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A Kentish scrapbook

PUBLISHED: 12:12 21 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 21 September 2014

Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle

Archant

A castle, a key and a trip to the Tower of London: Kent Life's history sleuth unearths the stories behind Kent's rich heritage from Octobers past

During the Victorian era the idea that ‘horseless carriages’ would one day 
become a common sight was unthinkable. English law severely restricted any sort

of self-propelled locomotive and the 
new railway operators were opposed

to anything that may affect business.

Sir David Lionel Salomon, Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, was a man of vision, however, and knew from pioneering developments on the continent that mechanically controlled vehicles were 
part of our future. He just had to prove it.

An exhibition appeared to be the answer and, following the first recorded British 
car journey made by the Honourable Evelyn Ellis on 5 July 1895, Sir David decided to host Britain’s first motor 
show on 15 October 1895.

Despite financially backing the show, 
Sir David still faced considerable obstacles. The most significant being a lack of motorised vehicles as, at the time, there were only two in Britain: his own Peugeot and the Panhard-Laassor owned by the Honourable Evelyn Ellis.

Undeterred, Sir David sought exhibits from abroad and arranged for two electric cars to be imported together with two of the latest designs from a French factory. Unfortunately, none of them arrived in time and on the day only five exhibits 
were actually available.

The second obstacle was the location 
of the show as it needed to be convenient to visitors yet far enough from London 
to minimise any policing problems.

Eventually, Sir David persuaded the Agricultural Show Committee to allow him to use the Showfields at Tunbridge Wells on the condition that he repair any damage to the turf. It wasn’t perfect as the enclosure was reportedly “little better 
than a ploughed field overgrown with grass” but on the day it proved ideal.

Approximately 5,000 spectators came 
to watch the exhibition which involved speed and manoeuvrability displays and 
a demonstration by rival crews of fireman operating a steam and petrol fire engine simultaneously.

The highlight of the day, however, was provided by Sir David and Evelyn Ellis driving their cars from the Showground to Tunbridge Wells West Station and back.

Weaving between the crowds, carriages and horses at approximately 10mph the pair were operating illegally due to their lack of passengers and red flag bearers, yet Sir David later observed that “not a single horse was disturbed by either vehicle, despite the speed, noise or vibration.”

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