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By David Rooney on

Piggybacks, Tuk-tuks And Armchair Tourists

This is a sedan chair. Cute, no? These human-powered contraptions were all the rage in eighteenth-century Britain, part of a class of vehicle used worldwide. A pair of porters carried the chair by the poles, as the passenger inside looked on, wishing, I suspect, that she could have afforded a carriage.

Sedan chair, eighteenth century (Science Museum / Science & Society)
Sedan chair, eighteenth century (Science Museum / Science & Society)

It can’t have been a comfortable ride, surely. I suppose it was the polite version of a piggyback. But I’ve never travelled by sedan chair. Perhaps somebody can put me right. This one’s on show in Making the Modern World, and we’ve also got a Bolivian hospital sedan chair in our medical galleries.

The wheeled version is known as the rickshaw, which was originally human-hauled (or pushed) and is now often pedalled. Central London is full of these contraptions, although there’s a Bill with Parliament at the moment to control their use (I think I’ll walk, thanks).

A logical development was to motorize the rickshaw. Here’s an ‘Autoriksha’ by the Indian auto firm Bajaj, at our Wroughton store.

Bajaj Autoriksha, 1982 (Science Museum / Science & Society)
Bajaj 'Autoriksha', 1982 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Autorickshaws (known as autos, tuk-tuks and many other variants) are used around the world, particularly in Asia and some American and African countries. With even the smallest motor comes mobility – which can unlock prosperity.

I’ll return to the theme of light vehicles in future. In the meantime, here’s a great sedan-chair nostalgia-fest created by two British railway companies in 1946, tempting tourists to historic Bath…

Historic Bath poster, 1946 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)
'Historic Bath' poster, 1946 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

You can imagine the conversation. “You’ll never guess who I ‘ad in the back of me sedan chair the other day, guv…”