A Pantechnicon van, currently usually shortened to Pantechnicon, was originally a van drawn by horses and used by 'The Pantechnicon warehouse' for delivering and collecting furniture which its customers wished to store. It was a furniture removal van. The name is a word largely of British English usage.
The name is an invented one devised for a bazaar in Moncomb Street, Belgrave Square, London in about 1830. The idea of the Greek-based (sounding) but artificial word and of the shop was to include all aspects of the Arts. As events evolved, the premises became better known after they had been converted into furniture storage warehouse. The very large, distinctive and noticeable horse-drawn vans which were used to collect and deliver the customers' furniture came to be known as Pantechnicon vans. Following human nature, from around 1900, this was shortened to pantechnicons. The warehouse was burnt out in 1876 but the usefulness of the vans was by then, well established and they had been adopted by other removal firms.
Though small by modern standards, they were impressively large by those of their own time. They came in lengths of between 12 and 18 feet, were up to 7 feet broad. The roof was a segment of a cylinder 8 inches higher in the middle than at the edges to ensure ready drainage but it had boards round the edges to allow stowage of extra items. Below the roof-line the body was a cuboid box except that 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. The lowered floor also saved some of the lifting which was a feature of using normal horse-drawn lorries and vans, which needed a deck high enough to fit the steering mechanism below it. Access was obtained through hinged doors at the rear. Outside these, the tailboard was hinged upwards from the level of the well.
They were drawn by two horses in tandem. This seems to have been so as to allow entry to relatively narrow town lanes and such places as the warehouse doorways. To give the driver a clear view of obstructions and to enable him to control the lead horse, he was usually seated on the front of the roof.
The value of these vans seems to have been quite quickly appreciated so that removal firms other than The Pantechnicon operated them, sometimes over long distances between towns. This business was fairly soon made easier however, as the railways did this part of the work more quickly. This is probably where the carefully limited dimensions really arose. The railways had strict rules about loading gauges and the vans were carried between towns, tied down to platform trucks. Take away the coaming boards from around the roof; remove the shafts, fold up and stow the traces and you were left with something remarkably like a British railway goods van, a boxcar
So the pantechnicon van was an early example of ro-ro, capable of taking furniture from door to door. This is not at all surprising. The London and Greenwich Railway set out from its opening in 1836, with the idea of starting passengers on their way along the Dover Road by carrying them in their own carriages chained down to flat bed trucks with their horses carried in a van (boxcar).
The term is still used for high volume furniture vans still in use today in some areas, but is often used in a more general sense for any High cube box van.
References / sourcesEdit
- Course, E. London Railways (1962)
- Ingram, A. Horse-Drawn Vehicles Since 1760 (1977) ISBN 0-7137-0820-4
- Oxford English Dictionary. ISBN 0-19-861212-5
- Definition of Pantechnicon
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