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From solid rubber to pneumatic tyres it was a revolution in travel comfort

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 12, 2014

  • A charabanc outing from Wolverhampton circa 1910

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MODES of transport are another aspect of everyday life we tend to take for granted, whether it's using the bus, driving a car, riding your bike, or the occasional ride on the train or the metro, and comfort is always top of the agenda when making a journey, no matter how long or short.

Apart from the smoothness of rail travel, the introduction of the pneumatic tyre created the most significant improvement in passenger comfort during the evolution of vehicular travel, and the two pictures we have included show the revolutionary leap from the uncomfortable, bone-shaking charabanc, running on solid rubber tyres, to the relatively modern coach of the 1950s suitably equipped with rubber tyres full of air.

Here in the Black Country tyre making firm Goodyear occupied a site in Bushbury in Wolverhampton from 1927 to 2008 and arrived in the region as a result of the rise in unemployment and the high tariffs that were imposed on imported goods immediately after the First World War. The company was founded in 1898 at Akron, Ohio, in the US, and after expansion in 1913 an office was opened in London. The next stage was to start production and a site in Bushbury, formerly occupied by the enamel hollow-ware firm Macfarlane and Robinson, was chosen, allowing the first tyre to be manufactured in December 1927.

When Goodyear was founded at the end of the 19th century tyre technology was undergoing fundamental change, and by the time the first tyres were rolling off the production line the solid rubber tyres, such as the ones in the charabanc picture, were being replaced by their air-filled counterparts. The very first tyres in history were bands of iron placed on the wooden wheels of carts and wagons, and it wasn't until the mid 1800s that the first solid rubber tyre was introduced, an improvement in comfort for road travel, but still a long way from the tyres we have today.

In 1845 the first pneumatic tyre was invented and patented by RW Thomson, a method which involved several thin inflated tubes inside a leather cover. But ironically, despite this breakthrough in tyre technology, the standard solid rubber tyre continued to be more popular and appeared to be leaving the future of the tyre in the balance. But in 1888, over forty years later, John Boyd Dunlop unknowingly reinvented the pneumatic tyre while trying to improve his son's bicycle, and thirteen years after that, in 1895, the first air-filled tyre was being used on an automobile.

The end was in sight for the solid tyre, but it still had a few more decades to run along the fast improving road surfaces, presumably continuing to give passengers a bumpy ride.

The charabanc photograph was rescued from the Bugle archives and is thought to have been taken in Wolverhampton in the years just before the First World War. The two passenger vehicles were made by D Napier and Son of Lambeth, an engine and automobile manufacturer, but what of the men who appear to be ready to embark on a trip? Perhaps they belonged to a works association or a club. The charabancs are parked outside the Garrick's Head Hotel, with the name of Frank Myatt, home brewed ales, very prominent, and the likelihood is the pub was in Garrick Street, Wolverhampton.

Frank Myatt, the man whose name appears above the door of the hotel, was born in Wolverhampton in 1876 and began his working life as a wine and spirit merchant in Willenhall. After starting his own business at Cross Keys in the town he bought the Albany Brewery and he went from strength to strength. He entered politics in 1908 as a Conservative councillor (perhaps the men in aboard the charabancs belonged to the Conservative Party) and was elected Mayor in 1917. During the First World War he was chairman of the Local Food Control Committee and he and his wife organised supplies and provisions for soldiers at training camps.

The line of coaches that stretch as far as the eye can see are parked in Lawnswood Road, Wordsley, outside the King George V park. Terry and Betty Richards of Wall Heath brought it to our attention, a splendid photograph of Wordsley folk about to enjoy a trip to Trentham Gardens in Stoke back in the '50s. Betty quipped, "Wordsley must have closed that day. Judging by the number of coaches the whole village seem to be on leaving."

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