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)