Manchester’s early commercial vehicles

Research has shown that the North-West had a relatively high number of steam wagon manufacturers compared to other areas of the country (see the pie chart below). It is likely that this is due to the high levels of goods movement in the North-West, which subsequently led to a business interest in the commercial application of the “horseless carriage”.

68 firms have been identified using various sources, 18 in the North West.
63 firms have been identified using various sources, 18 in the North-West.


Several motorised haulage companies were setup before World War One, using either steam or petrol power. The first to purchase a vehicle were the established haulage firm Sutton and Co. who bought a Daimler motor wagon in 1897 which according to The Autocar “set the population agog.” While not the first motorised vehicle on the streets of Manchester it was certainly the first to be put to the purpose of goods haulage. Several companies followed suit with many firms being established, or adapting to motor vehicles some with particularly grand names such as the “Vulcan Haulage Company” who were employed by the Manchester Gas Department to carry oil.

Several motor accidents and prosecutions relating to these companies are reported in local newspapers. For example in March 1907 the Manchester Guardian reported:

 “Yesterday afternoon Albert William, of Jennison-street, Manchester, an employee of the Manchester Motor Transport Company, met with a terrible death. He was travelling from the Silver Springs Dyeing Works, near Congleton, with a load of cloth weighing eight tons. The game overturned the load, and Williamson, who was walking at the side of the wagon, was pinned underneath.”

So threatened by prosecution were these early firms that the manager of the General Motor Carrying Company, John Miller, formed a local motor wagon users defence association. The Manchester Guardian, February 1907 reported:

“In view of the recent prosecutions by the police in various districts for offences against the regulations relating to the use and construction of motor wagons for commercial purposes, and also in view of further projected legislation with regard thereto, it is felt that the time has arrived when all who are interested in this class of vehicles should combine for mutual protection.”

One of the requirements that Miller was fighting against was the need to have a person controlling brakes on trailers, for which he had been prosecuted twice.

It wasn’t just haulage firms, but breweries, textile manufacturers and railway companies who were purchasing motorised vehicles. This lucrative market attracted commercial vehicle manufacturers to the area, with several setting up agencies on Deansgate, an excellent location near the Central Station warehouses. The picture below shows a Ryknield vehicle ordered by the Economic Motor Express Company. However, haulage firms were also using locally produced vehicles including Leyland, Coulthards and Hercules of Levenshulme.

A Ryknield 5 ton vehicle ordered by the Economic Motor Express Company - Source The Commercial Motor 22/6/1909
A Ryknield 5 ton vehicle ordered by the Economic Motor Express Company. Source: The Commercial Motor 22/6/1909

It has been found that Manchester, and the North-West had a particularly high level of interest in commercial vehicles. However, more research is needed into the numbers, uses and rival firms in this very competitive area of the local motor industry in order for more conclusions to be drawn. It would be useful, for example to know more about horse drawn haulage in Manchester; when did motor haulage overtake horse-drawn vehicles. Further investigation also needs to consider fire-engines, ambulances and buses and the attitude of local government.


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