A Wonderful Mid 19thC Invalid Carriage / Bath Chair c.1854

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Origin: English
Period: Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1850-1860
Length: 66 inches
Height: 66 inches (extended)
Width: 40 inches
Rear Wheel Diameter: 30 inches

The invalid carriage or bath chair, probably by J Alderman or Carters of London, dated in handwritten ink November 18th 1854 to the secret lidded seat compartment, with fold up hood and brown painted red lined body with royal blue button back plush interior on a sprung wrought iron base with twin spoked wheels beneath the seat, and single wheel to the front, turned using a steering tiller and with push handle to the rear survives from the early Victorian period.

In as found condition, there are numerous faults with rust, tears, dirt and losses but she is wonderfully evocative. The carriage could of course be restored if so desired, but aesthetically she still sings in the current condition. The piece is provided with the original canopy cover for protection when not in use. She does still move freely on her wheels.

There is a compartment under the seat, and dated to November 1854, where, quite charmingly, is a secret stash of conkers, probably also dating to the middle of the nineteenth century as they have gone purple. One can imagine a small mischievous boy collecting these around the sweeping estate, using the chair for his own purpose, when really he wasn’t allowed! A lovely find.

The invalid carriage or Bath Chair dates from around 1760 and is essentially a rolling chaise or light carriage with a folding hood, which can be open or closed, and sometimes a glass front. Used especially by invalids, it is mounted on three or four wheels and drawn or pushed by hand. It is so named from its origin in Bath, England, and possibly also after its similarity in appearance to an old-fashioned bathtub. If required, the chair can be mounted on four wheels and drawn by a horse, donkey or small pony with the usual turning arrangement. James Heath, of Bath, who flourished before the middle of the 18th century, was the inventor.

Later versions were a type of wheelchair which is pushed by an attendant rather than pulled by an animal. In the 19th century, which would include this fairly early example, they were often seen at spa resorts such as Buxton and Tunbridge Wells. Some versions incorporated a steering device for use by the invalid as does this one.

These carriages represented a step forward in giving greater independence to people with disabilities, although at this stage, certainly in 1854, they were limited to those who could afford them. By the time of her diamond jubilee in 1897, when Queen Victoria was aged 78, she was confined to a wheelchair. She would have had a number of pony-drawn invalid carriages at each of her favourite residences; Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Small, electrical powered invalid carriages were then introduced and increasingly common from the 1920s.

We love items that are trying to tell a story; and this example is positively screaming one. A museum piece that proves hugely filmic.

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