Hancock, Walter 1799 - 1852

English; British

(1799-1852), Engineer

Walter Hancock was born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, the sixth son of John Hancock, a timber merchant and cabinet-maker. He served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker and jeweller in London. 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. Between 1824 and 1836 he constructed a number of steam road vehicles at his Stratford works in East London, as follows:

- 1829: a steam carriage which could carry eight passengers and travelled regularly between Fulham and Brompton at a speed of twelve miles per hour

- 1829: a ten-seater bus known as the Infant, which in 1831 began a regular service between Stratford and London. The Infant vehicle was later made famous by its revenue-earning journeys from London to Brighton, which were a British first, and also demonstrated its usability by successfully ascending a frozen slope of 5 degrees where horse-drawn coaches were struggling

- 1833: the steam omnibus known as the Enterprise began a regular service between London Wall and Paddington via Islington. It was the first regular steam carriage service, and was the first mechanically propelled vehicle specially designed for omnibus work to be operated. The engine worked on a crank and iron chains applied the power to the back wheels.

- 1836: introduced the 22-seat 'Automaton', a 22-seater powered by a two-cylinder engine . It proceeded to run over 700 journeys between London and Paddington, London and Islington, and Moorgate and Stratford, carrying over 12,000 passengers in total and regularly travelling at speeds in excess of 20 mph.

By 1840 however the development of steam-powered road vehicles had lost impetus and the heavy road tolls imposed by the Turnpike Acts had turned inventors away from steam. Hancock turned his attentions elsewhere, notably gutta percha. In 1842 he proposed a submarine cable from England to France which consisted of seven wires covered with gutta percha, and despite being declared bankrupt in 1847, had by 1848 taken out a patent with his brother Charles for coating electric cables with gutta percha. By 1849 he and Charles had taken over a factory in West Ham as a gutta percha manufactory.

Walter Hancock died in 1852 after an attack of gout at his home in West Ham Lane. His gutta percha business was continued by his brother Charles.