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

Early dealings (1902–10)

Ainsworth and Miller might have been justified in their objections. Cockshoot leased a garage on Deansgate, known as ‘The Arches’ and negotiated the agency for the Velox, the Rex, the Northern Runabout and the Stanley Steam Car, all of which were initially unsuccessful for Cockshoot and led to a loss for the new department in 1903, which had to be offset by carriage trade profits.[13] However, the opening of the motor department in 1903 might have been viewed as visionary in hindsight. It demonstrates how difficult and unnatural it was for a coachbuilder to open a garage and begin with motorcar agencies. Cockshoot lacked expertise among the staff already employed at the firm and relied on those in Manchester who did. Fred Settle was employed as chief mechanic. Settle had been involved in one of Manchester’s first garage ventures – the Manchester Motor Car Corporation – and had at least three years’ experience as a motorcar mechanic.[14] With a good reputation as a coachbuilder Cockshoot were well placed to sell motorcars to their clientele. However, in the UK dealerships were almost always agreed with a territory arrangement, so picking the right car agency could be a tricky, especially with no experience. In this respect the firm bought the business and the rights to the agency agreements of Manchester dealer F. Wilkinson and Co., who had agencies for the American Stanley Steam Car and the petrol driven Northern Runabout.[15] Like Settle, Wilkinson also had a history in the local industry – for several years previously he sold steam engine components and steam-powered automobiles.[16] To demonstrate the difficulty of selecting agencies we only need to examine the number of motorcar manufacturers at the time. The North West alone had twenty automobile manufacturers, while estimates show there were around two hundred automobile manufacturers in the UK, not counting all the foreign manufacturers (Beaven, 1994, p 46). Adapting to engineering and agency sales was not straightforward, a step that is often neglected. Automobile scholars such as Georgano (2001, p 3) and Foreman-Peck, Bowden and McKinley (1995, p 7) focus instead on coachbuilders’ more natural transition to motorcar body production. For example, Cockshoot had already been approach by several clients to fit motorcar bodies prior to 1903 (Brooks, 1979, 09002).[17]

The initial poor performance did not deter the firm who soon established themselves with some more successful agencies and some regular motor body building work for local and international firms, including Renault, Rolls-Royce and Panhard. Despite the controversial and rocky entry into the motoring industry, Cockshoot ceased all involvement in the carriage trade when in October 1909 the remaining stock, including harnesses, whips, etc. were put up for auction.[18] Although ‘coachbuilders by tradition’ from then onwards, Cockshoot were solely engaged in the motor trade.

Despite Cockshoot’s bold decision to enter the motor trade in late 1902, economically it was a difficult road to success. Indeed, John Norris in his memoirs put a large emphasis on the firm’s crucial relationship with Renault, both as agent and motorcar body builder.[19] To demonstrate how complex and contradictory this period was for coachbuilders we only have to explore Manchester’s other coachbuilders. Anne Cowburn was also a high-class, long established coachbuilder. Yet they did not enter the industry until 1909 when they announced in an advert: ‘Finding that there is an inclination amongst our numerous clients to replace their Carriages with Motor Cars, we have opened and equipped...an engineering department and garage.’ (Manchester Courier, 1909) However, there were also new firms like Hollingdrake of Stockport that set up business as early as 1902 specifically to manufacture motorcar bodies (Clarke, 2002). Going back to the opening quote from Kinney, it was both messy and indistinct.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170803/006