Watching Edwardian Machines Cross London Is A Beautiful Sight
Photography by Jayson Fong
Chugging alongside us is a continuous column of cars from another world. With thick clouds of steam following closely behind, candle light headlights dimly form the path ahead and metallic clunks typical of the industrial revolution echo in the park, it’s a surreal scene reminiscent of the early 1900s and it takes a pinch to remind me that it’s 2016.
Usually, the idea of waking up early on a cold Sunday morning is not high on my list of priorities. But on this occasion, walking through Hyde Park at 5.30am towards the start of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, I’ve been given a reason to make an exception. Ahead of me the World’s largest collection of veteran automobiles built before 1905 is coming together.
First held on the 14th of November 1896, the event was known as the ‘Emancipation Run’ and held to mark law changes to the Locomotives on the Highway Act which saw a substantial speed limit increase (from 4mph to 14mph) and abolished the requirement for vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot holding a red flag. Naturally, the best way to celebrate was to destroy a red flag and drive 60 miles from the city to the coast and take in all the sights and sounds.
Now celebrating 120 years since the first run, the London to Brighton is a special opportunity to see some of the pioneering vehicles of motoring on the road. And it’s early in the morning in the centre of London that they can be fully appreciated. Watching one of the teams begin their start-up routine throws modern technology into sharp relief; a match is used to ignite the two candles that act as headlights and the engines are cranked to life by hand.
However, it’s the arrival of the Salvesen Steam Cart from 1896, essentially a steam train for the road, complete with a trailer full of coal, a boiler, chimney and hooting horn which truly represents the progress of innovation and the spirit of pioneering. It’s an interesting thought that these machines were once the cutting edge of innovation in transport.
At 7:04am precisely, the London to Brighton officially begins. With the morning sun now breaking through, it’s a romantic sight as the cars set off across the city undisturbed by modern traffic along Constitution Hill and past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben silhouetted in the distance. The illusion of time travel continues as they head down the Mall and Horse Guards Parade – set against a backdrop of stunning Autumn colours and the Royal Palace, the spectacle is a reminder that motoring was once a special occasion in itself.
Rounding the corner into Westminster, visions of modern life begin to appear as the veterans join morning commuters on the road. Dwarfing many of the modern cars in the queue, the Edwardian machines resemble moving monuments as they pass between some of the capital’s most iconic buildings. Crossing Westminster Bridge, they emerge out of the shadows of the metropolis and into the countryside and towards Brighton, a new world of exploration ahead for the machines of the past.