According to reports in both The Engineer and The Autocar in November 1895, which only show this steam-powered machine from the other side, John Inshaw from the Aston Manor area of Birmingham, seen here at the helm, said that he built this carriage in 1881. As the plate on the side of it gives an 1882 date, the earlier date is probably when construction began, rather than that of completion, a not uncommon situation with pioneer machinery that took a while to build. Be that as it may, it was still in the period when mechanically powered road vehicles in Britain were obliged by a law passed in 1865 not to exceed a speed of two miles per hour in a built-up area.
Also on the side it states that it is a ‘Steam Fire Engine’ and there are some oblique references in later writings about such vehicles of this era that imply that fire engines were able to avoid the stringency of the law. If this is so, then it would help to explain how Inshaw could state: “When loaded with ten passengers, fuel and water, this carriage weighed 35cwt, and the speed on good roads averaged from 8 to 12 miles per hour.” The ‘steerer’ is said to have had “entire control over the carriage, far more than a coachman has over a pair of horses”. Use of the vehicle is reported to have lasted for several years.
Power came from a steel-tube boiler in which steam could be raised to a pressure of 180-200psi in around 20 minutes and fed two cylinders, each of 4-inch bore and 8-inch stroke. Unusually for a steamer there were 3 forward speeds, plus a reverse. Although Inshaw said that his carriage “made no more noise than an ordinary vehicle”, the final drive by conventional nautical-type oval link chains must surely have clattered somewhat.
The entirely satisfactory operation of vehicles such as that of John Inshaw shows that when Charles Dickens’ character Mr Bumble said: “The law is a ass”, he could have been referring to the continuing restricted use of powered carriages on British roads almost 50 years after the remark had first appeared in print.