October 2016

I am Mollie, the Archive Assistant Trainee at the BMIHT Archive. As part of the Archive refurbishment it was decided that our extensive collection of drawings and plans should be removed from their rusty metal cabinets and into put new plan chests. This led to Cath, our Conservator, and I spending a week decanting the drawings from the old drawers into the new. This way we could spread out these large-scale documents to prevent further damage from folds or rolling and also make sure everything was in the right order. During this process we came across a number of very interesting documents one of which is this very old general arrangement drawing from the Maudslay Motor Company of a ‘Char-A-Banc’ (pronounced sharrabang).

Why This Document?

This document appeals to me as both Maudslay and the charabanc (as it is usually written) are less well-known aspects of the early motor industry.

Maudslay appears to have a complex past. It was founded as the Maudslay Motor Company in 1902 by two cousins, Cyril and Reginald. As often happens with family businesses, the company quickly split. Reginald left to create the Standard Motor Company while Cyril retained Maudslay to focus on commercial vehicles. In 1948 Maudslay was acquired by the Associated Equipment Company (later to become Associated Commercial Vehicles). Standard meanwhile would become better known as Standard Triumph. Both ACV and Standard Triumph would eventually come under the British Leyland umbrella which is why we have Maudslay as well as Standard material as part of our Archive Collections.

Maudslay does not appear to have produced vast quantities of vehicles during its lifetime but made a significant contribution to the development of passenger transport. Before concentrating its production on buses, these old drawings show that Maudslay produced a wide range of specialised vehicles such as mail carriers, shooting brakes and charabancs. A largely forgotten mode of transport, ‘charabanc’ translates from the French to mean ‘carriage with benches’ which is exactly what it is. This Maudslay charabanc from 1908 is 19 feet and 7 inches in overall length and is arguably a more perilous version of a bus. It has no roof, no doors and, therefore, no definitive ‘full’ capacity. Often you find snapshots of people hanging off the side of these vehicles as they are so full.

This is a section of a much larger photo which shows a fleet of 36 Charabancs getting ready to set off on a day trip. Each is crammed with approximately 30 passengers and driver, seated in 6 parallel rows. There is no protection from accidents or the weather!

Prior to the First World War, motorised transport was generally only used by the wealthy. Charabancs meant that more of the population had access to it. They were a relatively cheap way of getting around and could accommodate large groups on longer excursions – perfect for a works outing or a day trip to the seaside. They also often operated in fleets, as in our picture above, which meant that they could move over 1000 people at a time. Charabancs were very popular until the 1920s, but they were so dangerous in the event of an accident that buses and coaches (more similar to what we would recognise today) gradually took over as the standard method of mass transport.

General arrangement drawings differ from full-scale engineering drawings in that they show basic layout rather than detailed engineering. This is what makes them very accessible, and what I particularly like about them is how precise they are. From the measurements to the annotations, you can see exactly how the designer intended the vehicle to appear – right down to the padded driving seat.


We can see that the full production of the drawing took sixteen days – from ‘L.B.H.’ drawing the original on 25 May 1908 to ‘H.B.’ checking it as passed on 10 June 1908. As this is drawing number 2493, we can assume that Maudslay was prolific in producing these kinds of documents, and the drawings in our Archive Collections contain just a small sample of their creative output.

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