­tive­ly extinct for more than half a cen­tu­ry and the word is now only used as a delib­er­ate archaism. While research­ing the book chara­bancs became a kind of run­ning joke for us as try­ing to find his­toric pho­tographs of pubs with­out chara­bancs parked in front of them was often a chal­lenge.

But Doreen is quite right – we prob­a­bly ought to have giv­en a few words of expla­na­tion, but now those few words have turned into this rather long blog post. We’re grate­ful to Patre­on sub­scribers like Harley Gold­smith and Peter Sid­well for giv­ing us an excuse to spend quite so much time on it.

* * *

Vintage illustration.
A wag­onette. (SOURCE: The Book of the Horse, 1880, via the Inter­net Archive.)

The word chara­banc comes from the French char-à-bancs (lit­er­al­ly a car­riage with bench­es) and became attached in Britain to large six- or eight-seater car­riages pre­vi­ous­ly known as wag­onettes, prob­a­bly because it sound­ed fanci­er.

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of chara­bancs among work­ing class peo­ple arose along­side the very con­cept of leisure time. An account from 1872 describes how shop assis­tants in Devon cel­e­brat­ed the intro­duc­tion of ear­ly clos­ing on Thurs­day after­noons by tak­ing a chara­banc trip to Bab­ba­combe. [1]

Hir­ing a chara­banc was an indul­gence but an afford­able one and club­bing togeth­er to pay for it, then trav­el­ling in a mer­ry group, was half the fun. By the 1880s there were chara­bancs pulled by four hors­es capa­ble of car­ry­ing 21 pas­sen­gers, or even 35. [2]

Pubs were nat­ur­al hubs for clubs, soci­eties and teams, and an equal­ly obvi­ous cen­tre for the organ­i­sa­tion of chara­banc trips, and for the pick-up and drop of daytrip­pers. Thus chara­bancs came to be strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with pubs. (But not exclu­sive­ly – church groups were also big chara­banc fans.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Chara­banc Fever”