In Kenneth Grahame’s seminal work of literature, The Wind in the Willows, the hero Toad leads a butterfly existence flitting from obsession to obsession until he experiences the noise, smell, and speed of a motor car, which shatters the English idyll leaving chaos in its wake. One wonders—did the first journey made by a motor vehicle in the United Kingdom leave such a trail of carnage in its wake?
The journey, a distance of 56 miles started at Micheldever Station, which is where you will find one of the National Transport Trust’s Red Wheels commemorating the event. It was undertaken in 1895 by a member of the British aristocracy, the Honorable Evelyn Henry Ellis. While working at the British Embassy in Brussels, Ellis had become interested in the developing motor industry in France and Germany. He was keen to develop the motor industry in the U.K., but, there was a problem. British public roads were subject to a legal requirement that any self-propelled vehicle be preceded by a person on foot carrying a red warning flag. In addition, any self-propelled vehicle was further required to travel no faster than four miles per hour. (This law was designed to reduce the speed of steam traction engines as they moved between the farms on which they worked.)
Ellis decided to flout the law as a protest against the restrictions placed on motor vehicles. He ordered a left-hand drive motor car from the Paris firm of Panhard-Levassour, to be made to his own specifications and powered by a four-horsepower Daimler engine.
The motor car, now in the Science Museum’s collections, was delivered to Southampton, and from there, it is speculated that it was transported by train to Micheldever station, although recent research has been unable to substantiate this. It has been postulated that Micheldever was where Ellis’ passenger, Frederick Simms, boarded the vehicle.
On July 5, 1895, Eliis and Simms drove from Micheldever Station to Ellis’ home in Datchet near Windsor. The journey took five and a half hours, during which Ellis and Simms had to be vigilant for the police as they broke the law by traveling faster than the speed limit. (Ellis had hoped to be arrested so he could plead his case for raising the speed limit in court, but they managed to avoid any police.)
Ellis continued to campaign for a change in the law, and in 1896, the maximum speed of two miles per hour in town, and four miles per hour in the country, was raised to 12 miles per hour. The change in the law was celebrated with the Emancipation Run, a motor vehicle rally held between London and Brighton. It became an annual event and is now called the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. It is the world’s longest-running motoring event, and vehicles must have been made before 1905 in order to qualify. The Ellis Journey is another vintage car rally for vehicles built before 1905 and takes place on the same route driven by Ellis and Simms, between Micheldever Station and Datchet.
Know Before You Go
There is pay and display parking at the station, or the site is easily accessible by train.
Details of the Ellis Journey can be found here.