One of my favorite TV shows from the late 1970’s was a BBC series called “Connections.” Hosted by science historian James Burke, the show explores an “Alternative View of Change” (the subtitle of the series) that rejected the conventional linear view of historical progress. Burke contended that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation. The modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own motivations (e.g., profit, curiosity, religious) with no concept of the final, modern result to which the actions of either they or their contemporaries would lead.
The History Center has an object in its collection which stands in the middle of just such a connection. The Tally-Ho carriage is the forerunner of the open-top touring bus. Our Tally-Ho is actually a replica of the type used, somewhat coincidentally, as a touring carriage on the route between London and Birmingham in England in the late 19th century. It has seating for @10 customers. It is the type of carriage that is also known as a “four-in-hand,” in which one driver can control four horses. As you can see from the photograph, our carriage has the usual dashboard in the front (to keep mud and dirt from “dashing” onto the driver and passengers – today’s automobile dashboards do not need to provide that function thankfully), the smaller wheels in the front to allow a wider turning radius, and a rumble seat in the back (also known as a mother-in-law seat or dickie seat in England, Dicky being a popular servants name in the 19th century).
But our connection is not from horse drawn carriage to double-decker bus. It is from the China tea trade to men’s neck wear. Tea was first introduced into Europe by the Portuguese in the 16th century and for many years they held a monopoly on the trade. By the 18th century the British had managed a foothold in the tea trade by introducing the plant in India. Some of that tea ended up in Boston harbor, but that is a different story. By the 19th century the demand in America and England for tea had increased dramatically. The problem was the length of time it took to bring the tea halfway around the world to markets. This lead to the invention of the super fast Clipper ships of the 1840s. With a sleek design the clippers could cut the transit time almost in half, using a great deal of square-rigged sails, the most efficient type of sail for running downwind. In order the secure these sails, sailors invented a new type of knot known as a buntline hitch, a type of knot that is almost impossible to untie under a heavy load.
Which brings us to the Tally-Ho carriage. In order for a driver to control four horses, the reins had to be tied together with a very strong knot. The sailor’s buntline hitch was adapted and renamed the “four-in-hand” knot. Members of a riding club in London, known as the Four-In-Hand Club, began wearing their ties using the knot making it a fashion statement. It remains the most popular method for tying men’s ties to this day.