Motoring Pioneers

March 31, 2016 | 0 Comments | Filed under: 2016, April 2016

Our local History Club learned how Sheffield came to be at the forefront of the motoring revolution at the March meeting, when Malcolm Dungworth spoke about the Sheffield Automobile Club which was formed as early as 1902.

Karl Benz had produced the first usable car in 1885 in Germany and Charles Santler built the first car in Britain in 1895; also in 1895 Arthur Blyde built the Progress Quadricycle in Sheffield. So followed an era when dozens of manufacturers tried their hand at producing autos. The La Plata car was built by Burgeon and Ball who amongst other things manufactured sheep shears, for which my dad was a  customer. Also producing sheep shears was a firm called Wolseley – they went on to be quite famous car makers until the 1960’s. Also working for them early on was a Wentworth-born chap Herbert Austin.

The S.A.C. was quite an exclusive club, the membership being one guinea (£95 in today’s money).

Some local business men had several cars and entered their chauffeurs in their competitions. And what competitions they were! – timed speed trials along the main road towards Ringinglow (“the police seemed to turn a blind eye towards them”). A hill-climb – the oldest motor sport of all – up the main road from Grindleford Bridge. All this was on stony, dusty roads before the coming of tarmac and some cars had to have snow chains on the front wheels for better grip even though the event was taking place in summer. The club members wanted to pursue the same kinds of events as they had when on horseback and so the day might include a “hare and hounds” chase, a slalom race and tilting and balancing (in two troughs over a fulcrum). Malcolm showed all these events with excellent pre-1914 photographs – the ladies in their finery, the gents in their Norfolk jackets. One of the financial supporters and organisers of motor sports in those days was Gordon Bennet whom the famous expletive was named after.

The original Sheffield number plate included the letter W and so we saw photos of a car W215 up on the Roman road and another – W10 that had forced it’s way up to Stanage Pole. These pre-1914 photographs showed us many old village scenes such as that of a row of ancient cars on the Market Place at Castleton where the War Memorial now stands. Like many other events and organisations, the club did not survive after W.W.1. Many of the sons of the rich men who owned the cars would be junior officers who were the first out of the trenches – up over the top, ’45 revolver in hand ——

A more egalitarian club later took it’s  place – the Sheffield and Hallamshire, which included light cars and heaven forbid  —motorcycles!

You will be very welcome to join us in the Institute on April 14th at 8pm. when Robert Mee will be telling us about the history of the Derbyshire Constabulary.   Let’s be having you!

 

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