Nottingham’s industrial heritage shaped advances in transport, and our Transport Gallery tells the story of some of the companies and people. You will find familiar names like Raleigh, Humber, Campion and Brough.
Before bicycles, cars and trains wealthy people drove around in horse drawn coaches. In our gallery, we have a ‘Phaeton’ Coach which is a very rare survivor. In its day, it would have been a very high-status means of transport. It is a form of sporty open carriage popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Drawn by one or two horses, a phaeton typically featured a minimal very lightly sprung body atop four extravagantly large wheels. With open seating, it was both fast and dangerous, giving rise to its name, drawn from the mythical Phaëton, son of Helios, who nearly set the earth on fire while attempting to drive the chariot of the sun. We also have a ‘Landau’ Coach from 1689 which belonged to the Baskerville family and was donated to Nottingham.
Before 1870 bicycles were not very practical, as the pedals were on the same axle as the wheel. Thomas Humber (1841–1910) was a blacksmith and keen cyclist. His factory in Beeston was the first to design and build a bicycle with a chain that drives the back wheel. The new design was easier to ride and control, and the shape became known as the ‘safety bicycle’. It is the same design in use today. We have Thomas Humber’s own bike. It was made by him as a retirement present to himself in 1892.
Almost everyone in the UK, and many overseas, has heard of Nottingham-based Raleigh Bicycles. Many of our visitors worked at ‘the Raleigh’. The name first appeared in 1885 by a small bicycle maker on Raleigh Street, off Alfreton Road. Sir Frank Bowden, a prosperous 38-year-old, bought one of their bicycles. He was so impressed that he went to Raleigh Street to meet the makers. They were making three bikes a week. Bowden bought the business and turned it into the biggest bicycle manufacturing company in the world. The transport section charts the changing design of Raleigh bicycles over more than 100 years. The collection includes the iconic ‘Chopper’ and the gentleman’s Raleigh ‘Superbe’. This model, introduction in 1907, went through many changes and is still available today. We also have a Raleigh bicycle made for world sprint champion Reg Harris who won medals at the 1948 Olympic games.
Our museum is home to several locally made motorcycles. The collection of Brough Superior machines with their bright chrome work and imposing size attracts much interest. In their day, Brough was the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles. The bikes were very fast and successful in competitions. George Brough’s works were on Haydn Road in Nottingham from 1919 to 1940. Every motorcycle produced was test ridden to ensure that it performed to specification. Our museum also has motorcycles from Raleigh and the Campion Cycle Company. Although Campion was in production for a long time (1893 to 1926) there are now fewer than 20 complete examples left.
Both Brough and Humber produced cars. In the centre of the gallery is a Brough Superior car. It is one of only four saloons made. Alongside the Brough is a smart looking 2-seater car. It has a plate on the engine and gearbox identifying it as a ‘Celer Car Company Nottingham’. The company lasted a year, and we think this is the only known example.
There are too many exhibits and stories to be told here. Come and visit us and find out more about the many unique exhibits from our volunteers. Tell us your own story.