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Driving an Albion Dog-cart

On March 10th 2020, we were all excited when a 1900 Albion Motor Car arrived on loan from National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. The car was a dog-cart, (only the third to leave the Albion Car Company workshops in Glasgow), and was delivered to John L Murray of Heavyside Farm, Biggar.

In the second of three blogs relating to this vehicle, Charles Rigg explains why this impressive looking car was called a “dog-cart” and describes all that was involved in driving such a car 120 years ago.

John Lamb Murray's A2 Albion dog-cart
John Lamb Murray’s A2 Albion dog-cart was one of only 89 produced. The engine was located under the rear seat. (photo: Jim Ness)

Origins of the Albion Car’s Unusual Name

From a 21st century marketing perspective it is mystifying as to why such an impressive looking car was called a ‘dog-cart’. There is, however, a simple explanation: it took its name from a popular horse-drawn vehicle used by shooting parties in Victorian times. The design of the horse-drawn dog-cart provided back-to-back seating with an enclosed compartment below the rear seat to transport one or more gun dogs. In the motorized version, the dog compartment was given over to housing a two-cylinder engine. Tom Murray and Norman Fulton had previously worked on a dog-cart design while employed at Mo-Car in the years leading up to Albion’s formation and were confident there was a demand from wealthy countryside gentlemen to acquire such a robust vehicle able to cope with rough rural roads.

Driving the Albion Dog-Cart

The dog-cart was relatively easy to drive although John Murray usually was driven by his coachman turned chauffeur, John Lawson. Ignition was by rotating magnets on the crankshaft and was unique to Albion motors. Tom designed this low tension magneto ignition himself and it quickly gained a reputation for dependability. For Lawson to start the engine all he had to do was pull the wooden starting handle (1) located on the floor beside the clutch/foot brake pedal. Murray paid an extra £6 to have this mechanism. Dog-carts which did not have this facility used a removable external handle (8).

The car had two forward gears and one reverse, controlled by a long gear lever (2) beside the handbrake (3). There was a clutch foot pedal (4) which would be used when putting the vehicle into forward or reverse when setting off. However, an early synchronising mechanism allowed silent changes between low and high gear without having to use the clutch. This foot pedal also acted as a foot brake.

The speed was controlled by a throttle (5) which regulated the flow of fuel-air mixture to the engine and an accelerator (6) which set the revolutions per minute. The accelerator had a range between 300 and 1000 revs but normally ran at 700; this allowed the car to travel at 13 miles per hour (mph) on a moderate incline. If the accelerator was increased to 1000 revs, a speed of 18 mph could be reached.

We may view these speeds today as being painfully slow but John found it to be quite adequate because of the speed limit. When he took ownership of the car this stood at 12 miles per hour and although raised two years later, in 1903, it was only to 20 mph. At these speeds a centrally fitted tiller (7) rather than a steering wheel was considered more than suitable and, from the production point of view, was cheaper.

Albion Dog-Cart Accessories

A variety of free accessories to help cater for any minor mechanical breakdown came with the car and could be stored beneath the front seat. There were no garages in those days and even on the shortest of trips there was normally a need to top up with water, petrol or oil.

Albion Car: List of Accessories
List of Accessories supplied with each Car (Albion Catalogue, 1902, p12)

Planning for a Trouble-free Journey

The absence of garages meant that time had to be spent on careful forward planning for longer journeys. The dog-cart had two petrol tanks and a lever to switch from one tank to the other as and when needed; this provided sufficient fuel to comfortably cover 110 miles. However, when John and his chauffeur embarked on a 1,500 mile circuitous trip to London and back in 1903, they had to buy petrol in advance in two-gallon tanks from Peter Lee and Son, Glasgow; the tanks were packed in sawdust in wooden crates before being sent ahead to various destinations on their well-planned route.

The Albion Dog-Cart Dress-code

For drivers and passengers alike, motoring in dog-carts like John’s necessitated paying careful attention to suitable outdoor clothing. The photo below illustrates the need for men to wear heavy long coats, hats and gloves to keep them warm. The contrast between how the ladies on the pavement are dressed with the lady in the car further illustrates the need for females to prioritise functionality over style! Clearly, a rug too was essential to keep warm.

The dog-cart with passengers in Perth, 1901
The identity of the driver is unconfirmed as being John L. Murray. It was taken in Perth in 1901 (Nick Baldwin “The Illustrated History of Albion”)

View the Albion Dog-cart

Come and take a closer look! The Albion Dog-cart is currently on display in Biggar Museum’s Victorian streetscape Gladstone Court.


Christine Thompson, The Albion Dog-cart, Leaflet 6, Royal Scottish Museum, 1983

Sam McKinstry, Sure As the Sunrise: A History of Albion Motors, (1997)

Paul Adams & Rory Milligan, Albion of Scotstoun (1999)

Author: Charles Rigg
Date: 22nd Oct 2021 Back to Blog
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