Early Road Maps- cycles versus motorcars


(This article cites Berkshire and Oxfordshire as the “typical” counties, and gives statistics known for London)

In this Edwardian period it is interesting to consider the relative importance of bicycles and motor cars to a cartographer such as George Bacon.

England: Cycle maps versus motor maps

Looking at a map of Southern England: one wonders how important the motor map market would have been at any particular date.

Rudyard Kipling down at Batemans in Sussex, owned a car in 1897, but he never drove himself: that was the level of society which used them then: perhaps there were 1000 machines on the road, at weekends in fine weather and locally.

In 1901 let one assume there were 5,000 vehicles. (some argue 8,000), of which perhaps 50% were serviceable at any one time. In that year 623 people wrote “Chauffeur” as their occupation on the census. Let one assume that twice that number had other titles too: Valet, Gentleman’s Gentleman, carriage Driver etc. That would suggest about 1900 people chauffeured which accounts for about two fifths of the cars being driven.

The early OS motor maps show a chauffeured car on the cover.

In 1904 there were 23,000 cars on the roads of Britain- incidentally most were French. In 1910 there were 100,000.By contrast, in the 1890’s 50,000 people were employed making bicycles. By 1893 roller chains, triangulated frames and pneumatic tyres were established.

If one was printing a map in circa 1910 of an average county- perhaps Berkshire or Oxfordshire – there would be a market for about 4,000 cars owned by rich people many with chauffeurs. They would have bought their maps from Praed and Sifton or Edward Stanford of London and those would have been bespoke. The market for a motor map would have been small and filled by such bespoke vendors. Such a county’s population was about 400,000 in at that time,so 1 car per 100 people. I this year there may have been 100,000 bicycles (one per family) 1 for every 4-5 people. There was no way one would have published a speculative map for the motorist in this period: railway and cycle maps would dominate.

In London the precise figures are known: there were 100,000 driving licences in 1920 (roughly a decade after this map), and 261,000 in 1930. In 1920 Greater London had 7,386,755 people and Inner London: 4,484,523 people. So take the capital as about 6 ½ million: that is a driving licence for every 65 people. In 1930 the capital’s population was 8,000,000 there was a driving licence for every 33 people or so. But in London there were about 2 million bicycles. The market for cycle maps in London in 1930 was 8 times bigger than that for car drivers.

Regarding tipping points: an astonishing fact is that the year in which people, on average, traveller further by car than by bicycle in England was 1950. The proportion of car miles to cycle miles today is 99:1. It is interesting that one reason why England did not go down the Dutch route of building self-contained cycle roads was that the CTC (Cyclists’ Touring Club) opposed the idea; in 1934 they argued that space should be made for cycles on the public highway and they should not be pushed off by cars onto a secondary network.

Gall and Inglis, mapping specifically for cyclists, described road quality- loose, dusty, rough etc on their strip maps. They also chose routes to avoid heavy traffic, leaving London, as early as the Edwardian Age- which may have been buses or horse and carts, more than cars. They took particular note of trams, the slot-rails of which were a hazard for cyclists. The companies which worked most with the CTC were Philip’s and Bartholomew’s- the former at the turn of the century and the later roughly between 1915 and 1928- when the CTC chose roads in three grades. These Bartholomew maps were the first to show cycle routes which were challenging or in any way “off-piste” or non-vehicular. Prior to that, most so called cycle maps seem quite lazy: highlighting major roads- usually on far older map bases: roads which would in the mid 19th century have been turnpikes. The criterion for an early “cycle road” was condition- was it a stable surface and was it seasonal? Roads chosen where direct routes between towns and many early maps noticeably avoided the coast: one is tempted to infer that the  cyclist was not within the same demographic as the resort holiday maker. Philip’s maps marked gradients, hotels, coffee taverns and Temperance establishments and also marked with a symbol any town which has a CTC ambassador. Gradients were shown by Philip-, Bacon, Gall and Inglis. Bacon called them “danger hills” and there severity was shown with chevrons. Temperance was very strong with the cycling fraternity and might be inferred from the map publishers’ choice of recommended hotels as well as the advertisements for Bourneville Cocoa, Fry’s Chocolate and other products of those famous Quaker confectioners who supported the movement.