A Kentish scrapbook
PUBLISHED: 12:12 21 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 21 September 2014
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.”