When Weston marvelled at sight of chain-drive car

THE slow and sleepy days of Weston public transport were on the way out with the arrival of the electric trams. Donkey carriage men and cabbies

THE slow and sleepy days of Weston public transport were on the way out with the arrival of the electric trams. Donkey carriage men and cabbies who had their stand at the old pier had passed waiting time snoring in their cabs, chatting and puffing at their clay pipes between swigs in the nearby Pier Hotel bar, or playing tricks on their fellow cabbies. After a cabby had roused himself from a nap to take a fare it was not unusual for him to find that when he whipped his horse into movement it went off without the cab, his mates having unharnessed it while he was having 40 winks.All was changed with the coming of the trams in 1902. Eight years later the trams were to have the rivalry of the taxis, with buses soon to follow. Even in the 1890s Westonians had a glimpse of the shape of things to come, for those astonishing creations - the first cars - were seen.Weston has a special link with the pioneer days of motoring, for Henry Sturmey, a former editor of The Autocar, who drove one of the first cars to appear on the roads in this country, included Weston in a trial trip following the passing of the Locomotives on the Highways Bill in November, 1896.The car he drove to Weston was a 4hp twin cylinder Daimler, with tiller steering, clincher solid tyres levered into the rim, and no radiator. The foot brake was of poplar, which caught fire on a long hill, and the hand brake operated on the tyre treads, and when used in an emergency ripped the tyre off the rim, which sometimes got mixed up with the chain drive. The lights were ordinary carriage candle laps.Mr Sturmey was asked so many questions at Weston that he decided to have a card fixed to the vehicle. Under the heading of 'What Is It?' he gave such information as this: It will run 60 miles with one change of oil. No! It can't explode - there is no boiler. It can travel at 14 miles an hour. Ten to 11 is the average pace. It can be started in two minutes. It carries four gallons of oil and 16 gallons of water. The water is to keep the engine cool. It can get up any ordinary hill. And cost £140.Mr A E Johnson of the Bristol Motor Company, reminiscing in the Bristol Chamber of Commerce Journal, said he made his first effort to sell a car in Weston in 1897. The questions he was asked included: could one be sure of getting to the end of a journey without stopping? Was he sure it would not catch fire, seeing a Bunsen burner for heating the ignition was near the carburettor? What happened when one met horses with frightened drivers? How did one keep respectable on dusty roads? Mr Johnson recalled that his first serious breakdown was after 'a wonderful run' from Weston to Banwell. He had to leave the car and hire a bicycle to get home.He said that William Morton Appleton, the pioneer cycle and motor trader who had kept a cycle depot next door to the Mercury offices since the 1880s, was among the first to order two cars.Mr Appleton was well-known in the cycling world as a prolific winner of prizes on a tricycle at events on the old cinder track which was opened at the Weston Recreation Ground on July 12, 1885. He was a contemporary of Charlie Masters, a local auctioneer and house agent, who was a prominent exponent of speed cycling on the old high bicycle, or 'penny farthing'. Mr Appleton became one of the pioneer motorists in the West. He was a founder member of the Bristol Motor Company.At the time, in about 1900, when Mr Appleton was Weston's only car owner, an Alfred J Nipper, of Clarendon Road, became the town's first motor cycle owner. He had a Werner machine of French manufacture. The engine was placed on the handlebars. It had tube ignition, was started with a pedal, ran on benzoline, and he could get 30 miles an hour out of it. He drove it regularly between Weston and Winscombe, where he lived. In all Mr Nipper had between 20 and 30y motor cycles.There was then no motor tax, but he was charged 15s for a trap licence!Alfred Deacon, who joined the tram company in 1909 as a coach painter, and except for a wartime break, remained with them for 28 years, shared some of his memories with me. He used to mix his own paints, and recalls that the dominant colour of the trams was crimson lake. Panels were edged with gold leaf until this was discontinued for economy reasons. In the summer when the whole fleet of trams was pressed into service Mr Deacon became a driver. His most interesting memory in this capacity is that of driving a tram back to the depot on a hairpin!"I was driving a tram around the Odeon corner when it came to a halt," he told me. "I discovered that the fuse had dropped out. Entering the cab I remarked, 'If any lady can oblige me with a hairpin I think I can get the tram moving again'." A lady obliged with one of the good old-fashioned heavy copper hairpins, which Mr Deacon wound into the fusebox, and was thus able to restore the power.Driving trams along the seafront in a gale force wind could be a bit of an eerie experience because they rocked. Owing to grease or sand on the rails, trams also sometimes showed an alarming tendency to skid when going down the slope at Rozel. Conductors had been known to take £24 a day in penny fares. At one time conductors were paid 4d an hour, and drivers 5d.The Bristol Tramways and Carriage Co., the forerunners of the Bristol Omnibus Company, who run our town and country bus services, introduced a taxi service to Weston in 1910. Known as The Blue Taxis, it operated from a property in Parsley Lane, off Neva Road.They also had one or two 'charrabangs', something after the style of the horse brake but, of course, motorised and running on solid rubber tyres. At Easter, 1911, they were running charabanc trips to Cheddar for 2s 6d, and a 'long tour including Wells and Glastonbury' for 5s.It took hours to get back from Glastonbury, yet the advertisement proudly proclaimed: "The motor charabancs are powerful and fast and comfortable travelling vehicles ... and pass through some of the finest scenery in the west which can only be seen from the road."Mr W J Wicks, of Osborne Road, once recalled that in 1905 there was only one motor coach for hire in Weston. This was a 28hp Daimler brake, capable of carrying 10 passengers. Mr Atyeo, founder of a Weston firm of coach owners, had bought it from Mr J J Jackson Barstow, of The Lodge. The driver was Mr Wm Brooks, former chauffeur to M Jackson-Barstow.Later 'Bill' Wicks took over driving it for public hire. "It was chain driven," he said, "and had solid tyres, and the steering wheel in size was like the front wheel of a horse cab. As far as I remember the coach carried no registration. At that time we were allowed to book and load up at the spot where the entrance to the Grand Pier stands.""Our orbit was through Kewstoke Woods and round Worle, our patrons chiefly being Welsh miners. I had no difficulty in securing a load, much to the disgust and envy of the horse cabmen. The draw, of course, was the new-fangled motor traction, known at that time as 'the stink box'.Mr Wicks recalled the occasion when he was going through the woods when the chain snapped. He had to send back into Weston for another, and in the meantime his vehicle blocked the road."It was a Saturday afternoon in August", he said, "and I had to listen to a very succinct flow of language, for over 30 cars and private carriages were unable to move on. The only ones who could get by were the donkey chairmen, who could just squeeze through." After this incident motor vehicles were banned from using the Toll Road for some years.The first regular Weston bus service was a horse drawn one from the station to the town centre. Curiously enough it was known as the 'No 40', and is Weston's busiest route today. It was started by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, and ran half-hourly from Ashcombe Park to the Uphill Park Estate (the roads around Moorland Road and St Paul's church), and remained the 'No. 40' until the re-numbering of services in 1965. After the First World War the bus company sold its taxi business and concentrated on developing its bus services. A man who played a great part in the build up of local bus services was Mr J D Howell, Bristol Tramways' local manager for 30 years. He joined the firm in 1901 in Bristol, and could recall when it did everything in the horse jobbing line, including funerals, and such turnouts as a carriage and pair with liveried coachman and footman.When he was appointed manager at Weston in 1921 there were only three local bus services, maintained by vehicles with solid rubber tyres and having a speed limit of 12 mph. The only outside bus service link was the Weston to Bristol service. Mr Howell guided through the great expansion of town and country service that saw services started between Weston and Burnham, Cheddar, Wells and Frome, and included the opening of depots at Highbridge and Wells. However, the speed limit remained at 12 mph.With the expansion of the local services the No 40 was extended to Worle in 1927, the No 90 was started in 1923, and the No 93 to Flagstaff Hill in 1924. The first bus depot was at 22 Beach Road, and the present one was opened in 1936. At that time it was the largest single span building in the West of England. For a time the Bristol Bus Company had rivals in the services operated by Messrs Burnell's, but eventually bought them out.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on January 19, 1968


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