Saddle Up to Newport's Coaching Weekend

All you need to know about horse-drawn carriages.

Is it a scene out of “Downton Abbey” or is it Newport’s Coaching Weekend? The Preservation Society of Newport County welcomes a dozen coaching teams from around the country for the triennial event August 20 to 23, including a free driving exhibition at the Elms at 10:30 a.m. on August 22.

Horse-drawn carriages were an integral part of Newport’s social scene in the late part of the nineteenth century, with Alfred Vanderbilt’s Venture becoming one of the most famous coaches in history.

Here are five facts about coaching:

  1. Alfred Vanderbilt took the Venture, his coachman, grooms and stable boys along with twelve teams to England each year, where he had a stage coach line that ran from Brighton to London.
  2. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Vanderbilt and team travelled to London from Brighton; every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, they went back down to Brighton. The run was about fifty miles and took from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to complete.
  3. The horse-drawn mail coaches were eventually replaced by railroads, but nostalgia led to the development of coaching as a sport.
  4. Prominent Newport families like the Wetmores, Vanderbilts, Bells and Belmonts took coaches to go to races, polo games and the casino.
  5. The driver is called the “whip,” and sits in the elevated right front seat, and the whip’s wife or female relative takes up the “box seat” on the left. The rear bench holds two grooms and the center bench can seat up to ten passengers.