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Where Does the Phrase "Home, James" Originate?

Queen Victoria's carriage driver in the 1890s was named James Darling.
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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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The phrase “home, James,” has a relatively short and obscure history. It is a widely understood phrase used by a passenger to his or her driver, telling the driver to take him or her home. It has since become a cliché that spawned an early 20th century movie and a pair of songs. It ultimately seems to have come from a British monarch of the 19th century and her faithful driver.

The song “Home James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” popularized the saying in and around 1934. Many websites credit this popularization with Fred Hillebrand, who was born in New York in 1893 and died there in 1963. He was an actor, composer, and song writer. If anything of his song remains online, it is difficult to find.

There is, however, a recording of a song of the same name that was performed in Britain by Elsie Carlisle. Carlisle was a singer popular between the World Wars. Her version of the song does not credit a writer, but was performed with Burt Ambrose and his orchestra. Its lyrics speak of a date night gone wrong, as demonstrated by the chorus:

“(Home, James and don't spare the horses)
This night has been ruined for me
(Home, James and don't spare the horses)
Oh, I'm ruined as ruined can be”

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The song appears to be set in the 1890s, at a time when both Hillebrand and Carlisle were born. It also features a horse-drawn carriage rather than the motor car that would have been used in the 1930s. It is, therefore, possible that the song dated from that time and these latter renditions were cover versions of it. This makes sense because there is evidence of a coach driver called James towards the end of the 19th century.

Queen Victoria of Britain reigned from 1837 until 1901. She would be driven about, when not using a train, by horse drawn carriage as was the convention at the time. There would have been a number of coach drivers available to her, depending on the location and the carriage being used. One of them towards the end of the 1800s was named James.

His name was James Darling, and little is known of him except his name and position. It was the convention of the time for an upper class person to address a driver by his surname, but this would have left the Queen saying “home, Darling.” The Queen naturally decided to use his first name to save embarrassment, and a phrase was born.

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Discuss this Article

anon286187
Post 4

There is also a version of "Home James" on Youtube" on the old REX label that was sold exclusive at Marks and Spenser stores in the UK in the 1930s-40s. The band was Jay Wilbur but the singer was not credited.

ZipLine
Post 3

Is it true that chauffeurs in England are called "James" regardless of what their name is? If that's true, that might be how the phrase originated as well.

@feruze-- I think the "once around the park" bit was added later on and used in movies. And then it became a sort of cliche and more than one film in that era referenced it.

I have no idea where it originated from, but it might be the actual line from the movie. If the script called for the carriage or car to go through the park first, they might have added the line into the phrase "Home, James."

bear78
Post 2

I thought that this phrase was "Once around the park, and home James." It might also be, "Home James. Once around the park and don't spare the horses." I think I've heard both of these before. Do we know which is the original phrase?

It does sound like, "once around the park" and "don't spare the horses" were used in separate instances.

Does anyone have any knowledge of where "Once around the park, and home James" originated from?

bluedolphin
Post 1
So I guess the phrase became popular in early 1800s and who knows who really came up with it first. But it's highly likely that Queen Victoria was one of the first ones.

As for its use in songs, plays and later films, I think it was based on later use of the phrase in late 1800s to early 1900s. Otherwise it wouldn't have become popular again in that song about the girl who wants to return home after getting her heart broken.

According to the version I've heard, this girl had gone to a ball but throughout the night, her boyfriend kept flirting with all the girls and completely ignored her. She became so upset that she rushed out of the ball and into her carriage and said "home, James. And don't spare the horses." She was probably outraged and crying and wanted to get home as soon as possible.

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