Middlesex County
Automobile Club

History

Early in 1905 a small group of young businessmen and professionals, all of whom had become motoring enthusiasts in the very short time since the motor car had begun to appear on the roads in appreciable numbers, met at The Fox Hotel, Palmers Green, N.London and decided to form a motor club which they named The North London Car Club (NLCC). Very soon, however, they found that the North London Cycle Club was already in existence in Shoreditch, E.London so they quickly changed the name to the North London Automobile Club (NLAC).

At about the same time the new club committee invited the most prominent personage in the district to be the first President of the club. Col. Henry Ferryman Bowles, MA. MP. JP. who resided at Forty Hall, Enfield, was a direct descendant of the 6th Earl of Macclesfield, a founder member of the Middlesex County Council, Chairman of the Enfield Bench and Conservative member of Parliament for the Enfield Division; a wholly appropriate figurehead for what was to become the most important motoring body, not only in North London, but very soon in the County of Middlesex as a whole. Col. Bowles was to remain in office for 38 years until his death in 1943.

From its earliest days the NLAC gathered to itself many and varied prominent, rich and influential people to bolster its considerable influence in North London motoring affairs. One of the first vice-presidents was The Hon. Rupert Guinness, heir to the Guinness brewing business, ADC to King George V and an MP.

Another vice-president was Mr. A.W. Gamage, founder of the famous store in Holborn. Recruiting other influential people was evidently very important in view of the large number of JPs and MPs who became vice-presidents over the years.

At its outset the NLAC affiliated to the Motor Union (MU), a subsidiary of the Automobile Club (as the RAC was known at that time). Due to internal frictions, the MU broke away from the RAC at the end of 1907 whereupon the RAC announced a scheme whereby local clubs could become associates of that club with representation on its committee.

In January 1908 the NLAC changed its name to the North Middlesex AC (NMAC), reflecting its increasing influence in a wider area of the northern home counties and on 1st January 1909 joined the RAC Associates scheme.

The first recorded motoring event took place on Saturday 27th May 1905, being a ‘run’ in which 16 cars and motor cycles took part, to the Red Lion Hotel, Hatfield which was then established as the club’s ‘country’ quarters’ which remained so for several years.  In all a further eight such runs took place in 1905 including four weekend events starting on Fridays and finishing on Sundays.

The first competitive event took place on Saturday 5th May 1906 to the George Hotel, Harpenden ‘where tea was taken’ followed by what would be known today as a Production Car Trial, won by the Hon. Secretary, Mr. Chas Smith, in his 12hp Darracq.

The first co-promoted event (and only the second competitive event) was a Speed-judging contest in conjunction with the Southern Car Club on Saturday 19th May 1906 for the Gamage Challenge Cup.  Although this event was won by the Southern CC, the next three events held in succeeding years being won by the NMAC resulted in the club retaining the Gamage Cup in perpetuity, it being the oldest trophy in our large, valuable and impressive collection.

One of the club’s most notable achievements in the early years was to be the first such organisation to receive written permission from the Commissioner of Police to hold a motoring competition on a public road. This was held on Saturday 16th May 1908 at Cat Hill (A110), Southgate, N.London. This momentous event was won by Mr. Alfred Alexander, the father of our 4th president, Mr. Neale Alexander, in his 8hp de Dion, winning the President’s Cup.

One of the Club’s most momentous meetings was that which took place in February 1910 at the Middlesex Guildhall. This public meeting was considered so important that the chairman of the Council made the Council Chamber available and many important personages connected with the County Council, the motoring press and the RAC were in attendance.

The purpose of the meeting was to consider a proposal suggested by the Council Chairman and supported by the Secretary of the RAC, Mr. (later Sir) Julian Orde, that the NMAC be reconstituted as the Middlesex County AC ‘……so as to become the representative motoring organisation in the county’.

The resolution was passed and the MCAC came into being at the committee meeting held on 25th February 1910.

In 1911 the Kensington AC was amalgamated with the MCAC and several former officials joined the MCAC Committee.

Late in 1912 the Club issued a Members’ Handbook which contained information about motoring affairs in the County as well as golf clubs, fishing locations on the Thames, places of interest in the County and motoring maps showing ways in and out of London, “generously illustrated throughout”. This annual publication continued (with the exception of the war years) until 1952.

Also in 1912 the Club entered a team in the RAC Associates Day at Brooklands and won The Autocar Cup in the 5-mile Relay Race. Interestingly Mr. Malcolm Campbell, who was to play a large part in the Club’s activities in later years, won the All-comers Handicap race on that day.

With the advent of major hostilities in 1914 affecting so many Club members, it seems that pleasure motoring came almost to a complete standstill during the 1914-18 period., although the Club did run a few events up to mid-1915. It is clear from contemporary accounts that petrol, if not always rationed, became a very scarce commodity, curtailing any form of motoring other than that for essential purposes.

Unfortunately all minute books, handbooks, event information and publications went the way of so much other historical data during the Great War and little is known about Club activities during that period.

It is apparent that the Club’s standing committee during the war adopted a very patriotic attitude to current events and did what it could for the war effort. An appeal was made to all Middlesex motorists to register with the Club if they were willing and able to lend their cars to help the recovery of wounded soldiers.

By 1916 the transportation of the large number of wounded soldiers arriving from France was proving a great strain on transport resources. To assist in this work the Club formed a Transport Squadron to carry orderlies and nurses to meet ambulance trains and to convey the wounded.

The problem of petrol supplies for this important work was anticipated from the start and arrangements were made for the War Office to supply on the basis of 15 miles per gallon, quite generous in today’s terms but reflecting the reality of engine design and efficiency of the day. And to ensure that members were not disadvantaged in this war work compared with members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD’s), they could apply for permission to wear officers’ khaki tunics “but without crossbelts or badges of rank”.

With the cessation of hostilities the Club was quick to resume activities notwithstanding a fall in membership by some 50% since 1914, to around 200.

By 1920 the membership had recovered to about 300 and the Club resumed its work of making known the views of county’s motorists to the Middlesex County Council.  For example, in March 1920 ‘The Autocar’ reported that the Club had passed a resolution condemning the new road tax based on units of horsepower on the grounds that it was unfair to motorists of moderate means due to the high cost of living.

By 1926 the Club was hosting a combined Speed Trial and Hill Climb at Brooklands and these meetings attracted many well-known racing drivers of the era.

In the 1927 meeting George Eyston, (winner of the 1926 Boulogne Grand Prix in a Bugatti) won the 50 Miles Handicap race and in the Hill Climb, club member The Hon. Mrs Victor (Mary) Bruce (at one time holder of 17 motoring world records) won the Ladies Cup and Dr. J.D. Benjafield, one of the famous ‘Bentley Boys’ won the Kensington Cup for the fastest time, a trophy he was to win every year from 1926 to 1930 and again in 1932 (Dr. Benjafield joined the Club committee in 1927 and was active in club management until at least 1939.)

At the 1928 MCAC Brooklands meeting Mrs. Bruce and Dr. Benjafield won their cups again and Capt. Archie Frazer-Nash was 3rd in the Middlesex Short Handicap (winning two guineas for his efforts!).

In 1929 the Club elected Capt. Malcolm Campbell as a Vice-president and he remained a member to his death on 31st December 1948., having received his knighthood in 1931.

By the end of 1930 the Club had enrolled 852 members and was well into the ‘Golden Era’ of its existence.

The MCAC was already claiming to be the second largest such club in the UK and its importance in the world of UK motor clubs was recognised by the RAC which invited the MCAC to nominate a representative to be a permanent member on its Associates Committee, one of only 5 such clubs to receive this honour.

By the 30’s the Club’s political influence was declining notwithstanding the presence as Vice-presidents of no less than 16 MPs representing all the constituencies in the County. However, what it lost in politics it more than made up in the sporting field and its 18-member committee was organising as many as 15 events in most years.

The most notable of these events was the 100 Miles Reliability Trial which was held every year without a break (except during the war) from 1907 to 1939, taking competitors in this ‘closed-to-club’ event to all points of the compass within approximately 100 miles from home..

By 1939 the Club had amassed no fewer than 806 members. The final event for the year was the Village Seeking Competition held in July which preceded the Closing Run & Speed Judging Competition scheduled for 16th September which was cancelled. The AGM was held as usual in October but the Annual Dinner Dance and Awards Presentation was cancelled. With the outbreak of hostilities the Club closed down for the duration of the war although records show that every year at least one committee meeting and an AGM was held at which the 1939 Officers and Committee were re-elected annually en bloc.

During this period of inactivity our founding President, Col. Sir Henry Bowles died in 1943 and was succeeded in March 1946 by Lord Brabazon of Tara.

By the start of 1946, there were just over 200 members, many of whom had joined solely for the benefits of RAC membership which the Club was able to offer at advantageous rates.  But it was clear that the era of motoring being the preserve of the privileged and influential was at an end and the appeal of motor clubs was to diminish dramatically in the post-war years. Like so many others, the Club entered into a long period of stagnation during the 50’s and 60’s, organising very few events due in part to petrol rationing, but most significantly to the introduction of new laws which severely reduced the ability to promote road rallies and as a result many clubs closed down.

But the MCAC survived, by holding social functions and a few road events as and when petrol supplies allowed. These were supplemented by gymkhanas, driving tests and, towards the end of the 60’s, production car trials.

Our second President, Lord Brabazon, who had been so active and supportive in our affairs, died in 1964 and was succeeded by The Marquess of Donegall who was the senior Vice-president and who instituted the annual Donegall Award.

In 1969 a small group of active rallying enthusiasts decided to rebuilt a scrapyard wreck into an entry to the 1970 RAC Rally of GB, the final round of the World Rally Championship. This ground-breaking event proved to be the revival catalyst that the Club had needed during the many years of relatively routine activity. It led to an almost uninterrupted record of individual and Club team entries in this annual event up to the present day and the achievement of many class and team awards.

Throughout all the years the Club had never been able to promote periodic ‘noggin and natter’ gatherings with any regularity although several attempts had been made, generally with poor response.  However, the very many working-party sessions which took place during the first RAC Rally project led directly to the establishment of regular weekly social meetings which continue to this day.

In 1975 our third President died and was succeeded by Neale Alexander, son of one of our founding members, a former Treasurer, Secretary and Vice-president for nearly 40 years and a member of several RAC central committees for many years.

Since the 70’s the Club has experienced many changes affecting its activities. Our fourth President died in 1986 and was succeeded by Adrian L’Estrange, a former Treasurer, Membership Secretary and Vice-president who joined the Club in 1964.

The most significant feature of this period has been the considerable activity by members in major national and international rallying events.

In 1982 the MCAC was the first UK motor club to enter a team (3 cars) in the East African Safari Rally and in 1986 two members competed in the Himalayan Rally achieving 3rd and 4th placings. During the 90’s several members were regular competitors in UK international and Belgian national events. In 2000 the Club entered no less than 10 members and 3 teams in the London-Sydney Marathon. Since 2003, the Club has participated in the Barbados Carnival Rally and has co-promoted the South of England Tempest Rally - the final round of the British Rally Championship.

On the home front the MCAC continues to offer its members an eclectic mix of events, as it has since its foundation.  As well as being affiliated to The Motor Sports Association, the Club has been for many years a member of the London Counties Association of Motor Clubs, the Association of Central Southern Motor Clubs, the Association of Eastern Motor Clubs and the Welsh Association of Motor Clubs which has enabled our members to compete in events organised by members of those associations.  In December 2004, to conclude a century of motorsport, the Club used its well-practiced organisational skills in co-promoting and running the first single venue stage rally to be held at the Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Keeping in touch with trends in motor sport has resulted in the Club providing what its members desired and there is little doubt that this has been the key aspect of the Club’s survival and success for 100 years.

Adrian L'Estrange

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