The Liverpool Self-Propelled Traffic Association

This blog is the first in a series on the North-West’s early motoring clubs.

The Liverpool Self-Propelled Traffic Association (LSPTA) was the first motoring club in the North-West. The club began as a branch of the London-based Self-Propelled Traffic Association, instrumental in lobbying for legislation change that allowed self-propelled vehicles to be used on the roads. The Liverpool branch formed at the end of 1896, three years before any other Northern Club.

So why Liverpool?

In the last few decades of the 19th century tension was running high between Liverpool and Manchester, the two big commercial centres of Lancashire. The main cause of tensions surrounded the Manchester Ship Canal, newly opened in 1894, after over a decade of campaigning, financing and construction. The crux of the tension was the haulage economy in Lancashire which was monopolised by the railway companies and now the Manchester Ship Canal. The repeal of the “Red Flag” Act therefore offered an opportunity for businessmen in the north to take back control, or at least offer competition with the railways and the Ship Canal. This perceived opportunity sparked the formation of the LSPTA.

lspta-trials-1898
Judges and observers in the Daimler on the left, and competitor number 5 in the 1898 Heavy Traffic Trials organised by the LSPTA, picture comes from the Report published after the trial.

The first dinner of the LSPTA set the tone. The first speech was by the vice-president  Alfred L. Jones, managing director of Elder, Dempster and Co., merchant shippers, who is reported to say:

“He (the speaker) had attached himself to the society for the sole purpose of obtaining improved means of getting cargo to and from Liverpool and adjacent places.” The Automotor and Horseless-Vehicle Journal Nov 1896. p.43

A similar belief was held by many of Liverpool’s businessmen and engineers who made up the membership of the club in the early years. The LSPTA therefore had links with the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and the Liverpool Corporation, who used the Association as specialist consultants on the “Light Railways Special Committee”, which sort to deal with

“The question of improved means of transport between the Port of Liverpool and inland town, also of haulage between the docks and warehouses of the city” Judges Report of the Trials of Motor Vehicles for Heavy Traffic Liverpool 1898

Initially this wide variety of commercial and engineering interest in the commercial vehicles wasn’t shared by many in Manchester. Indeed there is evidence of a reaction against the LSPTA. Feeling in Manchester can best be gauged by the response to Elder, Dempster and Co.’s offer of a tender for vehicles that could haulage at least 1,000 tons a week from Liverpool to Manchester, which was supported by the LSPTA and reported well in both national motoring trade journals: The Automotor and Horseless-Vehicle Journal and The Autocar. The Manchester Guardian (15/2/1897) reported the move “Those prominently connected with the so called self-propelled traffic movement in Liverpool have made no attempt to conceal their real object, viz. Prevent the diversion of shipping to the Manchester Port.”  This was followed by reported laugher a day later at a dinner of the Manchester Association of Engineers when the topic was mentioned. Still, the Manchester Ship Canal Company felt threatened enough to charge motorists 2s 6d as toll to cross their bridges in response.

lspta-1898-certificate

The LSTPA were foremost in the UK for encouraging commercial vehicle development and usage, organising the world’s first trial event for heavy vehicles in 1898 and then subsequently in 1899 and 1901. These trials were not just of local interest, they were reported nationally, with international observers and entrees. The above certificate was given to the winners of the 1898 competition: the Lancashire Steam Motor Company.

Although heavily focused on promoting commercial vehicles the club also had time for motoring excursions. The Motor-car Journal occasionally reported details of the trips. One such trip, the second of the 1900 season, which included luncheon at the Leasowe Castle Hotel and a trip for tea at Hooton Park, after watching a polo match.

Although membership never grew large (about 105 members in 1901), the Association was significant locally in challenging the large railway and canal companies; and nationally, in promoting heavy traffic vehicles at the well organised trials. The significance of early regional motoring clubs is an area of research that automobile historians have neglected often due to their perceived insignificance. Nicholson (1982) for example argues that the LSPTA was of “little relevance to the mainstream motoring scene”. However it is evident that the early clubs were not just for pleasure motorists but were entangled with business interests and motoring campaigners that  had an impact on the direction of motor manufacture.

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