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Death early 20th Century and before


The postillion (postilion) of a horse-drawn vehicle

By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002

For some time I was puzzled at my mother's description of the postilion in a funeral procession, because she said that postillions looked like jockeys. Yet all photos of Victorian and Edwardian funeral processions show drivers wearing top hats. However she was correct - see the definition of a postillion below.

Definition of a postillion

According to The Free online Dictionary:

A postilion (or postillion) is someone who rides the near horse of a pair in order to guide the horses pulling a carriage (especially a carriage without a coachman).

Pictures of postillions

postillion (postilion) driver, driving a coach while sitting on the nearside leading horse

Toy model showing a coach with a postillion driver. Note that he is dressed like a jockey and guides the coach (or hearse) while sitting on a horse that is pulling the coach (or hearse). Photographed in Brighton Toy and Model Museum.

Postillion, drawing in old newspaper: he is dressed like a jockey and guides the coach while sitting on a leading horse

Old newspaper drawing showing a postillion. He is dressed like a jockey and guides the coach while sitting on a horses that is pulling the coach.

This drawing shows a procession which is clearly for show purposes, and it suggests that there are more horses out of the picture, to the right. If so, there would have to be at least one more postillion, as postillions always guided the front horse.

Postillions in funeral processions

An old book confirms that postillions were in funeral processions:

The coffin, half hidden among flowers, was in a hearse drawn by six black horses richly caparisoned* in purple and gold. On one of the front horses rode a postillion ....

* 'caparisoned' refers to a horse without a rider.

from Gypsies of Britain: an introduction to their history (1944)

The uniform or clothes of a postillion

The same book continues:

... a postillion wearing a tight fitting black tunic and purple knee-breeches and a black jockey cap.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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