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Removal & Storage Services MY OLD MAN SAID 'FOLLOW THE VAN'...

If you were moving house during much of the Victorian period (and this of course presumes that you were of a class which had both furniture to transport and the necessary wherewithal to rent or buy property), then the van used was likely to be a 'Pantechnicon'.

The Pantechnicon was the first purpose designed furniture removal van drawn by horses and operated by a company of the same name based in Belgrave Square for delivering and collecting furniture which its customers primarily wished to store whilst their new homes were being constructed as part of the urban expansion into the countryside around London.

Started by the building family responsible for much of that construction work, The Pantechnicon company had several sides to its operation – a furniture shop, picture gallery, even the sale of carriages, and a substantial warehouse providing furniture storage facilities.

Operating from around 1830 until the warehouse was destroyed by fire in 1876, the very large, distinctive, branded vans which they used came to be known as Pantechnicon vans and were adopted by other firms because they had proved to be so useful, especially after special wagons were designed with sloping ramps enabling furniture to be loaded more easily.

Today they would be regarded as small but, then, the vans

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were impressively large : 12 - 18 feet long and up to 7 feet wide. The roof was some 8 inches higher in the middle than the sides to allow for drainage, with boards round the edges enabling extra items to be stowed. The box body featured some interesting adaptations - behind the space required by the front wheels when turning tightly, the floor was lowered to permit greater internal headroom. This was achieved by cranking the back axle downwards as in a float. This lowered floor arrangement saved much of the lifting associated with traditional horse-drawn lorries and vans where the deck needed to be high enough for the steering mechanism to be fitted below. Access was through hinged doors at the rear and, externally, the tailboard hinged upwards from the level of the floor.

Often drawn by two horses in tandem, this allowed entry to the narrow town lanes before the fine broad streets were created and through warehouse doorways, with the driver usually seated at the front of the roof to give a clear view of obstructions and better control of the lead horse.

By the early 1900s yet more innovation saw lift-off container bodies introduced which could be lifted off the chassis for transfer to rail wagons or to ship's holds.

The Pantechnicons became a familiar sight on the country's road travelling between towns and over long distances before being superseded by the iron horses of the burgeoning railways.

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