Motoring Around Town

Katherine Buckland

We have been finding out about some of the first motors in Eastbourne so if you need your motoring fix in lieu of the Magnificent Motors event this weekend, read on!

One of the first owners of a motorcar in Eastbourne was George Stockman of Lyndhurst, Upperton. He had bought his car from the Great Horseless Carriage Company in Coventry and was joined on its maiden voyage by Mr Godfrey and Mr S Easton. The first excursion in Mr Stockman’s black and yellow car was recorded by the Eastbourne Gazette in February 1898. It had been named ‘The Iveagh’ as it had been built from a pattern made specially for Lord Iveagh (of the Guinness Brewing family). They’d made it 20 miles from Coventry and, due to a ‘defect in the machinery’ were forced to stop at the Dun Cow Hotel in Dunchurch, where they met the owner who had been a lion tamer in Barnum’s Show in 1866. After a few hours driving, the car had broken again and needed water, thankfully the last thing to go wrong on this trip! Over the next 2 days, they made their way to Eastbourne stopping only at various Inns and Coaching Houses for refreshments.

The motorcar was met by a great deal of suspicion and irritation from the people of Eastbourne. Many accidents were caused, not at first directly by motor cars but by horses being scared by the sound of the motor and either injuring their rider or damaging property – Benjamin Knight, a 65 year old luggage porter was knocked over by a horse injuring his toes and knee when a passing motor car had scared the horse in 1898.

George became the local expert on motorcars and appeared as a witness in the case of Percy Brennan, ‘a young man, a native of Texas, described as a motorcar driver and employed at a place in Commercial Road, summoned for furiously driving a motor car in Cavendish Place’ in September 1899. Chief Constable Plumb and George Stockman both stated the car had been going around 20 miles an hour but Percy insisted he was only driving 12  – 14 mph and that ‘if anyone in the world could drive it at 20 miles an hour they are cleverer than I am.’ Unfortunately for Mr Brennan, the hearing believed Stockman and Plumb and he was fined. A few years later, the County Council invested £9 in a device that tested the speed of motor cars by ringing a little bell at two different points.

It wasn’t all bad for motorcars in Eastbourne, this newspaper clipping from November 1896 at least acknowledges they are unlikely to run away or gnaw on the bark of trees unlike their predecessors…!

Driving Licences

You didn’t need a licence until 1903 unless you were driving it as a business. The first licence like this in Eastbourne was granted by the Town Council in 1898 to Mr H. R. Stredwick, and the licence to drive it was in the name of David Haxton. The motor cab was only allowed to drive certain routes and was limited to five miles hour or less.  In the same year, licences were granted to Mr W Jury and Mr S Easton. They were banned from driving along the seafront or Parades, Terminus Road, Paradise Drive, Dukes Drive, Meads Road and Beachy Head Road and it took another 3 years for their maximum speed to be increased to…. Six miles per hour.

In 1903, you could buy a new motor car in Eastbourne for the princely sum of £150

The first number plate issued by the town when it became a county borough in 1911  was HC1 It was held by the late Mr Hissey, who claimed to be the oldest motorist in Eastbourne, and his car bearing it, a 1920 Wolseley 14, was acquired by Messrs Caffyns on his death and used for his cars for many years. Mr Hissey had purchased his first car in 1898 and was 73 when he purchased his last car so perhaps his claim was true!

Eastbourne bus in 1910

In 1902, rumblings of conversations about a motor omnibus service in Eastbourne were starting –  with negative responses from both residents and councillors. They couldn’t carry as many people as horse drawn buses, they were noisy, dusty, uncomfortable, go too fast when you’re trying to enjoy ‘a pleasure drive amidst picturesque rural scenery’… and so on. The much preferred alternative was electric trams though no one could properly explain how that would work all over the town. Nevertheless, the Corporation of Eastbourne rolled out a motor omnibus trial in 1903, which was not a huge success at first – they broke down once a week and weren’t always very good at stopping to pick up passengers. The issues were ironed out and Eastbourne became the proud owner of the first municipal bus service.

On Tuesday 5th May, it will be 90 years since Amy Johnson started her flight to become the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. She visited Eastbourne and opened the local flying club meeting in 1937 (you can watch the film clip here ) but Eastbourne’s flying history goes back further…

Frederick Bernard Fowler opened the Eastbourne Flying School in 1911 on a 50 acre site to the west of St Anthony’s Hill. Fowler had taught himself to fly and in 1912 was awarded the Royal Aero Club Certificate – that didn’t mean he went without a few close calls…!

Aviators and pupils at Eastbourne Aviation Company Airfield 1913

At the same time, Victor Yates was building his own aeroplanes at Wilmington, he’d had a few problems with the owner of the field it was based in so moved to St Anthony’s hill.

The airfield was rented from Mr C F Russell of East Dean who had the land on lease from the Duke of Devonshire and in 1913 with another local aviation pioneer, Frank Hucks, the Eastbourne Aviation Company was formed.

I’m going to leave flying there as it will be the subject of one of our Heritage At Home talks so look out for that!

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