A gentleman's toy?
In 1901 the motor car was
still a luxury item, but it was an established, if controversial,
phenomenon. Cars were still generally used for pleasure, rather
than business, although they were becoming increasingly popular
with regular daily travellers such as doctors. There were
23,000 cars on Britain's roads by the end of 1904, and over
100,000 by 1910.
Early motorists needed a spirit of adventure. Rudyard Kipling,
who had owned a car since 1897, described car journeys as
a catalogue of 'agonies, shames, delays, rages, chills, parboilings,
road-walkings, water-drawings, burns and starvations'. Nevertheless,
royal patronage helped to promote the fashionable 'necessity'
of the motor car, which was a very visible sign of wealth.
Regulation of motor cars was a hotly contested subject in
1901, when the speed limit was only 14 mph. One correspondent
of The Times told how, when he was overtaken by a speeding
car, the driver 'did not even slacken his pace; and my only
consolation was that as the car swept by I brought the lash
of my whip with all the force at my disposal across the shoulders
of the driver and the man sitting by his side'.
In 1901, both steam and electricity seemed viable
candidates for powering cars, but by 1909, the dominance of
the more flexible petrol engine had been established. Cars
were produced in France, Germany, Britain and the USA, but
in 1901 the French had the major share of the British market.
The French term for the professional driver - chauffeur
- is still used today. The 1901 census records the names of
Many attempts to manufacture cars in Britain were short-lived
because of lack of capital investment. By 1908, cheaper Fords
had begun to arrive from the USA. The Model T Ford, the product
of mass production line assembly rather than individually tailored
craftsmanship, did much to transform the motor car from gentleman's
toy into an affordable means of transport for ordinary people.
The Bicycling Revolution
The 1890s saw a phenomenal growth in the popularity
of cycling, with around 50,000 people employed in the manufacture
of bicycles. For the first time in history, the bicycle provided
the ordinary man and woman with an affordable means of private
transport. As the social reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb
wrote in The Story of the King's Highway, published
in 1913, 'It was not until after 1895 that the world at large
took to bicycling
the bicycle was a comparatively cheap
machine and its users were mostly the young people, and, to
a great extent, the poorer sections of the community'.
By 1893, the modern diamond-pattern frame, with roller-chain
drive and pneumatic tyres, was firmly established. Another
key element in the development of the bicycle, Sturmey-Archer
gears, were patented in 1901 and 1906.