England Occupations, Carts, Coaches, Wagons, Wheels (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Carts, Coaches, Wagons and Wheels

Cart and Wagon Making

Carts, which had two wheels, were made by cartwrights and were much lighter and of less complicated construction than wagons as they had no complex steering gear. They were thus cheaper to build and they were also more manoeuvrable and able to tip, so used wherever possible for odd hauling jobs, and some were fitted with plank seats to carry passengers. Wagons or wains had four wheels, the front ones always being smaller than the rear ones, and their makers were termed wainwrights. Oak pins were mostly used in preference to nails, and the finished vehicles were painted in the district’s traditional colours—predominantly red, royal blue and buff. Construction details are given by Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and examples can be found in local agricultural museums.

­ Coachmaking

Coachmakers made all kinds of chaises, coaches and other vehicles for carrying people, at first only ladies as ‘real men’ would ride a horse! Coaches consisted of two parts: the body housed the passengers and was covered with leather and lined inside with cloth stuffed with horse hair; the carriage supported the body and was attached to the wheels and the horses. The front wheels were made smaller so as to allow easier turning. There were many different kinds and sizes ranging from eight-horse stage coaches to one-horse cabs. A coachmaker would employ specialist workmen such as body-makers, carriage-makers, trimmers, painters, body painters and herald painters for armorial bearings and other artistic decoration as required. Descriptive pieces about coachmaking are given by Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949). The apprenticeships for the Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers’ Company 1677-1800 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 23. Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers’ Company 1677-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998). May’s Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs (1999) vividly describes the many types of cabs and the lives of the cabmen.

­ Motorized vehicles

Shire has a fleet of books on old motorized vehicles including Woodhams on lorries (trucks for North Americans), Kaye on trolleybuses, Keith Turner on trams, Whitehead on fire engines, Batten on ambulances, a series on different makes of cars, and even one on children’s cars by Pennell. The industry’s most notable personalities and their work are subjects of Shire books by Hodge on Richard Trevithick, engineer of steam road locomotives, and by Hull on Lord Nuffield the industrialist of Morris Motors fame.

­ Wheel making

The wheelwright was one of the essential craftsmen in every village and each wheel was custom made for the exact cart, carriage or other purpose for which it was intended. He made the woodwork for wheels, and then the local blacksmith added the iron rim. Wheelwrights often also made carts and wagons, they did much repair work and in smaller villages would have undertaken general carpentry and joinery as well, including making of coffins. Descriptions of the work are given by Purser (Right Wheel - Wheelwrights. Greentrees (Westminster and Central Middlesex FHS) Vol 13 #2, page 32-33, 1994), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Carter (Old Occupations: Wheelwrights. Family Tree Magazine Vol 8 #12, page 4, 1992), Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991), Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968, All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), and comprehensively by Bailey (The Village Wheelwright and Carpenter. Shire Publications, 1975).


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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