Driving as fast as a speeding pigeon

First Seaford car crash
First Seaford car crash

I have to confess, I have just received a speeding ticket; my first brush with the law after many years of driving. I was just a few miles over the speed limit but it’s a ‘fair cop’ and I will take my punishment. It appears speeding motorists and dangerous drivers have been around for a long time.

In 1907 a Royal Commission reported to Parliament on the growing use of the motor car. It was obviously formed of rich car-owners, as it recommended the speed limit (then 20mph) be abolished and also raised concerns ‘speed-traps’ were being used in rural areas to raise revenue for local authorities. (I can’t imagine that that would happen today!) The earlier Motor Car Act of 1903 raised the speed limit to 20mph, introduced vehicle registration and made it compulsory for drivers to have a licence. The driving test was not introduced until 1934. This has got me thinking about early motoring in our area.

In October 1901, Alfred James Poole of Seaford was convicted of “furious driving” in Lincolnshire having been caught speeding on the Great North Road. A cyclist gave evidence to the court that Mr Poole passed him going faster than a pigeon and nearly knocked him off his machine. A policeman also witnessed the crime saying Mr Poole was travelling as fast as any train on the Great Northern Railway - at least 40mph! This may seem funny today but the speed limit for motor cars at that time was just 14 mph.

The first crash I have been able to find involving an accident in Seaford, occurred at High and Over, half way between Seaford and Alfriston in April 1904. A chauffeur driven motor car was travelling down the hill when the brakes failed. It careered down the hill and was dashed backwards against a tree. The three occupants were thrown from the vehicle and the driver Mr Willett was badly injured. The passengers, a lady and gentleman from Curzon Street, Mayfair in London, were obviously shocked and had to return home by train. The driver was carried to a nearby cottage where he stayed until Dr Charles Gervis attended to him from Seaford.

Another serious crash occurred at Berwick crossroads in June 1906. A Hastings MP with the strange name of Freeman Freeman-Thomas was travelling in his new car from Eastbourne towards Lewes when he hit a car driven by a Major Edwards travelling from Berwick Station to Alfriston.

There were no stop lines or roundabouts in those days and both drivers failed to slow down, so the cars collided with considerable force. The men were thrown from their cars and sustained injuries. The MP became the Governor General in Canada and Viceroy of India. He was also the first Lord Willingdon and was the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from 1936 until his death in 1941. The fate of the other driver is not recorded.

Motor cars were not only dangerous to people but animals too. In October 1907, Sophia Goad of the Castle Keep, Reigate (posh address!) appeared before Hailsham Magistrates accused of “furious driving” having injured a horse belonging to farmer John James Guy. Superintendent Willard of the East Sussex Police said the car had been seen by more than one witness being driven in a “furious manner” but in defence Miss Goad said the car was travelling at only 10mph and the accident was Farmer Guy’s fault as he walked the horse into the road. The chauffeur also gave evidence for the defence and the case was dismissed. It is interesting that Miss Goad was summonsed and not the chauffeur who was presumably just a passenger.

On 15th October 1908, an inquest was held concerning the death of Muriel DeLaMare Carmichael, 19, of Dundee. She was a passenger in a car en route from Eastbourne and Seaford when the brake failed as it climbed East Dean Hill at Friston. The car ran backwards, hit a bank and overturned. Poor Miss Carmichael was pinned down under the wreckage and died later.

In June 1910 a motor car containing three people ran backwards down a steep hill while entering Seaford and hit a bank. The car turned a somersault and landed in an 8ft ditch. The press report said the car was ‘completely telescoped’ but none of the occupants was injured.

The Licensing Act of 1872 made it an offence to be drunk in charge of a horse, cattle or a carriage and presumably this was the legislation used at Hailsham Magistrates in August 1923 when Walter Foord of Ringmer was accused of being drunk in charge of a motor car. The evidence was Mr Foord was en route back from the Pevensey market when he slewed his car across the carriageway near Hailsham and drove into a hedge. The chairman of the bench said he had a duty to protect the public from drunken drivers and fined him £10. This would have been a large amount for a farmer in those days so I suppose I have got away lightly with my fine. I will certainly ensure I drive with more care in the future!