HORSE DRAWN VEHICLES
Although a great deal has been published on stage coaches and mail coaches, there does not seem to be too much on carts and carriages. But "Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs" by Trevor May, (Shire Books, 1999) is very good. Patricia Hughes work on Forder (see lower down this page) is the best (and only!) work on a single Wolverhampton company.
Horse drawn vehicles range from small carts to state coaches. They were needed everywhere from farms to cities. But passenger carrying vehicles were rare before the seventeenth century: before that you walked, climbed aboard a cart, rode a horse or used a sedan chair. The use of passenger carrying vehicles only gradually increased and they did not become common until the latter half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century they flourished and different types were available in an almost bewildering variety. During the first quarter of the 20th century motor vehicles gradually replaced horse drawn vehicles.
Carts and carriages are mainly made of wood, with some iron parts. Leather was used for straps and suspension; and paints and varnishes were needed as finishes to protect the wood. Even a small cart was not cheap and needed some skill to make. It is therefore likely that not every village would have had a cart maker and certainly would not have had a carriage maker; but the local blacksmith or carpenter would certainly make repairs. Usually you would get your vehicle from a maker in a larger town and Wolverhampton would certainly have filled this role for its large agricultural hinterland.
Hansoms, though mostly made in Wolverhampton, were mainly used in London. Growlers carried more people and more baggage but were slower.
The better class of carriages were largely made in London, where the demand from the upper classes was greatest but local makers, including those in Wolverhampton, would have made almost any sort of carriage to order. As the town grew and prospered there would have been an increasing market, as horse drawn vehicles of all sorts were in use.
Records become more abundant and revealing towards the latter half of the 19th century and in Wolverhampton they tell us something of the carriage making trade. They seem not to have been fully researched but Patricia Hughes' work on the Dixon's Building in Cleveland Street incidentally revealed a good deal about the firm which was, by a long way, the biggest and best known of Wolverhampton's carriage makers, Forder.
Forder were not the only carriage builders in Wolverhampton. The town was a good spot for their purpose - skilled workers, timber, iron, leather, paint and varnish (all the ingredients of a coach), as well as a market amongst the prospering industrialists, were all there. You can find a number of them in the local trade directories and some of their advertisements, from various sources, are shown here.
In the 1902 Exhibition Ridges exhibited "small square fronted brougham, medium square opening brougham, "Barker" shape circular ditto, light canoe landau, Parisian victorian, specimens "S.T.", "Pioneer", "Ideal", "Britain's Best" solid rubber tyres. (Solid tyres remained in widespread use long after the invention of pneumatic tyres because it was thought, mistakenly, that they rolled more easily and took less effort to pull).
It is interesting to note that some railway carriages were made at the Tudor works. But the carriage makers never evolved into that line of business, probably because the railway companies took to doing it themselves. Nor did they get into car making, even though many early cars had bodywork which revealed that they were truly horseless carriages. It seems that this too would be because the car makers made the car bodies (as they usually made every other part) for themselves. One feels that as the carriage building trade declined and the car building trade increased, workers, who certainly had transferable skills, would have moved from one type of company to the other.
An obvious exception to most of this seems to be the Charles Clark company, who seem to have evolved from selling coaches and carriages into selling horseless carriages. All further information on their history would be gratefully received.
During the First World War 1914-1918 the Government requisitioned almost every horse in the country for the war effort. But there was also an enormous increase in the use of motorised transport and many soldiers learnt to drive. After the war motorised transport, for private and commercial use, increased greatly. All of this probably killed off the County Mews and many firms like it.