Case studies of nineteeth-century motorists
Eliza Kennard in the Kennards' 1900 Napier. Photo: copyright Pete Bricknell
Mary Eliza Kennard (1850–1936)
Nineteenth-century motoring was not entirely male, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so, particularly with the case studies offered so far. We tend to hear about the women motorists when they are paraded by newspapers and the motoring press at the time, and the language and social norms in place then meant they were expected to remain dignified, feminine and demure when at the wheel.
There were probably far more women driving than we can know. Motor vehicles were often acquired in the name of the male householder, which we cannot assume would be the same person that would actually drive it. The writers of letters to the motoring press often used pseudonyms, meaning we just don’t know who they really were.
But some women motorists crop up a lot in the press, and Mary Eliza Kennard (1850–1936), known as Eliza by her family, is one such. She was a fiction writer, quite popular in her day. Her The Motor Maniac, published in 1902, drew on her own experiences of having to deal with the dodgy car salesmen of the day. The heroine in the book, Janet Jenks, finally meets and does business with honourable salesmen, ‘Pellin Sedge’ and ‘Charlemagne Parrott’. This was a barely disguised code for Selwyn Edge and Charles Jarrott, racing drivers and motoring entrepreneurs of the day.
It was Edge who persuaded the Kennards to buy the first Napier motor car, and enter it for the Thousand Mile Trial of April and May 1900. It was driven in the Trial by Edge, but the photo shows Eliza in the very car. She had been driving since 1899, initially in a 3½hp Benz, and followed the Trial on a De Dion. She also had an Ivel motorcycle in around 1902, and went on to own other cars, including Napier and Progress.
Eliza, née Laing, married Edward Kennard (1842–1910) in 1870. Edward was an ironmaster and magistrate, and very active, his hobbies in 1904 including ‘hunting, shooting, fishing, golf…’. The couple enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle, as seen by the numbers of servants they had, identified in the censuses. Their large house near Market Harborough in Leicestershire became a stopping-off point for the early motoring community.
Eliza wrote for the motoring press at the time and was an excellent cheerleader for both motoring, and encouraging women to take up the ‘sport’. The Kennards had also employed a young man as chauffeur, George ‘Tim’ Brooks, who was fifteen when he was taken on in 1898. He subsequently claimed to be the first motorist in Leicestershire, and stayed with the family for 25 years.
Thanks to Grace’s Guide, Pete Bricknell, Patrick Collins at the National Motor Museum: https://nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/mary-kennard-1850-1936/. Copyright for the photograph remains with Pete Bricknell.
Henry Benjamin Merton (1848–1929)
Henry Merton was one of the very first motorists in the United Kingdom. In Montague Grahame-White’s Autobiography, At the Wheel: Ashore and Afloat (c1935), he describes how Merton has a ¾hp De Dion tricycle to which he is attempting to fit electric ignition. MG-W doesn’t give a date, but this is probably 1896, as according to Michael Edwards in his The Tricycle Book: 1895–1902 Part One (2018), the model with that given horsepower was only made that year (p. 122). MG-W then relates how he and Merton went by train to Brighton to see the vehicles arriving on the day of the Emancipation Run (14 November 1896).
Merton came from a wealthy background – when he was in his twenties, still living in the family house, the census (1871) records the household having no fewer than five servants present. By 1891, Merton is living in a large Bayswater house, and this is the property that MG-W would have visited him at. Merton is living on ‘income from shares’ (1881) and ‘on his own means’ (1891), so is truly a man of leisure. (Interestingly, he married Alice Gertrude Raphael in 1875, who bore him six children, but even though she remains his wife in name, Merton is living with Ada Humphreys in the Bayswater house. And by the time of his death, by which time he is in Margate, Merton’s widow is named as Ella Alexandra Merton, who is line for his £2,249 estate.)
Thanks to ‘planetpenrith1’ on ancestry.co.uk who shared the image, taken from Hannah F. Cohen, Changing Faces: A Memoir of Louisa Lady Cohen (1937), p. 176
Aubrey Richard Langton (1880–1957)
Aubrey Langton sought to join the Circle in 1932 but his application was declined, citing ‘insufficient proof’. He claimed to have driven 800–1,000 miles in a 1½hp Ormonde motor bicycle and a 6hp belt-driven Benz prior to 1900, in and around Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, in vehicles owned by F.N. (or F.W.) Haskard of Derby. Now, S.B. Haskard (1851–1913) had been a jeweller and watchmaker, before moving into cycle manufacturer, and, according to Grace’s Guide, as S.B. Haskard and Sons of Derby they then produced motorcycles and tricars from 1903 to 1907. This is highly likely to be the Haskard family that Aubrey was associated with, although where F.N. (or F.W.) fits in, I’m not sure. He is possibly one of the ‘and Sons’ and therefore nearer to Aubrey’s age.
Aubrey’s rejection by the Circle was a tough call. His dates on his qualification form fit. We know he was still in education (Wellington College, Berks, 1896–9); and then receiving a technical education in maths and mechanics, 1899–1900. He then served his apprenticeship (1900–04) with Andrew Handyside and Co Ltd of Derby, designing and constructing bridgework and roofwork. This means he was in Derby in 1900, a detail reinforced by the 1901 census which records him as a ‘civil engineering student’ lodging at 44 Otter Street, Derby, with the widowed Mrs Walkerdine and her four grown-up children.
Aubrey’s problem in securing membership stemmed from his inability to identify two people who could back up his claims. The scrutineer had also scribbled on the form, for the Ormonde, ‘first built 1902’. (The Ormonde Motor Co had, in fact, produced motorcycles from 1900, so Aubrey’s claim could still fit, although whether it was built, and he was riding it, prior to the April 1900 cut-off point needs a little more grubbing around.)
Besides, Aubrey probably wasn’t sufficiently fit and proper for membership of the Circle. While he had made good as a time-served engineering apprentice, landing management roles in engineering companies (he was the manager of Horch Motors in 1906–07; and the manager of a lubricating oil manufacturer’s in Bexhill in 1939), his roots were working class. It would not have mattered that his father Walter was also a J.P. (as seen on Aubrey’s marriage certificate to Fanny Margaret Lloyd in 1904); nor that Aubrey’s estate was valued at £30,410 on his death in 1957.
A bizarre aside: the 1881 census, when Aubrey was 5 months old, records Aubrey’s address as Woodhouse School on Woodhouse Lane in Finchley. He lived there with his father (the head teacher), mother and six elder siblings. It’s the entry for the house next door that caught my eye – here, at number 288, the Smith and Light families, 12 in all, slept, and all of them, adults and children, were labelled ‘Gipsies’.
The advert above has been extracted from Grace’s Guide; Aubrey would have been riding a machine not dissimilar to this in 1900. Detail has also been used from Grace’s Guide, plus the qualification form for Aubrey; his application for the Institute for Mechanical Engineers, 1909; his marriage certificate, 1904; his probate form, 1957. For genealogical work, my thanks to Michala Hulme.
Capt Arthur James Mayne M.I.E.E. (1870-1947)
Arthur James Mayne applied to join the Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists in 1930, claiming to be the first in England to ride the newly imported Hildebrand and Wolfmüller motor cycle, in 1894. He claimed to have ridden ‘some hundreds’ of miles prior to 1900, and subsequently donated a H&M to the Science Museum in 1928 (the same one? He gave the Science Museum ref as 3130/1/1).
On his qualification form he named Frank Sherwood of Farnborough and W.J. Weatherley of Aldershot as people able to confirm these statements. Now, I’m working on the basis that the former was Frank Sherwood Taylor (1897-1956) who was, ultimately, director of the Science Museum from 1951 until his death, and so much too young to vouch for Mayne. I cannot trace Weatherley with confidence.
Mayne also cited Walter Bersey, S.F. Edge and Charles Jarrott who ‘would remember me as a pioneer with the late Anthony G. New in connection with Mr Martin Rucker and Mr Lawson and Mr Kane Pennington’.
This opens up an interesting connection between Mayne and Lawson’s circle. We know Mayne and Rucker were directors of the newly-floated New and Mayne Ltd, which, to do so, had sought no less than £150,000 in 1896. At the same time New and Pennington had been joint owners of patents bought by the Great Horseless Carriage Company, and ‘Lawson company vehicles had featured in New and Mayne exhibition displays’.
Anthony George New (1870-1911) was an electrical engineer who had founded New and Mayne with Arthur in 1891, an electrical and general engineering company. New was prosecuted for driving a locomotive on the highway in 1895. Meanwhile, New went on to demonstrate a petrol motor-bicycle at Catford cycling track in 1896. The Norfolk News of 9 May 1896 reported the occasion, saying that ‘the rider sits with his feet perfectly motionless on rests and simply devotes his attention to steering’. New rode a mile on one machine in 2min 18.6sec, then changed to another machine, covering two miles in 4min 55.2sec. Were these motor bicycles made by New, or were they H&Ms? The following year, 1897, New and Mayne gave up electrical contracting to move to horseless traction, at which point Mayne ‘retired’ from the company. It looks like Mayne didn’t share New’s confidence in the new industry.
Mayne was elected to the Circle on 28 November 1930.
From T.R. Nicholson, Birth of the Motor Car, vol. 3: the last battle, 1894-7 (1982), p. 434; Grace’s Guide; qualification form for Capt Arthur James Mayne. Photograph: Joachim Köhler - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Arthur Percy Strohmenger (1876-1943)
Percy Strohmenger applied to the Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists in 1928, citing Walter Bersey as one of his sponsors. Strohmenger was co-founder of the Quasi-Arc electrical welding company, founded 1913 (thanks to Grace’s Guide for this information). He had driven 200-300 miles prior to 1900, according to his qualification form, in an 1898 Sperry electric motor car, imported from the US. He was the owner of the Sperry, but also drove an Elieson, another electric, one of which being displayed by the Automobile Association in 1899 at Cordingley’s Autocar and Motor Cycle Show. The Elieson Lamina Accumulator Co provided the electric traction for tramcars and a motor launch, publishing details of their first car in 1897.
Percy's application was successful and he was elected on 3 January 1929.
Percy's background was in electrical engineering. In 1894 he was admitted to the Institution of Electrical Engineers as a Day Student and by 1896 was listed in the professional lists for Electrical Engineers. By 1896 until at least 1898-9 he worked for the Electric Insulation Syndicate, East Moors, Cardiff, Wales. In 1900 he introduced coated metal electrodes and was living in London at 4 Tollington Place, N.
Photo (and much of this background information) of Percy Strohmenger courtesy of his great-granddaughter Linda Dudley Mutch, who noted his interests in birds, flowers, cars and boats (and thoroughbred wolfhounds). Percy, born in Tottenham, came from a family whose fortune had been made in piano manufacture in the nineteenth century.
Harold Keates Hales (1868-1942)
was of middle-class stock: his father was a draper based in Manchester, employing 20 ‘assistants’, according to the 1871 census.
Harold had been a cycle agent in 1900, living in Burslem, Staffs. In 1900 The Autocar reported that he had been summoned for ‘furiously driving a motor tricycle to the common danger’, for which he was fined 20s plus costs.
By 1929 he was living in Calcutta, at the time when he applied to join the Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists. On his qualification form he records driving before 1900 an 1898 1hp Beeston Humber tricycle; and a 1897 2½hp International Benz.
He became a shipping owner and Conservative MP (1931-5) for Hanley, Staffs, and is pictured here in 1935 with the Blue Ribband Trophy that he had commissioned to be awarded to the fastest ship crossing of the Atlantic.
Sources: Image at http://www.bluebird-electric.net/the_blue_ribband.htm. The Autocar, 7 July 1900; RAC Archive qualification forms. There’s even a Wikipedia page on him. My thanks to Angie Thompson for much of this information.
Samuel Okell (1838-1932)
of Bowdon, Cheshire is (probably) the first motorist in Cheshire, driving an imported Hurtu in 1897.
The story goes that at the Paris Exhibition in 1896 he ordered his first car, a HURTU, made in France . It had a 3½hp Benz single-cylinder air-cooled engine. It was a two-seater with tiller steering, wire wheels with solid rubber tyres.
However, we know the first Hurtu wasn’t made until late 1897, when the agents were the British Motor Company in London. Samuel’s car, then, has to be an 1897 or 1898 model. Samuel's son Alec said that his father used to bet the owner of the local stables Mr Willy Owen that his Hurtu could climb the hill on Vicarage Lane in Bowdon. (We don't know if he ever did.)
Image courtesy of Mrs Carolyn Okell-Jones.
Walter Richard Randolph (b. c1881)
Walter applied to join the Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists on 10 January 1929 and was elected on 30 January. Being elected was a serious business - he had to provide evidence he had driven a motor vehicle prior to April 1900.
He had driven a 4hp Panhard (1896), 1¾hp Benz (1897) and 1¼hp De Dion tricycle (1899) prior to 1900, around London and 'various parts of England', covering 3,000 miles or more.
He identified Henry Hewetson and A.H. Pass as persons able to verify this claim.
Randolph later held driving licence #737, issued by London County Council in 1904.
Derived from the Qualification Form, held at the RAC Archive.
Here he is in a photo taken in the 1950s, supplied by Barry Blight
Version 25.2.21, PDF, 6.1MB
One intention of this project is ultimately to identify everyone who drove (or is otherwise associated with) motor vehicles prior to about 1900 in the United Kingdom. As more and more people are identified, this will help build up a better sense of who they were as a collective. So we are interested in, say, their social class, background, occupation, sex and where they lived.
Case studies are featured here, to the left, and I'm keen to highlight the hidden many, rather than the prominent few (such as Charles Rolls, S.F. Edge etc).
The Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists
A starting point to create a database of who was motoring in the nineteenth century is the membership of the Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists. This was a dining club established in 1927 by surviving pioneer motorists and offered a means for its members to get together formally a few times a year. It was, according to its letterhead, ‘A fellowship of men who owned &/or drove a motor vehicle on the King’s Highway prior to the conclusion of the 1,000 Miles Trial of the A.C.G.B.& I. on April 15th 1900’.
Membership restricted to ‘men who owned and/or drove a motor vehicle prior to the conclusion of the Thousand Miles Trial on April 15 1900’. Evidently, there were applications from people who did not, or were suspected of not, meeting that condition (see letter to Buttemer, Nov 27 1927) and so applicants were then required to confirm this.
The Archives of the Royal Automobile Club hold a file on the Circle, which includes the ‘Qualification Forms’, that is, the application forms for about 250 people. (See http://collections.royalautomobileclub.co.uk/acq-2.1). The archive also has other records relating to the Circle, for example, http://collections.royalautomobileclub.co.uk/acq-4
Being a member of the Circle clearly conferred real gravitas, as can be seen by the number of applications which were unsuccessful – some motorists who didn’t fit the criteria clearly wanted to be members. And the cut-off date (15 April 1900) must have cruel for those whose first drive was only very shortly after that date. The application form was adapted to weed out such applications, such that a referee was required to endorse the application.
Annual membership to the Circle was £1 (1932) and the annual dinner was about half a guinea (it varied), and dinner dress was required. At these dinners members were permitted to relate reminiscences of their early motoring experiences.
It’s the entertainment that gives us a good insight into how this society celebrated. These were occasions rooted in nineteenth-century ritual, but take a look at the 1935 dinner (which I imagine was typical). Held at the Trocadero Restaurant on Piccadilly Circus on 11 November 1935, it promised a ‘special Continental turn’, which turned out to be an after-dinner cabaret presented by Alexis and Dorrano ‘from the casinos on the French Riviera’. This was a couple known as ‘adagio dancers’ and a sample of their work is on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0DVt3xbecg, a British Pathe clip from the 1934 film Danse Apache – violent and shocking. And considering the great average age of the attendees, these socials required stamina: the annual dinner in 1936 (13 November, Grosvenor House, 12s 6d or 15s for guests) was intended to go beyond midnight. Don’t forget that this was also an all-male experience (even guests had to be male – see letter to Buttemer, 6.10.36).
Photographs of some of the dinners, and actual menus, are held at the RAC archive (ACQ2/2).
The Circle lasted until 1960 when just a handful of the veterans would be left. Indeed, some veterans had expired earlier and never made the Circle, eg Frank Hedges Butler (1855–1928).
Famous names from the pioneering motoring world appeared on the 1927 organising committee of the Circle: Walter Bersey, J.S. Critchley, Ernest Instone, Charles Jarrott. The personnel changed over the years but retained a core. For example, by 1932 Sir Arthur Stanley was president, Montague Grahame-White was hon sec/treasurer; and the committee consisted of above (minus Jarrott) plus Sir Percival Perry, T.B. Browne, S.F. Edge, and Edgar Duffield. By 1936 Frederick Simms was the president, and the committee was now Jarrott, Bersey, Critchley, Duffield, Percy Richardson and Grahame-White.
The Circle of Nineteenth-Century Motorists at an annual dinner, date unknown, c1930. Photo courtesy of David Burgess Wise