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Beaulieu displays Grenville Steam Carriage

Grenville steam carriage (copyright image)

Grenville steam carriage in 1896

Grenville steam carriage at the Beaulieu Estate (copyright image)

Grenville steam carriage at the Beaulieu Estate in 2009

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5th July, 2009

The latest exhibit to go on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu (England) is the Grenville steam carriage, believed to be the oldest self-propelled passenger-carrying road vehicle still in working order. It is the best surviving example of the private steam-powered vehicles developed between 1860 and 1890, before the widespread appearance of the motor car.

The Grenville steam carriage was designed about 1875 by Robert Neville Grenville of Butleigh Court, Glastonbury, and built over a period of fifteen years, with some assistance from George Jackson Churchward (later Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway). They had been engineering pupils together at the South Devon Railway workshops at Newton Abbot, and remained lifelong friends.

The engine was originally a single-cylinder type mounted on the boiler, but this was later replaced with a twin-cylinder engine. In addition to the driver and the steersman there is seating for four passengers. There is also a small seat in the engine compartment for the fireman who is responsible for firing the boiler and maintaining its water level. On the flat, the carriage can attain a speed of just under 20 mph. (32 km/h).

Grenville used the carriage in the Glastonbury area for a few years but in 1898, when experiments in cider making were started at Butleigh Court, the Grenville carriage was adapted for use as a stationary engine driving a cider mill. Around the same period, the motor car was beginning to appear, together with light and efficient steam cars from America. It seems likely that Grenville lost interest in the steam carriage, which probably never worked particularly often anyway. The boiler, designed to raise steam quickly and supply it steadily to a pump, was not entirely suitable for the intermittent demands of a vehicle, and required diligent and expert firing.

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After Grenville died in 1936, the carriage was lent to John Allen & Sons Ltd. of Cowley, Oxford (England), where it was completely overhauled. A number of successful trial runs were completed before the Second World War intervened; and in 1946 the carriage took part in the London Jubilee Cavalcade in Regent’s Park, where it frightened a horse! The following year the carriage was presented by Captain P. L. Neville, a nephew of Grenville, to Bristol City Museum where it has remained until now. In recent years it has appeared at steam rallies and other events and in November 2000, it successfully completed the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in a time just exceeding 9 hours.

Andrea Bishop, Director of Collections at England's National Motor Museum said: ”I am delighted to welcome the 1875 Grenville Steam Carriage to the National Motor Museum. This transport icon is the oldest self-propelled passenger-carrying road vehicle still operating, and having been fortunate enough to have ridden on the Grenville, I  was very surprised by its speed and manoeuvrability. It now becomes the oldest vehicle on the display at the Museum and we are most grateful to Curator Andy King and his volunteers from Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives for delivering the Grenville to us.”


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