Hancock brothers: Blue Plaque Ilink

Thomas Hancock (1786-1865), inventor of the vulcanisation process for rubber, and his brother Walter Hancock (1799-1852), inventor of the passenger steam road carriage, lived here.

Hancock Brothers Plaque I 700wc Hancock Brothers Plaque Location I 700wc

The Blue Plaque commemorating the Hancock brothers Thomas and Walter is on the wall on the left hand side of no 4 High Street where they once lived, which is now a butcher's shop.

These two brothers are little known inventors and developers of some significant processes and equipment for the rubber industry and steam powered road vehicles.

Thomas Hancock (8 May 1786 – 26 March 1865), the elder of these two inventors, was born in Marlborough, and little is known about his early life. Thomas was the second son of James Hancock, a timber merchant and cabinet-maker at Marlborough, and it is possible that Thomas was trained in the same trade. He was educated at a private school in Marlborough, and after spending his "earlier days in mechanical pursuits", as he states in his "Personal Narrative" ("Personal Narrative of the Origin and Progress of the Caoutchouc or Indiarubber Manufacture in England.", published in 1857), he came to London where in 1815 he is recorded as being in partnership with his brother, Walter, as a coach builder.

Thomas's interest in rubber seems to have sprung from a desire to make waterproof fabrics to protect the passengers on his coaches. By 1819 he had begun to experiment with making rubber solutions and in 1820 he patented fastenings for gloves, suspenders, shoes and stockings. In the process of creating these early elastic fabrics, Thomas found himself wasting large amounts of rubber, and as a consequence, he invented a machine to shred the waste rubber, his "Pickling machine" (or "masticator" as it is now known), which allowed rubber to be recycled after being formed into blocks or sheets. He called it by the deceptive name of "Pickling" because he initially chose not to patent it, instead preferring to rely on secrecy. Through this series of activities Thomas became a self-taught manufacturing engineer who arguably could be said to be the founder of the British rubber industry.

Thomas took out sixteen patents in all relating to indiarubber between 1820 and 1847 and some say that he invented the vulcanisation process. He displayed remarkable ingenuity in suggesting uses for what was practically a new material, and the specifications of his patents cover the entire field of indiarubber manufactures, though many of his ideas were not carried out at the time.

His brothers Charles, John, Walter, and William were also associated with him, and were concerned in patents for developing various branches of the trade. Thomas died 26 March 1865, at Stoke Newington, where he had lived for fifty years in a property (interestingly!) called "Marlborough Cottage".

Walter Hancock (16 June 1799 – 14 May 1852) the much younger brother and the sixth son of James Hancock, is chiefly remembered for his steam-powered road vehicles, but also received a patent for preparing and cutting natural rubber into sheets.

Walter served an apprenticeship to Cutmore, a watchmaker and jeweller in London and between 1824 and 1836 in Stratford, near London, he constructed a number of steam-powered road vehicles one of these being a three-wheeled four-seater car.

In 1824 he invented a steam engine in which the ordinary cylinder and piston were replaced by two flexible bags, consisting of several layers of canvas bonded with a rubber solution, and alternately filled with steam. Then in 1827 he patented a steam boiler constructed with separate chambers of thin metal which could split rather than explode, a significant safety measure for operators and passengers.

In June 1829 he develops a steam carriage that travels regularly from Fulham to Brompton and carries eight passengers at twelve miles per hour. In 1829 he also built a small ten-seater bus called the "Infant", with which in 1831 he began a regular service between Stratford and London. It was powered by an oscillating engine carried on an outrigger behind the back axle. The boiler was vertical and made up of a series of narrow parallel water chambers. A fire was situated beneath the boiler, the fire being fanned by bellows worked by the engine, and there was a hopper to feed in the coke.

An interesting facet of his work is that Walter compiled some fascinating statistics of his operations:

  • over a total distance of 4,200 mi (6,800 km),
  • he had carried 12,761 passengers,
  • he had made 143 round trips from the City to Paddington,
  • 525 trips from the City to Islington, and
  • 44 to Stratford,
  • 55 chaldrons of coke fuel were used (roughly 165 tons), equalling
  • 76 mi (122 km) per chaldron;
  • at 12s (60p) per chaldron, this equalled 2d per mile.

Walter's statistics also included the hours in service each day, which averaged 5 hrs 17 mins per vehicle, while the average time taken to make the 9 mi (14 km) round trip from Moorgate to Paddington was 1 hr 10 mins.

Blue Plaque Location:

what3words 3m mapping:What3words Small Logo reach.unopposed.adopt (click the 3 words to open the what3words map)

Click here for details of a circular walk linking all the Blue Plaques

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MADT would like to thank Eric Gilbert who supplied images for this page.

More information about Marlborough's history can be found at the web site of the "Marlborough History Society" (MHS).

MADT would also like to acknowledge that some of the content of this page may have been abstracted and updated from the MHS material.