Go back to article: Adapting to the emergence of the automobile: a case study of Manchester coachbuilder Joseph Cockshoot and Co. 1896–1939


This paper has challenged the idea that the move from the carriage to the car was one of simple technological progression, or that the carriage trade and use of horse-drawn transport rapidly declined soon after the arrival of the automobile in a predictable uniform fashion. The case study of a Manchester coachbuilder, Joseph Cockshoot and Company, has highlighted aspects of this transitional period, including some rather stark contradictions. Most striking of these was the end of Cockshoot’s involvement in the carriage trade in 1907, two years before local rival Anne Cowburn had even opened a motor department to sell motorcars. While building motorcar bodies might be more natural for coachbuilding firms as demand increased for motorcars, the decisions over agencies and the entry into mechanical engineering was much more alien, and included substantial risk. A study of the firm has also shown the importance of relationships both with the customer and with the automobile manufacturer that went beyond the building of a motorcar body, including the ordering of spare parts, dealing with all kinds of customer requests, the arrangement of sub-dealerships, advertising, repairing and demonstrating the manufacturers’ products.

Above all I hope this paper has impressed the need for a detailed study of the transitional period between the horse-drawn vehicle and the automobile in the UK that would complement those that exist from other countries. While this paper has looked at an upper-class coachbuilder due to the survival of particular archive material, similar case studies of wagonbuilders, cartbuilders and wheelwrights would almost certainly provide an interesting and insightful contrast which would further highlight the complexities of the era.


Editor’s note

This article was recommended for publication by the judges of the Science Museum Group Journal writing prize, 2016/17.


I am very grateful to my PhD supervisors Dr Craig Horner (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Jan Shearsmith (Museum of Science and Industry), who have supported this work in numerous ways. I would also like to thank Roy Brooks, whose previous work on the Cockshoot collection has been invaluable to the writing of this article.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170803/010