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1. A New Generation from New Roots, 1842–61

The first generation of self-propelled road vehicles had had its roots in the Industrial Revolution, in the sense that they, like the stage coaches, responded to an increase in travel that had resulted from booming commerce, and had been facilitated by better roads. Indirectly, the second generation sprang from the same origins. The expanding cities of the Industrial Revolution needed to be fed, as did a growing population of draught animals; yet the rural labour pool, whose job it was to produce the nation’s food, was shrinking. Scientific improvements in land use, which had been spreading since the later 18th century, had boosted food production, but this “high” or intensive farming exacerbated the food shortage, for it demanded more workers than did traditional farming methods. From the middle of the 19th century the number of farm workers fell, and the proportion of the national labour force occupied on the land dropped more sharply still.1 Attracted by better employment prospects and higher wages, farm workers emigrated either abroad or to the industrial towns, where they added to the mouths to be fed.
T. R. Nicholson

2. The Losing Battle, 1861–81

As might be expected, the immediate result of the passing into law of the Locomotive Act was a more rapid growth in the numbers of road steamers of all sorts, now that they had legal recognition and were no longer subject to discriminatory tolls. However, by an ironic and unkind twist of fate, the steam promoters who had done more than anyone else to draw public attention to the subject, and so to secure passage of the Bill, gained least from it. At first the prospects for them, as for others in the same line of business, seemed set fair. Encouraged by the passage of the Act, a new company to market the Boydell patent issued its prospectus in August 1861. This was the Endless Railway Traction Engine Company (Boydell’s Patent), which invited applications for £30,000-worth of £10 shares. The directors were the same as those of the previous concern, with the addition of another M.P., William McCormick (Liberal-Conservative, Londonderry), and Robert Griffiths. McCormick was a civil engineering contractor whose interest may be deduced. Griffiths may have been the engineer, manufacturer and prolific inventor of the same name, who was a public figure at the time. As already mentioned, Frederick Young was engineer to the company. The prospectus made a point of the fact that the Act had reduced tolls on steam to parity with those on horsedrawn traffic.1
T. R. Nicholson

3. The Birth of a Giant, 1862–93

As the 1880s ended and the 1890s began — a time when few could see a future for motor cars in Britain — they were already running in unprecedented numbers on the roads of France and Germany, though almost unnoticed on this side of the Channel. Indeed, in France the tentative beginnings of a motor industry were appearing. Britain had taken the lead from France and kept it for a century; now she followed where others led.
T. R. Nicholson


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