Coach (carriage)

The Gold State Coach of the British monarch

A coach is originally a large, usually closed, four-wheeled carriage with two or more horses harnessed as a team, controlled by a coachman and/or one or more postilions. It had doors in the sides, with generally a front and a back seat inside and, for the driver, a small, usually elevated seat in front called a box, box seat or coach box. The term "coach" first came into use in the 15th century, and spread across Europe. There are a number of types of coaches, with differentiations based on use, location and size. Special breeds of horses, such as the now-extinct Yorkshire Coach Horse, were developed to pull the vehicles.


See also: Carriage
Ornate detail on one of the Portuguese Royal Coaches at the National Coach Museum in Lisbon.

Kocs (pronounced "kotch") was the Hungarian post town in the 15th century onwards, which gave its name to a fast light vehicle, which later spread across Europe. Therefore, the English word coach, the Spanish and Portuguese coche, the German Kutsche, and the Slovak and Czech koč all probably derive from the Hungarian word "kocsi", literally meaning "of Kocs".[1][2]

It was not until about the middle of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that coaches were introduced to England. Coaches were reputedly introduced into England from France by Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel.[3]

A coach with four horses is a coach-and-four.[4] A coach together with the horses, harness and attendants is a turnout.[5]

The bodies of early coaches, as of American Concord stagecoaches, were hung on leather straps. In the eighteenth century steel springs were substituted, an improvement in suspension. An advertisement in the Edinburgh Courant for 1754 reads:

The Edinburgh stage-coach, for the better accommodation of passengers, will be altered to a new genteel two-end glass coach-machine, hung on steel springs, exceedingly light and easy...

A coach might have a built-in compartment called a boot, used originally as a seat for the coachman and later for storage. A luggage case for the top of a coach was called an imperial; the top, roof or second-story compartment of a coach was also known as an imperial.[6] The front and rear axles were connected by a main shaft called the perch or reach. A crossbar known as a splinter bar supported the springs. Coaches were often decorated by painters using a sable brush called a liner.

In the 19th century the term coach was applied to railway carriages,[7] and later to motor coaches.

Types of coaches

A Portuguese Royal Coach driver's uniform
A detailed door of a coach of the Royal House of Braganza.

There are a number of coach types, including:

A coach of state is used to convey persons in state. The principal ceremonial coaches in the United Kingdom are the Gold State Coach, Irish State Coach and Scottish State Coach.

Coach miscellany

The business of a coachman (or coachee, formerly coacher) was to drive a coach. He was also called a jarvey or jarvie, especially in Ireland; Jarvey was a nickname for Jarvis. If he drove dangerously fast or recklessly he was a jehu (from Jehu, king of Israel, who was noted for his furious attacks in a chariot (2 Kings 9:20), or a Phaeton (from Greek Phaethon, son of Helios, who attempted to drive the chariot of the sun but managed to set the earth on fire). A postilion or postillion sometimes rode as a guide on the near horse of a pair or of one of the pairs attached to a coach, especially when there was no coachman. A guard on a horse-drawn coach was called a shooter.

Fairman Rogers' Four-in-hand, by Thomas Eakins, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, 1880

Traveling by coach, or pleasure driving in a coach, as in a tally-ho, was called coaching. In driving a coach, the coachman used a coachwhip, usually provided with a long lash. Experienced coachmen never used the lash on their horses. They used the whip to flick the ear of the leader to give them the office to move on, or cracked it next to their heads to request increased speed. Coachmen and coach passengers might have worn a box coat, a heavy overcoat with or without shoulder capes, used by coachmen riding on the box seat exposed to all kinds of weather.[8] A hammercloth, ornamented and often fringed, sometimes hung over the coachman's seat, especially on a ceremonial coach.[9]

A coach horse or coacher is used or adapted for drawing a coach, as it is typically heavier and of more compact build than a road horse, and exhibits good style and action.[10] Breeds include:

Sometimes an extra horse, called a cockhorse, was led behind a coach so that it could be hitched before the regular team to assist in passing over steep or difficult terrain.

The Dalmatian is also known as a coach dog or carriage dog, because it was formerly used to run in attendance on a coach.

A coach house was a building for keeping a private carriage in and it often also included stabling for the horses and accommodation for coachman, groom or other servants; it was usually an outbuilding on an estate or adjacent to a large house. A coaching inn, also called coaching house, located along a route followed by horse-drawn coaches, served coach travelers and offered stabling for the horses of stagecoaches and a place to change horses.


  1. coach definition in Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  2. Definition "coach" in Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  3. Percy, S.; Percy, R. (1823). The Percy Anecdotes. T. Boys. p. 54. Retrieved 2014-10-12.
  4. Definition of coach-and-four by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. Free access.
  5. Turn out – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
  6. Definition of imperial by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. Free access.
  7. Oxford English Dictionary
  8. Box Coat. Probert Encyclopaedia.
  9. Hammercloth in Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (2000).
  10. Detailed information about specific breeds of horses: Carriage Horses in Britain. Georgian Index.
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