London to Brighton 1927

Posted on June 15, 2020

Sunday, 13th November 1927

In 1927, the Daily Sketch decided to organise a ‘Procession of Ancient Motor Cars’ from its offices in Fleet Street, to Olympia. The date scheduled for the event was Sunday, the 16th of October, the first Sunday of the Motor show, and prizes of £100, £30 and £20 were offered for the three oldest vehicles providing, of course, that they met the legal and licensing requirements, that they were driven with all consideration, and they had minimal stoppages en route. A further incentive was the opportunity for the winning vehicles to be involved in so-called ‘propaganda work’ in connection with Warner Brothers proposed film – “The First Auto” – showing at the Capitol Theatre in the Haymarket during the Motor Show, and the first prize winner was offered a free re-paint by Messrs Wander Motors of Wandsworth.


The judges for the event were Mr Charles Jarrott, Mr J W Stocks, the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce (recently returned from a series of motoring tours of Southern Europe, Africa, and the Artic regions of Finland), and Miss Violette Cordery, who had toured a good portion of the world in a motor car.

There was considerable surprise that 51 vehicles entered for the event, and that many of them were still in daily use, prompting Jarrott to write to the editor of the Daily Sketch (Robert W Beare) on the 10th of October, to suggest that

“if they could reach Olympia they had a pretty reasonable chance of reaching Brighton, in which case there could be a celebration of the anniversary of the Emancipation Day Run of November 14th 1896”

By the 27th of October the decision had been made to go ahead with the proposed Brighton run, the rules had been agreed, and the Daily Sketch readers were the first to read of the prizes on offer for entrants. The cash prizes of £100, £50 and £25 were offered to the vehicle (with a minimum age of 21 years) that amassed the most points, the collection of which was not without its challenges. Every driver that completed the journey within the specified time period was to be issued with a gold medal.

Each car was credited with an initial number of points based on age, thus:

34 years = 340 points plus 100 points – 440 points
33 years = 330 points plus 90 points – 420 points
32 years = 320 points plus 80 points – 400 points
31 years = 310 points plus 70 points – 380 points
30 years = 330 points plus 60 points – 390 points
29 years = 300 points plus 50 points – 350 points
28 years = 280 points plus 40 points – 320 points
27 years = 270 points plus 30 points – 300 points
26 years = 260 points plus 20 points – 280 points
25 years = 250 points plus 10 points – 260 points
24 years = 240 points plus 0 points – 240 points
23 years = 230 points less 10 points – 220 points
22 years = 220 points less 20 points – 200 points
21 years = 210 points less 30 points – 180 points

There were a number of other elements that impacted the points total:

  • Marks for all involuntary stops to be deducted at the rate of 5 per minute; traffic stops exempted
  • For mechanical alteration to original design, 20 marks to be deducted for each such alteration
  • A maximum of 50 marks to be awarded for ‘Excellence of mechanical condition’
  • The full number of passengers for which the car had accommodation, had to be carried, subject to ‘penalisation to the extent of 50 marks for each vacant seat

To ensure good order, a pilot car was to lead the way, which was to drive strictly within the legal speed limit, and the penalty for overtaking was immediate disqualification. Whilst towing was to lead to automatic disqualification, passengers were allowed to assist on a steep ascent; spectators, on the other hand, were not to be encouraged to encroach on the road and their offers of assistance were to be refused whenever possible.

Each entrant had to nominate a friend to act as an observer in another competing car, reserving a seat in his own car for the nominee of another entrant. The observer’s duties consisted of completing a form, recording all occurrences which involve the loss of marks, and this report was to be handed in at the finish, where the judges would deliberate on the details. As an incentive for the observers to be diligent, in return for handing over they reports, they received tickets for a Commemorative dinner at the Royal York Hotel in Brighton, where the results would be announced and prizes distributed.

The start from London was scheduled for 9am, and each car was to be permitted six hours to complete the journey from London to Brighton. There was some debate over a six hour timeframe for the run, since of the 58 vehicles entered for the Emancipation Run in 1896, 33 started and 10 finished, and only three of them (a Leon Bollee, a Camille Bollee, and a Panhard Wagonette) were able to reach Brighton in less than six hours. Walter Bersey one of the designated judges for the 1927 Run, who had participated in the 1896 event, was forceful in his view that the advances in engineering efficiency and reliability would ensure that the ‘modern cars’ (ie 1900-1906) would have little difficulty in making the six hour limit, and may even have to be encouraged to slow down.

That precious little time existed between the completion of the Olympia procession on the 16th October and the celebration of the Emancipation Run on Sunday the 13th November, to complete all the necessary arrangements, did not deter numerous correspondents to the Daily Sketch from introducing new elements to the proceedings on a daily basis. On the 4th of November, Mr J W Stocks wrote to Robert Beare to suggest that there should be more of a spectacle at the start of the event. And so, it was agreed that a location should be sought near the start of the event where the judges would have the opportunity to examine the vehicles at their leisure, and other invited guests could also view the exhibition. Auto Auctions of Horseferry Road, Westminster offered to lend their spacious premises for the purpose, and so it was decided that all cars should be present by midday on the Saturday, where number plates would be issued, and where Lieut- Colonel P C Saunders, the owner of Auto Auctions, would have qualified mechanics on standby to assist any hapless vehicle owner.

On the 13th November, the start was organised by the Junior Car Club (led by Messrs Bradley and McConnell) on the Victoria Embankment, a few yards short of New Scotland Yard, and the cars crossed over Westminster Bridge led by the pilot car. Two Rolls Royce 40-50hp Phantom I’s were chosen as pilot cars, transporting the judges: Charles Jarrott, SF Edge, EMC Instone, JW Stocks, Walter Bersey and JS Critchley. The position of honour in the lead pilot car was occupied by C Harrington Moore who had organised the original Emancipation Day Run in 1896.

Once the pilot car had begun to pull away from the early Panhards, Benz and Daimler, the Renaults, of which there were five in the Run, began to show a fair turn of speed, and one of them stormed up Brixton Hill without having to resort to bottom gear, impressing the spectators that had gathered. Further down the same road, near to Merstham there was rather more jubilation when the first ever all British car ever built (the 1898 Stephens) overtook the very same Renault on a rise. The Panhard of G Levrey , which had apparently been in constant use from 1897 to 1920 was a cause of great consternation. When it reached Croydon, it was found that water was leaking into the cylinders. Local mechanics worked for three hours with cardboard washers and red lead. On the first turn the car spluttered into life, progressed five yards and stopped, but only because the driver had moved off in second gear; with first gear chosen the car accelerated off made it all the way to the finish. The requirement to fill all the available seats in the vehicles had quite an impact on some of the older vehicles, the Daimler of S E Statham having to carry 60 stones in weight. One of its passengers, a Mr Alfred Bray, who happened to be the heaviest but also the nimblest was apparently seen performing ‘acrobatic stunts’ as the vehicle moved along, ‘hanging on to the side while he soothed the ancient machinery with oil and cooled the engine by pouring in cold water’. But then he was no stranger to daring exploits for 19 years previously he had accompanied Charles Jarrott on his famous ride from St Petersburg to Moscow.

The designated finish point to the run was the Old Toll House in Patcham (“on the cross-roads just before the new bypass”) from where vehicles were required to form up and enter Brighton in a procession. Organisation at the Brighton end was in the hands of the Brighton and Hove Motor Club and arrangements were made for Patcham Place, then just recently acquired by Brighton Corporation, to be available for refreshments and shelter. George Newman Ltd had offered their showrooms in Brighton for an exhibition of vehicles at the end of the Run
The banquet at the Royal York Hotel was to be chaired by Sir Edward Iliffe MP (Director of the Daily Sketch and the Sunday Graphic), and among the invited guests were Sir Edward Manville MP who had a long association with the Daimler Company, Sir Herbert Austin, and Charles Kingston, the Lord Mayor of Brighton. During his welcoming speech, Sir Edward Iliffe commented on how the motoring industry had progressed since 1896 (when he had taken part in the Run), mentioning that all the cars on the road were now worth ‘more than £200,000, the motor industry now employed 241,000 people, and the average workers weekly wage was £4 2s 4d’.

Of the 51 entrants, 41 completed the journey in less than six hours, and of these 21 did so without stopping. Thirty seven finishers were declared eligible for gold medals. The first car to cross the finish line was a 1902 Clement Talbot, but the first prize went to John Bryce who was driving a 1893 Panhard (this was the same car and driver that had won the £100 prize money the previous month in the Olympia procession – he claimed to have fitted a speedometer two and a half years previously, during which time his vehicle had covered 9146 miles); second was Mary Miles in her 1899 Benz, and third prize was won by R Stephens driving his own make of vehicle made in 1898. Mr Clayton and the Brighton and Hove Motoring Club marshalled the 41 finishers and they all drove into the middle of Brighton, and after a brief stay in front of the old Aquarium, went off to Newman’s showrooms. As the Daily Sketch reported, ‘Brighton had its streets densely lined with people. How they cheered when an ancient De Dion appeared chuffing along! Alas, it was not an old crock at all, or at least not a competitor! ……Half Brighton turned out to meet them. The side roads and fields nearby were thick with stationery cars’.

Amongst the entrants, there were plentiful numbers of Renault (6); Benz (5); and Panhard (4), but the most numerous were the De Dion Boutons. Of the seven De Dions that took part, all finished except Arthur Woods driving his ‘1902/4’ (?) vehicle, and so the six finishers were awarded gold medals. The first to finish was a 1902 model owned by a Brightonian, Vincent Ballerdini, whose vehicle, in daily use in the town, had its original bodywork well disguised, although to the informed observer the flared mudguards are something of a giveaway.

Bryce’s winning car was besieged by admirers and its driver was interviewed by reporters from the Daily Sketch, who reported the conversation with the man from Lanark thus:

“Man, there’s naething in it. Doon here in the sooth ye keep yer roads as the bald pow o’ kirk elder. An’ yer hills widna mak’ a brae at hame in Lanark. Sae ye see, a’ had tae dae was tae gie masel a bit pu’thegither at the stairt, tak it canny for a wee while juist tae mak’ siccar that a’ ma innards were workin bonnily, an’ then juist traivel.
I’m no wan o’yer swanky show off kind – I’m ower auid in the horn for ony o’ that stuff an’ nonsense – sae I juist kept plod-ploddin awa’, wi never sae muckle as a blink o‘ the e’e for the trig wee Benzes an’ hoity-toity Renaults an’ Darracqs that I kent were on the road wi’ me.
The wind was a bit snell whiles, but I’m nae stranger tae cauld weather – onybody wha’a been tae Ponfeigh juist ayont Lanark, will bear me oot in that – an’ I never wane thocht o’ a stop tae draw doon me bonnet or clap ma hanns the wae cabbies dae.
Hood ae I feel after it a’? No sae bad, thank ye fer speirin. I’m juist a rickle o’auld banes. I ken, but the chance o’ makin’ sic a pile o’ siller as a hunner pounds made me feel as young and spry as a bonnie lassie in her first ba’-goon.
Besides I could never let a Sassenach-bred stravaiger bate me. Na, na!”

In a follow up article on the Run in the Daily Sketch in November, 1927, the writer, Robert Beare, posed the question, ‘What is the life of a motor car?’ One usually reckons it is about five years, so far as single ownership is concerned. Our experience in the Brighton Run last Sunday seem to suggest that a five year life is far too modest an estimate since quite a number of the competing cars of ages from 21 years upwards were apparently in perfectly sound condition and capable of putting up a performance. Doesn’t it make one wonder whether the purchase of a motor car ought not to be regarded rather as a gilt-edged investment than a somewhat risky speculation?’