On the Move Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
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Cars and Bikes

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.


'Standard' 1901 Pattern De Dion-Bouton Voiturette - link to an enlarged version


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'.

Manufacturing cars
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 623 chauffeurs.


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.


'Improved cycle skirts' - link to an enlarged version