Posted in Fashion History, History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, World War One

Motoring In 1915 Britain

The Motor Manual, 19th Edition, 1915.
The Motor Manual, 19th Edition, 1915.

Thanks must go to my mother for this article which features a gem of a book that caught her eye in the window of a local charity shop. How very glad I am that a decision was made to purchase it. One of the reasons for my mother’s purchase, apart from the obvious usefulness to a daughter who edits a history blog, was that it contained a two-page advertisement for a ‘Swift’ motorcar. Upon handing me the book, she very excitedly told me of a long-standing family connection with this rather attractive looking chassis.


Apparently, my great, great, grandmother (whose 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  I relentlessly plunder for my blogs and whose Wedgwood blancmange mould recently featured on British television ) owned a Swift and employed a chauffeur to drive her around in it. Make and model of which my mother could not be sure of. Great, great, grandmother was a lady of significant means but readers before you go thinking I am trying to be all grand, there is a rather juicy and scandalous back story about this Grand Dame that relates to her husband, my great, great, grandfather. However, if I were to ‘spill the beans’ and share the titbits with you all, I would receive a lynching from my relatives, so sorry to tease. Let’s just say for now, ‘all that glitters is not golden’.

The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother.  Photograph is dated c.1911.
The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother. The young lady seated is my great grandmother. Photograph is dated c.1911.

Anyway, the story of my great, great-grandmother’s beloved Swift I can tell you. The Swift was eventually handed down to my great-grandmother who had a holiday home in Hythe, Kent and decided to leave the motorcar there for use during her visits. Only problem was, she didn’t drive so a chauffeur needed to be found. The local fishmonger came to the rescue. In exchange for driving great grandmother and her family around during the holidays he was permitted to use the car in between visits. When great grandmother died the fishmonger brought the Swift and there I am afraid the story ends.


Regular readers will also remember that I wrote an article last year which featured advice given to the motorist on care and maintenance of one’s motorcar, taken from my 1915 edition of Household Management. I was particularly thrilled to discover that this The Motor Manual was from exactly the same year. Must be fate.


This is the 19th edition of The Motor Manual (1915) and one of 400,000 produced that year. The book is British and published by Temple Press Ltd, London, written, compiled and illustrated by the staff of The Motor magazine. This British weekly car magazine had been founded on 28th January 1903 having previously launched as Motorcycle and Motoring in 1902. In 1988, The Motor became part of Autocar, the latter having published its first edition in 1895 and of course is still going today. Incidentally, Autocar is the magazine that famously sacked Top Gear’s James May after he put together a hidden message in the 23rd September 1992 issue (Google details, it is quite amusing).



It is important to note, if you hadn’t already worked out for yourself, that 1915 was near the start of World War One (1914-18). Petrol was not yet on ration when this edition appeared but there are a number of interesting references to the War in some of the publication’s advertisements:

This publication goes to press at a time when our entire works are under Government control, and, in consequence, the manufacture of the Swift “15” is for the time being suspended. We desire to point out to motorists, however, that when we resume production, our 15 h.p. model will more than ever maintain past records for efficiency, durability, and economy; and motorists may take it as certain that many refinements made possible by the valuable experience we are gaining now, will be incorporated in the new models.

(The Motor Manual (1915) – Extract from advertisement by The Swift Motor Co. Ltd, Coventry)

It is important to note that a majority of car manufactories at the time had been requisitioned by the Government for war work, chiefly for the production of armaments. As the optimistic tone of the advertisement suggests, it was hoped that new engineering techniques encountered during this period of secondment would benefit car production once the war was over.



Here are few of my favourites quotes from the Manual:

Keeping A Car At Home (pp. 156-7)

With storage facilities at home the upkeep of a car is considerably lessened. As referred to in another section of this book, it is quite possible to convert a coach-house and stable into a serviceable motor-house, though it would necessarily lack certain conveniences that a properly designed motor-house would possess…A good feature of many up-to-date residential houses of the small type is the inclusion of a motor-house with the premises, with water and lighting laid on.


Petrol Consumption (p. 158)

The small 8-10 h.p. two-seater cars are the most economical. With a well-adjusted carburetter the average ranges between 35 and 40 miles per gallon, according to road and weather conditions. The four-cylinder 11 h.p. to 14 h.p. cars run from 28 to 35 miles per gallon, whilst the 14-18 h.p. four-cylinder cars range from 25 to 30 miles per gallon.


Speed Restrictions (p. 252)

1. For ten miles or lower limit of speed: A round white ring, 18 inches in diameter, with plate below giving limit in figures; 2. For prohibition: Red solid disc, eighteen inches in diameter. 3. For caution, dangerous corners, cross-roads, or precipitous places: Hollow red equilateral triangle. 4. All other notices under the Act to be on diamond-shaped boards.


Motorists Must Respect The Rights Of Road Users (p. 253)

When turning from the left side of the road to the right hand (or wrong side) a careful driver will slow down a good deal, and before turning look round to his right to warn any oncoming traffic, especially cyclists; a driver should always signal by projecting the right arm for a moment as a warning. The use of an exhaust cut-out on public roads is prohibited by law.


Official Regulations For Touring Abroad (p. 259)

Every motorcar must be provided with plates showing the name of the manufacturer of the chassis and the manufacturer’s number, the horse-power of the engine or the number and bore of its cylinders, and also the weight of the car unladen. In respect to the other regulations, it is necessary only to mention that no driving certificate can be issued to a person less than 18 years of age, and that, in addition to its ordinary number plate, the car shall be provided with a distinctive plate indicating its nationality. This plate must be carried in a visible position on the back of the car, and must be of oval form, 11 7/8 inches in width and 7 1/2 inches in height. The distinctive letters for Great Britain and Ireland are G.B., and must be painted in black capital letters in Latin characters on a white ground. The letters must be at least 4 inches in height, and the breadth of each line not less than 5/8 inches. These regulations apply to touring in Belgium, France, Italy, and other countries.





Social historian, based in the UK.

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