FOR a population that had, for hundreds of years, relied on horse drawn carts or carriages for transportation, the introduction to the Island of first the bicycle, to be followed in a very short time by the motor car, came as a rude awakening for our ancestors.

In 1896, 12 members of a local cycling club came up in Newport court charged with “furious riding” at Shide.

A policeman gave evidence they crossed the railway line and took the corner out to Blackwater at around 12 miles an hour.

The upshot was that most of them were fined one shilling (5p) with four shillings (20p) costs.

Imagine then, how both groups felt in the early 1900s with the introduction of the motor car.

Our local council discussed having a 20mph speed limit on the Island’s main roads and a 10mph limit on country roads, but this never came to fruition.

As motoring grew in popularity, it was in 1903 that all cars had to be registered with their local authority, but driving licenses could be bought for five shillings or 25p in today’s currency.

It would not be until 1935 that driving tests were introduced and L plates were needed.

By May, 1904, it was reported that 53 cars and 60 motorcycles had been registered on the Island and 122 driving licences had been issued.

It was not long before the first conviction for drink driving on the IW was brought, and it was against a Ryde man, Charles Edgar, 27, of Preston Place, who was fined £1 plus costs, had his license suspended and incurred a three-month ban.

Apparently, just after ten o’clock on a Friday evening, he was seen driving up the High Street in Ryde in an erratic manner, swerving from one side of the road to the other.

Stopped by police constable Orchard, it was soon established that he was drunk and the policeman refused to let him drive any further.

Ownership of cars was confined to the wealthy residents of our Island and so any accidents, and there were plenty, predominately involved them and their friends.

The Countess of Pappenheim, who was residing at Gatcombe House, was in Sandown with her daughter and being driven by her chauffeur when they became involved in a collision with a Capt Dautesey who was also being driven by his chauffeur.

For motor car enthusiasts among my readers, the countess was in her 30-horsepower Pilain while the captain was in his 40-horsepower Daimler.

Although both cars were extensively damaged, the occupants were fortunately unscathed.

Worse was sadly to occur in 1908, when a Newport doctor, Underhill, who was the medical officer at the workhouse, had seen enough to decide that a move from horse and carriage to motorised transport was for him and purchased a Humber car.

He sent his, until then coachman and horse driver, to Coventry to be taught how to drive the car.

The man was Thomas Abbott, aged 39, who lived in Melbourne Street.

He had been a good soldier for 12 years, had served in the 3rd Kings Royal Rifles and been through campaigns overseas and had served in the Boer War in South Africa where he saw a great deal of action.

He, no doubt, was happy to return home unscathed and enjoyed the quieter, less dangerous job of driving the horse carriage for the local doctor.

He would possibly have been quite excited when he was asked to join those early pioneer car drivers.

Upon arriving at the Humber car works in Coventry, Abbott was expecting to undergo a four-week driving course.

On the first day, however, he was taken out onto the roads by an experienced driver in a 15-horsepower Humber car.

With hardly an hour of training behind the wheel, at around midday, for no accountable reason, the car swerved on to a footpath and up a five-foot angled bank before turning over, pinning Thomas beneath the car.

He sustained severe head injuries from which he died instantly. The instructor was fortunate to be thrown clear.

It was Dr Underhill who undertook the unenviable task of informing the deceased’s wife of the accident and on the following Wednesday, he travelled up to Coventry to attend the inquest and arrange for the body to be brought back to the Island.

He gave evidence that the last time he had seen his employee was on the previous Saturday when the doctor’s carriages and horse equipment were being auctioned in St James's Square.

After hearing all the evidence, the coroner criticised the fact that no driver had to produce a certificate of competency, or that he should be of good character and have good eyesight.

Neither did the driver have to be in attendance when requesting a license.

As long as the applicant had reached 17 years of age, and five shillings was sent, a license was granted.

The funeral of Mr Abbott took place in St Thomas's Church and was attended by a great many friends and relatives, which included ex-military colleagues and members of the Independent Order of the Foresters, to which the deceased had been a member of long standing.

Thomas Abbott was laid to rest on a Saturday afternoon in late November in Mountjoy cemetery.

One other story I was told of erratic driving concerned Sir Robert Hobart of Gatcombe House and the well-loved and much respected Newport doctor, Aubrey Heathcote.

They were travelling in opposite directions when they passed each other at Cox’s corner, Whitecroft, with both on the wrong side of the road, which meant they thankfully avoided each other.

After stopping and arguing as to who was at fault, they both realised they were more than well inebriated and agreed to continue their journeys.

Unbelievable as the story may seem, it was later confirmed by a family member many years later.