The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Coach building

 

The making of horse-drawn coaches and carriages (see also wheelwrighting and wainwrighting).

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Vehicles
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Traditional coachbuilding refers to the making of complete horse-drawn vehicles such as coaches and carriages (in contrast, contemporary coachbuilding refers to the making of the bodies of automobiles, and also to making such things as bespoke buses and horseboxes, and is not covered by this research).

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

Coach builders within England tended to follow the example of London designs closely as they were a fashionable commodity. Slight stylistic differences can sometimes be detected between Scottish and English patterns, and from country to country across the Continent. This would be true of artillery pieces as well, but in all areas of the trade, such as guns, carriages, farm vehicles, still more distinct differences exist across time.

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: The market for newly-built vehicles is small – primarily for private drivers and private collections. The wedding market is growing, but usually favours the cheaper Eastern European import.
  • Foreign competition: The main threat is competition from Eastern Europeans, particularly Poland, making at very low cost – this has completely knocked the bottom out of the English-made coach market. A new Eastern European vehicle costs approximately £8,000, while an English one costs about £30,000. The cheap pound is helping, but won’t last forever.
  • Loss of skills: Today, most coachbuilding work is restoration. Very few people buy new English vehicles – they either buy English vehicles to repair, or new Eastern European vehicles. The skills that are most in danger of dying out are those needed to make a new vehicle from start to finish – restoration is relatively easy because the bits are there for you, but it’s very difficult to make a new vehicle from scratch.
  • Loss of skills: The skills that are most in danger of dying out are those needed to make a new vehicle from start to finish. The main market for coachbuilding is in restoration – very few people buy new English vehicles, they either buy English vehicles to repair, or new Eastern European vehicles.
  • Dilution of skills: There is a huge issue with the dilution of skills. Anyone can buy a workshop and call themselves a coachbuilder, without necessarily having much experience or skill.
    Business rates: Need big workshop to fit the vehicles in, so business rates are very high.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Mike Rowland & Son, Colyton, Devon. Three coach builders including one journeyman.
  • Crofords Coachbuilders, Ashford, Kent.
  • Wellington Carriage Company, Telford, Shropshire.
  • Fairbourne Carriages Ltd, Harrietsham, Kent.
  • Gloucester Wheel and Carriage Co, Uley, Gloucestershire.
  • Hartland Carriages, Near Horsham, West Sussex.

 

Other information

The traditional progress of the craft was from wheelwright to wainwright to coachbuilder. The work of a wainwright is not as fine as that of a coachbuilder, with fewer trimmings etc.

 

References

  • Felton, William, A Treatise on Carriages
  • Berkbeile, Don H, Carriage Terminology: an historical dictionary
  • Philipson, John, The Art and Craft of Coachbuilding