The spark for the war between Prussia and France was the candidature of Leopold of Hohenzollern to be King of Spain after the deposition of Isabella II. Even though this was withdrawn, there was public anger in France against Germany, and a war party was formed within the government, supported by the Empress Eugénie and the Parisian public. Napoleon III was too ill to resist, and Bismarck was also eager for war. The French were confident of victory, helped by their efficient rifles, but Prussian canons and the military genius of Moltke, who lead the Prussians and their south German allies, resulted in a crushing defeat at Sedan. Napoleon III surrendered to avoid a massacre. Following his abdication, a government of National Defence was formed, presided over by General Trochu.
The Prussians surrounded and besieged Paris during the terrible winter of 1870-1871, beating off French armies raised in the rest of the country. Parisians suffered starvation, bombardments and disease, and balloons and pigeon post provided the only contact with the outside. British public opinion switched from support of Prussia to sympathy for the French. Paris was surrendered and the Prussians entered the city on March 1 1871. The new government of President Thiers passed legislation demanding rents from Parisians and withdrawing the pay of the National Guards. The government was established at Versailles. It tried to seize the cannon belonging to the city. The insurrection in Paris began in March when the Parisians kept their cannon by force. The Commune was proclaimed on 28 March, with its seat in the Hôtel de Ville, and its symbol the red flag. A civil war was fought between the Commune and the troops of the Versailles government.
The Commune was suppressed by government troops during the last week of May 1871, known as the ‘Semaine sanglante’. Parisians fought in vain at barricades, and many were shot without trial. The palace of the Tuileries, situated at the eastern end of the Louvre, the Palais Royal, the Hôtel de Ville, the Palais de Justice, the Finance ministry and police head-quarters were burned down. Parties of British tourists came to view the smoking ruins. 147 Communards were shot in the Père Lachaise cemetery, and hundreds of Communards were buried in a ditch there. Many more were shot after courts-marshal. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Communards were killed, and after a further 35,000 arrests, many were deported to New Caledonia in the Pacific.
As a result of the Treaty of Frankfurt which ended hostilities, most of Alsace and part of Lorraine passed from France to the German Empire, and the French inhabitants could only retain their nationality if they left the area. France also had to pay huge war reparations.
– British Library
Can you imagine the excitement of the introduction of a completely new, efficient and fast form of personal transportation? Compare the introduction of the velocipede with, for example, the invention in the 21st century of a flying car. It might at first be beyond the reach of the ordinary motorist; but every schoolboy in the country would immediately realise that it was about to change personal transportation forever.
The Victorian era was replete with new mechanical inventions, the overwhelming majority emanating from Great Britain’s industrial heartlands. Sewing machines, machine tools and guns had been the staple product of engineering workshops. Engineers were constantly trying out new innovations and patenting anything with potential.
The velocipede was a French invention, but Great Britain’s engineering base attracted the Michaux company who made the machines and, in 1869, they placed an order for the manufacture of 40 velocipedes with the Coventry Machinists Co for export to France.
However, the French company was forced to renege on their order due to France declaring war on Germany!
Word soon got around other British engineering firms. Once the Coventry Machinists Co released the finished velocipedes onto the British market, many were immediately snapped up by other companies eager to copy them and gain a foothold in this wonderful new market.
In the winter of 1870/1871, Paris was under siege, its people starved, followed by an invasion by Germany and a new Government established. America, meanwhile, was recovering from their Civil War, which ended in 1865. So Great Britain therefore had no competition in the new bicycle manufacturing industry. And, after 150 years of the Industrial Revolution created on the back of the cotton industry, the country also had the beginnings of what we might now describe as a new consumer society, or middle class. So there was a ready market for the velocipede in Great Britain as well as throughout the dominions of its Empire. In a matter of months this new boneshaker had caught the public imagination, hardy individuals were racing them against the clock in long-distance road trials, and schools had been set up to teach the country to ride a bike. Thirty five years later the horse and carriage would be replaced by motorised vehicles directly descended from the velocipede; and anyone who could afford it would be able to ride a bicycle.
The case of Andrew Muir gives us a rare insight into how British entrepreneurs around the country with an engineering background took up cycle manufacture once the Coventry Machinist Company’s batch of velocipedes were in production.
Andrew Muir first appears in the Manchester trade directories in 1865 as a consulting engineer, at the Britannia Works, Sherbourne St, Strangeways. By 1869, he is listed as an engineer, machinist and toolmaker, of Victoria Bridge, Salford. It appears that, in his capacity as a consulting engineer, he immediately recognized the potential of the velocipede and lost no time in advertising them for sale. On Tuesday, 2nd March, 1869, the Manchester Courier carried the following advertisement. Given the date of this advert, its phrasing and the bespoke variations on offer, this was probably before he had actually made many of the machines.
Andrew Muir, Engineer, Victoria Bridge, Manchester, three minutes walk from the Royal Exchange.
The French Velocipede Company, with a view of encouraging the use of this beautiful machine, are making arrangements to supply on a large scale and at short notice VELOCIPEDES suited to the various districts of the country and town and the requirements of riders of various heights and weights. They are also prepared to give information to amateurs and inventors, clubs, schools, regiments, gymnasiums, etc. and to make special terms where numbers are required.
The prices of velocipedes are according to their qualities. The best kinds are all forged from iron and steel with self-lubricating apparatus and the company’s own patent gunmetal roller anti-friction bearings. The company propose to charge less than will be in the power of any private firm, and buyers will do well to inspect their velocipedes. Patterns are constructed on the American, English, German, French and Swiss models. The velocipede for children can be especially constructed for safety. Three-wheel velocipedes are made convertible into two wheels. For ladies, light and easy velocipedes are made with luxurious couches. For night use, lanterns can be fitted; for travelling, valises; for muddy roads, special protectors are made; reckoners to calculate the distance and speed travelled; umbrella supporters. A special velocipede is being constructed for artists, photographers, commercial travellers and all riders having to carry luggage.
Made by Andrew Muir & Co
of Manchester, England
36″ Front wheel; 30″ Rear Wheel
This Andrew Muir velocipede is very rare. There are only two other examples of this manufacturer known to exist, and it’s particularly pleasing to find a surviving 144-year-old machine with its maker’s name stamped onto the backbone.
Hundreds of small engineering companies made velocipedes in 1869 and 1870. The majority went out of business in the following few years, or moved on to make other products, with only a few becoming fully-fledged cycle manufacturers. Most velocipedes were copies of other companies’ machines, with few unique features to aid identification. It’s not easy to identify an unknown velocipede, so such provenance is excellent.
The previous owner found it in 1976, in Nantucket, USA. Andrew Muir & Co exported machine tools to the USA at the time, and many British velocipedes were exported to America, so it’s likely this machine was sold in America from new.
This machine is fitted with a replica saddle pan (made to pattern), and some spokes have been replaced over the years, but otherwise it is in original condition with some original paint and lining. It’s in good working order. If to be seriously ridden, the string for the brake linkage could be replaced with wire (although brakes are not really needed on velocipedes – to stop, you just stop pedalling).
ANDREW MUIR & Co
Albion Works, Strangeways, Manchester, England
Andrew Muir’s patent of 30th March 1869 (below) relates to the adjustment of the seat rather than the entire machine.
THE VELOCIPEDE: HOW TO USE & HOW TO CHOOSE IT
By Andrew Muir
In 1972, Derek Roberts mentioned Andrew Muir’s book in the Boneshaker magazine. I am trying to obtain a copy of Andrew Muir’s book and will publish it when it arrives.
Photo Location: LEWES CASTLE ‘GUN GARDEN’
These photos were taken inside Lewes Castle’s ‘Gun Garden’ accompanied by my faithful apprentice, Delphy (aged five).