Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hancock, Walter

HANCOCK, WALTER (1799–1852), engineer, promoter of steam locomotion on common roads, was sixth son of James Hancock, a timber merchant and cabinet-maker at Marlborough, Wiltshire, where he was born on 16 June 1799. Thomas Hancock (1786–1865) [q. v.] was his brother. After serving an apprenticeship to a watchmaker and jeweller in London, he turned his attention to engineering, and in 1824 invented a steam engine in which the ordinary cylinder and piston were replaced by two flexible bags, consisting of several layers of canvas united together by indiarubber solution, and alternately filled with steam. The engine having worked satisfactorily at Hancock's factory at Stratford, it occurred to him that its lightness and simplicity of construction rendered it peculiarly applicable to steam carriages on common roads, to which attention was then being directed. His experi- merits with the new engine were not successful; but he continued to work at the subject, and after many trials upon the roads in and around London, the 'Infant' began to run regularly for hire between Stratford and London in February 1831. In the following year he built the 'Era' for the London and Brighton Steam Carriage Company, one of the many similar associations which came into existence about that time, when the success of the Liverpool and Manchester railway had raised the hopes of speculators. The 'Era' was followed by the 'Enterprise,' which was put upon the road by the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company in April 1833. In October of the same year the 'Autopsy' ran for a short time between Finsbury Square and Pentonville, and again in October 1834, alternately with the 'Erin,' between the city and Paddington. Hancock appears to have continued his efforts until about 1840, by which time he had built ten carriages, making many trips through various parts of the country. After that year public interest in the subject rapidly declined, all the companies which had been formed having failed. Of all the projectors of steam locomotion on common roads, Hancock was the most successful, and the performances of some of his carriages were very creditable. He afterwards turned his attention to indiarubber, working in conjunction with his brother Thomas, and in 1843 he obtained a patent for cutting indiarubber into sheets, and for a method of preparing solutions of indiarubber. He died 14 May 1852.

Hancock was also author of a 'Narrative of Twelve Years' Experiments (1824-1836) demonstrative of the Practicability and Advantage of Employing Steam Carriages on Common Roads,' London, 1838.

[Hancock's Narrative; Mechanics' Mag. 1831-1840; Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Steam Carriages, 1832.]

R. B. P.