27.09.22 Honorary Assistant Lesley Upham

Accused of living on the traditions of the past – in 1899


A lucky find at auction by Past Master Michael Kimber throws light on the reported activities and views of our company from the late 1800s. Hon Assistant Lesley Upham delves into this treasure trove.

The Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers’ Company

This body, one of the old city companies or guilds, is in the habit of justifying its continued existence (although it has long outlived its period of practical usefulness) by the expenditure of a few pounds in promoting an annual competition in which prizes are offered for designs in carriage building, &c. As we have before pointed out, carriage building may be regarded as a perfected art so long as the present materials are employed, and so long as existing canons of taste obtains. A modern high-class carriage, like a modern high-class locomotive, can hardly be improved upon. We can quite appreciate the wisdom and great practical value of competitions for students on locomotive design, because such competition would imply and require the exercise of very considerable scientific knowledge on the part of the student, but this is not so with the carriage building competition in question. No scientific training or knowledge is required of a carriage builders apprentice. His training is purely that of the workshop, and his knowledge purely rule of thumb. Carriages are designed and built upon a system that is the result of long practical experience. The modern carriages is, in fact, an excellent example, in many respects, of unconscious science. We have yet to learn that carriages, or, rather, the proportions of scantlings &c., are the result of scientific deduction in the same way that the parts of a locomotive are. Not that the carriage is any the worse for being an empirical product, but we quite failed to see the utility of such competitions as those promoted by the Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers’ Company. The modern carriage will develop into the automobile, hence it would be more appropriate were this company to frankly recognise the change – the inevitable change – that is taking place, and instead of offering prizes for designs of carriages, which designs can in no sense be superior to existing ones, offer prizes for designs of carriage bodies suitable for mechanical propulsion and made of such materials as sheet steel, aluminium, partinium, &c, with nickel steel for frames &c. By so doing the Coachmakers’ Company would render its own industry a great service, and we show that it was not, as are so many of the City guilds, smothered, yet living on the traditions of the past – opposed to improvement, and a hindrance to progress.

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