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

The transitional period in context

Georgano (2001, pp 3–41) provides an overview of the transitional period in the UK. However, Georgano’s focus is on motorcar body building, thus the work neglects the rest of the coachbuilding industry, which included wagonbuilders, cartbuilders, wheelwrights and carriage component manufacturers. It therefore fails to provide an overall perspective on the impact of the automobile industry on coachbuilding, because its focus is on the private vehicle and not on public vehicles such as buses, taxi cabs, or commercial vehicles such as lorries. Because there is no authoritative work on the UK’s carriage industry it is necessary to explore some national trends during the period of transition.

Diffusion of the motorised vehicle varied between private, public and commercial vehicles. This difference is noted by Barker and Gerhold (1993, pp 56–61), who argue that private and public motoring rapidly replaced horse-drawn vehicles, whilst commercial motor vehicles were much slower to diffuse. However, this conclusion is reached by comparing motor vehicle statistics and generally lacks a comparison with horse-drawn vehicle statistics.[3] Mom (2015, p 65), in an analysis of transport usage in France between 1863–1921, presents a much more balanced picture, taking into account both horse-drawn and motorised transport use, which shows that whilst private horse-drawn travel was on a steady decline it still accounted for more overall passenger kilometres than both bicycles and motor vehicles, even after the First World War. The speed with which coachbuilders adapted to the rise of the automobile also depended both on the location (urban or rural) and the type of coachbuilder – high-class carriagebuilder or wagonbuilder (Tjong Tjin Tai, 2015, p 191; Kinney, 2004, p 298). The variety of the coachbuilding trade is important as the arrival of motorised vehicles affected different areas of the horse trade in radically different ways. For example, high quality carriagebuilders like Cockshoot’s noticed that their upper-class customers were buying automobiles as early as 1902, while wagonbuilders would probably have seen little difference in trade until well after the first decade of the twentieth century, and motorised commercial vehicle sales were very modest before the First World War, especially when compared to passenger vehicles (Barker and Gerhold, 1993, p 60).

Diffusion of the automobile started slowly, but rapidly increased into the 1920s. One would expect this to be mirrored by the decline in horse-drawn transport; however, there were subtle but significant variations. Changes can be tracked in the analysis of occupational data from the censuses of England and Wales in 1901, 1911 and 1921. In 1901, there were only 623 people employed as either chauffeurs, commercial drivers, or motorised cab drivers; this had increased to 43,094 by 1911 (Anonymous, 1917). Despite this rise there was an increase in the level of horse-drawn transport employment, from 347,655 in 1901 to 374,587 by 1911.[4] Motorised employment represented only about ten per cent of road transport employment in 1911, a relatively modest amount. If we explore these statistics further we can see some other interesting trends. While the number of chauffeurs grew to 23,151 in 1911, the number of coachmen and grooms employed only fell by 8,127 (to 67,228), suggesting that new automobile owners were not necessarily replacing their coach staff when hiring chauffeurs.[5] Numbers involved in horse-drawn commercial haulage had increased. This is mirrored by the coinciding increase in the number of horses being used for freight purposes (Barker and Gerhold, 1993, p 60). There was a marked decline in public horse-drawn transport, as cabmen, grooms and stablemen numbers declined by a third by 1911.[6] However, this decline was also affected by improved electric tram systems in the cities (Lyddon, 1987, p 180; Barker and Gerhold, 1993, p 54). Statistical analysis is not as detailed for 1921, but by this point the ratio of horse-drivers to motor-drivers in the road transport industry was virtually 50:50. However, the census report noted that this ratio varied significantly by area. For example, while the South had many counties with a majority of motor employment, the North only had one (Anonymous, 1927).  

Business listings in local trade directories allows for an analysis of the regional motor and carriage trade in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Figure 1 shows relatively little difference between 1901 and 1911, notable only for a small number of motorcar garages and agencies emerging, with only a small drop in associated horse and carriage trade businesses; however, between 1911 and 1931 there is an appreciable difference, especially in the rise of motorcar garages and the decline in wheelwrights. However, the number of carriage and coachbuilders stayed roughly the same throughout the period as they often became carriage and motor body builders, showing that coachbuilders were able to adapt and survive in the motor age. Many, like Cockshoot, became motor body builders, agents and garage proprietors.

Figure 1

Line greaph showing trade directory listings for relevant firms and Manchester and Salford

Data collected from the Slater’s Manchester and Salford Trade Directory, 1901, 1911, 1921 and 1931

This statistical analysis has been brief, but serves to demonstrate changes over three decades, from a gradual increase in motor transport before the First World War to an ever quicker increase afterwards. This eventually saw the decline of horse-drawn transport in all areas in the inter-war period, although the increase of motorised transport employment did not see a mirrored decrease in horse-drawn. This analysis has also demonstrated the varied speed of diffusion of private, public and commercial vehicles, which would have affected different coachbuilders in different ways.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170803/002