Although a great deal has been published on stage coaches and mail coaches, there does not seem to be too much on carts and carriages. But "Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs" by Trevor May, (Shire Books, 1999) is very good. Patricia Hughes work on Forder (see lower down this page) is the best (and only!) work on a single Wolverhampton company.

Horse drawn vehicles range from small carts to state coaches. They were needed everywhere from farms to cities. But passenger carrying vehicles were rare before the seventeenth century: before that you walked, climbed aboard a cart, rode a horse or used a sedan chair. The use of passenger carrying vehicles only gradually increased and they did not become common until the latter half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century they flourished and different types were available in an almost bewildering variety. During the first quarter of the 20th century motor vehicles gradually replaced horse drawn vehicles.

Even this old postcard, taken on a quiet day early in the 20th century, you can see two horse drawn carriages. They are private carriages, not hackney cabs, as the drive is not separated from the passengers. Large wheels helped to even out the bumps in the rough roads. The better off would mostly continue to use their own vehicles rather than the public buses.

Carts and carriages are mainly made of wood, with some iron parts. Leather was used for straps and suspension; and paints and varnishes were needed as finishes to protect the wood. Even a small cart was not cheap and needed some skill to make. It is therefore likely that not every village would have had a cart maker and certainly would not have had a carriage maker; but the local blacksmith or carpenter would certainly make repairs. Usually you would get your vehicle from a maker in a larger town and Wolverhampton would certainly have filled this role for its large agricultural hinterland.

In this postcard view of Queen Square from 1902, note the private carriage in the foreground with a top-hatted coachman. In the right background can be seen the cabmen's shelter and some cabs. These cabs are "growlers" (four wheel hackney carriages) not "hansoms" (two wheel hackney carriages). 

Hansoms, though mostly made in Wolverhampton, were mainly used in London. Growlers carried more people and more baggage but were slower.

This postcard shows the Market Square at the beginning of the 20th century. It seems not to be a market day but even so there are a lot of horse drawn vehicles to be seen, including a covered goods wagon moving towards the wholesale market on the right.


A wintry day in Chapel Ash. A horse drawn LNWR delivery van is on the left. On the right is a cabmen's shelter and three growlers. These shelters not only provided a seat and warmth but usually served hot drinks and hot meals.

The better class of carriages were largely made in London, where the demand from the upper classes was greatest but local makers, including those in Wolverhampton, would have made almost any sort of carriage to order. As the town grew and prospered there would have been an increasing market, as horse drawn vehicles of all sorts were in use.

This old print, from Knight's Pictorial Gallery of Arts, circa 1860, shows a coach builder's workshop. The things hanging from the walls seem mostly to be templates - so some repetition work was expected. The body and the chassis were always built separately and usually one at a time to order. But Forder seems to have introduced a production line principle to cope with the numbers of Hansom cabs they were making.

Records become more abundant and revealing towards the latter half of the 19th century and in Wolverhampton they tell us something of the carriage making trade. They seem not to have been fully researched but Patricia Hughes' work on the Dixon's Building in Cleveland Street incidentally revealed a good deal about the firm which was, by a long way, the biggest and best known of Wolverhampton's carriage makers, Forder.

Find out about Forder

Forder were not the only carriage builders in Wolverhampton. The town was a good spot for their purpose - skilled workers, timber, iron, leather, paint and varnish (all the ingredients of a coach), as well as a market amongst the prospering industrialists, were all there. You can find a number of them in the local trade directories and some of their advertisements, from various sources, are shown here.

This advertisement is from Melville's Directory of Wolverhampton, 1851.  Cund and Masefield  are "opposite the centre gate of the cattle market".  They not only make carriages, gigs, dog carts and traps but, even at this date, they make "omnibuses".  

They are not only manufacturers but "they always have on sale a large and select stock of new and second-hand carriages of all descriptions."  They also carry out repairs "in the best manner on moderate terms"; they provide you with a carriage while your own is being repaired; and they hire out carriages.  In fact they seem to operate very much like a modern car dealer.

Most carriage makers also hired out vehicles.  These were usually second hand.  When they got really old they were often put to use as hackneys.

This advert is from a trade directory of 1870.  Presumably William Cund is the same man, Masefield having left the partnership.  In the 19th century many partnerships were short lived affairs and firms changed their names quite frequently. William Cund's premises were now "next building to the Agricultural Hall". There seems to have been a concentration of carriage builders in Cleveland Road.


This advertisement comes from 1878. The Tudor Coach Manufactory was almost certainly the building in Cleveland Road which was eventually taken over by Forder (and is now part of the Dixon Building).

Note that Ridges had a separate show room in the shopping area of the town centre. Whether he still had premises in Long Acre, London, is left somewhat unclear!



In the advert above J.E.Ridges claims to have been founded in 1820. In this advert, from 1902, Ridges and Sons claim to have been founded in 1890. Presumably it is the same family. 

In the 1902 Exhibition Ridges exhibited "small square fronted brougham, medium square opening brougham, "Barker" shape circular ditto, light canoe landau, Parisian victorian, specimens "S.T.", "Pioneer", "Ideal", "Britain's Best" solid rubber tyres. (Solid tyres remained in widespread use long after the invention of pneumatic tyres because it was thought, mistakenly, that they rolled more easily and took less effort to pull).

It is interesting to note that some railway carriages were made at the Tudor works. But the carriage makers never evolved into that line of business, probably because the railway companies took to doing it themselves. Nor did they get into car making, even though many early cars had bodywork which revealed that they were truly horseless carriages. It seems that this too would be because the car makers made the car bodies (as they usually made every other part) for themselves. One feels that as the carriage building trade declined and the car building trade increased, workers, who certainly had transferable skills, would have moved from one type of company to the other. 

An obvious exception to most of this seems to be the Charles Clark company, who seem to have evolved from selling coaches and carriages into selling horseless carriages. All further information on their history would be gratefully received.

This old photo is of the  Wolverhampton Exhibition of Industry and Arts, held in West Park in 1902. Next to the Wulfruna bicycles stand is the stand of Charles Clark, with a display of their carriages. The Exhibition catalogue says that they have a "selection of carriages, consisting of broughams, victorias, four-wheel dog cart and Ralle cars, model horse, harness".


This advertisement from 1914 is a reminder that you could rent or hire horses and carriages of all types from a livery stable. Even well off people would need to do this occasionally. They might do this for the benefit of their guests. Or they probably would not keep their own coach for long distance travel and might prefer to hire one rather than commit themselves to hoi poloi in the stage coaches.

During the First World War 1914-1918 the Government requisitioned almost every horse in the country for the war effort.  But there was also an enormous increase in the use of motorised transport and many soldiers learnt to drive.  After the war motorised transport, for private and commercial use, increased greatly.  All of this probably killed off the County Mews and many firms like it.

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