Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,667 pages of information and 235,203 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Royal Automobile Club (RAC)

From Graces Guide
Automobile Club 1000 mile trial in Whitehall, London, on 12th May 1900. In this photo is C. S. Rolls, Montague Grahame-White, Montague Napier, Edward Kennard and Harvey Du Cros.
Published in 1906.
March 1919.
May 1925.
November 1926.
March 1932.
March 1932.
March 1932.
May 1939.
Exhibit seen at Boconnoc Steam Fair July 2011.
October 1951.
September 1954.
October 1956.
1960. Exhibit at the Brooklands Museum.
Oct 1960.
1962. Norton ES2 with Watsonian. Exhibit at the Shuttleworth Collection.
Oct 1962.
Oct 1966.
October 1973.
1987. Exhibit at the Heritage Motor Centre.
Exhibit at the Dover Transport Museum.

The Royal Automobile Club is a private club and is not to be confused with RAC plc, a motorists' organisation, which it formerly owned.

See also -

1907. The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (A.C.G.B. and I.) became the Royal Automobile Club (R.A.C.). King Edward VII's interest in motoring led to the command "that the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland should henceforth be known as The Royal Automobile Club".

In 1907 they organised a show at Olympia in November where 435 complete cars and 135 chassis were on display.

In 1911 they moved to the current address, part of the site of the old War Office. The club house was (and remains) one of the largest in London, with a frontage to Pall Mall of 228 feet and a depth, in the centre, of 140 feet. It cost over a quarter of a million pounds and is described in the Survey of London as "a polished essay in the late French Renaissance manner".

1923 The Committee appointed Commander F. P. Armstrong as secretary and manager to the club, in succession to Sir Julian Orde whose retirement took effect on May 31st.[1]

The RAC were responsible for organising the first British Grand Prix motor race at Brooklands, Surrey in 1926 and also ran its sister organisation, the MSA (formerly RAC MSA) before this was sold in 1999.


In the summer of 1897 a few pioneers met, and mutually agreed to form an Automobile Club. On the 10th of August the Club was formally constituted. Premises were then acquired at 4 Whitehall Court, S.W., and were inaugurated on December 8. By this time 163 members had enrolled themselves, and such good progress was made that by the end of 1898 the membership had attained a total of 380. But already these early devotees were called upon to substantiate their faith, for the revenue of the Club was drained by three extraordinary sources. These were an initial expenditure of £540 in the establishment of the Club; law costs amounting to £481. 6s. 4d., owing to a dispute about its title; and the placing of £1 on deposit from every subscription received, in accordance with the articles of association. A guarantee fund, however, was formed, and amounted to £1,521 at the close of the year.

Roger W. Wallace, K.C., was the first chairman, and held the office until 1904; Evelyn Ellis and Frederick R. Simms (the originator) were elected vice-chairmen, with Frank H. Butler as Hon. Treasurer, C. Harrington Moore (the Club's first organiser) as Hon. Secretary, and Claude Johnson as Secretary.

From the outset the Club became an active and virile force in the automobile movement. Its fixture list comprised tours and week-end runs, club dinners, lectures and discussions, and general meetings. It exerted its influence, with others, in preventing the introduction of vexatious clauses affecting motor vehicles in Bills seeking powers for local authorities; it assisted in opposing the Westminster Tramways Bill; and it compiled a list of motor-spirit stores. In July of the same year, moreover, an amalgamation was effected with the Self-Propelled Traffic Association (which had been previously founded by David Salomons), and the Club thereupon became the only recognised authority on automobilism in the United Kingdom.

In the following year (1898) the membership grew apace, and on December 31, 1899, the roll was as follows:—

  • Founder members, 287;
  • life members, 21;
  • ordinary, 187;
  • ordinary town, 47;
  • ordinary country, 41;
  • supernumerary, 3;

Making a total of 586.

The chief event of the year was the holding at midsummer of a show of motor vehicles, in the Old Deer Park, Richmond. Races, time tests, and hill-climbing trials were conducted in connection with the exhibition, which extended over a period of eight days. The labour of organisation had been considerable, the show committee having held no fewer than forty-three meetings; but public prejudice was still strong enough to make the undertaking a financial failure, and it resulted in a loss of no less than £1,600.

More satisfactory were the other functions of the year, for in addition to several tours a series of brake tests was carried out on Petersham Hill, in the presence of Local Government Board inspectors; an exhibition of motor vehicles was held at Dover, in connection with the meeting of the British Association; and a conference of manufacturers of motor waggons was organised to discuss the suggested raising of the tare limit. The anniversary of the coming into operation of the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896 was celebrated on November 14 by a run to Sheen House.

Greater activity than ever characterised the year 1900, during which the membership rose to 710. In four Club tours alone a distance of 1,196.75 miles was covered, while the year will ever be memorable for the organisation of one of the most remarkable demonstrations in the history of locomotion. This was the famous One Thousand Mile Trial from London to Edinburgh and back; it was strikingly successful, and did much to remove the public apathy.

Day exhibitions of the competing vehicles were held in seven large towns en route, and a week's exhibition of the successful cars followed at the Crystal Palace. A trade show of motor-cars under the aegis of the Club, but managed by Messrs. Cordingley, was also held at the Agricultural Hall, from April 14 to 21.

Numerous house dinners and discussions were arranged during the year, together with three 100-miles trials on the Oxford Road, and electric trials at Chislehurst. Automobile gymkhanas took place at Ranelagh and Sheen House, and a fete at the Crystal Palace.

The issue of a Club gazette, under the title of Notes and Notices, was begun, to be subsequently converted into a weekly journal, while eight branches of the Club were established throughout the United Kingdom. As a preliminary to an extensive campaign in 1901, moreover, demonstrations of motor-car efficiency and control were held before the County Councils of Warwick and East Suffolk, in consequence of a hostile agitation having been set afoot in favour of the reduction of the speed limit to ten miles an hour. In several directions during the year the Club was able to secure a reduction of absurd tolls levied on motor-cars, and the removal of objectionably restrictive clauses in a corporation Bill.

In 1901 the conversion of the County Councils was successfully taken in hand. Towards the close of the previous year a letter of twenty-six pages of printed matter had been forwarded to 4,412 County Councillors and sixty-five clerks to County Councils, who were now invited to attend a big central demonstration in the metropolis, or to arrange for demonstrations in their own locality. Cars were sent to various parts of the country for this purpose in the early part of the year, pending the great demonstration in June. The last-named function extended over three days, between three and four hundred County Councillors being driven on cars to Sheen House, and there entertained to luncheon before the return to town.

It is certain that the ease with which the cars could be controlled was a complete and gratifying revelation to the majority of the visitors. The Chief Constables of the English and Welsh counties were also approached by the Club in the frank and friendly manner which has characterised its propagandist efforts throughout. They had been circularised in the same way as the County Councillors, and were also invited to a demonstration in London on February 26th, which was well attended.

Following a drive to Sheen House and back a conference with the Chief Constables was held at the Automobile Club premises, when the visitors were afforded every opportunity of stating their views. A demonstration was also given at Leicester on June 29th, before a large body of municipal and county engineers assembled for their annual conference.

A noteworthy achievement of the year was the raising of the speed limit in Scotland from ten to twelve miles an hour, the Secretary of State assenting to that alteration upon representations from the Club.

In May the Motor Union of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in connection with the Club, as a defensive association for the protection of the civil rights of members. A special Legislation committee was also appointed in August, with two of his Majesty's judges among its members, to consider the provisions of a new Bill for the regulation of motor vehicles.

The Club held three quarterly hundred miles trials, two consumption trials, two hill-climbing trials, and a week of test trials at Glasgow. Several tours and runs also took place, the anniversary run to Southsea on November i6th being an enormous undertaking, considerably over a hundred cars making the journey, notwithstanding a dense fog at the start. The year closed with a total membership of 1,154.

Very early in 1902 the Club's activities were displayed in the shape of an important trial, of brake-power in Welbeck Park, in the presence of the chief engineering inspector of the Local Government Board. The results were dramatically effective, even very heavy cars being stopped inside two lengths at a speed of eighteen miles an hour. At the annual meeting of the Club on February 27, it was shown that the finances were in a satisfactory condition, notwithstanding the heavy expenditure on the County Council campaign. It was during this year that the Club for the first time recognised the existence of the dust evil, and a prize of £100 was offered by the Committee for a preventive device. Several devices were submitted to the judges, but none were of sufficient merit to warrant the giving of the award. The last of the anniversary runs was held on November 8th, and attracted over two hundred entries, Oxford being the objective. By a decision to migrate to new and much larger premises at 119 Piccadilly, the Club entered upon a new chapter of its history.

The transference took place on December 1 of the same year, since which date the membership has more than doubled itself, notwithstanding the increase of the annual subscription to eight guineas.

During the following year (1903) the Club was chiefly interested in the arrangements for the Gordon Bennett Cup race in Ireland.

Legislative matters, however, also claimed a large share of attention owing to the passing of the Motor-Car Act. The Bill as originally introduced into the House of Lords practically embodied the proposals of the Club, but in the Commons not only was a speed limit of twenty miles an hour introduced, but various other alterations were effected.

During the same year a touring department was established as a regular feature of the Club's organisation. A change was also made in the Secretarial department, consequent on the resignation of Claude Johnson, who had held the office of Secretary since the Club's formation. Julian W. Orde was appointed Club Secretary; W. Rees Jeffreys, Administrative Secretary; and Basil W. Joy, Technical Secretary.

R. W. Wallace, K.C., resigned the office of Chairman early in 1904, and was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel H. C. L. Holden, R.A.

Dissatisfaction being expressed in many quarters with the work of the Committee a reform party was established by the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, with the result that at the annual meeting a considerable amount of new blood was added to the Committee. The Duke of Sutherland became President, and shortly afterwards the Prince of Wales consented to be Vice-Patron of the Club, of which the King was already the Patron.

In respect of its public work the Club was active in opposing applications to the Local Government Board for the imposition of speed limits of ten miles an hour in numerous boroughs. The Chairman also addressed a letter to the Press generally, inviting members and the public to draw the attention of the Club to flagrant offences by motorcar drivers against the laws of etiquette. In October a Touring Committee was formed. The Club Committee voted a sum of money for carrying out experiments with a view to discovering the form of body and chassis which would raise the least amount of dust.

In 1905 Lieut.-Colonel Holden was succeeded in the Chairmanship by the Hon. Arthur Stanley, M.P. The Club continued to investigate complaints of inconsiderate driving, and also addressed itself to the question of unnecessary smoke emission. So greatly was the Touring Department appreciated that its work included the writing of 7,540 letters, while upwards of six hundred cars were conveyed abroad through its help. The number of officially appointed hotels and repairers was brought up to 979.

Further experiments in dust prevention were carried out, and will be continued during the present year. A board of Examiners was appointed and a new department created for the purpose of issuing certificates of driving and mechanical proficiency, examinations being held in the metropolis and various provincial centres, as well as in Scotland and Ireland. Nearly two thousand driving and seventy-two mechanical proficiency certificates were issued up to the end of the year. A fund was formed for the purpose of defraying the expenses incurred in obtaining trustworthy evidence before the Royal Commission on Motor-Car Traffic, with substantial results, while a Joint Committee of the Club and Motor Union was appointed to tabulate the information which accrued. At the annual meeting on March 8, 1906, it was reported that the membership of the Club had reached a total of 2,840, and that the finances were in a satisfactory condition.

Chairmen (1897-1934)[3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1923/07/06
  2. Motors and Motor-driving. Published in 1906
  3. 1934 Who's Who in the Motor Trade