From the Library - “Thousand Mile Trial” by Elizabeth Bennett

Within days, literally, of taking on the position of Club Librarian many years ago, Elizabeth Bennett, then Honorary Editor of the Gazette of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, got in touch with me. She was researching a Two Thousand Mile Trial that took place perhaps around Scotland between 1902 and 1904. Finding information on that event proved a challenge I remember.

What is amply documented in various sources, however, is the 1000 Mile Trial around Great Britain in 1900, inaugurated by us as the then Automobile Club (of Great Britain & Ireland) with especial merit going to the Club’s first Secretary, Claude Johnson. It was undoubtedly the first true demonstration to the whole country of this new form of locomotion.

It was easily recognisable that early to appreciate Ms Bennett’s landmark book, Thousand Mile Trial, as being the definitive, yet literary, account of that pre-eminent gathering. And in hand what strikes one immediately is the sheer physical beauty of the top quality, gloss-coated pages and gold-embossed surround (mounted in a stiff card slipcase).

Tim Scott sponsored Elizabeth Bennett to write the book as a centennial celebration of the original Trial to go alongside the Thousand Mile Trial Re-Enactment of 2000, put on, fittingly enough, by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. And Scott in his preface raises the question: ‘how is it possible to imagine the car of 2100?’. [Ms Bennett also edited a fine programme to accompany that 2000 event – details below.]

All the major players in the early motor car movement took part in 1900, many of whom were to become titans of the motor industry in future years, among their number were Rolls, Austin and Napier.

And Club member Daniel Ward, currently on the Club’s Heritage Working Group, recalls in the book’s foreword coming across at auction an ‘Argent Archer’ album of photographs of the 1900 Trial, a beautiful record of proceedings in crystal-clear pictures. It invoked in him a huge spark of interest in the whole enterprise. [That album is now in the Club Archive.]

That album in many ways forms the backbone of this book, although there are many fine photographs courtesy from The Autocar featured too. Using that backdrop Elizabeth Bennett weaves a great labyrinthine thread of both the Trial’s mammoth, official documentation and the many poignant recollections of, and anecdotes about, those in and around the event.

The styling is very attractive to the eye with copious blue and yellow highlighted text illustrating copy and captions, including exhibitions, news reports and personal views. One fine example of the last is Mrs Bazalgette’s address on the ‘wisdom of knowing something about ‘back shot’, and ‘compression’ – even if one has a skilled mechanic in tow’!

And the contents of the book are uniformly laid out: following a short introduction on the state of automobilism in 1899, each chapter is devoted to the cars’ progression from city to city, Bristol to Birmingham or Edinburgh to Newcastle-upon-Tyne; endnotes are neatly slotted and there is a good index.

A full, annotated list of trade and private entries is included. It all amounts to a very fine book, even if your only intention is to simply browse.

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The 1900 Trial has been recently revived and re-enacted by the Club, every year now since 2014. [A notable participant in this modern version (for pre-1939 cars) was the 1938 Frazer-Nash-BMW 328 Special on display in the rotunda earlier this week.]

Elizabeth Bennett, 2000. Thousand Mile Trial [limited edition of 120]. Heathfield, East Sussex: Published by author. [ISBN: 0-9537930-0-1]

[Elizabeth Bennett (ed.), 2000. Thousand Mile Trial, 17-27 May 2000: official programme. UK: Published by editor; printed by Ian Allan Printing.]

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