Driving club

In the 19th century, a driving club was a membership club for the recreational practice of carriage driving.


Early British driving clubs

The B.D.C.

One of the first driving clubs was the Bensington Driving Club, founded in February 1807 at Bensington, Oxfordshire, also known as the Benson Driving Club when Bensington became Benson, and commonly referred to as "the B.D.C.". It was disbanded in 1854.[1][2][3] The BDC initially met in the White Hart public house.[4] Later the club was relocated to Bedfont, becoming the Bedfont Driving Club with ease (since the initials remained the same), and met in the Black Dog public house.[5][6] As a consequence it was also known by the informal name the Black and White Club.[4]

Its first president was Charles Finch.[7] Finch's successor as president was Thomas Onslow, 2nd Earl of Onslow, a.k.a. "Tommy" Onslow.[8] The members of the club were illustrated in Holcroft's comedy The Road to Ruin in Goldfinch.[5] Tommy Onslow was ridiculed in two epigrams, the first of which was:[9]

What can Tommy Onslow do?
He can drive a coach and two!
Can Tommy Onslow do no more?
He can drive a coach and four.


The second was a variation:

Say, What can Tommy Onslow do?
Can drive a curricle and two!
Can Tommy Onslow do no more?
Yes, — drive a curricle and four.


In fact, these were variants of a rhyme that had followed Onslow from his days as a "whip" long before the founding of the Four-In-Hand Club, where he had driven a phaeton. In Athenæum one correspondent reported that the verse had been popular in Onslow's younger days, in Surrey, at the start of the 19th century:[12]

What can little T. O. do?
Drive a phaeton and two.
Can little T. O,. do no more?
Yes, — drive a phaeton and four.


The Four Horse Club

The (friendly) rival Four Horse Club was founded the year after the BDC, in April 1808, but didn't last as long.[1][4][3] It was founded because the membership of the BDC was limited to 25 people. Charles Buxton, the inventor of the Buxton bit, along with some friends therefore founded the Four Horse Club. It was also informally known by various other names, as the Four-In-Hand Club (after four-in-hand), the Whip Club, and the Barouche Club. The third name was after a type of horse carriage called a barouche, which was driven by its members. The club rules dictated that a barouche should have silver mounted harnesses, rosettes at their heads, yellow bodies, "dickies", and bay horses. However, the final requirement was relaxed. Club members Sir Henry Peyton and Mr Annesley drove roan horses.[4]

The Four Horse Club rules also had strict dictates about clothing for the drivers. They required a drab coat that reached down to one's ankles, decorated with large mother-of-pearl buttons, and three tiers of pockets; a blue waistcoat with inch-wide yellow stripes; knee-length breeches with strings and rosettes, made of plush; and a hat that was at least 3.5 inch deep in the crown.[4]

The FHC encountered difficulties in 1820, revived in 1822 with slightly different club rules, but only lasting until 1826.[1][6] An 1820 joke went the rounds, of a person addressing a FHC member, saying "I hear that you men have broken up.". To which, the reply was "No. We've broken down; the FHC had not enough in hand to keep on with."[6][3] The modified rules called for a brown landaulet carriage, without ornaments; no restrictions upon horse colour; and brass mounted harnesses.[6]

The Richmond Driving Club

The Richmond Driving Club was founded in 1838 by Lord Chesterfield.[13][14] It only lasted until 1845. It used to meet at Lord Chesterfield's house, and drive, in procession, to dinner at the Castle Hotel in Richmond. It was satirized by Robert Smith Surtees:[14]

Following his track succeeds a numerous band,
Who vainly drive to work their fours-in-hand.
For Richmond bound I view them passing by,
Their hands unsteady, and their reins awry.
Some scratch their panels, some their horses' knees —
Beaufort and Payne, I class you not with these;
For who so smartly skins along the plain
as Beaufort's Duke? What whip can equal Payne?
No matter — dinner comes, when all are able
To drive their coaches well about the table.
Ricardo then can driving feats relate,
And Batthyany swear he'd clear the gate;
Till midnight closes o'er the festive scene,
Then who so bold as ride with Angerstein?
He who aloft can mark with unmoved nerve
The wheelers jibbing while the leaders swerve,
And sit, al careless, 'mid the wordy war
To lose a pinch-pin, break a splinter-bar.

Chaunt of Achilles, Surtees[14]

The Duke of Beaufort, named in the poem, did take part in the processions, but was not actually a member of the RDC. Mr Angerstein, also named, was a particularly reckless driver, whose reputation led no-one to want to ride with him. An anecdote relates that on one occasion someone unwittingly climbed into Angerstein's carriage after dinner for the ride home. Angerstein, so excited that someone had actually chosen to ride with him, set off immediately, without waiting for the rest of the procession, and so suddenly that his passenger was thrown head-over-heels. The passenger, realizing whose carriage he had embarked upon, saying nothing jumped straight off.[14]

The Four-In-Hand Driving Club

The Four-In-Hand Driving Club was founded in 1856.[15]

Driving clubs in the United States

19th century popularity

Enthusiasts in Boston, Massachusetts formed several driving clubs (also called "gentlemen's driving clubs"), and so-called trotting associations, in the second half of the 19th century. They would race in three locations: the Readville Race Course, the Riverside Riding Park in Allston (later to be named Beacon Park), and the South End Driving Park.[16] The most famous of these clubs, the Metropolitan Driving Club, conducted races for several decades, until the rise in popularity of the motor car caused carriage driving to lose its appeal.[17]

20th and 21st century

A 2002 estimate by the USTA was that there were over 500 members of the various registered driving clubs in the United States. Most of these driving clubs are small, holding driving contests at the home tracks before the regular horse races on the racing card.[18] There are additional organizations dedicated to the sport of combined driving. Still others focus on the driving of draft horses and other non-racing breeds for primarily recreational purposes.


  1. ^ a b c Bailey 1879, pp. 90
  2. ^ Bailey 1914, pp. 280
  3. ^ a b c Blew 1894, pp. 302
  4. ^ a b c d e Beaufort 1889, pp. 251–252
  5. ^ a b c d e Timbs 1866, pp. 289
  6. ^ a b c d Beaufort 1889, pp. 255
  7. ^ Escott 1914, pp. 306
  8. ^ Escott 1914, pp. 308
  9. ^ Timbs 1866, pp. 290
  10. ^ Escott 1914, pp. 307
  11. ^ Gronow 1865, pp. 142
  12. ^ Timbs 1866, pp. 291
  13. ^ Blew 1894, pp. 245
  14. ^ a b c d Beaufort 1889, pp. 256–258
  15. ^ Blew 1894, pp. 247
  16. ^ Hardy 2003, pp. 134
  17. ^ Temple 2010, pp. 16
  18. ^ Siegel 2002, pp. 17

Reference bibliography

  • Baily's Magazine of sports and pastimes (Baily Bros) 34. 1879. 
  • Baily's Magazine of sports and pastimes (Baily Bros) 101. 1914. 
  • Beaufort, Henry Charles Fitz Roy Somerset (1889). "Driving Clubs, Old and New". Driving. With contributions by other authorities.. Illustrated by G. D. Giles and John Sturgess (republished Elibron.com ed.). Longmans, Green and co.. ISBN 9780543928559. 
  • Blew, William Charles Arlington (1894). Brighton and Its Coaches — A History of the London and Brighton Road (republished READ BOOKS, 2008 ed.). J. C. Nimmo. ISBN 9781443770965. 
  • Escott, Thomas Hay Sweet (1914). Club Makers and Club Members (republished BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008 ed.). T. F. Unwin. ISBN 9780559817649. 
  • Gronow, Rees Howell (1865). "Equipages in London and Paris". Celebrities of London and Paris. Smith, Elder & Co.. 
  • Hardy, Stephen (2003). How Boston played: sport, recreation, and community, 1865–1915. University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 9781572332188. 
  • Siegel, Paul D. (2002). How to Own Winning Standardbred Racehorses. The Russell Meerdink Company Ltd. ISBN 9780929346724. 
  • Temple, Robert (2010). The History of Harness Racing in New England. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781450054706. 
  • Timbs, John (1866). "The Four-In-Hand Club". Club Life of London with Anecdotes of the Clubs, Coffee-Houses and Taverns of the Metropolis during the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries. 1. Richard Bentley. 

Further reading

  • Watney, Marylian (1974). "Driving — Then and Now". In Judy Rayner. The horseman's companion: a guide to riding and horses. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780856642005. 
  • Linnehan, John William; Cogswell, Edward E. (1914). The Driving Clubs of Greater Boston (republished General Books, 2010 ed.). Boston: Press of Atlantic printing company. ISBN 9781155028651. 
  • "Patroclus" (September 1838). "Chaunt of Achilles". The New sporting magazine 15 (87): 153–158. 

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