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The Cheshire Motor Vehicle Registrations, 1904-07

Edited by Craig Horner

2020 review by Autolycus

This is a book that needed to be written. It is a piece of social history as well as a record of an important period in early motoring. The publisher of the book is the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, founded in 1878 to promote understanding of and public interest in the history of Lancashire and Cheshire – and one of the ways this is done is through the publication of historical records.  This is the 156th such publication and the first on a motoring subject.

The book’s creator, Craig Horner, is Senior Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, Committee Member of the SAHB and editor of our Aspects of Motoring History.  The book was made possible by the fact that Cheshire was one of only a few authorities who preserved its registration records.  This enabled Craig to mine this treasure trove of historical information.

Craig set out to answer three key questions – and he has succeeded in fine style.  The first was: why on earth did the motor car and motorcycle catch on?  Even as late as the 1904-07 period covered by this volume, there were many who thought that motorised transport was a passing fad, soon to disappear.  The best answer possibly comes from the genealogical records ably researched and added to each record by Rachel Kibble.  They show that people from all walks of life used these new-fangled machines in rapidly rising numbers.  They must therefore have been more valuable to them then the horse-drawn vehicles they replaced, despite their early unreliability, cost and noise.  And the book shows the growth of commercial vehicles as well as those for private use.

The second question was: what levels of society bought motor cars?  Craig’s book demonstrates that they trickled down the social scale from the wealthy first owners, many of them living in the elegant houses of Cheshire, until, after perhaps ten years and five or more owners, they were to be found at a modest address, possibly in central Manchester, outside a two-up-two-down terrace.

The third question was: why were so few women owners of these cars?  Craig answers this in his comprehensive introduction by using other sources: there were many women who drove these cars, but often their husbands were the registered owners.  A small example can also be found in one of the Sliders at the top of this website: the 1906 cars of Mr and Mrs Walker Munro.  The original article presenting these cars took pains to explain that the lady of the house was the equal of her husband in her enthusiasm for motoring, and had yet another car on order.

So what of some highlights of the book that make it such a wonderful read?  A fine example is found under M 612 (the 612th car registered in Cheshire after the coming into force of the registration act on 1st January 1904).  The car is a 10hp Royce with tonneau body to seat 2 at the back.  It is red, and it was registered to its private owner Frederick Henry Royce on 26th August 1904 (nearly four months after he met Charles Rolls in Manchester).  he is given as electrical mechanical engineer in the 1901 census and director of a motor manufacturing company and engineer in the 1911 census.  He lives at Royal Cottage, Legh Road, Knutsford.  The combination of the original records and the genealogical details make this simple registration number come alive on the page.

Another entry taken at random is that of M 991.  Here we can see that a 3hp Minerva was transferred in November 1905 to medical practitioner John Evans Phillipps.  The first owner or owners would have had the car before the act came into force.  By July 1915 the car is on at least its fourth owner: Leonard Percy Green, a hairdresser.

Every one of the book’s 495 main pages and 1783 entries has these stories to tell – and there are indexes by person, by occupation, by place, by make of motor car, by make of heavy vehicle (mainly, and unsurprisingly, Foden of Sandbach in Cheshire), and by make of motorcycle.

This is not a dry academic reference book; it is a delightful history of the lives of motor vehicles and their owners in Cheshire in these early years.  It should be on the bookshelf of all who love history or motoring, or both.

There will be two more volumes in due course, taking the story up to 1914.  So when you buy this book, enjoy it, and leave space on that bookshelf for two more.

Publisher: The Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, www.rslc.org.uk

Available from: Fiona Pogson (pogsonf@hope.ac.uk) who will sort out purchase and payment.

Price: £40 including postage and packing in the UK.  Please contact Fiona Pogson for the total cost if it is to be sent to any other country.

Description: Hardback in dustjacket (240 x 165 mm), 576 pages; a few illustrations at appropriate points in the book, in black and white.

ISBN: 978-0-9935-7313-2


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