The First London to Brighton Run--Walter Hancock's Second "Infant" Steam Omnibus

On the 31st of October, l832, the "Infant" took a trip to Brighton, the following account of which is quoted from Mr. Alexander Garden's "Journal of Elemental Locomotion:"--


"Mr. Hancock having intimated to us that he proposed trying his steam-carriage, modestly yclept 'The Infant,' on the turnpike road to Brighton :--despite of the article in the 'Foreign Quarterly,' the best upon locomotion which has yet appeared in any periodical-despite of the Re-viewer's opinion, that Mr. Hancock's carriage 'does not seem adapted for rapid motion,' we ventured to accept the invitation, with the certain conviction, that we should ultimately reach Brighton, and return, unscathed by the scaldings, to give an unbiassed and satisfactory account of our trip. Ecce signum!

"The 'Foreign Quarterly,' we find, is foreign in this instance. Therein, it is said, 'imperfect suspension has been the ruin of every machine that has yet been constructed.' This 'Infant' has been growing for many months, and improving apace,--a promising child of art. Not only has the 'Infant' not been ruined by 'imperfect suspension,' but it is so admirably and completely hung on steel springs,' as the coach advertisements used to announce 'sixty years since,' that the master-hand of Houlditch, in Long Acre, or Windus, in the City, could not have shielded us from concussions more delightfully; and not only were so luxuriously and tenderly treated, but the engine itself was equally saved from the roughness of the passage.

"The crank-shaft, upon which the engines work at right angles, communicates its motion by two chains to the straight hinder axle; thus causing one or both wheels to revolve, and the carriage to be propelled by the adhesion of the periphery to the road. Any shock, which effects the carriage, can only be felt by the steam-engine, through the chain or through the very flexible springs upon which the body of the vehicle, containing engines and passengers, is placed.

"From the extreme ends of the hinder axletree to the corresponding ends of the crank-shaft, strong bars proceed. These bars serve to keep the crank-shaft always equidistant from the hinder axletree; so that any concussion, which may affect either the wheels or the body, cannot force the crank-shaft nearer or farther from the axletree. These rods are constantly vibrating; but the steam-engine is securely and perfectly suspended. We do not say, that the whole affair will not be susceptible of great improvement; nor, we apprehend, does Mr. Hancock. Its name, the 'Infant,' implies beauty and efficiency of structure; but does not pretend to robust and active maturity.

"Well do we recollect Fulton's first steam-boat: numberless were its imperfections, and irregular were its time and its operations, when first launched on the public gaze. Then was its infancy--now we see it increased in magnitude, speed, and fair proportions; but when it will arrive at the ultima Thule of perfection, who will presume to predict? Once, Fulton's boats were at the tender mercies of the rival Albany sailing packets. Eventful time! How has thou changed its lot, and enabled it in better fortune, to lead the sailing craft ' 'gainst wind and tide.'

"On Wednesday, October 31, this steam-carriage came from Stratford, through the streets of the City, at the different speeds necessary to keep its pace behind or before other carriages, as occasion required, and took up its quarters on Blackfriars-road, to prepare for the day's trial. Accompanied by a scientific friend, a distinguished officer in the navy, we, determined upon criticism, joined Mr. Hancock's friends on the Thursday morning, making eleven passengers in all.

"We started at a quarter past six o'clock, at the rate of nine miles per hour, until we came to Streatham, where we took in water. Proceeding again at the same speed, we passed Croydon, where we took in coke. In the course of a few miles we found the speed decreasing, without apparent cause. For three or four miles it varied from six to eight miles an hour, until we reached Hooley-lane, where we again took in coke, which had been sent from Croydon. This coke being of a very inferior quality, hard and heavy, was, no doubt, the cause of the falling off in speed. As we approached Red Hill, the coke boxes getting low, the fireman came again to a small quantity of London coke, when the carriage immediately improved its speed, and carried us up the hill (a hill on which all the coaches in such weather require six horses), in fine style, at the average speed of six and seven miles an hour. Soon after, the bane of our journey, an insufficient supply of fuel, caused us to flag, within the sight of our station at Horley. A return post-boy took a message forward, and we were met by a wheelbarrow with a bag of coke, which carried us to the King's Arms. We now took in water and a scanty supply of fuel, and started at a fair speed over Crawley Common to Hand Cross; and taking the small quantity of coke that had been left there, we soon arrived at the King's Arms, Hazeldean, where we had the extreme mortification of being obliged to put up for the night, simply for want of coke. We had, however, steamed thirty-eight miles under great disadvantages. A friend proceeded immediately to Brighton, by the horse coach, and forwarded coke, the only thing necessary for proceeding in the morning. This arrive d accordingly; the steam was soon got up, and off we set in good style, continuing our course at the varied rate of nine, ten and eleven miles an hour, till we came within two miles of Brighton, where we fortunately met with a small supply of fuel. Thence we proceeded to Brighton, passed to the Pavilion-gate, round the Grand Parade and Waterloo-place to the town tank, apparently to the great surprise and satisfaction of a large concourse of persons who had by this time assembled. After staying about an hour in Brighton, waiting for our ill-arranged feed of coke, we started with four additional passengers, two gentlemen and two ladies, on our return, at nine or ten miles an hour, till we came to the end of the dead wall. Here our friends alighted, and we were off again at full eleven miles per hour. The speed of the carriage here increased in an extraordinary manner, although upon a very considerable ascent all the way. One of the miles was done in three minutes and a half, and that which terminates at the branch road to Cuckfield and Piecomb, was done in three minutes fifty-eight seconds (above fifteen miles an hour), Aldbourne (nearly ten miles) within fifty-five minutes, including stoppages for water. The small quantity of fuel we obtained here, only enabled us to reach our former quarters at Hazledean, fifteen miles and a half from Brighton.

"With great unwillingness we were now compelled to leave them, although we had been so much delighted with the trial, that we would gladly have remained, had other engagements permitted."

"A gentleman, whose account we can every way depend upon, has furnished us with the following continuation:--

"' The ill-arranged supplies of coke (perhaps necessarily ill-arranged, for few country people on the road knew what coke was,) detained the steamer for the night (of Friday), whilst a messenger was sent forward for a supply of coke. From hence to Handcross was by far the most critical and interesting part of the journey. Almost the whole distance is an ascent, and one part is a hill nearly a mile long, terminating in a still steeper ascent. No anxiety would have been felt for a carriage built for such a road, but the thing was to be done by the 'Infant.' We were told that we should never get up Slaugham Park Hill; the road being in so bad a state that the stage-coaches, at the best of times, put on two extra horses However, in the morning, the fire-bars were well raked, and the best fire made, of which the stock of fuel would admit. A little coal was added to help out, and the 'Infant' started to the task. A run of two or three miles before coming to the hill, so as to have blown the fire a little, would have been better. As it was, the ascent was commenced cheerfully, the pace gradually decreasing till we came to the steepest part. Here three or four of us got off; and the engine was stopped for a minute or two to raise the steam higher. Again started slowly. The engine laboured, and evidently had no power to spare. In a few minutes, however, all anxiety was at an end, and this imperfect, experimental, and weakly 'Infant' cleared all its difficulties, and arrived at Handcross. Two gentlemen in the neighbourhood, Mr. Kinder and a friend of his, came on purpose to witness this part of our performance, and declared that they had fully made up their minds to witness a failure, conceiving the achievement impossible. The landlady, Mrs. Bachelor, at Handcross, could not lend pails, nor would she spare us water, and we might have been in an awkward position had not Mr. Steel, the wheelwright, generously come forward, and offered us his well water and workmen, together with his own active exertions, to supply our empty tanks. Mr. Steel, and one or two others, took their seats on the steamer, and we were presently off again; speed, two miles in ten minutes. We reached Horley without being able to hear of a relay of coke, which had been promised us at Crawley. It was now perceived that one of the wheels rolled considerably, so as to produce a great deal of friction by the tire and felloe rubbing against the side of the carriage. This gradually got worse till we came to Salford Mill, twenty-two miles from London, where we stopped to examine. The owner, Mr. Newnham, in the most handsome manner, gave the use of his yard. The cast-iron flange at the back of the nave was broken off all round, and it was useless to attempt proceeding until the wheel was repaired. We accordingly left for town, but not before experiencing, at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Newnham, the hearty welcome and the good cheer of true English hospitality.'

" OBSERVATIONS.--This experimental trip was tobe viewed by different persons in different ways. However, this one thing is certain, the carriage that has performed it was ill calculated for the undertaking. Independent of the smallness of the boiler, intended only for experimental purposes; the carriage itself is a thing of 'shreds and patches,' having undergone endless alterations and trials. The roads, which were become exceedingly heavy from the previous rains, had not been so bad for twelve months before; and it is not improbable that had the experiment been made during the fine weather of the previous week, we should have got back to town on the day we started. It is better as it is; because the heavy roads have brought this comparatively fragile machine to a test so severe, that the most sceptical can hardly fail of arriving at the obvious conviction, that if the 'Infant' has proved itself almost equal to the task, maturity cannot fail to perform it with ease and regularity.

" It is gratifying to observe, that upon the whole we met, almost universally, with good-will and attention to our wants all down the road: great curiosity and interest were excited, particularly among the ladies; and at Brighton, notwithstanding the unpleasant state of the weather, the concourse of people before we left was very great. Not the slightest accident, however, occurred, either there or on any part of the road.

" Some of the coachmen were exceedingly civil and polite, and voluntarily told us their horses passed the steamer without any trouble. Mr. Wilkins, of the Cornet, is one of them. Others again shook their beads like Washington Irvine's doubter.

" On this trip, the water, not being regularly stationed, as it must be when a steam conveyance is established was sucked by the engine through a huge proboscis, one of Hancock's caoutchouc hose pipes, forty feet long. I answered the purpose admirably; but required much exertion from the workmen, whose zeal and persevering activity were in every case highly praiseworthy.

"We were invited in our editorial capacity, and went for the purpose of criticising, not as the friend of the inventor. We were delighted with the regularity of the speed and soundness of the work, in very trying circumstances, and highly gratified by the politeness and practical knowledge of Mr. Hancock. The defect of the journey was in the supply of coke, which, in a good state of the roads need not have been more than half a bushel per mile; on this trip it exceeded the half bushel considerably, perhaps twenty-five per cent. The only discomfort of the journey was a feeling of the want of courtesy, which our conductor showed to other coaches. He most obstinately kept the crown of the road, to our great annoyance; and when he did take the side, it was not to the extent he ought. Steam conductors must conciliate.

"A word to the person by whose order fifty yards of Streatham Hill was covered with broken stones, six inches deep all the way across, 'to prevent the return of the steam-carriage.' We withhold his name; though such an exhibition of ignorance and hostility well entitles it to public exposure. We have taken upon us the duty of advocates for elemental locomotion; and, whilst we shall endeavour to discharge ourselves of the task, with courtesy to all who choose to stand up against it in the fair field of argument, we will not be slack to reprobate the conduct of whosoever resorts to any other means. We are not ashamed of being warm in the cause--for it is associated both with humanity and patriotism. When next the individual we allude to reads of a ship-load of poor emigrants, let him consider, that twist the case as he may, still the affecting truth must meet his inquiry-that they are torn from home, from country, from kindred, and friends, to leave a sufficiency for these now unproductive and unnecessary consumers of the food of the poor--the horses which he desires to preserve."

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