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Beyer, Peacock and Co. – From Steam Trains to Motor Cars

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This guest post was written by Josh Butt, a PhD student working on a history of the Manchester motor trade.

Picture of a Beyer Peacock Gorton lorry

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

Held at the Museum of Science and Industry Archive are the director’s minute books for Beyer, Peacock and Co., a prominent steam locomotive manufacturer based in Manchester from 1854 until 1966. The minute books recorded board meetings that usually happened once a month; they include details of company finances, personnel and important decisions made by the firm. The books from 1903–06 are particularly interesting because entries show the firm seriously considering the manufacture of motor cars, a part of the company’s history that is relatively unknown.

The first example is an entry from April 1903. The company had been approached by Harry Livesey, son of a former employee James Livesey, to erect an experimental motor car of his design with some parts that had already been made. It seems as though Livesey sought a partnership with Beyer, Peacock, who would supply the means for production.

At the same time, the company was being approached by a number of other interested parties. There was an enquiry as to whether Beyer, Peacock would be disposed to manufacturing motor omnibuses for a London firm. In response, a member of staff was sent to procure drawings and estimate the cost for the company to manufacture them. Similarly, a member of staff was sent to Paris to report on the motor exhibition of 1903.

These matters were then discussed by the board in the summer of 1903, including the cost of buildings and machinery for manufacturing motor car 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 approach to appear in the minute book was by Gardiner-Serpollet, a French steam car manufacturer. Gardiner-Serpollet were looking to sell patents for the manufacture of their vehicles in the UK. 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 manufacturing during this period. Dawson was a member of the Manchester Automobile Club at least as early as July 1902, and he was a director of local motor firm the Belsize Motor and Engineering 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 respectively, just after Dawson had left the firm. Although, in the minute books, the firm stated it would “examine proposals for manufacturing chassis complete if the money necessary for the business be found by third parties”.

Motor manufacturing at Beyer, Peacock took a different course in 1904. Drawings for steam lorries were completed by the firm, who authorised the construction of six lorries at an estimated cost of £600 each. The vehicles were named Gorton after the location of the company works, and were exhibited at the 1906 motor vehicle exhibition in London. The last entry in the minute books in 1906 shows authorisation for the construction of six more lorries. This probably marks the end of the company’s dealings in the motor industry.

Although 12 vehicles seems insignificant, the high level of motor related records in the minutes books during 1903–06 is striking. This period marked a peak in the number of firms producing and experimenting in motor manufacturing, both locally and nationally. Beyer, Peacock and Co. probably received so much interest because of their considerable resources, necessary to turn experimental designs into batch production.

This period also marks a point in time when local interest in motorised goods haulage was increasing. The Commercial Motor magazine noted that demand from mill owners and several local motor haulage firms was beginning to compete with horse-drawn traffic.

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

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