Today’s coaches are modern, comfortable and spacious, covering a wide network of routes at affordable prices. Most coaches these days come equipped with features such as toilets and air conditioning as standard, ensuring that passengers are transported from A to B in as comfortable conditions as possible. Today’s coaches are a far cry from the very early forms of coach travel, and progress has evolved hugely since the days of the Gurney’s steam carriage.
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What was the Gurney’s Steam Carriage?
An engineer from Cornwall, by the name of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, invented the first high pressure, horseless steam carriage in 1825. According to transport expert hybrid-vehicle.org this Gurney steamer was similar to a coach. It was mounted on six wheels, with four of the wheels sustaining the vehicle’s weight and the two front wheels replacing the horse and used to turn the steam carriage.
Passengers felt dubious, however, about travelling above a steam boiler, so Gurney’s design was later refined to provide a separate carriage hauled by an engine, known as the Gurney Drag. This new development paved the way for passenger coach excursions that did not rely on horsepower.
Gurney’s Journeys by Coach
Gurney steamers ran excursions around parts of London. In 1829, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. Gurney took his steam coach from London to Bath, travelling at a speed of around 15 miles per hour, nearly double that of a horse coach. It was claimed to be the first long journey undertaken by a mechanised vehicle at a sustained speed. Gurney decided to build several more coaches and operate a passenger service, where he achieved moderate success. In a four-month period of 1831 alone, his vehicles carried almost 3,000 passengers over more than 4,000 miles. Coach Trips in the UK today may well have been shaped by Gurney’s early form of coaches.
Opposition and Struggles
Gurney met many obstacles in his path during his days of the early steam carriage, and his endeavours were not always rewarded with success. On Gurney’s maiden voyage he collided with a Bristol Mail Coach outside Reading. His carriage was also attacked by a mob outside Melksham, resulting in it being escorted to Bath under guard. His carriage lost a wheel coming down Highgate Old Hill in London, where, fortunately, nobody was hurt. More seriously, one of the boilers blew on a journey, which killed two passengers.
Gurney’s steam injection system was used by George and Robert Stephenson’s Rocket, recording speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Gurney, however, did not get recognition for this and he had to fight claims from Stephenson that he was the inventor of the steam locomotive.
As the railways became more popular, Gurney was eventually forced out of business, where he later turned his attention to lighthouses and mine ventilation. The huge taxes he was forced to pay, imposed by the government to protect horse carriage owners, left him with debts of over Â£200,000.
Gurney did eventually get the recognition he deserved, gaining a knighthood by Queen Victoria in 1863, and has probably been one of the most important figures shaping coach travel today.