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The Industries of Scotland
Coachmaking


COACHES were introduced into Britain in the sixteenth century, and the event is thus recorded by Taylor, the "water poet," who wrote in 1623:—"In the yeare 1564, one William Boomen, a Dutchman, brought first the use of coaches hither, and the said Boomen was Queen Elizabeth's coachman. A coach was a strange monster in those days, and the sight of them put both horse and man to amazement; some said it was a great crab-shell brought out of China, and some imagined it to be one of the Pagan temples in which the cannibals adore the devil. The mischiefs that hath been done by them are not to be numbered, as breaking of legges and armes, overthrown downe hills, over bridges, running over children, lame and old people." A great obstacle to the use of coaches was the want of suitable roads; but we find that, so early as 1605, covered waggons were employed for the conveyance of passengers and goods between London, Canterbury, and other large towns.

The first public coaches in Scotland were placed on the road between Edinburgh and Leith in 1610, by Mr Henry Anderson, a native of Stralsund, in Pomerania—who, on condition of obtaining a royal patent conferring on him the exclusive privilege of running coaches between the two places for a period of fifteen years, brought from his native country coaches and waggons, with horses to draw, and servants to attend them. The fare was fixed at twopence for each passenger.

At the close of the seventeenth century, coaches and chariots had become fashionable with the Scotch nobility, but were chiefly used in town. When the Duke of Queensberry came to Edinburgh as King's Commissioner in 1700, he was met by a train of forty coaches, most of which were drawn by six horses. In 1673 there were twenty hackney coaches in Edinburgh; but these were not managed in a way to make them popular, and the number gradually decreased, until in 1778 there were only nine registered hackney coaches in the city. The sedan chairs were formidable opponents of the coaches; and at the last-mentioned date there were 188 chairs for hire in Edinburgh, besides fifty private ones. In the course of time, however, hackney coaches became popular, and the number of chairs gradually decreased, until, about twenty years ago, they went entirely out of use. A fine sedan chair is preserved in the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum. It is simply a box about two and a-half feet square and five feet high, fitted with a seat and a glass front. Two poles, attached to the sides, formed handles by which the chair could be carried by one man walking before and another behind. The chairs were usually borne by stout Highlanders. The use of a chair could be obtained for a day, from ten in the morning till twelve at night, for 7s. 6d.; but the fares for short journeys were higher than the cab fares of the present day.

Stage-coaches were introduced into England in 1658—at least the earliest public notification of that mode of travelling was made in that year. Twenty years later, the Provost and Magistrates of Glasgow entered into an arrangement with Mr William Hume of Edinburgh, that he should run a coach once a-week between the two cities. This was the first stage-coach in Scotland, for the Edinburgh and Leith coaches scarcely came under that designation. It is not stated how long the coach between Edinburgh and Glasgow continued; but prior to 1763 it had ceased to run, and in that year a heavy coach, drawn by four horses in good weather, and six in bad, ran three times a-week between the two places. Subsequently the coach was run daily, and took from eleven to twelve hours on the road. Lighter vehicles were afterwards introduced, and the journey came to be accomplished in six hours.

Up till the middle of last century there was no stage-coach on the route from Edinburgh to London. When a traveller wished to make the journey, it was no uncommon thing for him to advertise for a companion to share a post-chaise. In 1753 a stage-coach was running between the two capitals, and next year the following advertisement regarding it appeared in one of the Edinburgh newspapers:

"The Edinburgh stage-coach, for the better accommodation of passengers, will be altered to a new genteel two-end glass coach machine, hung on steel springs, exceeding light and easy, to go in. ten days in summer and twelve in winter, to set out the first Tuesday in March, and continue it from Hosea Eastgate's, the Coach and Horses, in Dean Street, Soho, London, and from John Somerville's, in the Canongate, Edinburgh, every other Tuesday, and meet at Burrowbridge on Saturday night, and set out from thence on Monday morning, and get to London and Edinburgh on Friday. In winter to set out from London and Edinburgh every other Monday, and to go to Burrowbridge on Saturday night; and to get out from thence on Monday morning, and get to London and Edinburgh on Saturday night. Performed, if God permits, by your dutiful servant, HOSEA. EASTGATE."

Glasgow did not possess means of direct communication with London until 1788, when a coach was started to carry the mails and passengers. The arrival of the first coach from London was an event of much interest in Glasgow, and a large number of the citizens turned out on horseback to welcome it. So little were people disposed to travel in those days, that for many years there was not a sufficient number of passengers to make the coach remunerative to the contractors. The coach accomplished the journey in sixty-three hours. After Glasgow and Edinburgh bad been placed in communication by coaches, vehicles were run to places in the neighbourhood of both cities; and the journeys of these were gradually lengthened, and the number of coaches increased, until in the beginning of the present century regular communication was maintained between all parts of the country with a frequency proportioned to the importance of the respective towns. Macadam and Telford came opportunely on the scene, and, by improving and extending the roads, gave a great impetus to traffic. In 1825 eight royal mail-coaches, and upwards of fifty stage-coaches, started from Edinburgh every day. Of the stage-coaches, ten ran to Glasgow and six to London. There were in addition local coaches to such places as Newhaven, Leith, and Portobello, and carriers to every town and village of any consequence between Wigtown and Nairn.

Now that the surface of Scotland is traversed by a network of roads of the best kind, the difficulties of travelling in the early days of coaches are apt to be under-estimated. As a specimen of the troubles arising from bad roads, may be mentioned the case of the Marquis of Downshire, who, in travelling through Galloway in the middle of last century, took with him what was then considered to be a necessary part of his retinue—namely, a staff of labourers with their tools to smooth the way and get the coach out of ruts. Yet such was the nature of the road, that when the coach got to the Carse of Slakes, a hill three miles from the village of Creetown, it came to a dead halt; his lordship had to send his servants away, and he and his family passed the night in their coach on the hillside So late as 1780, it was necessary, in some quarters, to have the carriage attendants provided with axes with which to clear a way through the woods. For other reasons than the absence or badness of roads, travelling in the early days of coaching was far from being a pleasant thing. The vehicles were clumsy, badly constructed, and without springs. Accidents were of frequent occurrence; and the number of persons killed or injured was much greater, in proportion to the number of travellers, than is the case in the present day, notwithstanding the popular notion as to the dangers of railways. Upwards of twenty-three millions of passengers travelled on the Scotch railways alone in the year 1866; and of these only five were killed—two of them while incautiously crossing the rails in front of advancing trains, and two while getting out of trains before they had been brought to a stand.. In 1806, a parliamentary committee was appointed to consider, among other things, the act limiting the number of passengers to be carried by stage-coaches. It was stated in evidence before the committee, that " accidents are continually happening in one part of the kingdom or another—indeed, scarce a week passes without some of the coaches breaking down, and often killing the unfortunate passengers."

The first coach-making establishment in Scotland was set up in Edinburgh about the year 1696; but for a considerable time the only work done, beyond repairing the coaches brought from London, was the making of a few clumsy carriages. In 1738 Mr John Home, who had carried on the business of coachmaker for several years previously, went to London, and received instruction in the trade. On returning to Edinburgh ho brought with him a supply of tools, and set about conducting his business in a new style. There had hitherto been no division of labour in making a coach; but Mr Home allotted to different workmen the fashioning of the various parts of a carriage. Thus the men became expert at their parts, and the result was a great improvement in their productions, while the Scotch nobility and gentry, with whom chaises had become fashionable, instead of bringing their vehicles from London or Paris, as formerly, had them made in Edinburgh.

A letter on the progress of Edinburgh, published in 1783, says: - "Coaches and chaises are constructed as elegantly in Edinburgh as anywhere in Europe. Many are yearly exported to St Petersburg and the cities in the Baltic; and there was lately an order from Paris to one coachmaker in Edinburgh for 1000 crane-necked carriages, to be executed in three years." A number of carriages were exported from Leith to the West Indies in 1766, and in subsequent years there was also a large exportation to Holland, Russia, France, and Poland. The annual value of the carriages exported from Leith was stated in 1778 to be L.2200. As the manufactures and commerce of the country increased, and wealthy people became more numerous, the use of carriages, of course, became more common, and stage-coaches also increased in number. Though railways have superseded stage travelling except in a few remote districts, they have not acted unfavourably on the coachmaking trade; rather the contrary, for, with other causes adding-to the prosperity of the community, they have helped to multiply the persons who can afford to keep carriages, while for their own service a large number of vehicles are required.

The number of carriages assessed under schedule D in Scotland is over 25,000, and the gross amount of duty charged is L.33,000. In addition to these, there are about 2500 licensed hackney coaches, 400 stage-coaches, and 1800 other vehicles, which are exempted from taxation. Drawn up in a continuous line, with eight yards allowed to each, the whole of the carriages, with the horses employed to draw them, would form a procession about 136 miles in length. Time has come to be so valuable with people in business, that few journeys of more than a mile or two are made on foot. The main thoroughfares of Edinburgh and Glasgow are traversed at frequent intervals by splendid omnibuses, which for an almost nominal sum convey passengers from or to any part of a route extending to two or three miles. Then there are hundreds of hackney coaches, or "cabs," stationed in convenient localities. In making and maintaining these vehicles many- men are employed. There are fourteen coachmaking establishments in Edinburgh, several of them of considerable extent, and all turning out work of the best description. Indeed, no coachmakers in the world produce carriages which for comfort, strength, or elegance, surpass those made in that city. The "cabs" of Edinburgh are superior to any to be found elsewhere, while the city omnibuses are extremely comfortable in all their appointments.

The coachmakers of Edinburgh are chiefly engaged in constructing private carriages; but at the same time they turn out a large number of vehicles which do not fall under that designation. They have customers in all quarters of the world, and their handiwork is admired wherever it is seen. The coachmaking trade of Scotland employs upwards of 2000 persons. The largest establishment in Edinburgh is that of Messrs J. & W. Croall, York Lane, in which about 100 workmen are employed; but Messrs James Macnee & Co.'s works at Fountainbridge are also of considerable extent. These firms have always splendid carriages on exhibition in their show-saloons. Conspicuous by their size and richness of style are the four-in-hand "drags," much in fashion among the members of the upper ten thousand who attend race meetings. Gaudily painted and expensively equipped carriages, such as young noblemen delight to possess, next arrest the eye; and in the glitter of these, the quiet but genteel " brougham " of the professional man looks excessively grave. Then there are the " landau sociable," which has to some extent supplanted the "phaeton;" the clarence, with its glass front and sides, which afford shelter while they do not interrupt the view; elegant pony carriages for fair charioteers; and a host of other vehicles adapted to all requirements, and suited to all ranks. The prices usually range from L. 60 to L.300; but there is practically no limit to the amount that may be expended on the fittings and decorations of a carriage. ProČbably the most costly ever constructed is Her Majesty's state-coach, which was made for George III. in 1762. The cost of the coach was L.7562, of which sum the coachmaker received L.1673; the carver, L.2500; gilder, L.933; painter, L.315; laceman, L.737; chaser, L.665; and harnessmaker, L.385. Some alterations have been made on the coach during Her Majesty's reign, but, in the main, it retains its original character.

Strength, lightness, and elegance, combined with suitable accommodation and easy springs, are the objects to which the coachmakers have to pay chief attention, so that the material used must be carefully selected and judiciously combined. In the construction of a carriage six distinct trades are directly concerned, and contributions from as many more are required. Take a "brougham," for instance, and trace it through the various stages of construction. As in building a house or a ship, the first thing to be done is to prepare a design. That is usually done by the foreman of the establishment, who makes a full-sized chalk drawing of the proposed vehicle on a black board. The different kinds of carriages derive their names from some peculiar arrangement of the more important parts, but carriages of the same designation may differ widely in their details. Persons ordering carriages are allowed an opportunity of inspecting the design and suggesting alterations thereon, and the result is that it is rare to find two carriages exactly alike. After the chalk drawing has been approved of, operations are commenced. The body-makers take measurements of the upper or principal parts of the drawing, and forthwith begin to make that part, to which their attention is exclusively confined. Equally distinct are the occupations of the carriage-makers, the wheelwrights, and the smiths. The carriage- makers construct the framework on which the body of the carriage rests, and the pole or shafts. The wheelwrights are solely occupied in making the wheels. The amount of smith work required for a carriage is considerable, and some of the pieces are exceedingly complicated in shape. The woods chiefly employed in coachmaking are ash, mahogany, and oak, and these must be thoroughly " seaČsoned." Ash strengthened with iron is used in the framework of the "body." Straight lines are avoided as much as possible in the construction of carriages, and the consequence is that the body- maker has to bend and shape his wood to a great variety of curves. After the framework is completed, the sides and ends, except the spaces for the doors and glass front, are boarded in by panels of mahogany, which are brought to the required curve by being damped on one side and exposed to heat on the other. As the strength of the carriage does not depend on the panels, and as lightness is a great point in carriage-building, they are made quite thin. The roof is composed of the same material, and the floor is planked with fir. The "carriage," or that part of the vehicle which unites the fore and hind wheels, and on which the "body" is supported, is made of a combination of ash, elm, and iron. The carriage-maker shapes and fits together all the pieces of wood for the "carriage," and hands them over to the smith, who makes and fixes on the iron parts. Meantime the wheelwright has been busy with the wheels, in which three kinds of wood are used. The nave, or centre, is made of elm, the spokes of oak, and the felloes or rim of ash; and all are firmly bound together by a stout hoop of iron. Beneath the carriage and the body the springs are introduced. These are delicately fashioned in fine steel, and are used in a variety of forms.

When the operations above described are completed, the painters and trimmers execute their part of the work. In the best class of broughams, however, a piece of currying work has to be done before painting can be proceeded with. The roof and upper part of the back and sides are covered with a hide of leather, which is so manipulated, that without a seam it covers the parts mentioned, imparting strength and rendering the carriage waterproof. A less expensive and more common mode of effecting this object is to use fustian, or "moleskin," instead of leather. The fustian makes a good ground for painting upon, and is very durable—while it does not, as some hides have been found to do, exude oil, which, finding its way through the paint and varnish, ,spoils the appearance of the carriage. After several coats of "priming," a number of coats of "filling" are laid on. Each coat is allowed to dry thoroughly before another is added. Five or six coats of paint of the colour which the coach is ultimately to have are next applied, the entire surface being smoothed and polished from time to time, until a beautiful finish is obtained. Half a dozen coats of copal varnish are then laid over all. The varnishing has to be done in an apartment from which dust and flies are carefully excluded. In all, twenty-five coats of paint and varnish are required. Most carriages are decorated on the wheels, shafts, and other parts, by fine lines of a light colour. These are executed before the varnishing is done, and so are the armorial bearings or monograms, which few carriages are without now-a-days. The heraldic painting is done by a superior tradesman, and some specimens of this kind of work are remarkable for clearness of outline and vividness of colour. When the painting is completed, the carriage is put together and passed to the trimmers, of whom there are two classes—one doing the upholstery work for the interior, and the other the "blackwork" or leather fittings. In connection with a "brougham" little service is required from the black-trimmers; but in the case of a " landau sociable," or other kind of hooded carriage, they have a good deal to do. The trimmings of the inside are composed of various materials, according to the price to be paid for the carriage—Spanish cloths, plain and embossed silks, embossed leather, lace of various kinds, &c. The metallic beading, door-handles, and other decorations of the kind, are obtained from manufacturers who devote special attention to their production.

Omnibuses and stage-coaches are fashioned much in the same manner as carriages, only they are made heavier and stronger. The principal builders of these in Edinburgh are Messrs J. Croall & Sons and Messrs Carse & Co. Carts, waggons, and the like, are made by a distinct class of workmen. Cartwrights are to be found in nearly all the towns and villages in the country, but a considerable proportion of the county towns even are without a coachmaker. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth, and Stirling, are the chief seats of the coachmaking trade in Scotland, and from these towns a large number of carriages are annually exported.

Trade-unions have not interposed to produce disagreements between employers and employed in the coachmaking trade, and probably in no other branch of industry are the merits and remuneration of the men so nicely adjusted. In all departments the wages, on the average, are equal to the highest paid to workers in wood and iron; but then some men, by exercising greater skill and expertness, are able to make nearly twice as much money as others. There is, consequently, a considerable difference between the highest and the lowest wages earned in each department. So much of the work is done by "piece" as can be satisfactorily reckoned, and the remainder according to a time-scale. The following are the current rates of wages, earned by piece-work and otherwise, in the shops of the leading firms in Edinburgh:—Bodymakers, 20s. to 40s. a-week; carriage makers, 20s. to 27s.; smiths, 17s. to 40s.; wheelwrights, 24s. to 28s.; painters, 19s. to 27s.; trimmers, 20s. to 27s.


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