From Steam Trains to Motor Cars

Held at the Museum of Science History Archive are the director’s minute books for Beyer, Peacock and Co. prominent steam locomotive manufacturers based in Manchester. The minute books record board meetings that usually happened once a month; they include details of company finance, personnel and business decisions. The book entries from 1903-1906 are particularly interesting because they show the firm seriously considering the manufacture of motor cars a part of the firms history that is little known.

The first indication is an entry from April 1903. The company had been approached by Harry Livesey a consulting engineer who was the son of a former Beyer, Peacock employee James Livesey.  He proposed to erect an experimental motorcar of his design with some of the parts already made. Livesey offered the expertise, while seeking the finance and means of production that a big firm like Beyer, Peacock could offer.

At the same time the company was being approached by a number of other interested parties. There was an enquiry as to whether the Company would be disposed to give a quote and manufacture motor omnibuses. In response a member of staff was sent to procure drawings and estimate the cost for the company to manufacture. Similarly a member of staff was sent to Paris to investigate the motor exhibition of that year.

These matters were then discussed by the board in the summer of 1903, including the cost of buildings and machinery for manufacturing motorcar engines and chassis. However the board voted to defer a decision. Later in the summer of 1903 a draft agreement with Mr Livesey was drawn up under the authority of the current General Manager George Pilkington Dawson.

The next relevant discussion to appear in the minute book was an approach by Frank Gardiner, of the firm Gardiners and Sons, engine manufacturers. Gardiner was looking to sell the Company the patents for Gardiner-Serpollet motorcars, a venture that requires further research. Negotiations with Gardiner-Serpollet continued into 1904. Then in January 1904 the Manchester Corporation Electricity Department enquired as to the construction of steam motor wagons.

It is possible that Mr Dawson was influential in the serious consideration of motor manufacture during this period. Dawson was certainly interested in motoring, being a member of the Manchester Automobile Club at least as early as July 1902. He was also on the board of local motor firm the Belsize Motor Company from 1903.

Further evidence of Dawson’s influence can been seen in the 1904 entries. The schemes proposed by Livesey and Gardiner-Serpollet were disregarded in April and May 1904 just after Dawson had left the firm. Although the firm would: “examine proposals for manufacturing chassis complete if the money necessary for the business be found by third parties.”

Image from The Commercial Motor 1/2/1905 – This is probably one of the six 1905 lorries produced by the firm. This one was hired by local contractor E. W. Rigby.
Image from The Commercial Motor 1/2/1905 – This is probably one of the six 1905 lorries produced by the firm. This one was hired by local contractor E. W. Rigby.

Motor manufacture at Beyer, Peacock took a different course in 1904 and drawings for steam lorries were completed by the firm. The board authorised the construction of six lorries at an estimated cost of £600 each. The vehicles were named “Gorton” lorries after the location of the Company works and they were exhibited at the motor vehicle exhibition in Liverpool in 1905 and London in 1906. The last entry in the minute books in 1906 shows authorisation for the construction of 6 more lorries. This probably marks the end of the Companies dealings in the motor industry.

Although 12 vehicles are seemingly insignificant, the high level of motor related records in the minute’s book  during the period 1903-1906 is striking. This period is also the time both locally and nationally when there were peak numbers of firms producing and experimenting in motor manufacture. It is possible that there was so much interest in a partnership due of the considerable resources of Beyer, Peacock and Co. during this period. The Edwardian period also marks a point in time when local interest in motorised goods haulage was increasing. The Commercial Motor noted the increasing demand from Lancashire mill owners for vehicles.

The Beyer, Peacock and Co. director’s minutes books are available for viewing by appointment at the Museum of Science and Industry Archives, they form part of the Beyer, Peacock and Co. company archives held at the museum.


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