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Birmingham Steam Buses 1824-1910.

Thylacine

master brummie
WELCOME TO THE BIRMINGHAM STEAM BUSES (BSB) THREAD!

View attachment 54482
Frontispiece (click to enlarge): Oil painting (artist unknown) of the Dr William Church steam carriage of 1833 (by kind courtesy of the owner Keith Fletcher). This appears to be the original on which all subsequent images are based.

We've been really getting into this subject on the Midland Red Early Days (MRED) thread, which has been very enjoyable, but the subject is interesting and important (and complicated) enough to deserve its own thread. Initially, I will be posting a chronology containing links to the relevant posts on the MRED thread, so that those who are interested can "bone up" on the subject! Of course the vehicles under discussion were originally known as "carriages" or "coaches" rather than "buses", yet in many ways they were true prototypes of the motor bus. We will be meeting many Birmingham people (with names ranging from well-known to almost completely unknown) who were involved in the development and use of the steam bus from the 1820s onwards.

I hope that this thread attracts interested readers and contributors. Just to get the ball rolling, I'd like to draw the attention of BHF artists and art lovers to this picture

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of Dr William Church's steam bus of 1832. The picture is a contemporary engraving by a Birmingham artist named Josiah Allen (as is the other picture above), and comes from an 1834 magazine. BHF artists are invited to colour this lovely picture: there will be prizes for [1] the "most historically correct" and for [2] the "most outrageous" (I would love to see a Midland Red version! ;)). [Note added: the competition is now closed; see post #132).]

All contributions are welcome, especially if they include Birmingham steam bus information, pictures, anecdotes, or memories.
 
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Thylacine

master brummie
Chronology with links to MRED posts.

Chronology of the Steam Bus (with special reference to Birmingham). Blue underlined phrases are links to illustrative MRED posts or other relevant pages (more to come).

1824-1832: William Henry James (March 1796 - 16 December 1873) of Birmingham designs, builds and tests steam carriages.
8 September 1832: An Ogle and Summers steam coach visits Birmingham.
1832-1834: The Heaton Brothers of Birmingham design, build and test steam carriages. (Another brother Ralph Heaton II establishes the Birmingham Mint.)
1832-1837: Dr William Church of Bordesley Green designs, builds and tests steam carriages.
28 August 1835: the Birmingham Steam Coach Co arranges for Walter Hancock's steam bus "Erin" to visit Birmingham.
c 1862: Richard and George Tangye of Birmingham build the 12-seat 20 mph steam bus "Cornubia". When the law clamps down, this bus is exported to India.
1861-1896: the era of repressive legislation such as the infamous "Red Flag Act" causing a "big sleep" for the steam bus.
1896: the Locomotives on Highways Act removes the worst of the restrictions, and a new steam bus age dawns.
1896-1910: a "second generation" of steam buses is operated in many parts of the UK (but not in Birmingham!). See below for a closer look at one of two Brailes steam buses of the early 1900s.
1910-1930: the gradual decline and death of the steam bus.
 

Thylacine

master brummie
Just to show you exactly what kind of vehicle we're talking about, here's a movie (thanks Lloyd!) which includes footage of Tom Brogden's magnificent modern replica of Walter Hancock's 1833 steam bus "Enterprise" (the star-ship of its day! ;)) in the company of many interesting and good looking vehicles.

[video=youtube;ba3HHJnYBFs]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba3HHJnYBFs[/video]
 

Lloyd

master brummie
Two pic's: one in colour and one black and white...
 
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Thylacine

master brummie
The sober and staid Science and Society Picture Library (SSPL) website has four images of the "Church". I'd better link to them (rather than borrow them), so here they are (I have borrowed the SSPL captions - my bold green emphasis). Only picture [1] has the full caption, the part beginning "The carriage operated on a daily basis ..." is repeated identically on the captions (where the three dots are) of pictures [2], [3] and [4]:

[1] An uncoloured version of Aidan's picture.
"'Dr Church's London & Birmingham Coach', 1833. Engraving by Josiah Allen after John Cooke showing the steam carriage designed and built by Dr Church of Birmingham in 1833. The carriage operated on a daily basis between Birmingham and London, at an average speed of 14 miles per hour. It had an unusual design, with three solid wheels, and could carry 44 passengers, 22 inside the carriage and 22 outside. Steam-powered coaches operated between various English towns between 1820 and 1840. The increased popularity of the rapidly expanding railway network, as well as opposition from operators of horse-drawn coaches, who physically blocked roads and persuaded the government to impose crippling tolls, was largely responsible for driving the steam coaches out of business."

[2] The same (?) picture in a different exposure.
"Church's steam carriage, 1833. Drawing showing the steam carriage designed and built by Dr Church of Birmingham in 1833. ..."

[3] A side view showing the fleet-name transfers.
"Church's steam carriage, 1833. Print showing the steam carriage designed and built by Dr Church of Birmingham in 1833. ..."

[4] A side view of a different (?) vehicle.
"Church's steam carriage, 1833. Print showing the steam carriage designed and built by Dr Church of Birmingham in 1833. ..."

So the caption to every SSPL picture of the "Church" contains the bold and confident statement:

The carriage operated on a daily basis between Birmingham and London, at an average speed of 14 miles per hour.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a prime example of a meme, a factoid, or a furphy (as we say down under). It's simply false - the "Church" did not operate "on a daily basis" (i e daily) between Birmingham and London. And it did not average 14 mph. Yet this meme / factoid / furphy gets passed around cyberspace purporting to be the truth. And it is everywhere (see next post).
 

Thylacine

master brummie
The "Church" Furphy.

From "one of those" genealogy websites (which shall remain anonymous; my bold green emphasis):
"My 2 x gt grandad Benjamin Wakefield ws born at Brieryhurst Farm, Mow Cop in 1800. The family had been in this part of Staffs as far back as 1680s, poss earlier. Earlier Wakefields included Benjamin (my 4 x gt gdad) who married Elizabeth HAMMERSLEY in 1780, Joseph and Hannah Wakefield (5 x gt gprts) and Nathan Wakefield and Mary GOODFELLOW (6 x gt grprnts) Benjamin my 2 x gt gdad married Hannah HILL in Aston Birmingham in 1823. He was an engineer and worked on Dr Church's steam coach (1833) which ran between London and B'ham at the amazing speed of 14mph!! I have traced nearly all of the family but still trying to find descendants of Benj's son John who started a Lamp Manufacturing business in 1880 which was still going in the 1960s. Would love to hear from anyone researching this family and happy to share what I have found to date. Penny"
Now it is fascinating to discover the name (Benjamin Wakefield) of someone who worked for our Dr Church. But there it is in plain view: the "Church" furphy. :D
 

Lloyd

master brummie
I have my doubts about the accuracy of the illustrations of Dr Church's steam carriage. Some are obviously copies of others, improved, coloured or mirror-image'd to some degree - and the third one (above) having no 'upper deck' seating whilst the fourth one is of a 'totally enclosed' nature. I suspect they are the artist's impressions of a vehicle from fairly detailled descriptions and yet exaggerate the vehicle's size somewhat. I also doubt the ability to "operate on a daily basis between Birmingham and London" (even allowing for a 'no service on the Sabbath' rule) in view of the nature of road surfaces of the day, and the ability to operate "at an average of 14 miles per hour" suggests that allowing for stops for 'comfort' and turnpike toll-houses, as well as slowing so as not to frighten horses, the maximum speed attained was considerably higher than that (at least double, say 30-35 MPH) and again although replicas of Hancox's 'Enterprise' and to a lesser degree Trevethick's 'London carriage' can get quite a lick on, road conditions would surely have shaken them apart after but a few miles.
Sorry to seem pessimistic about the abilities of these machines, but I feel that if they had really have been as successful as the reports suggest then a greter amount of motorised transport would have been around far longer than it has, even allowing for the simpler design and opeeration of Mr Otto's 'internal combustion' engine.
 

Thylacine

master brummie
Well said and quite right, Lloyd! I am in the process of exposing the "Church" furphy. I believe that the "creative advertising" of the "Church" began very early on in the life of the vehicle. So I don't think that we've had a good look at the actual "Church" that once or twice ventured out of its Bordesley yard and down the Coventry Road all those years ago.

G A Wilkes. A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms. Fourth Edition. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996:


furphy 1. A water-cart made by Furphy of Shepparton, Victoria. 2. A rumour thought to have arisen in gossip around the water-cart in World War 1 (a latrine rumour); any false report.
 

Aidan

master brummie
As a fanboy, I'd like to reiterate that there seems little doubt that Dr Church was one of our most prolific inventors, with a real "finger on the pulse" in terms of what would be useful/profitable, and a brilliant self-publicist (surely an essential skill for the inventor). That he patented and developed the early typesetter/printer and this Steam Bus is undisputed only whether it actually went into regular service or was a figment of the advertisers mind.

He obviously turned his attention and steam genius to Rail in 1838 and the Tank engine Victoria/Surprise/Eclipse. Again that his invention made it to trial and some form of service seems undisputed but attempting to use it for the famously steep Lickey Incline meant a distinct "surprise" for all concerned not least the crew who went skyward with it at Bromsgrove Station.

He also had patents on good Brummy industries of button making, nail making, metal working, smelting iron, spinning and other branches of engineering. Have to say that one is left with the impression of prolific ideas, the sense to patent and "big them up", but maybe a bit lacking in l'actualité. Does that make him bad?
 

Lloyd

master brummie
I note from post #887 in the Early days of Midland red thread that "Dr Church's first patent for locomotion is dated 9 February 1832; in this the principal novelties claimed are as follows: — First, the frame-work, which is not to be mortised together in the usual way, but united together by "L", "T", flat, and other shaped iron plates or bars, bolted on each side of the wood work, to obtain strength."

This design of wood jointing was also used by Weymann for motor body frames, vis an excerpt from this page:
"
What is a Weymann body?
Weymann-type coachbuilt bodywork featured on car chassis throughout the 1920s, and later the name would become associated with the building of bus bodies. The aim of Weymann construction techniques was to minimise squeaks from a car body's wooden framework, as the frame flexed while travelling along. The idea was dreamt up by a Charles Terres Weymann. Traditional coachbuilt motor bodywork employed wooden (usually ash) members, connecting to one another and jointed in the familiar way to create a framework, onto which an outer metal skin would be fitted. The Weymann-type bodies did away with wood-on-wood jointing. Instead, each section of a motor-car's frame was joined to the next by metal joining plates, maintaining a tiny gap between the sections, ensuring that no two pieces of wood would connect with each other. This was then clad with a padding material, over which the outer skin of fabric would be stretched. As well as offering a much reduced likelihood of body squeaks, it was also significantly lighter than other types of coachwork."
 

Thylacine

master brummie
"Church" Furphy Strikes Again.

And here is a slightly different version of the Allen engraving of the "Church" in 1833. It's a bit blurry because I had to blow it up. The caption states:
"A Dr Church built a massive three-wheeled steam vehicle in 1833 that averaged 14 mph on its daily commuter run between Birmingham and London, while carrying 44 passengers (pictured below). This was a viable commercial enterprise until a law was passed that limited the speed of steam vehicles to three miles per hour. It had extremely wide, solid rollers, arranged in a single line, and the weight of this huge vehicle flattened the ground it drove over. Church had inadvertently invented the steamroller."
There's the "Church" furphy again, this time surrounded by other furphyish statements. ;)
 
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Aidan

master brummie
Just been perusing "History and development of steam locomotion on common roads" (1891) by William Fletcher - think it was shared on the other thread. It has a write-up of all the "movers & shakers" of the steam-driven world including those with Birmingham connections: James, Ogle/Summers, Heaton, Church, Hancock, Tangye. Each section usually is accompanied by a sketch or engraving of the machine or component.

I attach the Tangye illustrations of Cornubia - one is obviously when it had been exported to India, but which village green is the other driving around? I like the combination of Road Locomotive, Milk Maid, Pub & Church (random priority of listing I assure you).

Rupert asked a practical question on the other thread which I think may be answered on the left page of "Motor cars and the application of mechanical power to road vehicles" (1902) by Rhys Jenkins - and a wonderful quote by Hancock on the right (I can't work out how to quote from Archive.org so you will have to view yourself)

The book also suggests William Church return to USA in 1861 but I have been unable to track down any genealogical records for him so far - apart from the possibility of a criminal record in 1831 where someone called William Church gets 9 months for "Larceny by a servant" but it is of uncertain connection.
 

Thylacine

master brummie
Thanks, gentlemen (yes I'm talking to you, Aidan and Lloyd), for your continuing contributions which I am reading with much interest. (I do sound like a schoolteacher don't I?). By the way, where's the rest of the class? :rolleyes:

As I have mentioned before, Alec Jenson's Birmingham Transport (1978) has almost a surfeit of facts about Dr Church, the London and Birmingham Steam Carriage Co, and the "Church" steam bus. I will use these to assemble a detailed history (including all the extra snippets we've been able to unearth). It will take an hour or two, so get on with your Latin poetry while I'm gone. Penfold, you're in charge! ;)
 

Thylacine

master brummie
Aidan, thanks for those excellent archive.org finds. :thumbsup:

William Fletcher (author of "The Steam Jacket Practically Considered": is that some kind of anorak?) in his History and Development of Steam Locomotion on Common Roads has given us a very useful illustrated account of the subject (up to 1890). Those pics of Tangye's "Cornubia" are excellent (I especially love the Indian view).

Fletcher has yet another version of the Allen "Mark 1" engraving of the "Church" (attached below). There is no picture of the Heaton steam carriage (so far we have no authentic picture of that vehicle). There is an uncaptioned figure right in the middle of the Heaton page, but it is of Napier's steam drag described on the following page. A trap for the unwary! Fletcher gives a respectable list of sources, including Luke Hebert's Engineers' and Mechanics' Encyclopaedia (1836), which we have come across already. Incidentally, Fletcher spells "Hebert" as "Herbert" (a common "mini-furphy").
 
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Thylacine

master brummie
William Henry James and his Steamers 1829-1832.

I referred to William Henry James in the chronology (post #2) as being a Birmingham steam bus developer. Well, WHJ did spend part of his life in Birmingham (and was born at Henley-in-Arden) — so we'll let him stay on the thread ;) — but Fletcher (1891) in a very good article on him gives his address as "Thavies Inn, Holborn" in his steam work days. His experiments were constrained by shortage of funds, but in 1827 he acquired a financier in the shape of another James: Sir James Caleb Anderson (21 July 1792 - 4 April 1861; "Baronet Anderson of Fermoy, Cork" from 22 March 1813; of Buttevant Castle). Anderson was more than a silent partner: he was a technology buff with a number of patents of his own (later registering number 786 of 2 April 1853 for "improvements in locomotive engines"). Anderson also ran into financial woes, and had to discontinue his support of James about 1832. But he went on to establish the Steam Carriage and Wagon Co about 1838 and built two steam drags which entered service (hauling passenger and goods) in Dublin and Manchester.

Meanwhile William Henry James (WHJ) built and tested three steam carriages. The first ("James I", pictured below left ) was a three-ton "stage coach" type vehicle. Initially it was trialled on a 160 ft diameter circular track, but in March 1829 did the test run in Epping Forest previousy described. In November of the same year WHJ trialled a second steam coach ("James II", pictured below right ) on Clapham, Kensington and Vauxhall Roads in London. There was a third steam carriage ("James III"), patented by WHJ in August 1832. "James III" was possibly never built, as the Anderson money ran out about this time. Fletcher claims that "James III" is pictured in figure 28, but he previously identified this as "James II", and there is no other "James" picture. So the picture on the right below might be of "James III".

[Can anyone find unequivocal pictures of "James II" and "James III"? HELP PLEASE! :) I would like to know more about WHJ's early life and especially when and where he lived in Brum. HELP PLEASE! :) WHJ helped his father (lawyer / surveyor Willam James) and George Stephenson with a survey of the proposed Liverpool - Manchester railway. The survey was not accepted by the promoters, but Stephenson went on to build the Liverpool - Manchester line using James Senior's survey (but never acknowledging it :().]

Note added: I've attached a picture (below right, originally posted on MRED) of the "James Mark 2" of 1829. This must be what we're now calling "James II". The vehicle illustrated in "fig 28" (below centre) looks very similar to "James II" but the skeleton plan of the interior makes it look more like a steam drag, so it might be "James III" :rolleyes:.

Further note: Actually, I see now (from the MRED post linked to) that "James II" was a steam drag (cunningly disguised as a bus!), so I reckon "fig 28" is also of "James II". So we haven't seen "James III" yet! "James I" looks quite comical beside "James II"! :D
 
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