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Pictures from the Heritage Archives

Image of a Siddeley Autocar on Westminster Bridge during a London to Brighton Run.

In this jotting we consider an even longer established autumn event than the annual motor show. Starting at the close of the 19th century, the ‘Emancipation’ run, to celebrate the then recently passed Locomotives on the Highways act of 1896, would create another motoring tradition. This act replaced the Locomotive Act of 1865, which was known as the Red Flag Act, and required a crew of three, one, a man, carrying a red flag (women were not considered able for such a task) to walk 60 yards in front of any vehicle. The maximum speed allowed was 4mph in the country, restricted to 2mph in town with a speeding fine of £10.00 imposed for any infringement. Under the new legislation three people and red flag were no longer required, also the speed limit was raised to 14mph.

The purpose of the celebratory run was to travel from the Metropole Hotel in London to the Metropole Hotel in Brighton some 54 miles distant. Leaving London at 10.30am the 33 entrants set off accompanied by numerous ‘flying’ cyclists. It is estimated that 10,000 cyclists took part and 500,000 sightseers lined the route. Seventeen of the starters drove the whole way while others due to breakdowns fell by the wayside, while several electric vehicles, having at that time a limited 20 miles range, amazingly turned up on time in Brighton - it is suggested that the railway might have been involved!

The next full event took place in 1927 and by 1930, in the professional hands of the RAC, the annual ‘First Sunday in November’ pattern commenced which with slight changes persists to this day. The years of the second world-war period, petrol rationing in 1947, and Covid in 2020 were exceptions.

On the 29th of April 1946 the time had come for the two veteran cars belonging to the Armstrong Siddeley Motor Company to be brought out from their secret war time storage in the barn at Kenilworth Castle. Both vehicles were manufactured in 1904 so qualifying for the London to Brighton run. They were a 6hp Siddeley and a 12/16hp Wilson Pilcher, this latter make was manufactured on their behalf by the car division of Armstrong Whitworth.

The cars were fettled and worked on by three Armstrong Siddeley apprentices, under the leadership of Mr. Cliff Phillips the Apprentice Supervisor, seen in the picture below as preparations were made to enter the Wilson Pilcher for the 1952 event.

Mr Phillips the Apprentice Supervisor, Harold Ward, Ray Meredith and Colin Young

Harold Ward, now in his 90s, is seen here as a young lad ready to drive the Armstrong Siddeley 18hp Whitley saloon backup vehicle, as they readied for a test trip to Oxford and back – this being the approximate distance from London to Brighton. Ropes, jacks and tools were carried, but the report was that ‘all went without a hitch’.

Some sixty one years later when the Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club in 2013 held a rally based around Coventry, Harold was able to catch up with the ‘little Siddeley’ in Broadgate.


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