Trawling through information on the Eighteenth Century architect-come-garden designer William Kent elicited the rather surprising information that he is also credited with inventing the first pram!
William was a Yorkshireman born in 1685 who attained considerable success in the early 1700s designing buildings in London such as the Royal Mews at Charing Cross, and the Treasury Buildings and Horse Guards Building in Whitehall. A strict adherent of Palladian style, he worked on the interior of Sir Robert Walpole’s house at Houghton Hall and most effectively at Holkham Hall. And it wasn’t just the buildings he designed – in many cases he came up with the designs for all the furniture as well (for instance at Houghton Hall, Holkham Hall and for Devonshire House in London).
He was also the forerunner of the park-land type of garden design – before that particular baton was picked up by Capability Brown and Humphry Repton later in the century. If you wanted a rolling landscape punctuated with temples, grottoes, ornate bridges and specimen trees, he was your man.
I rather like the assessment of William Kent by Horace Walpole: “(He) was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many.”
Oh well, you can’t please all the people all of the time….
It was while working on a garden design for the Third Duke of Devonshire in 1733 that he was asked to design a baby carriage. He came up with a shell seat suspended on a carriage chassis, complete with rudimentary springs, and a harness so that the contraption could be pulled by a goat.
The design caught on with the aristocracy and soon everyone wanted their offspring to be towed around in a goat cart!
Some of these expensive toys were beautifully decorated, as in this on from the 18th Century. I can imagine the poor servant receiving constant commands to pull the child hither and thither, faster and faster!
Another splendid conveyance was purportedly made for Dauphin Louis Charles, the unfortunate son of Louis XVI. I say unfortunate – he would not have had many years to be carted around in it behind a goat because mummy and daddy were guillotined when the boy was eight; he was imprisoned and kept in appalling conditions (solitary confinement in a darkened room) for two years. He apparently died from TB (or possibly he was poisoned) shortly after his tenth birthday. The carriage, really no more than a normal carriage in miniature form, can be seen at Le Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles. Spare a thought for the young lad – today is the anniversary of his death…
To begin with these conveyances were simply intended to entertain the children – they were not designed so that parents could carry the child from one place to another. At this stage they were intended to harness either servant or animal power (pony and dog carts were increasingly favoured over goat carts).
Then came the breakthrough: Three-wheeler strollers started to appear in the middle of the Nineteenth Century (possibly to overcome by-laws banning four wheeled vehicles from the pavement). Much smaller and lighter, they were also somewhat top heavy and prone to fall over! The first stroller introduced to America was in the 1830s when Benjamin Potter Crandall arrived there. His son Jesse Armour Crandall modified and improved the design so that by the 1840s these strollers were in widespread use.
In time developments came in whereby the child sat in a removable basket, with handles. The patent by William Richardson in 1889 in the States is important because the bassinet was reversible – the child could either face the pusher, or face forward. Maneuverability was greatly increased, with independent axles.
From then it was but a short hop, skip and a jump to this splendid Edwardian pram from around 1905:
Meanwhile dog carts for older children to play in became common – I have a photograph of my grandmother in a dog cart dated 1901 when she was eight years old.
Improvements have come thick and fast in the intervening years, until they are just one more fashion accessory. I still think my favourite has to be the “pimp my pram” extravaganza featured here, from the http://www.emailjokez.com website:
So, we have come full circle – prams are a miniature version of adult cars. Toys for boys more like…