A History of Inland Transport and Communication in England/Chapter 30

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[ 472 ]



In addition to the developments in locomotion spoken of in the previous chapter, there have been various others to which reference should be made.

The principle of a manu-motive machine, furnished with wheels, by means of which an individual could propel himself along a road with greater speed and less exertion than in walking, goes back to the very earliest days of human history, evidences of an attempt to adapt such principle having come down to us from the times both of the Egyptians and the Babylonians.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, various contrivances were introduced in our own country under such names as "the velocipede," "the dandy horse," "the hobby horse," "the wooden horse," and the particular form of bicycle known as "the bone-shaker." The last-mentioned became, in spite of its drawbacks, a craze in the late '60's; but it was the substitution of indiarubber for iron tires, and the production, in 1885, by J. K. Starley, of the modern rear-driven "safety," that established the practical utility of the bicycle. A succession of improvements followed, including pneumatic tires, free wheels, two-speed and three-speed gears, the adaptation of the bicycle to the use of ladies, and the supplementing of the bicycle by tricycles, sociables, tandems and the motor-cycle.

Cycles have been well defined as "the poor man's carriage"; but they are to-day favoured by every class of the community. Thanks, more especially, to the numerous local cycling clubs and the great touring clubs, of which the latter count their members by tens of thousands, cycles have materially developed the taste for travel; they have led to indulgence in outings or pleasure trips at home and abroad to an extent previously unknown; they have vastly increased the means of [ 473 ]communication; they have exercised a powerful influence on our general social conditions, and they have become, in a variety of ways, and with different modifications of the bicycle or the tricycle principle, an important auxiliary to the despatch of business.

Cycling has thus attained to a place of recognised usefulness in the professions, in trade, in country life, in the Post Office and even in the Army. It is no longer a hobby, a craze or exclusively a source of recreation. The cycle has definitely and permanently established its position as one of the most popular of "carriages," and, in doing so, it has itself led to the creation of a very considerable industry.

By 1895 the demand for cycles had become so great that it was then impossible for the manufacturers to meet all requirements. Over-speculation and over-production, accompanied by severe foreign competition, followed, and for a time the position of the home industry was very unsatisfactory. It has since re-established itself on sounder lines and now constitutes an enterprise of considerable local importance in various parts of the country, including Coventry, Birmingham, Nottingham and Wolverhampton.

Public prejudice and State policy were factors in the arrested development, in this country, of the application of mechanical power to road vehicles, so that while such application has its ancient history equally with the bicycle, the actual expansion thereof—on such lines that it has now become the dominating feature in road transport generally—has been brought about in quite recent times.

When, in the early years of the nineteenth century, general attention was attracted to the possibilities and prospects of using locomotives on the railway in place either of horses or of stationary engines, further projects were mooted for employing steam-propelled vehicles on ordinary roads. Trade expansion and the inefficiency of existing road-transport conditions combined to strengthen these proposals, and from about 1827 to 1835 or 1840 much enterprise was shown in the construction of steam-carriages, and more especially steam-coaches and steam-omnibuses of which various regular services, in London or in the country, were run with, at first, considerable success. The vehicles in question were designed mainly for the conveyance of passengers, and some of them [ 474 ]attained a speed of over twenty miles an hour. There were even those who anticipated that steam-carriages on roads would be successful rivals of the locomotive on rails. Alexander Gordon, civil engineer, and an ardent supporter of steam-driven road vehicles as against railways, wrote in "An Historical and Practical Treatise upon Elemental Locomotion by means of Steam Carriages on Common Roads" (1832):—

"It will be found that, with the exception of the Liverpool and Manchester line, and of those lines formed solely for the purpose of conveying heavy materials on a descending road, railways are, at least, of very questionable advantage where there is the possibility of having a good turnpike road and steam carriages.... Rail-roads have a very formidable rival in steam communication upon the common road, and the latter is of vastly greater advantage than the former."

Opposition, however, to steam-driven road coaches was hardly less vigorous than the opposition offered to the rail locomotive itself. Not only were obstructions constantly placed on the roads to prevent the steam-coaches from passing, but country squires, horse-coach proprietors, post-horse owners and representatives of the turnpike road interests combined to show the most active hostility to the new form of locomotion. The turnpike road trustees sought to make the running of the steam-coaches impossible by imposing prohibitive tolls on them. It was shown in evidence before a Parliamentary Committee that where on the road between Liverpool and Prescot horse-coaches would pay a 4s. toll, the steam-coach was charged £2 8s., while on other roads the tolls in the case of the latter were equally extortionate.

There were pioneers in those days who devoted time, toil and fortune to attempts to establish steam locomotion on the roads, only, one after the other, to retire from the contest discomfited and impoverished.

Among them was Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, who laboured for five years and expended £30,000 on his attempts to bring steam-carriages into practical and permanent use. Finding, at last, that the turnpike trustees controlled the situation, Gurney and other steam-carriage builders petitioned Parliament to investigate the subject of the opposition shown to them, and a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed for this purpose in 1831. It reported in favour of [ 475 ]steam road-carriages, and recommended a repeal of the old turnpike Acts. A Bill to this effect was passed in the Commons but thrown out in the Lords. Disheartened by his losses, Gurney ceased to build and to run coaches on his own account and tried to form a company. He failed in the attempt, and he then appealed to Parliament to make him some recompense for all he had done in the interests of the public. A proposed grant of £10,000 was objected to, however, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Gurney got nothing. Concluding that it was useless to continue his attempts in the face of so much discouragement, he sold off his stock-in-trade and retired from the business.

By 1835 nearly all the steam-carriages had been taken off the road, and by 1840 the considerable industry which had been developed was engaged almost exclusively—so far as it survived at all—in the production of traction engines, only spasmodic attempts being made between 1840 and 1860 to produce improved types of steam-carriages for private use.

In 1861 traction engines had so far increased in numbers that a Locomotive Act was passed mainly to fix a scale of tolls applicable to them on all turnpike roads; though this Act further stipulated that each "locomotive" should be in charge of at least two persons, and that the speed should not exceed ten miles an hour when the vehicle was passing along any turnpike road or two miles an hour when passing through a city, town or village. An amending Act, which became law in 1865, laid down that each locomotive should be in charge of three persons; that one of these must walk in front carrying a red flag, and that the maximum speed should not exceed four miles an hour on the highway or two miles an hour in passing through a town or village. Various other restrictions were also imposed.

It was this "red flag Act" that virtually killed off the self-propelled road-vehicle business here for the time being, except as regarded traction engines proper. A few enthusiasts made steam-carriages as a hobby, and certain manufacturers made them for export to the colonies or to India, where there were no such restrictions on their use as in this country. In India, especially, these carriages were found very serviceable in localities then unprovided with railways, though any [ 476 ]manufacturer who even tested their capacity on a public road in England was liable to prosecution.

British inventors, thus effectively prevented by hostile legislation from improving self-propelled road-vehicles, turned their attention, instead, to tricycles and bicycles, while continental inventors, not being hampered by legislative restrictions in their own country, first converted the tricycle into a motor-vehicle, then applied the motor principle to four-wheeled waggonettes, and finally evolved some useful types of motor-vehicles which, by 1895, were being widely adopted on the Continent and more especially in Paris.

A few bold pioneers who introduced them here were repeatedly prosecuted and fined. The general position had, in fact, become even worse since 1865, because not only was a motor-car still regarded in the eye of the law as the equivalent of a traction engine or "locomotive," but, under the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act, 1878, every county council was authorised to exact up to £10 for a licence which would allow of the use of such traction engine or "locomotive" only within the boundary of the authority in question, a fresh licence being thus required for each county council district through which a vehicle might pass. The only exceptions were locomotives used solely for agricultural purposes. Notwithstanding all these restrictions, there were—exclusive of vehicles of the agricultural type—about 8000 traction engines in use on our roads in 1895.

Much vigorous and practical protest led to the passing of the Locomotives on Highways Act of 1896, which became the Magna Charta of automobilism in this country. Making at last a distinction between motor-cars and traction engines, it relieved from the said restrictions any vehicle, propelled by mechanical power, the weight of which (unloaded) did not exceed three tons, or, together with that of a trailer (also unloaded), four tons. It further sanctioned the driving of such vehicle at a speed of up to fourteen miles an hour, but gave authority to the Local Government Board to reduce the speed if it thought fit—an authorisation of which the Board availed itself by fixing the speed limit at twelve miles an hour.

A great impetus was given to the use of light vehicles, and November 14, 1896, when, under the Act, the motor-car became a legal vehicle in this country, is known in automobile [ 477 ]circles as Emancipation Day. But the Act afforded no relief in the case of motor-vehicles suitable for trade or public service purposes. Within the weights specified vehicles of these types would have been commercially unprofitable because they could not have carried a paying load. Above the said weights they were still regarded by the law, and were subject to the same regulations, as road locomotives or traction engines.

Strong representations on the subject were made by the Royal Automobile Club (then the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland), the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Commercial Motor Users' Association, which bodies claimed the right of the trading interests of the country to a greater degree of reasonable consideration. These further protests again led to good results. In 1903 a Motor-car Act was passed which, among other things, raised the speed limit to 20 miles an hour (subject to authority given to the Local Government Board to reduce the limit to 10 miles an hour in dangerous areas), and provided for the licensing of drivers and the registration and identification of cars, with a view to checking reckless driving; while power was, also, given to the Local Government Board to increase the maximum weights allowed by the earlier Act. In January, 1904, the Board appointed a Departmental Committee to inquire into the question of increasing the maximum tare, and, after taking counsel with technical experts, trading bodies and commercial authorities, it finally issued the Heavy Motor-car Order, 1904, effecting changes in the maximum weights (unladen) as follows:—

Act of 1896 3 tons ½4 tons.
Order of 1904 5 tons 6½ tons.

This Order, which came into force on the 1st of March, 1905, made possible the provision of commercial motor-services, and the full development of the motor industry, on present-day lines. It led, especially, to the creation of new types of vehicles previously unknown here, and, by allowing "heavy motor-cars"—the designation now applying to motor-vehicles over two tons in weight—to take their place in ordinary road traffic, foreshadowed changes in inland [ 478 ]transport to which one could hardly attempt, at present, to fix any limit.

In respect to pleasure cars, detailed figures published in the issue of "The Car" for December 14, 1910, show that the number of these (as distinct from heavy motor-vehicles), registered in the United Kingdom at that date, and allowing as far as possible for those which had lapsed, was 124,860. Of motor-cycles there were 86,414. These figures convey some idea of the extent to which the automobile has been not only substituted for private horsed-carriages, as used for ordinary urban and social purposes, but adopted, also, for those longer journeys or tours which the improved means of locomotion have brought so much into vogue.

How the country is being opened up more and more to motor traffic may be shown by some references to the work in this direction by the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association and Motor Union.

Founded in 1897, the Royal Automobile Club is an influential body with many-sided activities, including the provision of a club house in Pall Mall well deserving the designation of "palatial," and typical of the high standing to which automobilism has attained. More, however, to my present purpose than the social advantages offered by the club is the fact that the R.A.C. not only advises its members or associates as to the best route in regard to any tour they propose to make by motor, at home or abroad, but provides them with a complete typewritten itinerary and specially-designed maps for such tour, the information given being kept up to date by means of reports made by the members themselves. The inquirer is given, also, a guide-book for the district in question written from the point of view of the traveller by road; he receives some confidential notes concerning the hotels en route, and he may arrange to retain the services, for periods of an hour, a half-day, a day, or a week, of local guides—clergymen, writers, secretaries of local societies and others—who are qualified authorities on art, archæology, architecture, natural history, topography, etc., besides having an intimate knowledge of the localities visited. In the Club itself there is a well-stocked "Travel Library," from which books can be borrowed. Should the member or the associate on tour come into conflict with the law in regard to alleged offences under [ 479 ]the Motor Acts, the R.A.C. will defend him in any police court in the United Kingdom free of charge, though it reserves to itself the right to refuse such assistance in the case of those who may have been guilty of inconsiderate driving.

Much has been done by the R.A.C. in the provision of road direction posts. It has, for example, put up posts or direction boards along the whole of the Great North Road from London to Berwick. It erects danger signs at especially dangerous places, though at these only, as it considers undesirable any undue multiplication of such signs by private agencies. The R.A.C. is, further, most vigilant in defending the common interests of motorists when these are endangered by Parliamentary Bills or in other ways.

The Automobile Association and Motor Union also has its Touring Department, for home or foreign travel. It offers, like the R.A.C., free defence of members prosecuted for offences against the Motor Acts; it has an "hotel system" of its own, and it has shown much activity in the placing of direction posts and danger signs on important roads throughout the United Kingdom.

A special feature of the A.A. and M.U.'s operations is the patrolling, by men in uniform—and provided with bicycles or motor cycles—of 14,000 miles of roads throughout England, Wales and Scotland. It is the duty of these patrols to give to members information of interest concerning the road, to warn them of any dangers on the highway, and to render them all possible assistance in case of need. They are able to undertake minor roadside repairs; they procure, in case of need, fresh petrol supplies from the nearest store; while each is qualified to give first aid in case of accident, much excellent service being rendered by them on the roadside not only to members but to the public. Agents and repairers have also been appointed by the A.A. and M.U. in all important cities and towns and in numerous hamlets at intervals of a few miles along every main road. The agents receive or deliver letters or telegrams, and are helpful in many ways to the members.

In addition to these central organisations in London there are now Associated Automobile Clubs throughout the United Kingdom which show a great deal of local activity and offer many advantages to their own members.

[ 480 ]It is, again, the now general use of the automobile that has given to the improvement of the roads the greatest degree of stimulus it has received since the days of McAdam and Telford.

Speaking generally, excellent results have followed from the policy adopted by the State in transferring the charge of main roads from turnpike trustees to the county councils, and, also, in encouraging rural district councils to pay more attention to local highways other than main roads. In 1908-9, for example, the county councils spent on 27,749 miles of main roads a total of £2,739,591, and the rural district councils spent on the 95,144 miles of road under their own control a total of £2,160,492 on maintenance and repairs and £52,067 on improvements. Nor is there any reason for supposing that, under the conditions operating to-day, this expenditure is wasted or ill-spent, as was the case with so much of the outlay on roads in the pre-McAdam days of non-scientific road-making.

While the roads were being adapted to the requirements of ordinary traffic, their shortcomings from the point of view of the traffic of motor-cars and traction engines were made apparent, and called for special attention. It was not only that the suction of the india-rubber tyres raised clouds of dust and, also, injured the macadamised roads by depriving the top layer of stones of their proper binding, but the greater speed at which the motor-cars were driven made it especially necessary that the roads should be alike wide and straight, with as few awkward, if not dangerous, turns, twists or corners as possible.

The increasing use of traction engines is indicated by a report on the county roads issued by the Kent County Council. The number of traction engines licensed by that body during the year ending March 31, 1911, for use in the county, was 101, as compared with only 37 in the previous year.

Action was called for all the more because cycling and automobilism have increased the use of the roads of the United Kingdom in general to an extent that probably surpasses their use even in the palmy days of the Coaching Era. At that time it was almost exclusively along the main roads between leading cities that the coaches went in such numbers; whereas cyclists and motorists in search of the picturesque may discard main roads and proceed, instead, along highways [ 481 ]and by-ways where the stage-coach was never seen. The sum total of the road traffic to-day may thus be in excess of that of the Coaching Age, though, perhaps, appearing to be less because it is better distributed.

For like reasons it became necessary that not only the main roads, but the highways and by-ways, also, should receive adequate attention.

Under the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, there was constituted, in 1910, a body known as the Road Board, having for its special function the administration of a "Road Improvement Grant." The Board was to have power, with the approval of the Treasury, (a) to make advances to county councils and other highway authorities in respect to the construction of new roads or the improvement of existing roads, and (b) itself to construct and maintain any new roads, which appear to the Board to be required for facilitating road traffic.

The funds available for the Road Improvement Grant arise from the motor spirit duties and the motor-car license duties, the last-mentioned being £1 for motor-bicycles and motor-tricycles, of whatever horse-power, and from £2 2s. to £42 for motor-cars, according to their horse-power. Motorists thus directly contribute towards the improvement of the roads, and the principle involved is the same as that under which road-users formerly paid tolls on turnpike roads; but the present application of this principle is obviously a great improvement on the system of turnpikes, with its excessive cost of toll-collection and other disadvantages.

The amount likely to be available for grants by the Board is estimated at about £600,000 a year; but, owing to an accumulation of funds before operations were begun, the Board started with resources amounting to £1,600,000. The grants actually made to September 30, 1911, were:—

Improvement of road crusts 321,445
Road widenings and improvement of curves and corners 44,856
Road diversions 16,906
Construction and improvement of bridges 23,947
Total 407,154

[ 482 ]Inasmuch as applications were made to the Board up to June 30, 1911, for advances amounting in the aggregate to close on £8,000,000, there would seem still to be a great deal that requires to be done to the roads of the country to adapt them to the traffic conditions of to-day. It will be seen, however, that the combined operations of the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and Motor Union, and the Road Board constitute, in effect—and more especially from the point of view of provision of facilities for through traffic under satisfactory conditions—a national road policy far in advance of anything this country has ever seen before.

These road improvements appeal to the motorist, delighting in cross-country journeys, still more than they do to the urban trader, whose road transport does not, generally speaking, extend beyond a certain radius. But within the limits of such radius the substitution of commercial motors for horse-drawn vehicles is undergoing an expansion which seems to be restricted only by the extent of the motor-car manufacturers' powers of production, while already the use of so many commercial motors is accentuating certain changes in commercial conditions which—as it is one of the objects of the present work to show—have ever been powerfully influenced by the transport facilities of the day.

With the large wholesale and retail houses the use of the road motor is a matter not simply of economy in transport but, to a still greater degree, of doing a larger business, in less time, and over a wider area, than if horsed vehicles were used.

When urban traders send motor-vehicles a distance of over twenty or even thirty miles into the outer suburbs, and when those vehicles can cover from fifty to sixty miles in a day, distributing fresh supplies to suburban or country shopkeepers, delivering purchases to local residents, or calling on them to leave groceries, meat and other household necessaries, the possibilities of an expansion of business by the said traders are greatly increased, more especially when the local residents within the radius in question find that if they give an order to the van-man, or send it by post one day, the motor-vehicle will generally supply their wants the next day or the day following. Under this arrangement the big traders, or the big stores, in town are enabled to make their already big [ 483 ]businesses bigger still—to their own advantage, but with a corresponding disadvantage to the local shopkeepers.

In another direction the commercial motor is assisting the operations of trading companies, caterers, grocers, tea-dealers, tobacconists, etc., who, instead of having a single huge block of departmental shops or stores, have numerous branches in all parts of London, furnishing them with viands, provisions or stock from a head depôt. In all such instances as these,—more especially when cooked food is distributed from a central kitchen,—the superiority of the motor-vehicle over the horsed van is self-evident; while the further advantage is gained that the branch establishments can be devoted wholly, or almost exclusively, to the serving of customers, without any need for extensive kitchen arrangements or store-rooms of their own. Alternatively, the premises used for these branches need be no larger than is necessary to meet day-by-day requirements, whereas an independent trader, having only a single establishment, would want much more accommodation, involving higher rent, rates, taxes and expenses generally.

Once more the gain is on the part of the big trader as against the small one; and once more we have evidence of the increasing tendency for the former to supersede the latter. In fact, the real competition to-day is no longer between large traders and small traders. It is a competition between the commercial giants themselves. It is a contest in which the small shopkeeper is little better than an interested spectator, with nothing more to hope for than that the particular giant who wipes out his business will, at least, be so far considerate as to offer him a situation.

In the recesses of Wild Wales there has been seen a commercial motor-vehicle which was virtually a shop or a general stores on wheels—something after the style of the familiar gypsies' van, though of a far superior type. There are evidently endless possibilities in this direction. The time may come when it will not be necessary for the rural resident to go to the shops in even the nearest town. The shops themselves—or equivalents thereto—will be brought to the very door. To a certain extent there will thus be a reversal to the habits of former days; but between the packhorse, or the pedlar, and the motor-shop-on-wheels there will be a distinct and a very wide difference, representing generations of both scientific [ 484 ]and economic progress. Do not such possibilities still further suggest, also, the eventual supersession of the small trader by the large one?

In almost every class of trade or business the commercial motor is being steadily substituted for horsed vehicles. There are large retail houses in London which have each their "fleets" of up to fifty or sixty motor-vans or lorries.[1] The carrying companies would hardly be able to provide their extensive suburban services of to-day without road motors. Fishmongers, ice merchants and fruit salesmen, who especially require to have a speedy means of distributing their wares, favour the commercial motor no less than do the managers of evening newspapers. Laundry companies—to whose business a great impetus has been given of late years by the increasing resort to residential flats—find commercial motors of great service in the collections that have to be made on Mondays and Tuesdays and the deliveries effected on Fridays and Saturdays. Furniture-removers, by resorting either, for small removals, to motors carrying pantechnicons, or, for large removals, to traction-engines and regular road trains, can now cover distances of up to 100 or 150 miles a day, the "record" down to the autumn of 1911 being 166 miles in a day. Brewers, mineral-water manufacturers, oil companies, coal merchants, pianoforte-makers, brick-makers and scores of other traders, besides, are all taking to the new form of street or road transport.

Motor-vehicles are likewise succeeding horsed vehicles for fire-engines, municipal water-carts and dust-carts, street ambulances, Post Office mail-vans,[2] char-a-bancs and estate cars, the last-mentioned being constructed so that they can be used either for passengers or for goods. Theatrical companies on tour use motor-vehicles for the conveyance of themselves, plus belongings and scenery. Political propagandists, also on tour, move in their motor-van from one village to another with an ease that no other road vehicle could surpass. Religious missions are being sent out in motor-vans fitted up as [ 485 ]chapels, and duly dedicated to their special purpose. Finally, after having had, through life, the advantage of all the numerous and varied motor services here mentioned, one may now be conveyed to one's last resting-place in what a writer in "Motor Traction" for June 24, 1911, describes as "a properly-equipped motor hearse."

So considerable is the expansion which the use of commercial motors has undergone, and so great and varied are the interests represented, that there is now a Commercial Motor Users' Association which, among other purposes, seeks to resist the placing of undue restrictions on users, and to extend their rights and privileges. The administration of the Association is vested in an executive committee (on which the principal industries using self-propelled vehicles for industrial purposes are represented) and various sub-committees.

Of the motor-omnibus as a competitor with the electric tramway I have spoken in the previous chapter. It is a no less serious competitor with the horse omnibus which in London, at least, if not in other cities as well, it is rapidly driving off the streets altogether. The position in London is suggested by the following figures, which give the numbers of horse-omnibuses and motor-omnibuses licensed in the years stated:—

1902 3736 010 1907 2964 0783
1903 3667 029 1908 2557 1205
1904 3623 013 1909 2155 1133
1905 3551 031 1910 1771 1180
1906 3484 241 1911[3] 0863 1665

On October 25, 1911, the London General Omnibus Company, who at one time had 17,800 horses, ran their last horse-omnibuses, these being then definitely withdrawn by them in favour of motor-omnibuses.

A like story is to be told of the rapid substitution of motor-cabs, popularly known as "taxis," for the horse-cabs which, succeeding the earlier hackney coaches, had helped to render so disconsolate the formerly important and influential, though now utterly vanished, body known as "Thames watermen."[4] Once more, in fact, the supplanters are being [ 486 ]supplanted. "Growlers" and "crawlers" have had their day, and the smarter-looking and quicker-moving taxis are leaving them to share the fate of the stage-coach when it came into competition with the better form of transport represented by the railway.

How far the substitution of motor-cabs for horsed cabs has already gone in London will be gathered from the following table, taken from the report (issued in July, 1911) of the Home Office Departmental Committee on Taxicab Fares in the London Cab Trade:—

Hansom. Four-wheel. Total.
1906 0096 6648 3844 10,492
1907 0723 5952 3866 9818
1908 2805 4826 3649 8475
1909 3956 3299 3263 3562
1910 6397 2003 3721 4724
1911[5] 7165 1803 2583 4386

How the horse is steadily disappearing from the streets and roads is indicated by the records of a traffic census carried out by Mr. H. Hewitt Griffin on Putney Bridge, in Fleet Street, E.C., and in the Edgware Road, and published in the issues of "Motor Traction" for July 15, May 6, and October 7, 1911, respectively.

Mr Griffin has taken his Putney Bridge census for seven years in succession, and, comparing 1905 with 1911, he gives net results which may be summarised as follows:—

June 25, 1905.
July 2, 1911.
Horse-drawn buses 1613 33
Motor-buses nil  1529
Horse cabs, carriages, etc. 715 225
Motor-cars, cabs, etc. 361 1943

The Fleet Street traffic census, taken for five successive years, yielded the following results for 1907 and 1911:—

[ 487 ]

April 23, 1907. April 19, 1911.
Horse-drawn buses 2241 95
Motor-buses 995 2684
Horse-cabs 1902 391
Motor-cabs (taxis) 48 1616

In the Edgware Road the results for 1906 and 1911 were:—

Sept. 20, 1906. Sept. 18, 1911.
Horse-drawn buses 1776 21
Motor-buses 441 1599
Horse-cabs 1051[6] 260
Motor-cabs (taxis) 10 1131

Statistics taken on the Portsmouth Road for the Surrey County Council on seven successive days in corresponding weeks of July, 1909, 1910 and 1911 show that the numbers of motor-vehicles passing between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. were:—

1909 5,863
1910 7,823
1911 10,635

These figures give an increase in two years of 81 per cent. During twelve hours on a Saturday in July, 1911, the number of motor-vehicles counted was 3279, or an average of 273 per hour. The greatest number passing in a single hour was 524, while during the period of the heaviest traffic 90 passed in ten minutes.

All these varied and ever-extending uses to which motor-vehicles are being put would seem almost to foreshadow the time when the horse is likely to be found only at the Zoological Gardens, as a curious survival of a bygone age in traction.

Definite statistics as to the extent to which automobilism, in its manifold phases, constitutes an industry in itself are not available; but the activities now employed on or in connection with motors, motoring, and motor transport are manifold and widespread.

[ 488 ]For many years the crippling effect of legislative restrictions greatly checked the development of motor-car construction in this country. The Act of 1896 gave a stimulus to the building of pleasure cars, but French and German makers had the advantage until British manufacturers showed they could produce cars which would bear comparison with the foreign importations.

Real expansion of the home industry came with the Heavy Motor-car Order of 1904, although even then no great degree of progress followed immediately thereon. Traders generally were reluctant to acquire commercial motors for themselves until the success of the new vehicles had been assured, and some early failures, due to faulty construction, gave commercial motors a bad name at the start. With the adoption of improved methods, their utility was fully established, and the expansion of the industry during the last four or five years has been remarkable in the extreme.

British manufacturers had already gained a world-wide reputation for their steam road-vehicles (traction engines), and they readily adapted their plant, etc., to the building of the best type of commercial motors when the initial difficulties had been overcome. While, therefore, French and German makers were still sending their pleasure motors to this country, British producers of commercial motors kept this branch of the industry in their own hands, the position to-day being that practically all the public service and commercial motors used in this country are British-made. The main if not the only chance here for foreign vehicles of these types is when the British makers cannot execute orders promptly enough to meet requirements.

In point of fact the orders coming to hand far exceed the present productive capacity of some of our manufacturers, who, in addition to seeking to supply the home market, are now sending British-made commercial motors to almost every country in the world. I am assured, by an authority in a position to know, that certain of the English and Scotch manufacturers specialising in commercial motors had so many orders on hand in October, 1911, that unless they increased their premises, and laid down fresh machinery, they would be unable to execute any more until the end of 1912.

Much enlargement or rebuilding of works is already [ 489 ]proceeding, while manufacturers who have hitherto devoted their attention mainly or exclusively to pleasure motors are now adapting their plant, etc., to the making of commercial motors either instead or in addition. The demand for pleasure motors is limited; that for public service motors and motor-vehicles for traders is illimitable. From the great stores which keep their "fleet" of delivery cars, and from the furniture-remover who wants the equivalent almost of a traction-engine down to the draper, the grocer or the butcher who is content with a modest three-wheel auto-carrier for loads up to five or ten cwt., every class of trader is to-day finding that, to keep pace with the times, and to deliver goods as promptly and at the same distances as his competitors, he must needs have a quicker means of road transport than a horsed-vehicle.

Then, while large traders having their fleets of motor-vehicles set up their own repairing shops, the needs of smaller traders with only two or three delivery vans are provided for by motor manufacturers or others who undertake "maintenance" on contract terms, thus saving such traders from all trouble in the matter of repairs and upkeep.

When one adds to these considerations the fact that traders not only in the United Kingdom but in the colonies, in every European country, and even as far away as Japan, are looking to English and Scotch manufacturers to supply them with motor-traction vehicles, the impression is conveyed that the further great development of the motor industry in the United Kingdom will be far less in pleasure motors, or even in the motors used by doctors and others for professional purposes, than in commercial motors; and this impression is confirmed by a remark made by Sir Samuel Samuel at the Motor-Aviation dinner given by him at the Savoy Hotel on October 30, 1911. "The future of the motor-car industry," he said, "lay in the commercial motor traffic, the solution of the street traffic problem lay in motor-omnibuses, and in ten years time most of the tramway stock would be scrapped."

Apart from figures as to the number of public service or commercial motors—chiefly, as I have shown, of home manufacture—already in use, the only available statistics indicating the growth of the British motor industry are those given in the Board of Trade Returns concerning "cars, chassis and [ 490 ]parts" exported, the total value thereof being £1,502,000 in 1909 and £2,511,000 in 1910. The imports in the same years rose from £4,218,000 to £5,065,000. It may be assumed that the latter figures relate more particularly to pleasure cars; though it should be remembered that even on these, as imported from France or Germany, additional work may often be done here—in the way of body-building or otherwise—to the extent of £200 or so per car. Many allied trades are likewise doing a good business in the supply of accessories.

Allowing, next, for the employment given to drivers, repairers and others, and for the sum total (if it could only be estimated) of the amount distributed annually by motorists among hotel proprietors and town and country tradespeople, the circulation of money that is directly due to motoring and motor-traction must be prodigious. As far back as 1906 it was estimated that motor drivers alone in this country were receiving over £5,000,000 a year in wages, that the wages paid to men employed in the manufacture of cars and accessories amounted to nearly £10,000,000 a year, and that the total number of drivers and others concerned in motoring was about 230,000. But much has happened since 1906, and if these figures accurately represent the position then, they would have to be greatly increased to represent the position to-day.

Thus we see that automobilism—using the word in its widest application—has not only brought about some remarkable changes in our conditions of inland transport and communication but is itself rapidly developing into still another of our national industries, even if it should not have done so already.

Tube railways are an outcome of various attempts to solve a problem in urban transport that more especially applies to London.

When railways were first brought to the Metropolis the prejudice against them was so strong, and the lack of foresight as to the purpose they would eventually serve was so pronounced, that in 1846 limits were set up, on what were then the outskirts of London, within which the lines were not to come. The whole of the central area was to be left free from railways, the view of a Royal Commission which considered the subject in the year stated being that, as the proportion [ 491 ]of short-distance passengers by the main lines was only small, the probable demand for the accommodation of short-distance traffic would not justify the sacrifice of property or the expenditure of money that would be involved in placing the termini in crowded centres. The same Commission recommended that if, at any future time, it should be thought necessary to admit railways within the prescribed area, this should be done in conformity with some uniform plan. Under no circumstances, they urged, should separate schemes having no reference to each other be tolerated.

It was not long before the growth of London and the transport needs of its population made clear the fact that the exclusion of railways from the central area could not be maintained, though the recommendation of the 1846 Commission as regards a uniform plan was wholly disregarded.

Supplementing the omnibuses originally established between Paddington and the City in 1829 by Shillibeer came, in 1863, the first line of underground railway, connecting Paddington station with Farringdon Street, and constructed in an open cutting, where possible. An earlier idea of having one central station in London for all the different main lines of railway was discarded in favour of underground railways of the type here in question; and the "inner circle," linking up most of the main-line termini, was eventually completed. The original restrictions in regard to the central area were also modified, such stations as those at Charing Cross, Cannon-Street, Holborn and Liverpool Street being allowed to be set up within the once sacred precincts. Branches were made from the inner circle of the underground system; the main-line railways began to develop their now enormous suburban business; the omnibuses were crowded in the busy hours of the day, while the tramways, though excluded from the central area still more rigidly than the railways had been, gained no lack of patronage to or from the "outer fringe."

All these facilities served a most useful purpose; but they obviously required to be supplemented by lines of railway which would directly serve the central area of London, and both allow of easier movement from one part of London to another and enable City workers to travel more readily between their suburban homes and the immediate locality of their places of work or business. Neither surface nor [ 492 ]overhead railways across the centre of London were even to be thought of, while the cost of still more underground railways of the "shallow" type already constructed was looked upon as almost prohibitive, though underground any further London lines would assuredly have to be.

A way was found out of the difficulty by the construction of deep-level iron tubes passing through the stratum of clay underlying London, such tubes providing for lines of railway along which trains to be worked by electricity could pass between various stations—in still larger tubes—in different parts of London and the suburbs.

The first of these tube railways was projected by the City and South London Railway Company, and received the sanction of Parliament in 1884. The line was opened in 1890, and with it London acquired the pioneer of those tube railways which were to effect so revolutionary a change in her general transport conditions. The Central London Railway followed, in 1900, and since then London has been provided with a network of tube railways, offering facilities for a more or less complete interchange of traffic, north and south, and east and west, both between themselves and in conjunction with the termini of the main line steam railways. In this way movement about and across London has been greatly facilitated. Three of the new tubes, the Bakerloo, the Piccadilly and the Hampstead have been united into one system by the London Electric Railway Company, and, together with the earlier District Railway and the London United Tramways, are under the same control, with great advantage to everyone concerned, while the original underground lines—the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District—have been electrified and vastly improved. The disadvantages of "isolated projects" on which successive Commissions—the London Traffic Commission among the number—have insisted so strongly have thus, to a certain extent, been met by the principle of combination through private enterprise. No action has yet been taken to carry out the recommendation made in June, 1905, in the Report of the Royal Commission on London Traffic, in regard to the formation of a London Traffic Board, though a useful work is being done by the London Traffic Branch appointed by the Board of Trade in August, 1907, "to continue and supplement the work of the Royal Commission [ 493 ]by keeping the statistics up to date, collecting information, and studying the problem of London traffic in all its changing aspects." In the reports issued by this Branch will be found a mine of interesting data on London traffic conditions, supplementing the abundant information in the reports of the Royal Commission itself.

It is to be hoped that the sequel to these continued investigations will be the eventual creation of some such central authority as the London Traffic Board recommended. Whether this should be done by calling into existence for London an entirely new body, such as the Public Service Commission which controls all transportation questions and facilities in New York City, or whether the simpler method of enlarging the powers of the present Railway and Canal Commission should be adopted, by preference, are matters of detail which the future must be left to decide; but the advantages that would result from a greater degree of co-ordination in the organising and regulating of London transport conditions are incontestable.

As showing the extent of the patronage which the electric railways of London, whether tube railways or otherwise, are now receiving, I might quote from the Board of Trade "Railway Returns" the following figures, giving the number of passengers (exclusive of holders of season and periodical tickets) carried in 1910:—

Central London 40,660,856
City and South London 23,501,947
Great Northern and City 9,380,378
Waterloo and City 3,724,277
London Electric 95,647,197
Metropolitan 82,728,776
Metropolitan District 64,627,829
Whitechapel and Bow 19,886,273

  1. The total number of commercial motor-vehicles working in the London district in August, 1911, was, according to statistics compiled by "Commercial Motor," 3500.
  2. Mails are now being sent out from London every night by motor-vans for distances of up to 100 miles.
  3. July 31, 1911.
  4. See pp. 58-63.
  5. Figures for March 31. On September 30, 1911, the number of taxicabs in London was 7360.
  6. Figure for Sept. 24, 1907.