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Walter Hancock by William Fletcher

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Fig 83. Three-wheeled carriage.
Fig 84. 'The Infant'.
Fig 85. 1834. 'Era II'.

Note: This is a sub-section of Walter Hancock


'Steam Locomotion on Common Roads' by William Fletcher. Published 1891.

Walter Hancock, of Stratford, London, was the most successful of all the steam carriage schemers, and to give anything like a detailed account of the many carriages built by him would occupy more time and space than is available; we must, therefore, be content to give a brief outline of his career during the twelve years that he devoted to the subject.

In 1824, Hancock invented a novel form of engine, which he thought was very suitable for steam carriages, because of its simplicity, lightness, and comparative cheapness. A regular reciprocating motion was obtained by the alternate filling and discharging of india-rubber receivers, and this motion was given a rotary form by a crank in the usual manner. A 4 h.p. engine of this design was employed at the inventor's manufactory at Stratford, and worked well.

Hancock also made a model steam carriage, and afterwards one on a larger scale; but only to discover, after many trials, that his engine was practically useless for steam carriage purposes.

In 1827, he invented his well known boiler, which tended more than anything else to make his steam carriages in after years so successful. This boiler consisted of a number of flat chambers 2in. wide, ranged side by side, with about fin. space between each chamber. The sides of these chambers were covered with bosses, arranged so that the bosses of one chamber touched the bosses of the next chamber, thus forming abutments, and at the same time increasing the heating surface; the whole boiler was braced together by strong bolts and stays. The steam pressure used was 100lb. per square inch. The boilers were 2ft. square, and 3ft. high. Being satisfied with his boiler, Hancock next determined to build a steam carriage, using an engine of the ordinary construction. The carriage is shown in Fig. 41; it was supported on three wheels, and was intended to carry four passengers. The propelling force was obtained from a pair of oscillating cylinders working the double cranked axle of the leading wheel, which was arranged to swivel for steering. This carriage was far from being satisfactory, and was subjected to numerous alterations; but in spite of its defects it ran many hundreds of miles in experimental trips, from the manufactory at Stratford, sometimes to Epping Forest, at other times to Paddington, and frequently to Whitechapel.

On one occasion it ran to Hounslow, and on another to Croydon. In every instance it accomplished the task assigned to it, and returned to Stratford on the same day on which it set out. Subsequently this carriage went from Stratford, through Pentonville, to Turnham Green, over Hammersmith Bridge, and thence to Fulham. In that neighbourhood it remained several days, and made a number of excursions in different directions, for the gratification of some of Hancock's friends, and others who had expressed a desire to witness its performance.

In 1831 Hancock commenced running his steam coach "The Infant" regularly for hire between Stratford and London, see Fig. 42. Before it was placed on the station it was tried in every possible way.

The possibility of a steam carriage ascending steep hills had been doubted by many, and to remove if possible all scepticism on the subject, Hancock fixed a day for taking his carriage up Pentonville Hill, which has a rise of one in eighteen to twenty, and invited a numerous party to witness the experiments.

He says: "A severe frost succeeding a shower of sleet had completely glazed the road, so that horses could scarcely keep their footing. The trial was made therefore under the most unfavourable circumstances possible; so much so, that confident as the writer felt in the powers of his engine, his heart inclined to fail him. The carriage, however, did its duty nobly. Without the aid of propellers or any other such appendages (then thought necessary on a level road) the hill was ascended at considerable speed and the summit successfully attained, while his competitors with their horses were yet but a little way from the bottom of the hill."

Hancock's improved carriage was brought out during the latter part of 1832, in which the oscillating cylinders were abandoned, fixed cylinders taking their place. This carriage took a trip to Brighton and back, accompanied by Gordon and other scientific gentlemen, eleven in all. It ran at the rate of nine to fifteen miles an hour on the level road, and six miles an hour when ascending hills.

In 1833, the "Autopsy" and the "Enterprise" were built. The "Autopsy" ran for hire between Finsbury Square and Pentonville, and continued to do so daily, without accident or intermission, for nearly four weeks.

From August to November of 1834, Hancock ran the "Era" and the "Autopsy" for hire daily between the City, Moorgate, and Paddington, and during this period he carried nearly four thousand passengers, often running at a speed of twelve miles an hour.

Hancock was the only steam carriage proprietor who had ventured to run a locomotive along the crowded streets of London at the busiest periods of the day. These hard roads were a severe test for the wheels and the gearing. The motion of these carriages was easy; they made no noise, and produced no smoke, and did not frighten horses.

The "Era" was eventually shipped to Dublin, where it arrived safely in 1835, It ran through the principal streets and most crowded thoroughfares in Dublin with the most perfect success. On one occasion it ran three times round Stephen's Green at the rate of 18 miles an hour.

In May, 1836, Hancock put the whole of his carriages on the Paddington road, and ran them daily without any intermission for upwards of five months,during which time they traversed 4,200 miles, made 525 trips from the city to Islington and back, 143 to Paddington and back, and 44 to Stratford and back: and the number of times he passed through the City came to more than two hundred. For five weeks he ran a carriage twice a day to the Bank.

The following list of steam carriages built by Hancock, in the order of their construction, and the number of persons they were respectively calculated to accommodate, exclusive of the steersman, engineer, and fireman, will be of interest: —

  • Experimental carriage, four outside;
  • "Infant" (trunnion engines), ten outside;
  • improved carriage (fixed engines) fourteen outside;
  • "Era," Greenwich, sixteen inside, two out;
  • "Enterprise," fourteen inside;
  • "Autopsy," nine inside, five out;
  • "Erin," eight inside, six out;
  • German drag, six outside, rest in carriages drawn;
  • "Automaton," twenty-two outside. The first time the " Automaton " was brought out upon the road it took a party to Romford and back at the rate of ten to twelve miles an hour. Young says: "On one occasion it performed (when put to the top of its speed, and loaded with twenty full grown persons) a mile on the Bow road at the rate of twenty-one miles an hour!"

The Enterprise is represented by Fig. 43. It was built for the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Co, and commenced to run for hire under Mr. Hancock's personal superintendence between the city and Paddington for sixteen successive days, doing two or three journeys a day "to prove its capability of proceeding through crowded thoroughfares without inconvenience or liability to accident to the persons in the coach or others."

Mr. Hancock says, respecting these preliminary trips: "It is not intended to run this carriage more than about a week longer; partly because it was only intended as a demonstration of its efficiency, and partly because my own occupation will not admit of my personal attention to the steering, which I have hitherto performed myself, having no other person at present to whose guidance I could, with propriety, entrust it."

The Enterprise ran from Cottage Lane, City Road to Paddington, and from Paddington to London Wall, and back to Cottage Lane, nine or ten miles, in less than an hour, exclusive of stoppages, performing the trips in an exceedingly satisfactory manner, and the carriage was more under the control of the driver than the best driven horse coach; it ascended Pentonville Hill with ease at six miles an hour.

This steam omnibus, of course, was opposed by the drivers of horse vehicles. We quote the following from one of the daily papers: "In watching, as I have done, the early operations of the new steam coach the Enterprise, on the Paddington Road, I have been pained, though not surprised, to see the malignant efforts of some of the drivers of the horse conveyances to impede and baffle the course of the new competitor. They must be taught not to endanger the lives of the passengers, who have entrusted themselves to their guidance, by a wanton courting of collision with a vehicle so vastly more weighty, more strong, and more powerful than their own frail vehicles, and feeble, staggering beasts of draught. One of these infatuated men, to-day, crossed about the path of the steam coach, palpably with a mischievous design, which was only rendered abortive by the vigilance and prompt action of Mr. Hancock."

The London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company behaved very shabbily to Hancock. He had built the carriage to their order, had run it for several weeks over the course to test its powers at his own expense. Mr. Redmund, the engineer for the company, was satisfied with its performance after it had been running a week, and wrote a flattering report to the directors and shareholders respecting it. After the Enterprise had been delivered to the company, Mr. Hancock expected to receive directions to proceed with two more carriages upon the same plan, as per contract entered into by the company. "Various pretexts were, however, resorted to for delay, which subsequent proceedings proved were merely employed by the engineer as feints to conceal a design which for dishonesty has seldom been exceeded."

During a delay which lasted for nearly six months, when a voluminous correspondence took place, Mr. Redmund had meanwhile taken the Enterprise to pieces, and was making a carriage of his own on the same lines. This we shall refer to in due course. Mr. Hancock at length caused the Enterprise to be put together and returned, and thus ended the unprofitable and unpleasant business.

We must briefly refer to the last and perhaps the best steam carriage built by Mr. Hancock in 1838, which is illustrated by Fig. 44. It will be seen from the illustration that the engine was of the vertical type, placed about the centre of the carriage. C is the cylinder; the crank shaft works in bearings fixed to each side plate, on which is keyed a chain pulley, while a similar pulley of larger diameter was fitted to the driving axle; a strong pitch chain communicated the motion from the crank shaft to the axle; the up and down motion of the axle, which was hung on springs, not interfering with this method of driving. The boiler was situated at the back of the conveyance, the stoker's place being in the middle of the carriage. T represents a water tank and seat for two passengers. The steering arrangements are clearly shown by the illustration. The action of the little locomotive was most creditable to its builder.

In May, 1838, Mr. Hancock and two friends rode through the principal streets of the city in this steam carriage, caused it to run round the open space in front of the Guildhall, turn in any direction, run at any speed desired by its conductor, to the delight of a number of onlookers, after which Hancock threaded his way through the crowd of carts, omnibuses, cabs, and other vehicles in Cheapside, Leadenhall Street and other busy thoroughfares, stopped at the bank for a few minutes where Hancock alighted, leaving his friends in charge of the gig. One of the bank porters pompously ordered the gentlemen to "move on," but having had no experience with machinery they were placed in a dilemma, so they were obliged to confess their inability to comply with the order, to the great amusement of the bystanders. When its master arrived the locomotive moved off in good style and returned to Stratford.

On the 22nd of June, Hyde Park presented an unusually gay appearance in consequence of a crowd of fashionable people being assembled to witness the trial of this little favourite steam carriage, which ran about among the splendid equipages for three or four hours without the slightest failure. Mr. Hancock guided it, caused it to turn in its own length, repeatedly stopping and starting it, then ran a distance at the rate of twelve miles an hour. The nobility who had met for the purpose of seeing it were delighted; their horses, too, were not frightened, because it was noiseless, and it emitted no smoke or steam.

In the early part of 1839, Hancock stated by advertisement that he had prepared his largest steam carriage, the Automaton, see Fig. 45, for traffic, and was ready to enter into engagements with responsible parties to run on any turnpike roads. An old inhabitant of Stratford, in June, 1839, said: "I have repeatedly noticed the performance of Hancock's carriages from the first of his experiments up to his present state of perfection in steam locomotion on common roads. A few days ago the Automaton ran from Stratford, through Ilford, and thence back through Stratford to the city, at fifteen miles an hour. Meeting the procession of the Lord Mayor and other city authorities going to hold a Court of Conservancy at the Swan Inn, Stratford, Hancock headed the procession to their destination, and in front of the house caused the carriage to perform a number of short trips and masterly evolutions, carrying at one time no less than thirty-two of the conservancy jury, quite to everyone's satisfaction."

The last trip we shall record is a novel one, performed as late as July 1840. A cricket club borrowed the Automaton of Mr Hancock to convey eleven of the Stratford Club and twenty-one visitors to the Forest. The run was a pleasant one, the carriage went properly with thirty-two people on board, although there were seats provided for only 22 passengers. The game was played, the Stratford team won, and returned to the factory gate at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. Numbers of persons who went to see the match occupied their time in viewing the conveyance that brought the players to the field, rather than the players themselves; but this personal neglect was good humouredly put up with by the club.

Mr. Ogle says: Mr. Hancock, for want of support, was obliged to withdraw his carriages from the most difficult road in England, viz., the new road from the Bank to Paddington. Hancock says: "I entered upon that road, and continued running daily, solely with a view to demonstrate the practicability of so doing in the teeth of high authority to the contrary."

We now take leave of Mr. Hancock, the most successful locomotionist of those times, who, during sixteen years experience, built ten different carriages, each of which was creditably designed and made; and the later ones, as we have seen, were most successful. And the wonder is, how it happened that mere speculators, in several instances, who never made a steam carriage that would run the shortest distance without a breakdown, managed to float companies for the purpose of introducing their locomotives, which were not a success, while Hancock and Maceroni, the former a modest and retiring man, the latter rather boastful, both of whom built carriages far surpassing any of their contemporaries, were most unfortunate in their connection with the companies they were instrumental in forming for helping forward the steam locomotion movement.

Sir Frederick Bramwell says: "It is quite Certain that in respect of quietude of travelling, and in the way of not being an annoyance to of others upon the road, Hancock's coaches of fifty years ago far exceeded anything of the present day. It may be asked why it was that if they were so meritorious in an engineering point of view, they did not continue to run? This is a difficult question to answer. Hancock always endeavoured to show that they paid, but it is believed that he was a better engineer and inventor than commercial man. Be this as it may however, it is unhappily the case that after many years of effort he gave up the endeavour."


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