Monday, May 15, 2017

Origin of the Horseless Carriage

In France an engineer called Cugnot built the first powered vehicles, slow moving lorries for moving guns about 1770.

In England, Richard Trevithick showed with his experiments, in 1801 that steam power was capable of propelling passenger carrying vehicles. He offered a steam carriage for sale in 1803, but this was not yet a viable proposition as an alternative to using horses.

During the next twenty years the design of the high pressure steam engine, its power -to-weight ratio and ease of operation were much improved. and, as a result, several attempts were made to create effective, powered road vehicles.

The first two entrepreneurs to build practical powered road vehicles and to run them, regularly and reliably were the rivals Goldsworthy Gurney and Walter Hancock. Gurney is, perhaps, better known but it is arguable that Hancock produced the better engineered vehicles.

Trevithick turned his attention to railway locomotives instead. But his younger friend Goldsworthy Gurney believed that road vehicles, not restricted to rails, would eventually become more convenient for passengers.

Gurney finally realized his ambition of building a steam carriage in 1824. Four years later, he drove from London to Bath — a round trip of 200 miles.

Gurney sold three steam carriages to Sir Charles Dance, who used them to begin regular passenger service in February of 1831 between Cheltenham and Gloucester. The nine-mile trip took more than an hour by horse-drawn coach, but Dance's carriages could make it in half an hour. And his costs proved to be half that of the competing stagecoach service, so he charged only half the stagecoach fare. Nearly 200 passengers a week took advantage of the bargain, another triumph of the free enterprise system.

Who opposed horseless carriages?

The stagecoach operators
Hostlers, grooms, and those who raised and sold horses
Farmers who grew grain for horses
and the lords that leased land for growing grain, hay, and straw to support the horse carriage industry

The prohibitory legislation against the use of steam on common roads ruined it as a commercial speculation, and Gurney threw up the subject in disgust. Gurney proceeded to apply his high-pressure steam-jet to other important uses. By its means he extinguished the fire of a burning coal mine at Astley in Lancashire, and in 1849 the fire in another coal mine at Clackmannan, which had been burning for more than thirty years.

He planned and superintended, by means of his steam-jet (in 1849), the ventilation of the pestilential sewer in Friar Street, London, which could not be cleansed by any other means, and suggested to the metropolitan commissioners of sewers that a steam-jet apparatus should be placed at the mouth of every sewer emptying into the great Thames riverside sewer. Gurney was a magistrate for Cornwall and Devon, and in 1863 was knighted in acknowledgement of his discoveries.

The 'Enterprise' is a replica of one of a series of very early steam driven carriages built in London by the pioneering engineer Walter Hancock between 1824 and 1836.

Here is a contemporary oil painting of Dr. William Church’s London to Birmingham Steam Coach although it is very doubtful if it ever moved satisfactorily more than a few hundred yards.

Engraving by Josiah Allen showing the steam carriage designed and built by Dr Church of Birmingham in 1833. The carriage operated on a daily basis between Birmingham and London, at an average speed of 14 miles per hour. It had an unusual design, with three solid wheels, and could carry 44 passengers, 22 inside the carriage and 22 outside.

Squire and Macerone's.

Col. Macerone’s trip to Watford; more precisely from Edgware to Bushey was mentioned in the 1834 issue Leitch Ritchie’s Wanderings by the Seine, a 5-page eyewitness account of Macerone’s trip to Bushey

Steam-driven versions of the stage coach for a time in the 1820’s and 30’s ran regular bus services in London as well as some well-publicised excursions further afield - Goldsworthy Gurney to Bath; Col. Maceroni to Watford; and the incredible Ogle and Summers trip from Southampton to Liverpool in 1832 for which I have a typed copy of a 14 thousand word manuscript account. The two most prominent builders of this time were Sir Goldsworthy Gurney and Walter Hancock. Hancock was a fine and inventive engineer whose series of vehicles ran a regular service for many months from Stratford to the City, all recorded in his Narrative of Twelve Years Experiments... 1830. Gurney was a well connected entrepreneur and obviously much better at publicity for although his carriages were no match for Hancock’s there are many more contemporary prints of his machines than any other. The New Steam Carriage is probably the finest of them and this aquatint spawned many copies.

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