Lord Montagu’s THE CAR Road Book of 1910


BACK IN THE earlies, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the pioneering automobilist, launched a magazine devoted to the new craze of automobilism. It was called, succinctly, THE CAR.

He soon saw a need for a publication which would help intrepid travellers to drive (or have their chauffers drive them) around the mysterious and then unmapped highways and byways of Britain.

The Car Road Book was born. I have two of them, one dating from about 1904, which I picked up in a second-hand bookstore and which was inscribed with the name 'Shafto.' Undoubtedly it had been owned by the very Shafto of Shafto’s Lane, who was a Perth City Counciller around then. My other edition is 1910, which tied in nicely with our sort of motor car, as the new and successful 40/50 HP Rolls-Royce was becoming established as the Best Car In The World.

The 1910 book is leather-covered (one cover missing, which is why I got it cheap) and about the size of a hardback novel. It is officially entitled "The Car" Road Book and Guide, an Encyclopedia of Motoring, published by The Car Illustrated, 1910.

To give you an idea of how things worked, I found a section of the Great North Road which is more or less intact, and consulted the Road Book to suss it out. We are travelling up the Great North Road from Stilton, and expect to finish the day at Stamford in Lincolnshire. The Gazeteer section tells us all we need to know about Stamford:

There is a sort of code in those symbols: early closing day is Thurs.; there is a railway station and a telephone exchange. At the George Hotel we can have a bed, a feed, buy petrol (in 2 gallon tins), and park the car in a garage.

If we need more, Messers Rollings also sell petrol, have a mechanic, sell tyres and repair them, and recharge acculumators if needed. Just down the road the Pick Motor Works (who actually manufactured a car called New Pick). offered much the same but would also do repair work on Sundays in an emergency. And of course there’s a nine-hole golf course at the stately home of Burghley Park.

Sounds good, we’ll check in at The George.

Crank up the 40/50 HP Royce, Jeeves, and we will depart forthwith!

Just to confuse modern readers, the mileage chart above reads top down, even though we are driving north from Stilton to Stamford. The hand tells you that to get to Peterborough and on to Skegness (It's Bracing!) you have to rurn off at Norman Cross. Otherwise, keep straight on to Stamford.

IN 1910 THE ROAD was probably 'macadamised', but not tar-macadam, so dust was always a problem. And it wouldn’t have been very wide. Today, several stretches of the original Great North Road survive hereabouts, superseded by the 4-lane roaring monster of the A1(M) not that far away. Below is a section of the old Great North Road just north of Stamford, a section now known as the B1081, looking much as it did when the new A1 was punched through farmlands to the west in, I think, the 1930s.

In 1910 it would have been narrower, and almost certainly dirt, and the most distant of the two buildings would have been there. I think the nearer one (actually as terrace of cottages) is post WW2.

As you loll back in the rear compartment of your 40/50 HP Rolls-Royce limousine, you can look forward confidently to arriving at The George in Stamford, 15 miles away, for dinner.

And what of The George? Is it still there?

Yes, it is. In fact it’s a Stamford landmark, with a wrought iron arch spanning the full width of the Great North Road to the building opposite. And here it is, "The George, of Stamford", on the right, a handsome establishment. The archway tells you it was a coaching in once, and no doubt in 1910 one took one's 40-50 HP through the arch into the courtyard for the night. One doubts that it still sells petrol in 2 gallon tins... And the street scene tells you exactly why you don’t drive north along the old Great North Road any more, all narrow streets and traffic lights, but take the A1(M) instead.

Lord Montagu’s splendid book included "unusual speed limits" (i.e. speed traps, but happily there wasn’t one in Stamford); lighting-up times; ferry charges; even useful tips on automobilists’ clothing, if you are travelling in an open car.

Maps in the book are little more than sketches, to clarify those very detailed route instructions contained in the book, with distance from London measured to the quarter-mile. The section below, cropped from a larger map, shows the section from Stilton (of cheese fame) to Stamford which I’ve been using as an illustration of Lord Montagu’s handy reference.

Incidentally, using the Road Book in conjunction with UK's superb Ordnance Survey Maps, you can easily pick up the many miles of The Great North Road which have been bypassed by the motorways and which will allow a nostalgic wallow in the Good Old Days when we were all very rich and all owned 40/50 HP Rolls-Royces.