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

Relationships with customers

As seen above, Cockshoot was motivated to enter the industry after noticing the changing trends in vehicle ownership amongst their customers. Coachbuilders with upper-class clientele were more likely to take this step early (Tjong Tjin Tai, 2015, p 191; Kinney, 2004, pp 271–272). Examining Cockshoot customers and their early business in the motor industry has highlighted the importance of the relationship between the customer and the coachbuilder in the early motor industry. It is clear that Cockshoot’s customers were upper-class. We can tell this from the types of cars they were buying, their titles and the number of motorcar bodies bought with crests. Between 1903 and 1906 motorcar bodies were commissioned by four knights, a lord, several high ranking military officers and many prominent Manchester businessmen. Of the first 55 bodies photographed by the firm, 28 had crests emblazoned on the side; many of these were also pictured with chauffeurs at the wheel. The use of crests was inherited from carriage ownership and the surviving Cockshoot book of customers’ heraldry shows hundreds of examples, including Figures 4 and 5. Further demonstration of the class of customers was the facilities to ‘stable’ vehicles at the firm’s Deansgate garage, which included sleeping quarters and a billiard table for chauffeurs.[20]

Figure 4

Pencil and ink drawings of a family crest design showing an arm holding a spear and the motto Humilitate

The crest of John Carlisle, who bought a motorcar body from Cockshoot in 1905, with the Latin motto that translates as ‘Humility’

Figure 5

Pen and ink drawing of a family crest depicting a fox and a motto in latin

The crest of the Ashworth family used on several carriages and cars bought from Cockshoot. The motto translates as ‘Love of country conquers’

Carriages tended to last a long time and required very little maintenance especially compared to early automobiles (Georgano, 2011, p 3). The rate of progress of the automobile and its capacity to breakdown led to frequent new purchases for those who could afford it. Among Cockshoot’s customers were several repeating commissions, the most frequent of which were Mr and Mrs Ashworth, who returned four times to Cockshoot for new motorcar bodies between 1903 and 1912.[21] The relationship between the coachbuilder and the customer was important in the making of custom motorcar bodies, which could include several visits to the works, and lengthy correspondence over the specifications of design (Brooks, 1979, 08025-080059). This could span several months, as often chassis were made after receipt of an order and coachbuilders would work with each customer to build their specific body, included choosing the interior decoration, the colour, the style of the body, whether closed or open, how many seats, as well as any other number of customer demands such as luggage space, or items like additional horns, as seen in Figure 6.

What is also noticeable is the number of customers that bought both carriages and motorcars from the firm. For example, the Rice family used Cockshoot either to buy carriages or for getting carriages re-painted in 1892, 1896 and 1897 and then commissioned motorcar bodies in 1906 and 1908. Similarly, G S Ball had work commissioned on carriages in 1889, 1890, 1893 and 1895 before purchasing motorcar bodies in 1905 and 1906.[22] There are many more examples, but they serve to confirm that the customer base of high quality coachbuilders gave them potential to move into motorcar body building during the Edwardian period.

Brooks’ list of all the motorcar bodies manufactured by Cockshoot shows that between 1908 and 1912 women made up over ten per cent of total motor body customers (Brooks, 1979, 08005). This was particularly high, especially compared to Cheshire registration data which shows that between 1903 and 1911 only 41 out of 3,658 vehicles were registered by women, a proportion of just over one per cent.[23] While further afield in Arizona, in 1915, only 5.5 per cent of automobile registrations were by women (Scharff, 1991). The customer records at Cockshoot therefore support Scharff’s assertion that there were more women drivers and buyers than registration statistics suggest, with the habit being for vehicles to be registered in the male name.[24] The range of female customers and the types of cars they were purchasing shows an interesting variety. While many women motorists were challenging gender assumptions by racing or driving large powerful cars, other upper-class women positioned motoring as a suitable pastime as chauffeur driven passenger-owners (Merriman, 2012, p 99). This complexity is certainly evident in Cockshoot’s female customers of the Edwardian period. For example, racing driver Miss Daisy Hampson purchased a 60-horsepower Mercedes in 1904 and a powerful 120-horsepower FIAT race car that had finished second in the Gordon Bennett race of 1905 (Manchester Courier, 1906). At the other end of the spectrum was Miss Ella Ross Cordingly Shaw’s more sedate 12-horsepower Velux, bodied by Cockshoot in 1903. While somewhere in between was Miss Parry’s 20/30-horsepower Renault bought in 1905, as seen in Figure 6, with a horn for the rear passenger, presumably so Miss Parry could do some backseat driving, behind her chauffeur (Brooks, 1979, 08011).

Figure 6

Black and white photograph of an early Renault motor car with chauffeur from the early twentieth century

Miss Parry’s 20/30-horsepower Renault with horn attached to the back seat, chauffeur at the wheel - YMS Cockshoot Photograph Box 1, 1905

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170803/007