Veteran to classic

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The roads of the 1920s

We left Owen John lamenting the demise of the steam-car, and watching the first of what were to become the RAC/VCC London-Brighton Veteran Car Runs.

At the dinner following this 1927 frolic (for light-hearted it was in those days), OJ met such pioneers as Colonel Charles Jarrott and Sir Edward Iliffe, who both made speeches, SF Edge, Ernest Instone (Rupert Instone attended this year’s VSCC hill-climbs), Percy Kidner, Stocks and Frank Lanchester who, said OJ, by their blood and tears and strong language helped to make motoring the easy thing it had become.

Mrs Victor Brace was also among those present, sitting to the right of the Chairman , and seemingly quite envious of the adventures of the pioneers which she now had to travel the world to emulate — she and her husband had just driven an AC Six for 15,000 miles in ten days in appalling weather conditions at Montlhery, breaking many records.

One toast which was missing at this “Old Crocks” dinner, thought OJ, was that to The Autocar, which had been launched a year before the Emancipation Day Run of 1896. This sounds a topical and somewhat sad note, because that enduring title has recently incorporated Motor, so will hereafter inevitably be referred to as the AutoMotor or Motorcar. . .

Incidentally, the guest of honour at another banquet which had taken place about the same time, that of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, was the Prince of Wales, who had agreed to become its Patron. The Scottish Show at Kelvin Hall was then a very notable event. The Prince’s speech (the sort reported with “applause”, “laughter” and “loud laughter” inserted in brackets) included the remarks that American annual car output was so stupendous he feared he might confuse the figures with divorce statistics, and that although in the springtime a young man’s fancy turned to super-sports models, the voice of experience (HRH had had his motoring moments!) was crystallised in such advice as “say it with brakes, and save the flowers”!

As 1927 drew to a close, work was going on with the new Glencoe Road and with London’s biggest road scheme (though now overshadowed by the M25), the North Circular. This link between the eastern end of the Great West Road and Eastern Avenue on the main Southend Road was regarded as a big step forward; the Lea Valley/Ching Brook sections were to be opened in December, though others were still uncompleted.

I often used the North Circular in the days after World War Two, and found it difficult to keep to in places where its weaving route was badly signposted, much of it also being very congested and frustrating. Yet it was worth using it for the journey from Hampshire to Essex in order to exchange my 1934 A7 for a much newer Vauxhall Ten when long trips were in the offing . .

As 1927 ran its course, details were eagerly awaited of the secret new Model A Ford, and the following year’s Grand Prix races had been cancelled because the cars required were thought too expensive at £30,000-£40,000 per team. Foresti had escaped death when Djelmo overturned on Pendine Sands, in much the same way as had “Babs” earlier in the year, killing Parry Thomas, and at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children the “Babs” cot (which he had financed during his lifetime) had been endowed in Thomas’ memory. This famous hospital is seriously in need of funds, and donations would be as welcome now as they were then, addressed to the “Babs” cot, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London WC1N 3JH.

In 1928 OJ went off in a Singer Senior to Shropshire, which he explains was originally called Scrobbesburgshire; this was too much for the Normans, who shortened it to Sloppes-buries, which in turn became Salop.

The Singer, which only pretended to be a puny 12hp, gave no trouble, and the delightful Salopian roads were less crowded than expected. Ellesmere, found to have a confusing jumble of streets, was described by OJ as “a little fairy town”, whose mere should be admired, but not the mansion which did its best to spoil it. I wonder if that scene can still be found?

The day before, OJ had been in the regions of Northwich, Middlewich, Nantwich and Winsford, where over-vigorous brine-pumping had created subsidence and left houses at peculiar angles. OJ was enthusiastic about the pleasant little Shropshire market towns, noting the many pony-traps, and even farmers’ wives astride fat Welsh ponies, still to be seen on the roads there. The Singer saloon took him on to crowded Whitchurch and even-more-crowded Market Drayton (where once he had caught trout), to one of the Newports, “a very handsome big village with a street that should be an example to town-planners”, and on through “a countryside as beautiful as anyone could wish for” almost to Wellington.

Then it was over the hills to Bridgnorth via Brosley, a town where both car and railway enthusiasts today have fine museums. Brosley once made clay pipes by the million, OJ remembered, and at Ironbridge (now well known for yet another museum) he found a baby-show in progress, and more parked prams than he had ever seen before. Finally Owen John made his way home through “prosaic Kidderminster”, where the inventor of penny stamps was born and where OJ himself had bought “a most excellent 12hp two-cylinder pale-blue Talbot” in 1905. He also reckoned that the town housed the most prosperous business in the country — I wonder what he meant by that? WB

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