THE REV W CECIL presented a paper to the Cambridge Philosophical Society with the snappy title: On the application of hydrogen gas to produce a moving power in machinery; with a description of an engine which is moved by pressure of the atmosphere upon a vacuum caused by explosions of hydrogen gas and atmospheric air. But while it operated “according to the explosion vacuum method…in much the same manner as in the common steam-engine”, the hydrogen engine would “be capable of acting in any place, without the delay and labour of preparation”. At 60rpm, he added, “the explosions take place with perfect regularity”.

Cecil reckoned his gas engine would run smoothly at 60rpm.


DAVID GORDON took out a patent for “improvements in wheel carriages”. His ideas included mounting the engine inside a sort of giant hamster wheel in the form of a cylinder  9ft in diameter and 5ft long. Teeth round the internal circumference meshed with the running wheels of an engine much like Trevithick’s. This caused the wheels of the carriage to climb up the internal rack of the large cylinder, making the cylinder roll forward, propelling the vehicle by means of side rods. Obvious when you come to think of it.

JULIUS GRIFFITHS of Brompton had a carriage built by the locksmith firm Bramah. It was designed to carry three tons at 5mph and was patented in England, Austria and the USA. It was also a flop, otherwise it might have been the first commerical vehicle.

The Bramah was a brave attempt at a CV with a three-ton payload.


GOLDSWORTHY GURNEY, later to earn fame as a pioneer of steam-powered PSVs, built what was probably the first engine to run on ammonia. He claimed: “Elementary power is capable of being applied to propel carriages along common roads with great political advantage, and the floating knowledge of the day places the object within reach.” He was said to have used his amonia engine to power “a little locomotive”.


SAMUEL BROWN patented a gas engine adapted from Newcomen’s athmospheric engine. Like Cecil’s engine it relied on burning gas to expel the air from a vertical cylinder, but cold water was injected to “condense the flame and produce a vacuum”.  Mechanics Magazine reported that one of his multi-cylinder engines had raised 300 gallons of water 15ft on a cubic foot of gas.

Brown’s engine was a steam engine fuelled by gas.

BRITISH INVENTOR (and qualified doctor) Sir Goldsworth Gurney, inspired by his chum and fellow Cornishman Richard Trevithick, built a model steam carriage; as we’ll see he would have an illustrious record with the real thing.

Goldworthy Gurney built an exquisite model steam carriage before progressing to greater things.

MACINTOSH USED rubber gum to waterproof cotton–and we all need waterproof riding gear.


WALTER HANCOCK began to work on the first of a series of steam-powered coaches.

T BURSTALL OF Edinburgh and J Hill of London teamed up to patent and build an innovative steam coach featuring the ‘flash boiler’ technology which made later steam cars practicable. It was also the first vehicle to boast four-wheel drive—not directly relevant to our story but still damned clever.

MORE FEET! David Gordon built a coach he called The Comet featuring a modified version of William Brunton’s walking-carriage design; there was a view at the time that wheels alone would not  have enough friction. As with Brunton’s walker, three wheels took the weight of the vehicle while six legs pushed it along, much like a nipper on a scooter. [Exactly 124 years later  Corvair would build the B36 bomber with six propellors and four jets; a USAF wag described it as “six turning, four burning”. A Georgian wag might have remarked that The Comet had “three rolling, six strolling”] . Innovations included a rotary drive to the legs, described a ‘propellers’,  for a smoother action. The propellers were formed of iron gas-tubes, filled with wood, to combine lightness with strength. According to a contemporary description: “To the lower ends of these propelling rods were attached the feet, of the form of segments of circles, and made on their under side like a short and very stiff brush of whale-bone, supported by intermixed iron teeth. These feet pressed against the ground in regular succession, by a kind of rolling, circular motion, without digging it up.” It took more than six years of experiments with four walking carriages to convince Gordon that wheels beat legs. Pity though; instead of mopeds we might have had been riding bipeds.

The Comet:: “Three rollin’, six strollin’.”
1824 CONVAIR B36
The B36: “Six turnin’ four burnin’.”

WILLIAM JAMES built a 20-seat steam coach featuring a double-cylinder engine on each rear wheel. This gave each driving wheel an independent source so power and speed could be varied for turning corners. Its turning radius was said to be less than 10ft—considerably more nimble than a 21st century minibus.


GREAT DANE HANS Christian Orsted produced tiny amounts of aluminium (8% of the planet’s crust is made of aluminium; not a lot of people know that). It’s lighter than cast iron, of course, but as Ariel VB owners will know, the other difference is that iron heads don’t warp. Orsted was also a pioneer in the field of electromagnetism, which led to magnetos, dynamos, alternators, starter motors, regulators and solenoids. Nice one Hans.

GURNEY PATENTED and built a full-size version of his walking carriage and drove it up Windmill Hill, near Kilburn in North London. It weighed 1½ tons, had 21 seats and was rated at 12hp. The legs were found to be superfluous so he removed them.

JA WHITFIELD OF Bedlington Ironworks reported that one of Sam Brown’s gas engine was fitted into a carriage with 5ft wheels, a wheelbase of 6ft 3in, a track of 4ft 6in and a tare, including gas and water, of a ton. The bore/stroke were 12x24in. In May this carriage climbed the steepest part of Shooter’s Hill in South-East London  (“a gradient of more than 13in in 12ft”) “with considerable ease”

SAMUEL BROWN fitted his ‘gas-vacuum’ engine to a carriage which climbed Shooter’s Hill in South-East London “to the satisfaction of numerous spectators”.


SAMUEL MOREY patented an internal combustion ‘explosive engine’. It was fuelled by a gas/air mixture via a carburettor and featured cam-driven poppet valves with tappets, a crank and a flywheel. He also experimented with spark ignition but failed to find backing to develop his dream of “drawing carriages on good roads and railways and particularly for giving what seems to be much wanted direction and velocity to balloons”.

This is a replica of the Morey engine, built a century later.


THE BROTHERS Johnson of Philadelphia built a carriage with a bottle-shaped boiler, 8ft wooden rear driving wheels and much smaller front wheels. It worked well but “was sometimes altogether unmanageable” and caused considerable damage to local buildings.

MESSRS POCOCK and Viney attached kites to a light gig and rode in it from Bristol to London but they carried a pony on a platform at the rear “to make the carriage available when the wind did not serve”. They claimed to have regularly topped 20mph.

FRIEDRICH WÕHLER made aluminium by reacting potassium with anhydrous aluminium chloride.

HANCOCK PATENTED a steam boiler incorporating separate chambers of thin metal which could split rather than explode, a safety measure for operators and passengers alike.


THE WESTERN TIMES reported: “We were much gratified a day or two ago by witnessing a novel exhibition on the Hammersmith road of a large carriage propelled by a Gas Vacuum Engine, which rolled along with great ease, at the rate of seven miles per hour. There were several gentlemen in and upon it, who appeared quite satisfied of its power and safety. The public are indebted to Samuel Brown, Esq of Brompton, for this valuable discovery, who has been indefatigable in his exertions to bring it to its present state of perfection!’


IN FEBRUARY 1829 Gurney drove one of his steam carriages 212 miles from London to Bath and back at an average of 15mph. Gurney’s pioneering run was made at the request of the Quartermaster General of the army who clearly grasped the advantage of moving troops and equipment at high speed. Gurney boosted the power of his engines with a high-pressure steam jet. The ‘Gurney Jet’ was applied to Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive for the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in October 1829, and to steam carriages. Stevenson also claimed responsibility for Brandreth’s Cyclopede, powered by a horse on a conveyor belt, that competed at Rainhill but only managed 6mph.

Gurney launched an ambitious coach service from London to Bath, averaging 15mph.
This splendid print was published in 1829 with an equally splendid caption: “A Sketch of Mr Gurney’s new steam carriage. As it appeared at Hounslow on the 12th of August, with a Barouche attached, containing the Duke of Wellington and other Persons of Distinction.”
As well as the all-conquering Rocket, Robert Stephenson entered the 1hp Cyclopede in the Rainhill trials.