The first truly mass-produced vehicles for the transport of a child were introduced in 1840. Like our pushchairs and strollers, they were for the older child who could sit upright. The seats were mounted on three wheels. This design was based on the carriages used to transport the sick and physically disabled. Royal patronage played a considerable part in the popularity of these new ‘perambulators’, as Queen Victoria ordered several of the carriages for her children. But these early versions were not particularly comfortable, and often lacked any kind of brake, or straps to hold the child in.
Reformers such as Pye Henry Chavasse in his book Advice to a Mother (1839) criticised them: “The child, while being borne in the nurse’s arms, reposes on the nurse, warm and supported, as though he were in a nest! While, on the other hand, if he be in a perambulator, he is cold and unsupported, looking the very picture of misery, seeking everywhere for rest and comfort and finding none!” But parents were not convinced. There were recorded instances of carers carrying children in their arms and dropping them, and the streets were often dirty places to take a young walking child.
Perambulators (soon known as ‘prams’ for short) were a great success. But parents continued to want something similar for younger babies who needed to lie flat. During the 1880s two main types were developed. The ‘bassinet’ pram was essentially a baby’s wicker cradle on a wheeled frame. The other type, shown here, was known as a ‘mail cart’. It was based on the handcarts used by Post Office staff for delivering letters and small parcels. One difference is the smaller pair of wheels at the front: they are copied from horse drawn vehicles, and make it easier to move the pram in a small space. Mail cart prams, together with a pull-along version for older children, really caught the public imagination. They were extremely popular for the next few decades, despite problems with steering, instability and safety.