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Transport (other than Railways)
Aspatria Carriage Builders 1850s-1911
Aspatria Carriage Builders 1850s-1911
John Ferguson began making horse drawn carriages in Aspatria in 1850. Vehicles ranged from simple carts, cans and the parish hearse to phaetons, broughams and landaus.
Customers came from as far as Glasgow and Lancaster. John Ferguson died at the end of 1875 but his widow Margaret continued his business. The firm was eventually bought by the foreman, Andrew Ross and became A.Ross and Sons. Like an overwhelming majority of Victorian carriage makers, they failed to make the transition from horses to automobiles. The book tells what is known about the men who built the carriages, the designs and their customers.
Paperback; 248 x 210mm
Black and white illustrations throughout
In 1849, John Ferguson of Annandale, married Jane Taylor of Low Ireby, and set up business as a general carpenter at Bower Bridge in Aspatria. John, who was in his early twenties, soon developed his business and began to specialise in the making of gigs for the more prosperous local farmers. It was a natural extension of a carpenter’s business. The basic joinery was well within the competence of a country craftsman and the more complicated, specialist parts, such as the wheels and the ironwork could be bought in either from local specialist wheelwrights and blacksmiths or from the catalogues of national manufacturers such as John Marston’s Carriage Works in Birmingham.
The census returns every ten years indicate the growth of John’s family and of his business. In 1841, he described himself as a “Gigmaker” and he and Jane had an eight-month-old son called Richard. Ten years later, he felt confident enough to describe himself as a “Coach builder employing three men”. John and Jane were the parents of four children. Richard now had a brother, William, and a sister Jane, who were eight-year-old twins, and a baby brother, John.
In 1863, John placed a notice in the local paper to announce the completion of “new and extensive workshops” at Bower Bridge. Business was booming. Members of the public were invited to come and inspect the broughams and wagonettes under construction and there was a selection of secondhand vehicles for sale. These included “one very elegant driving phaeton of the latest style, with folding head to front seat, light construction, suitable for one or two horses, no worse than new.” He was advertising for staff, offering “constant employment and liberal wages”.
In 1865, he appointed a fully qualified blacksmith, one Andrew Ross who hailed from the far north of Scotland, from the village of Tain in Ross and Cromarty. Ross became the foreman in the works.
On 28th September, 1867, John Ferguson registered a design for “Ferguson’s New Tandem Dog Cart”.
Jane died on 17th March, 1869. John was left with the four children. Richard and William were serving apprenticeships in the carriage works. Within the short space of two months, John had remarried. His new wife was a widow, Margaret MacDowell from Whitehaven, who brought with her two daughters from previous marriages.
In 1871, John Ferguson, Coach Builder, was employing nine men. They were William Casson, who was a coach-shafter, Andrew Ross and John Kirk, who described themselves as coach smiths, John Herdman, a coach body maker, James Hogg, a coach trimmer, Richard Ferguson, a cart wright, James Potts, a blacksmith, James Battersby, a coach wheelwright and Alexander West, a coach painter. All, except Alexander West, were living in the small hamlet of Bower Bridge, right next to the works.
In 1875, after a very short illness, John Ferguson, aged 50, died. The business continued with varying success in the hands of his widow and sons. However, in 1893, it was declared bankrupt. It was acquired by the foreman, Andrew Ross. He died, aged 75, in 1915, a few years after the business had ceased trading.
Martin Riley has compiled a meticulously detailed account of the life of this local business. This very useful contribution to local transport history is supported by the reproduction in facsimile of a book of designs produced by the company illustrating many of the vehicles they constructed during the course of their activity. 54 pages survive of the 96 pages of designs bound in a simple oil-cloth covered exercise book. They illustrate working, measured designs for vehicles such as an open angular wagonette for six people, a bread van, a full-sized brougham, a Whitechapel cart, a sidelight phaeton and several market carts.
The book presents a small window onto working life in Aspatria and West Cumberland in the nineteenth century.
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
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