On Welsh Roads in the 1920s (Postscript)

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The comments I made last month about motoring on Radnorshire’s roads soon after the 1918 Armistice aroused much interest, so I feel I can return briefly to the subject. I remarked that motor vehicles were very few, and infrequently encountered, in this remote part of the country in the early 1920s, and I listed all those registered for the first time by Radnor CC in 1921. I explained that these would include pre-1921 vehicles in use then, as all had to be put into the new Log-books introduced in that year. Since listing these I have come across a few more very early Radnorshire FO-registered cars. Thus FO 6 was issued to a 22.8 h.p. Daimler which was used by the Bishop of Norwich until 1929. Why this one was first registered in Wales is open to speculation. Perhaps the Bishop bought it while on holiday there, from the Automobile Palace, or he may have been a Cleric there before his Norwich posting. Otherwise, one would have expected him to have bought the car from Coventry; unless he was seeking a used one, that had turned up in Wales.

FO 7 was issued to a 30 h.p. Fiat, which seems to have ended its days in London in 1925. Both these cars appear to have been in use in 1921, so should be added to the list published last month. FO 39 belonged to a 3 ½-h.p. Triumph motorcycle but this must have been laid up during the war, as it wasn’t re-registered until 1922; it went in the end to Bristol. FO 45 was on a 13.9 h.p. sleeve-valve BSA tourer which was in use in LLandrindod Wells as a taxi until 1924 and is, I believe, still in that town, awaiting restoration by the original operator. That, too, should be added to last months’ computation, as should an Enfield motorcycle I omitted accidentally. FO 73 went to a 1¼ h.p. motorcycle quoted as a “Nondescript”(!), this being another apparently that had been out of use for several years, being taxed again in 1924 and scrapped in Teddington that same year. Even if these additions are added, the total of motor vehicles registered in Radnorshire in 1921 was a mere 593, a very small number indeed compared to those in other parts of the country.

This was emphasised when I was trying to obtain some photographs with which to illustrate last month’s discourse about motoring in Radnorshire at this time. There were so few cars about then that there was very little to photograph, apparently. At all events, all I was offered were a picture of what I think was a Darracq, posed for its portrait at Marteg Bridge (but it was of about the 1911 period) and two later pictures depicting the very clock-tower at Rhayader crossroads aforementioned. These two must have been taken in the mid-1930s. They show what a quiet place this town was, even then. One shows a few cars parked nose-in-to-the-pavement, these consisting of a few Morris-Cowley tourers, and an earlier Austin Twelve tourer with those “railway-carriage” door-handles, among which a 1930s Austin Seven saloon looks positively modern, as it probably was. The other photograph, taken from the same point, shows only two cars, a Morris Major or Oxford-Six saloon at the crossroads and a circa-1934 Austin Seven saloon in the background, with pedestrians walking unconcernedly along the road…Since those times the yellow-lines and No-Waiting signs have arrived in Rhayader and the Traffic Warden attends on Wednesdays…

Yet this still remains a pleasantly uncongested environment. Only yesterday I overtook a horse-drawn cart (and it wasn’t a pneumatic-tyred pseudo-gypsy holiday caravan) on the A44-road. Reverting to the past, during the First World War the insatiable demand for coal by the Royal Navy, with train-loads thundering continually, day and night, from Cardiff to the Northern Naval dockyards, brought quick prosperity to South Wales. But further up the country this new-found wealth hadn’t penetrated and neither had the motor-car, to any extent. As I observed last month, a look at what was registered in Radnor in 1922 would make the point, even better than the 1921 statistics which included all vehicles in use, include pre-war ones. Those registered for the first time in 1922 would have been mostly new vehicles and I haven’t been able to resist the temptation to sort these out.

Although a number of earlier registration numbers were used up that year, in the main the FO registration ran inclusively from 1089 to 1198, and the total comes to – 115, a minute proportion compared to sales in other areas, at a time when motoring was picking up after the war and enjoying a post-war boom. Of these 1922 Radnor registrations, 61 applied to motorcycles, including a lone Morgan three-wheeler, 50 to cars, light hackneys and goods vehicles, and four to commercials. Again Ford was the most popular make, all Model-Ts, with a total of 13, of which all but one were either taxis or goods-carriers. Next in popularity was the Overland, two down on Ford, again with six of these in the latter category, except that one doubled as a private car-cum-lorry. GWK ran next in popularity, perhaps because the horse-minded found its friction-transmission less alarming than a box of gears! It is rather astonishing that the only Austin registered that year was a Twelve, not surprising that the canny Celts refrained from taxing anything in the last month of 1922, saving their money until 1923 . . . One of the GWKs doubled up as a car and a goods vehicle, possibly one of those Traveller’s vans made at Maidenhead. Otherwise, the new small cars were presumably regarded as unsuitable for Welsh terrain, for only a Charron-Laycock, an 11.4 Talbot-Darracq, and oil-cooled Belsize-Bradshaw, and an 11.6 Standard together with three Morris-Cowleys, one a goods vehicle, are noted. It seems that some of the cars were still pre-war or war-time models at this period, like a 30.4 h.p. Wolseley-Siddeley.

Among the motorcycles, the Royal Enfield (or Enfield) led easily, with a total of 15, some of them the big 8 h.p. job, from AJS with seven registered. One wonders why this Redditch make was so welcome in Radnor? Two people were talking to the dusty lanes of 1922 propelled by Wall Auto-Wheels, given in one instance as of 1¼ h.p., in the other as weighing 66 lb. The filling-up of the new tax forms caused one honest rider to put “obliterated” against the engine number of this machine. A Simplex was quoted as of 1 h.p., a contrast to two of the powerful Harley-Davidsons and a lone 7/9 Indian. It can be assumed that some of these were 1921 models, first taxed for 1922, but mostly new machines. The four commercials comprised a couple of Guys from Wolverhampton (one owned by the Radnorshire Company from whom we buy supplies today), a Samson tractor, and a 14-seater Talbot charabanc, the last-named a private-car chassis, I think.

Although I did not know Radnorshire until much later, all this brings back faint memories of motoring on similar roads further South, when a shy small boy thought even the most ordinary car or motorcycle enormously exciting. Especially on those golden days when he was taken out in a dignified dark-blue Austin Twenty landaulette, sitting either on one of the little cord-covered occasional seats within or, much better, beside the chauffeur on the leather seat up-front – or when there were runs to bathing beaches, sometimes all the way from Penarth to Portcawl if the grown-ups felt ambitious, in an open Chevrolet or Overland, when, if the children’s pleas for the ribbon-speedometer to be forced up to 55 or 60 m.p.h. were met, a high-pressure tyre was very likely to give way with a loud report, victim of the little-used, flinty roads of those days. Those happy days . . . – W.B.

The 1922 Radnorshire registartions were:-

Cars: Ford 13; Overland 11; GWK 4; Chevrolet, Morris-Cowley and Rover 3 each; Belsize and Wolseley 2 each; Standard, Sunbeam, Talbot-Darracq, Crossley, Charron-Laycock, Austin, Belsize-Bradshaw, Studebaker and Wolseley-Siddeley one each.

Heavy-goods vehicles, tractors, etc.: Guy 2; Samson and Talbot one each.

Motorcycles: Enfield and Royal Enfield 15; AJS 7; BSA 5; Clyno and Douglas 3 each; Ariel, Scott, Harley-Davidson, Rudge and Wall Autowheel 2 each; Bradbury, NSU, Morgan, Humber, Indian, Sunbeam, JES, Levis, Royal-Ruby; Simplex; Martinsyde, Economic and Raleigh one each.

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