A Cheshire Motorist’s Story

In the course of researching motoring periodicals there is the inevitable motorist’s bias. Despite this, journals such as the Motor Car Journal, The Autocar and The Automotor, provide evidence of motoring prosecutions, as well as experiences motorists faced against opposition from the law or the general public.

A poem by an author initialled C. G. C. highlights police resistance in the popular motoring county of Cheshire in The Motorcar Jornal 14 December 1901

A Cheshire Motorists’ Story

We that live here in Cheshire,

Have been severely tried

By magistrates’ high pressure,

And by police belied.


It matters not if riding

On bicycle or car,

You would see bobby hiding

Before you had gone far.


Last week they had a stopper

Beside that new stop watch;

That clever sergeant copper

Had got about his match


The terrible te-ragedy

Was quickly turned to mirth

When Sergeant B—–, the bobby,

Was quizzed by Staplee Firth.

The motorist notes the pressure from local magistrates and police posting men on popular routes. Interesting is the combined bicycle or car, both viewed by the law as disruptive, dangerous unwelcome. The last stanza features Staplee Firth, solicitor for the Automobile Club of Great Britain, who is often noted as defending motorists from such prosecution. Similarly W. E. Rowcliffe, chairman of the Manchester Automobile Club, a solicitor and motorist defended this fellow motorist R. Williamson in Altrincham in 1901.

It seems Altrincham was a particularly hostile place for both cyclist and motorists and there is evidence of much friction with the police. The cycling notes columnist for the Manchester Guardian remarked that “nowhere in Cheshire are the police and magistrates more hostile to cyclists than in Altrincham.”  This seems to be the case  for motorists as well. Several prosecutions for “furious driving” reported in the Motor Car Journal. However, other parts of Cheshire were also noted as hostile to cycling and motoring:

“There appears to be an anti-cycling movement in the neighbourhood of Styal. This region is for magisterial purposes a part of Wilmslow, the main road through which has been all the summer the scene of numerous prosecutions, both just and unjust, on charges of furious riding”. (Manchester Guardian 22 November 1897)

The cycling journalist believed that the coming of the motorcar may give cyclists immunity from prosecution as the police gained a better perspective of pace. It is another interesting instance of the cycling movement’s relationship with early motoring and brings to mind the proverb: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

However it wasn’t just the police in the Cheshire countryside but local residents that cyclist and motorists had to be wary of. The following is an account of a trip by Leopold Canning from the Century Engineering Company of Altrincham to the Macclesfield reported in The Motor Car 20 December 1901:

“We were coming up to a farmhouse where a knot of men stood with some horses and carts by the side of the road. They were all big, hulking ruffians, and as we approached them a burly fellow stepped on to the road and picked up a big stone. This he hurled at us with all his might as we went by, but thanks to our forty miles an hour it just missed us. If it had struck either the machine or ourselves it would have done considerable damage, and had there not been so many of them we should have stopped for a little talk with them, but six were too many for us two to handle. In France I always carry a revolver with me, and there I would probably have fired at the man for his pains.”

The Cheshire country was, and still is, a popular touring destination for cyclists and motorists. However, it must be remembered that it wasn’t always the case. This incursion into rural life was a relatively new phenomenon at the end of the 19th century. It would be nice to get the perspective of the working classes and rural residents, however sources are non-existent so we must rely on the stories of the cyclist and motorists who came from Manchester and Cheshire’s middle classes.


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