“Step forward, fair ladies and fine gentlemen!” cried out the florid-faced showman at Vauxhall Gardens. “I, Josiah Trumpington, offer you a ride in my new, patented steam carriage, departing for Brighton tomorrow at nine!”
The crowds marvelled at the extraordinary machine the man was presenting. It was like a stagecoach, but noticeably longer, with five rows of seats inside. At the back was a steam engine, a crenelated funnel, a platform and a tender full of coal.
“The Trumpington Self-Propelled Steam Carriage is safe, comfortable, cheap and fast!” Trrumpington continued, “Doubtless the future of travel. I should not be surprised if King William himself soon purchases one!”
Dazzled by Trumpington’s sales pitch, many were soon purchasing tickets from him.
The steam carriage set off promptly the next morning, heading south. At the back, two young engineers named Albert and Ernest stoked the boiler and watched over the engine, while Trumpington steered at the front by means of an iron wheel.
The ride was smooth at first and passers-by marvelled at the steam carriage. Yet two hours in, the passengers in the back were complaining.
“Comfortable, my elbow!” complained a stout lady in a bonnet.
“And at this speed, a highwayman could run us down if his horse had three bally legs!” snorted a red-coated army officer.
Then, near Croydon, real trouble showed up, as a wild-looking old man with a blacksmith’s hammer attacked the carriage.
“Plaything of the Devil!” he screamed, hacking at the doors. “A curse upon this blasphemous contraption!”
As the passengers screamed in horror, the old man’s mortified granddaughter interposed and hurried him away.
“I’m so sorry, Sir,” she pleaded to Trumpington. “He was with the Luddites once. They had rather a lasting effect on him.”
Yet it seemed the old man’s curse might not have been all hot air. Near Redhill, one of the carriage’s wheels hit a pothole in the road. Fixing it was no easy task, for the steam carriage was much heavier than a conventional carriage and needed a larger team to prop it up while the wheel was replaced.
Outside Crawley, Trumpington hit another snag.
“We’ve nearly used up all the coal, Guv’nor!” Ernest called to Trumpington. “I never imagined she’d be this hungry!”
They managed to purchase some coal from a local foundry, but they had nearly reached the outskirts of Brighton when yet another misadventure occurred.
“The boiler’s sprung a leak, Mister T!” Albert yelled to Trumpington. “We’ve got to stop and repair her!”
By the time they reached Brighton seafront, those passengers who still remained aboard were thoroughly unimpressed and grumbling heartily about the delays, discomfort and danger of the ride. Trumpington sighed heavily.
“Don’t be disheartened, Sir,” said the last man to disembark. “It’s an imperfect machine, but quite wondrous. Keep working at it. I believe it could be the future of travel, even if it’s not the immediate future.”