The Growth of Motoring




I read with interest your query under the title “The Growth of Motoring” (page 892), and may be able to throw some light on the subject. By noting the dates on which all the early registration letters came into use, and correlating them, it is possible to make such comparisons between different parts of the country as may provide an answer.

In about January 1904, motor vehicle registration became compulsory, and by January 1932 some 3.5 million vehicles had been registered with authorities in England and Wales. Of these, 700,000 were with the London Authority. The rate of registration varied throughout this period, the main turning point being after World War I. Between 1904 and the middle of 1919, the average rate for the country was 50,000 per year. With the post-war boom, the figures showed an immediate upward trend, and from mid-1919 until January 1932, the average rate rose to 219,000 per year, with minor variations in the 1920s. This rapid change was pronounced in large towns, and less evident in the counties. In the 1919-32 period, the mean annual rate in London was 42,000. For the remainder of England and Wales, the number of Issuing Authorities was 140, and between them they shared 175,000 per year during the same period. Hence the average rate of registration by the Provincial Authorities (ranging in size from Birmingham to the Isle of Ely) was about 1,250 vehicles annually during the 1920s. Within this group, variation was considerable, Birmingham being the most prominent city with 9,400 registrations annually, and Middlesex leading the counties with about the same figure. At the other end of the scale, and taking Great Britain as a whole, surely the lowest annual rate must be attributed to Leith. During the 30 years of its existence as a separate entity before being taken over by Edinburgh in 1934, a maximum of 500 vehicles were registered, about 16 a year.

Concerning the query over Radnorshire, registrations with this county began in December 1903, which offers no clue as to the age of the vehicle number FO 45 referred to. A car with the number FO 1 might, for instance, have been made as early as 1900, remaining unregistered until legislation made it compulsory. If car number FO 1399 was registered early in 1925, that would represent an average rate for the 21 completed years of about 66 vehicles per year. Compared with the figures previously quoted this puts Radnorshire well down the list but typical of many outlying country areas. To truly compare the rate of adoption of the motor vehicle between regions, the number of registrations in a particular area would have to be related to the population there at that time. That is rather outside the scope of the work which I have undertaken in this field, but I would be interested to read the comments of any contributor who may be able to add to these notes.

I have not fully compiled the figures for Scotland and Ireland, except to the extent that there were no fewer than 87 authorities to deal with a comparatively small number of cars. It is unlikely that more than 500,000 vehicles came on to the roads of these two countries up to 1932.

The basic material from which the preceding figures are deduced has been compiled from various sources, the accuracy of which is not entirely guaranteed. Nevertheless, the mass of evidence would seem to indicate that the annual rate of 26,500 for vehicle registration, quoted in the paragraph under discussion, is at variance with the facts.


Hayling Island.