Industries
Coach-making

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Victoria County History

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Author

William Page (Editor)

Year published

1911

Pages

193-195

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'Industries: Coach-making', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 193-195. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22174 Date accessed: 02 August 2014.


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COACH-MAKING

The earliest coaches were of necessity heavy and clumsy in their design, as the terrible condition of even the most frequented highways of the City prohibited the use of lighter vehicles. For this reasons the Thames was for many centuries London's great highway, and the waterman down to the beginning of the 19th century was the serious competitor of the coach and fly-man. The London coach-building trade took up its quarters from an early period principally in the western part of the City. When once introduced the trade grew apace, as it soon became the correct thing for people of fashion to have their own coach. The art of coach-building gave great scope for talent, ingenuity, and taste in devising a safe, comfortable, shapely, and artistically decorated conveyance. For the decoration of the panels the services of artists of the highest rank were engaged. Smirke, the Royal Academician, served his time to Bromley the heraldic carriage painter of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Monamy, the marine painter of the latter part of the 18th century, painted the carriage of the ill-fated Admiral Byng; and Charles Cotton, R.A., decorated coaches with armorial bearings. (fn. 1)

Hackney coaches came into use in 1605. At first they stood about in the yards of the principal inns, but in 1634 Captain Bailey (fn. 2) 'created according to his ability some four hackney coaches, put his men in livery and appointed them to stand at the "Maypole" in the Strand,' where St. Mary's Church now is. A patent (No. 3) was granted to Edward Knapp on 7 January 1625 'for hanging the bodies of carriages by springs of steel;' another patent (No. 244) was taken out by John Bellingham on 7 January 1685 'for making square window glasses for chaises and coaches.' On 13 May 1740 John Tull was granted a patent (No. 570) for a sedanchair fixed on a wheel carriage for horse draught. Many years earlier (in 1691) John Green obtained a patent for coach springs, but these did not come into general use until the latter half of the 18th century.

William Felton, coach-maker, of 36, Leather Lane, Holborn, in his Treatise on Carriages, published in 1794, says 'the principal improvements that have been made in carriages for these last twenty years are originally the invention of Mr. John Hatchett of Long Acre, whose taste in building has greatly contributed to the increase of their numbers, and enhancement of their value. To him every coach maker is highly indebted, as at present they seldom build without copying his designs.' The famous state-coach of the Irish Lord Chancellor was built in 1790 either by this firm or by that of Baxter. (fn. 3)

In 1769 T. Hunt received sixty guineas from the Society of Arts for improvements in tyring wheels. The well-known firm of Barker & Co. possesses drawings of coaches built for the Duke of Bedford and others between 1780 and 1800. At a later time their customers included Count D'Orsay, Lord Chesterfield, and Charles Dickens. The most famous coach-builders in London in 1815 were Rowley, Mansell, and Cook, a large firm in Liquorpond Street, Windus in Bishopsgate Street, Barker in Chandos Street, Hatchett of Long Acre, Houlditch and Hawkins, and Luke Hopkinson of Holborn.

Great improvements in the manufacture of English carriages were made in 1820 by Samuel Hobson. He reduced the height of the wheels, lengthened the coach body and hung it lower, substituting a double step to the door instead of a three-step ladder. Hobson traded in the firm of Barker and Co. of Chandos Street and later rose to be a partner. About the year 1815 he set up for himself in Long Acre, and removed later to the large premises previously occupied by Messrs. Hatchett. In his improvements he was assisted by his experience gained at Messrs. Barker's, and his methods were copied in turn by the principal members of the trade, in the same way that he had copied his predecessor, Mr. Hatchett, in 1780.

James Bennett, of Finsbury, was the inventor of a two-wheeled carriage called the Dennett, which was a great improvement on the whisky or gig of 1790. - Tilbury, the originator of an easy vehicle known by that name, was also the builder of the 'Stanhope,' under the superintendence of the Hon. Fitzroy Stanhope, brother of Lord Petersham.

The dog-cart dates from the beginning of the 19th century, one variety being known as the Whitechapel. This became the favourite vehicle of the commercial travellers, to whom about 1830 one coach factory in London supplied several hundreds of these vehicles at an annual rental. The introduction of railways gave the commercial traveller a more expeditious method of showing his samples, and the chief users of the dog-cart have since been the tradesman and the farmer.

David Davies, of Albany Street, and afterwards of Wigmore Street, was a coach-builder of considerable inventive faculties. Among many other of his inventions was the Pilentum phaeton, which he designed about the year 1834. The Pilentum was an open carriage with the doorway very near the ground, built of different sizes, to carry four or six persons, and adapted for one or two horses. He is also the reputed inventor of the cab phaeton, which was soon generally adopted as a popular pleasure carriage. This became a fashionable conveyance not only in England, but also on the Continent, until 1850, about which time it came into use as a hackney carriage, and so lost favour with the gentry. It has since come once more into fashion under the name of the victoria.

Another old firm of coach-builders is that of Messrs. Peters, of George Street, Portman Square, whose mail phaetons were noted as long ago as 1836 for their steadiness on rough roads. The year 1838 marks an important epoch in the annals of coach-building, the coronation of Queen Victoria having occasioned a larger number of court-dress carriages than had ever previously been seen in London. About this time Luke Hopkinson, a celebrated coach-maker in Holborn, introduced the briska landau, which led with subsequent improvements to the popular landau of the present day. (fn. 4)

- Robinson, of Mount Street, built the first vehicle in the shape of the present brougham in 1839. This was made for Lord Brougham, from whom it took its name; other makers soon followed, and the brougham quickly came into general use.

The first omnibus was started in London on 4 July 1829 by John Shillibeer, who had been for a short time a coach-maker in Paris. The omnibuses were drawn by three horses, and ran at a fare of 1s. from the 'Yorkshire Stingo,' in the Marylebone Road, near the bottom of Lisson Grove, to the Bank. The London General Omnibus Company was founded in 1856. Mr. Shanks, of Great Queen Street, was a very famous builder of four-in-hand coaches and sporting vehicles. The business was wound up within the last few years after the death of the proprietor. Other firms of note in Middlesex are Fountain of Enfield, Carpenter and Co., Staines, and Wilkinson, of Uxbridge. Within the metropolitan area are Cook and Holdway, of Halkin Place; Corben and Sons, Great Queen Street; Laurie and Marner, Ltd., Oxford Street; Holland, Oxford Street; Gill, Chilworth Street, Hyde Park; C. S. Windover and Co., Ltd., Long Acre; and Thomas Worges and Co., Palace Street, S.W.

The motor-car industry, of which this country has now secured a share, has some representative firms in Middlesex. The Napier Company have works at Acton, where the Napier cars, for which S. F. Edge, Ltd., are agents, are made. Clement Talbot, Ltd., of Ladbroke Grove, are also manufacturers. The chief Middlesex makers of motor bodies are Barker and Co., Ltd., Chandos Street; Mulliners Ltd., Long Acre; Cole and Son, Kensington High Street and Hammersmith; and H. S. Mulliner, Brook Street and Bedford Park. (fn. 5)

Footnotes

1 J. H. Pollen, Anct. and Modern furniture in the S. Kens. Mus. (1874), Introd.
2 From a letter written by Lord Strafford in 1634. Quoted by Sir W. Gilbey, Early Carriages, 27.
3 G. A. Thrupp, Hist. of the Art of Coach-Building (1876), 89.
4 Mr. George N. Hooper, to whom I am indebted for much information, is of opinion that landaus were introduced into England by Charles Lucas Birch of Great Queen Street, Long Acre, or by William Birch.
5 The writer has to acknowledge information kindly supplied by Mr. C. Cooper, jun., editor of the Coach Builders' Art Journ.