Mr Goodwin’s Lutzmann Benz in Manchester, 1896. Motor cars were so unusual that they were guaranteed to attract attention, and advertisers like Goodwin knew this, advertising his Mother Shipton’s Soap. (The mystery is, why name your soap after a prophetess?) Photo: Science and Industry Museum Archive, YMS 0197.2
Motoring made very little sense in the late nineteenth century. The road infrastructure had had no real development since the demise of the turnpikes, but served its then users well enough: the walkers, the riders of horses and carriages, the operator of the cart. Heavy traction engines were not popular because of the damage they did to the roads. A comprehensive train network enabled people to travel far and wide. The bicycle meant that (usually male, middle-class and hardy) cyclists could now venture down the ‘open road’.
Besides, what exactly was ‘motoring’?
My definition of ‘motoring’ is using any road-going machine fitted with a motor. So that could mean a motor-cycle, motor car, lorry (they called them ‘lurries’ then), and anything inbetween.
And importantly, motorists were not popular, and advocates of motoring were keen to present motoring in a good light. This meant that speeding was discouraged, that motor cars should be kept clean when on public view. Clubs for motorists were formed, in part to share information about, say, where to buy petrol from, but also for self-protection against the law (some chief constables and magistrates particularly disliked motorists).
Literature at the time reflects this broad opinion. Punch magazine is particularly useful to me – I use it as a barometer of reactionary middle-class opinion. So, for example, the motor car was portrayed in Punch cartoons as silly or unreliable (like its drivers).
‘A thoughtful man’. Mr Jenkins drove his new motor-car down to Epsom; but to make sure of arriving there, he thought it only wise to bring his horses as well, in case anything “went wrong with the works”’: Punch, 30 May 1900, p. 384, with thanks to the Richard Roberts Archive.
How else might we find out about opinion at that time? Autobiographies by the earliest motorists are very useful, most notably Charles Jarrott’s Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing (1906); and S.F. Edge’s My Motoring Reminiscences (1934). Both cover the very early, pre-1900 period. Travel accounts appeared at this time, notably Henry Sturmey’s On an Autocar (1898), reprinted from instalments in The Autocar. Motoring magazines were cropping up like mushrooms at the time, and the earliest, The Autocar, started in 1895, is the only one to survive to this day. But these tend to give the opinion of the motoring lobby, so we also need the wider press: the society magazines such as the Strand, or national and daily newspapers. These will give us a more rounded view.
Charles Jarrott was a racing cyclist turned racing driver and these memoirs are a wonderful read. Published in 1906, his memoirs Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing was republished again in 1928 and 1956 and is now available as a print-on-demand