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Northamptonshire Life Magazine, September 1986, transcribed by Susan Manton

Our First Motor-car at Rushden

By Frances Ida Clark
(Daughter of John Clark, Heatherbreea House)

Postcard of an early car in High Street, Rushden
Postcard of an early car in High Street, Rushden,
believed to have belonged to Mr J. S. Clipson

It was autumn, the gas had been lit in the hall and three expectant children were waiting.  Mother had told us that the car was due to arrive at any moment and we would be allowed to ride round in it to the garage.  What preparations had been made for this vehicle in that year of 1907!  A new place had to be found for it.  The coach house where the trap and landau were housed could not be used, so the builders had gone to work and had erected a double garage close to the house, complete with inspection pit.

Presently a crunching noise was heard on the gravel and I and my sister Catherine and brother Eric, knew it had arrived at the front door.  Our father got out and escorted us to the brand new Belsize.  It looked something like a London taxi, was open at the front, green in colour, and as we climbed in we noticed the electric light was on.  The motor started up and, driven by our chauffeur, Mr Cargill, it negotiated the wide drive and took us into the garage.

In those times a chauffeur was an absolute necessity because as you can imagine these primitive vehicles were very temperamental.  It would have been irksome for the owner, generally a very busy man, to have looked after the thousand and one things that went wrong, whereas the chauffeur was a dedicated man and, assisted by the mechanic, would put things right, at least temporarily.  For this the inspection pit was in constant use and after a journey, whether the care went well or badly, it was always examined.

In the open front seat sat the driver and passenger, and segregated from them was the main accommodation for another four people, two of whom sat on little seats.  The windscreens were on hinges and fastened to the ceiling with a button if the weather was sultry, but more often the screens were used for protection against wind and rain.  It could be cold in the front seat and my father had a coat lined with fur and with beaver lapels to keep him warm.

We soon changed chauffeurs and Mr Joe Jeffries, who became our new driver, wore a green box coat with gilt buttons specially made for him.  Joe was a tall fellow so the speaking tube which he was supposed to use to communicate with the inside only came up to the middle of his back.

There was an oil sump of brass opposite the passenger seat.  I used to sit with my father, my duty being to watch this and if it stopped bubbling I had to tell my father who meanwhile admired the scenery.

The roads in those days had no tarmacadam so there was plenty of dust which flew about in whirlwinds as we went along.  To keep the upholstery of the car in good condition a set of Holland covers were fitted, but the washing and polishing of the car was endless, with the brass lamps, door handles and huge horns.  All wheels were whitewashed to look smart and a Stepney for use when there was a puncture was always carried.

We created quite a sensation in the town as we swept past in this vehicle, children and adults ran out to watch us.  We were of as much interest as the first aeroplanes about the same time.

My mother used to wear a motor hat with a peak and much veiling and we wore what were called motor bonnets which fastened with strings under the chin so they did not blow off when we had the hood down, which we frequently did.

We covered a lot of new territory in this vehicle.  I remember going to Brighton and staying there at the Blenheim Hotel in Marborough Square.  This was in 1910 when King Edward VII died and I admired the purple and black hangings on the windows in London and Brighton.

We used to spend our August holidays at Wells, Norfolk, where we rented a house for a month.  My aunt, who was a nurse trained at Queen Charlotte’s hospital, London, used to come with us.  She always wore uniform and as we had a nurse in our party we gained prestige from this.

I remember going to Stamford and seeing the interior of Burghley House with its one-eyed giants on the walls, a journey repeated when I was much older.

We often had incidents such as wheels coming off and overheating of the engine and when we could not budge we had to leave the car behind and come back by train.  My father did not like to see us in our motor bonnets on these occasions so we stopped wearing them.

We kept the Belsize until 1918 when Father bought a Schneider instead.

Rushden Echo, 25th December 1914, transcribed by Kay Collins

Mud! — Up to the Knees in it.
Pte. G. Dodson, of the Royal Field Artillery, chauffeur to Mr. John Clark, of Rushden, writes from the front to Mr. Clark as follows:- "Thank you very much for the parcel. We are getting on very well for presents. We are having some rather bad weather; it is up to our knees in mud. We shall be glad when the sunny days come again for this job. I do not see any hope of getting home yet. We are getting on as well as we can expect."€

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