Car-ried away

Sign for Albion Motors

Albion Museum in Biggar

Period dramas would lose much of their appeal without appropriate props and settings. And where the action takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century we expect to be thrilled by the sight of vehicles of the period.

Although Scottish engineering made a name for itself in ships and locomotives and other heavy engineering projects, it has always fascinated me that Scotland was in at the birth of motor vehicles.

Little now remains of a car industry in Scotland, yet at the beginning of the 20th century three companies – Argyll, Albion and Arrol-Johnston made their names as car manufacturers. Of Arrol-Johnson I know little. It operated from 1896 to 1931 and produced the first automobile manufactured in Britain. The company is also said to have designed a vehicle to travel on ice and snow for Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition to the South Pole.

Fire engine (retired)

Fire engine from the 1960s at Biggar’s Albion Motors Museum.

On my recent visit to Biggar my husband and I came across the Albion Museum. Why here, I wondered, later to discover that the town, which also hosts the Albion archive, was where Thomas Blackwood Murray, the co-founder of Albion who had previously worked with Arrol-Johnson, originally lived and where he built and tested the first Albion car.

Sunrise logo on Albion vehicles

Albion’s Sunrise logo on the front of the fire engine

The motto of the company which was established in Glasgow in 1899, was Sure As The Sunrise. This gave rise to the sunrise logo which for many years featured on radiators and badges of models.

Whiplash on Albion logo

A painted version of the logo which shows its Art Nouveau inspiration in the line’s whiplash.

Having gone through various Leyland and Leyland-DAF guises, in 1998 Albion Automotive was taken over by the American Axle & Manufacturing Company of Detroit.

Early motoring sign

Scottish Automobile Club sign – possibly used to indicate passing places.

This wonderful sign at the Albion Museum, presumably placed to indicate passing places on single track roads, can be dated to between the founding of the Scottish Automobile Club in 1898 to promote ‘automobilism’ in Scotland, and its morphing into the Royal Scottish Automobile Club sometime before 1909.

Argyll Motor work in Alexandria

Former Argyll Motor works at Alexandria, near Glasgow

Argyll Motors I had come across some years ago when I lived near the works built in Alexandria, just north of Glasgow. The company came into being when in 1899 the Scottish Manufacturing Co. was taken over and renamed. Its work of tool making, car repairing and the assembly of French cars – De Dions, Renaults and Darracqs – was within a few months supplemented by the production of the first Argyll car.

Argyll car at former tTransport Museum

Argyll car at the Transport Museum in Glasgow prior to its move to its new location on the banks of the Clyde.

By 1904, with production running around 20 to 25 cars a week, an architecturally impressive new factory was built at Alexandria. It boasted a red sandstone frontage, a magnificently carved entrance, and an Italian marble staircase based on one in the Paris Opera House. At the height of its production 1500 workers turned out sixty cars per week, the highest production rate in Europe at the time, only surpassed by that of the Ford Motor Company of America.

Another Argyll car at Glasgow's former  Kelvingrove Transport Museum - would look great in a period drama.

Another Argyll car at Glasgow’s former Kelvingrove Transport Museum – would look great in a period drama.

After increasing costs forced the company into liquidation in 1909, it was reconstituted and struggled on until 1914 when it eventually closed. During its existence some 3000 vehicles were produced – Voiturettes to prestigious limousines, as well as fire engines, taxicabs, sports cars and racing cars for Brooklands, the motor racing circuit in Surrey built to test cars travelling above the blanket 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit imposed on public roads in Britain by the 1903 Motor Car Act.

Ripe for a period drama.

Yellow car at the old Transport Museum at Kelvingrove, Glasgow.

So next time I watch a period drama, I’ll be paying special attention to the cars.

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About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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19 Responses to Car-ried away

  1. thaygoulart says:

    Hello there!
    Just wanted to stop by and say I nominated you for the Super Sweet Blog Award!
    Also wrote something under your blog link to say thanks 🙂
    I hope you like it!
    – Thay

    • Thank you so much for your nomination. Some weeks ago I was nominated for some other awards but have not yet had the time to do what is necessary for them. Trying to edit and self-publish a book. Consumes every waking hour! But when I have more time…

  2. What lovely pictures about memorabilia. As you share these, you show up as the genuine person you are.

    Shakti

    • Thank you. I like taking shots of the interesting and unusual as well as the beautiful or awesome. I love hearing about how people live in other countries so hope they like to learn something about Scotland that also links to other places. Thank you for thinking I am genuine – hope I can live up to that.

  3. Chris says:

    Great photos, and such an interesting look at auto history. Love the Art Nouveau touch in the Albion logo, and their motto. Enjoyed this post and have marked it to share with a friend who’s a big fan of old cars.

    • Car manufacture was not something I ever associated with Scotland until I was researching Alexander Reid, the Glasgow art dealer painted by Vincent van Gogh. Reid also worked beside Theo and stayed for a while with the brothers in their Montmartre apartment. Reid’s son undertook an apprenticeship with Argyll Motors and that sparked my interest. Like everything else at that period (end of 19th/beginning of 20th century), you pull one thread and a whole hank of stories unravel.

  4. Very fine photography 🙂 The next time I will be up north in Scotland I know where to go.Thank you.
    I wish you a happy day
    Klausbernd

    • Thank you. I rather think you might appreciate the Edinburgh Festival for which the city is gearing up at present…but I suspect you have probably already been. As you like wild places perhaps Assynt in Sutherland or Orkney may also appeal.

      • Actually Dina and me were thinking the other day to go to the Orkneys for a holiday.
        Yes,I have been twice to Edinburgh festival and was impressed. And Ilike the city as well. But it`s quite far away from where I am living at the North Norfolk coast.
        All the best to you
        Klausbernd

      • The Orkney islands are very different to most of Scotland – quite Danish in many ways – not surprising given their history. Places like Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar are unforgettable. So if you like crawling around and being fascinated by historic buildings and monuments, go for it.

      • Thank you! That sounds great 🙂

  5. Now I have to go back and re-watch Downton Abby for just the cars. Beautiful Post.

  6. I love period dramas! The props, setting and not to forget – costumes. Read somewhere that there will be Downton Abbey inspired jewellery for sale at Amazon this Fall. Second best to a car?

    • The outfits the old duchess, Maggie Smith’s character, wore were my favourites with all her strings of jet beads. Downton jewellery would be worth checking out.

  7. Beautiful and insightful post:)
    Cheers
    Vishal

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