Simply Removals Bristol looks at how the Pantechnicon got its name

Pantechnicon vans

One of the first of many pantechnicon vans, seen in 2008, in the Milestones living history museum in Hampshire.

If you’re in the house removals trade, you may well know which vehicle is used to shift heavy furniture, pianos, and other bulky goods across the UK. How the vehicle got its name is of interest. The largest house removals vehicle is known as a Pantechnicon.

The word Pantechnicon is derived from two Greek words. That of pan (which translates as all) and techne (which translates as art). Therefore, pantechnicon literally means ‘pertaining to the all of the arts’. A bit like BBC Four we suppose, albeit in televisual form.How did they become part and parcel of the house removals industry?

The story begins in 1830 when a large retail establishment on Motcomb Street, Belgrave Square opened with the aforementioned name. It included a picture gallery, a furniture shop, and a carriage showroom. In the southern part of the establishment was a warehouse for storing furniture. This was part of the company’s furniture removals business.

Hence the Pantechnicon van. In later years, the word ‘van’ was dropped, in the same way Googling became a verb for doing a web search. Unlike conventional removal vans at the time, the Pantechnicon’s vans had a ramp at the bottom. This made for easy loading and unloading of furniture. Soon, rival companies, impressed by their vans, would have similar vehicles. The basic layout of today’s removal vans still use a ramp at the rear – almost 180 years after London’s pioneering business.

Most of the original building was destroyed by fire in 1874, leaving only the facade. The original business continued trading till the 1970s. Next year, under the name of Cubitt House, the former facade will reopen as a foodies’ paradise with six floors of eateries.

The Pantechnicon van

The original vans were horse drawn with two horses in tandem. Motorised equivalents were later used by circuses and as horseboxes, as well as their original use. Some have led a second life as transporter vehicles for oval racing sports.

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