Saturday, 3 April 2010

Reigate's role in motoring history

If you are very lucky, you can see these treasured veteran and vintage motor cars on display at special occasions in Reigate. This particular one was a garden party for the residents of a nursing home in July 2009. The enterprising manager at the time asked me for a few local contacts, so it was no trouble at all to put him in touch with the owner of the cars, Bryan Goodman. Bryan is an authority on motoring history and author who lives just round the corner from the nursing home. What a stunning collection and a joy to behold.

Since then I have acquired an original page from the Illustrated London News, November 21st 1896, which beautifully illustrates the famous day when the first motor cars arrived at Reigate - on the inaugural run from London to Brighton. The drivers stopped here for lunch at the White Hart Hotel, which was in those days at the top of Bell Street. Note the magnificent full page illustration by artist H.P. Seppings Wright with his amusing observations alongside. In the right hand corner, in the background is the entrance to Reigate's Tunnel Road - historic in itself as the gift of Lord Somers in 1824 and the first road tunnel in the country.

It must have been some major achievement to get the 'Red Flag Act' repealed in Parliament. Just one year before, it had become law that a man had to walk 60 yards in front of any vehicle waving a red flag - there was a speed limit of just 2 miles per hour in towns! The annual London to Brighton Emancipation Run - not a race - has commemorated this common sense liberation most years ever since. No wonder there is an additional drawing in the bottom right hand corner if you look very carefully. It's a patriotic display of flags flying high, along with the notice "REIGATE WELCOMES PROGRESS". The whole artwork bears close scrutiny and is now carefully preserved in a double glass frame, with a photograph of the unique occasion on the reverse.

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