SIR CHARLES DANCE, who was Goldsworthy Gurney’s financial backer and built coaches for himself, ran steamers successfully from London to Holyhead, from Birmingham to Bristol, from Gloucester to Cheltenham and from London to Brighton. In four months Dance’s carriages carried 2,666 passengers and covered 3,644 miles “without an accident or delay of consequence”. It was a brave attempt to establish a reliable steam-powered public transport system.

1833 DANCE L2B
Dance’s steam waggon and drag sets off on its daily five-hour run from The Strand to Brighton.

INVENTIVE CHAPS without access to steam engines were still turning our manpowered contraptions. One such, named Julien, produced a treadmill-driven trike; a duo named Bramley & Parker came up with a trike in which the rear rider laid back working treadles with his feet and crank-handles with his hands while the pilot steered but was also reuired to operate treadles and cranks. Rural postieds were being issued with dandy-horses and if they’d seen Bramley & Parker rumbling by they must have counted their blessings.


HANCOCK’S’s 10-SEAT Infant plied its trade between Stratford and the West End. He claimed his motive was not profit but a bid to win public support for steam PSVs.

The appropriately named Infant was Hancock’s first successful PSV.

MICHAEL FARADAY discovered how to make electricity from magnetism. Later developments were to be of great use to motorcyclists, despite occasional lack of reliability leading to dark mutterings that Joe Lucas’s slogan should be “Don’t go out at night.”

SUMMERS & OGLE built a three-pot steamer that made a run from Southampton to London at an average of 25mph. One observer rightly remarked: “This achievement is at once scarcely credible and terrifying to contemplate.”


FOUR OF SAM Brown’s gas-fueled engines were hard at work powering pumps at Croydon, Soham, Cambs, and Eagle Lodge, Old Brompton.


LEMUEL W WRIGHT patented a gas engine.  Half a century later Dugald Clerk, inventor of the two-stroke engine, reviewed Wright’s design: “The drawings are very complete and the details are carefully worked out. The explosion of a mixture of inflammable gas and air acts directly upon the piston, which acts through a connecting rod upon a crank-shaft. The engine is double-acting, the piston receiving two impulses for every revolution of the crank-shaft. In appearance it resembles a high pressure steam engine of the kind known as the table pattern. The gas and air are supplied to the motor cylinder from separate pumps through two reservoirs, at a pressure a few pounds above atmosphere, the gases (gas and air) enter spherical spaces at the ends of the motor cylinder, partly displacing the previous contents, and are ignited while the piston is crossing the dead centre. The explosion pushes the piston up or down through its whole stroke; at the end of the stroke the exhaust valve opens and the products of combustion are discharged during the return, excepting the portion remaining in the spaces not entered by the piston. The ignition is managed by an external flame and touch-hole…Both cylinder and piston are water-jacketed, as would have been necessary in a double-acting gas engine to preserve the working parts from damage from the intense heat of the explosion. This is the earliest drawing in which this detail is properly shown.”

Wright patented a two-stroke double acting gas engine.

GOLDSWORTHY GURNEY’S great rival Hancock was  keeping busy: his carriage Enterprise was carrying passengers in the metropolis for the London and Paddington Steam Car Company—the first regular steam carriage service; Enterprise was the first mechanically propelled vehicle specially designed for omnibus work. Clever design features included a centrifugal blower fan driven from the rear axle which was used to force air into the firebox. Enterprise was soon joined by the 22-seat Automaton and Era, until Era was renamed Erin and sent on a promotional tour round Dublin. There were even plans for paved roads to suit long-distance, high-speed powered road transport.

Enterprise was one of a series of successful coaches designed by Walter Hancock.
Era, renamed Erin, crossed the Irish Sea to promote steam-powered passenger transport. It featured a two-speed gearbox.

COLONEL FRANCIS Maceroni, following a spell as aide de camp to the King of Naples and military service with the Turks, teamed up with John Squire, a former employee of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, to patent a vertical tubular boiler which was a rapid generator and capable of a working pressure of 150psi developing 30hp. They used it to power a 14-seat steam carriage and set up a service between Paddington and Edgware. A contemporary writer described it as “a fine specimen of indomitable perseverance” which cruised at 16mph. Over the course of a few weeks it covered 1,700 miles required no repairs.

YORKSHIREMAN ISAAC Brown made a wooden horse that hauled a gig over a mile in six minutes and a scheme was proposed to set up a public transport system using ‘manumotive engines’ – men sweating on treadles.

BY YEAR’S END up to 20 ‘drags and carriages’ were built or under construction. Steam transport companies were opening up throughout the country. Alexander Gordon published a Proposal for Appropriating for the Public Purse the Vast Revenue that will Arise Annually from Internal Elemental Transit.


THE REFRIGERATOR was invented, which would become A Good Thing for freezing interference-fit bearings (though proper British beer should, of course, be kept well away from fridges).

RICHARD ROBERTS drove his steam carriage with 40 passengers on board at an average of 20mph.

THE STEAM CARRIAGE Company of Scotland ran a fleet of six steam coaches until one crashed and its boiler blew up, killing five passengers. The Court of Session banned all steamers from Scottish roads.

MACERONI STEAM carriages ran in Paris and Belgium.


JAMES BOWMAN Lindsay demonstrated an electric light at a public meeting in Dundee. With it, he claimed, he could “read a book at a distance of one-and-a-half feet”.

THE HIGHWAYS Act put highways under the control of parish surveyors, who became legally responsible for keeping them in good repair. It also introduced fines for various traffic offences—and required all traffic to keep to the left.


TO FIGHT BACK against the crippling tolls and other hostile moves from the horsey set Gurney promoted “An act to repeal such portions of all acts as impose prohibitory tolls on steam carriages, and to substitute other tolls on a equitable footing with horse carriages”. MPs passed the law but the Lords blocked it. Dance suspended operations, Gurney gave up on steam. Hancock showed what steamers could do by running all his carriages on regular routes round Stratford and Islington for a 20-week period. The fleet made 712 trips, covering 4,200 miles and carrying 12,761 passengers.


A PATENT WAS granted to Englishman William Barnet for the first recorded suggestion of in-cylinder compression in his two-stroke double-acting gas engine . His flame-ignition system survived into 20th century. Lebon had described an engine using compression in 1799, but Barnett’s system was different enough to be considered as new technology. Dugald Clarke, who later reviewed engine patents on the internal combustion engine, wrote: “Of these patents, by far the most important is Barnett’s.”

Barnett’s double-action two stroke gas engine was a direct ancestor of the two-stroke and four-stroke engines that would power motor cycles.

AMERICAN BLACKSMITH Thomas Davenport made four electromagnets from which he built what we today know as a DC motor, complete with a brush and commutator, using his wife’s silk wedding dress to insulate the wires. After many difficulties he patented the motor and used it to power a small model of a train and some of the machines in his workshop, drawing his sparks from Voltaic cells. He later worked on an electric printing press, electric telegraph and electric piano. Davenport even used his motor to operate a small car, this perhaps being the first electric car in history. In due course his pioneering work led to starter motors and electric motor cycles.

Blacksmith Thomas Davenport electric motor


DRIVING LEVERS and pedals were added to a draisine by Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan. The machine was propelled by a downward and forward thrust of the foot, allowing the rider to cover ground without getting his feet dirty. The bike was heavy and propelling it was a demanding task but is said to have regularly treadled 14 miles from his home to Dumfries in less than an hour. And in June 1842 he reportedly rode 68 miles into Glasgow in two days and was fined five shillings for causing a slight injury to a small girl who ran across his path (this is confirmed by a local newspaper story which spoke of “a gentleman from Dumfriesshire…bestride a velocipede…of ingenious design”. That, at least, is what the history books tell us. The first public showing of the treadle-operated velocipede  was at the 1896 Stanley show. But that exhibit, it has since emerged, was made in 1869 by Scottish cartwright Thomas McCall. Which doesn’t mean Macmillan didn’t invent it and in any case it was only a bicycle so it doesn’t really matter.

Macmillan Kirkpatrick was treadling along before there were any motor cycles to hold up.

ROBERT ANDERSON of Aberdeen built an  electric vehicle, showing that the Scotch can be almost as innovative as the English.

DUTCHMAN SIBRANDUS Stratingh and his chum Theodorus van Swinderen built and drove a steam car round the streets of Groningen. Remarkably within a few months they went on to make use of Faraday’s discoveries to produce an ‘electromagnetic cart’.

First steam…
…then electricity. An astonishing double.