The cars appear to have had a liberating effect on family holidays. Prior to them owning a car, vacations involved a train ride and then a horse and carriage ride to a hotel. Journeys by rail were linear. With the car they were able to travel directly to their destination, which then allowed them to go on daily drives to beauty spots that, previously, would have been impossible to visit in a day.
My grandfather’s logbooks echo the new romanticism that had crept into middleclass culture, a self-conscious revisiting of Britain first painted and described in the early 19th century by Turner, Wordsworth et al, ‘ discoverers’ of the beauty of nature. What Turner, for example, painted, they visited in their cars. Old ruins,, abbeys,y, castles and natural wonders became destinations for the family and listed in the logs. These documents show that family holidays, which had always been grand and lengthy affairs even before car ownership, became more frequent and more ambitious. Drives through the Scottish Borders, the Lake District, Norfolk and North Wales were all detailed by Bertram between 1907 and 1909. In between, , We usually imagine the British army during the First World War as hidebound and afraid of new technology, yet it ended the war as one of the most mechanised armies in the world. Some, at least, of the thanks for this is due to the work of enthusiastic private motorists, who went on to form the Motor Volunteer Corps during the war itself.
Motoring enthusiasts were always keen to promote their hobby and, in 1909, Automobile Association members donated their time and more than 100 motor cars to carry 600 soldiers from London to Hastings to prove that men could be transported safely to counter foreign invasion. It was judged a huge success.
In 1912, two volunteers designed and built the first mobile catering vehicle for the army. Hot soup and stew for 400 men were ready the moment it arrived in camp reported the motoring press. London bus crews were asked to volunteer in August 1914 and took their buses to France to transport troops. Other private citizens took their vehicles to France to act as motor ambulances.
Back home, motor car owners volunteered their cars to help the army and began carrying messages, transporting casualties and taking wounded invalids for day trips. They paid for their own vehicles, tyres and petrol (which was later subsidised) and received no pay. They were officially incorporated as the Motor Volunteer Corps in August 1917. Many a young Army Service Corps ( Mechanical Transport) officer must have started his career as a volunteer! Phil Tomaselli drives around the Cheshire countryside to places like Beeston Castle or Little Moreton Hall became very much the norm. The car before 1914 was, for the middle-class elite, a vehicle for the discovery of Britain.
Owning or driving one of these early motor cars was exciting but also fraught with technical challenges. My grandfather noted that on one occasion, while driving the 15 Humber on a family day out around Cheshire in June 1909, he had five punctures, each of which required either a tube being repaired or a new one fitted.
The very first puncture was overcome with the aid of a ‘stepney wheel’, a kind of spare tyre that the driver attached to the rim of the punctured tyre. This drive raises one of the other problems facing early motorists, namely the absence of tarmacked roads. In the summer months, rural residents frequently complained about the dust kicked up by motorists driving too fast through their villages. This led to complaints in Cheshire and enthusiastic police speed traps in the Lake District.
Another peculiarity of early motoring, which my grandfather noted in passing, was that owners often went to the factory to pick up their new cars or even to have them repaired. Writing of the 15 Humber, he recalled: “Another run was to Coventry, leaving home at 5 o’clock in the morning. This journey was to take the car for repairs to the Humber Works, as second speed