Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

Following a visit to a meeting of the ‘British Association’, the Engineer was struck by ‘this rather singular system of constructing tramways.’

October 1877, The horse-drawn cable car

Following a visit to a meeting of the ‘British Association’, the Engineer was struck by ‘this rather singular system of constructing tramways.’

Developed by Mr G Stevenson of Wantage, this innovative transport concept consisted of a carriage that would travel along overhead rails supported by strong wrought iron clips suspended from brackets projecting from upright columns or pillars ‘fixed on the outer edge of the pavements or by the side of highways, or from archways, joists of buildings, or other places.’

The engines and cars would also be suspended from the rails by means of steel-carrying rods descending from the axles of small travelling wheels.

‘The great feature of this mode of traction,’ trumpeted the magazine, ‘is the formation… which is so constructed that the rails, and the timbers or trellis work girders carrying the rail, are placed so near together that only room is allowed for the free passage of the wheels and carrying rods between them.’

According to the article, the estimated cost of the system was £2,500 a mile. Among the advantages claimed for it were that the roadway would not be cut up, and the resistance to draught materially reduced — although the article doesn’t comment on how the system would cope when subjected to strong side-winds.

But despite the enthusiasm with which the Engineer greeted Stevenson’s invention, a quick scan of the history books suggests that the horse-drawn cable car never quite… got off the ground.