Sir David Lionel Salomons

To those of us interested in the 1902 Speed Trials held on Bexhill's sea front the names of participants like M. Serpollet, S.F. Edge, The Hon. C.S. Rolls and Mr. C. Jarrott are familiar, but how many of us are aware of Sir David Lionel Salomons, one of the Race Committee Officials, who contributed to the early days of motoring?

David Lionel Salomons lived at Broomhill, Southborough, just north of Tunbridge Wells and inherited the estate from his uncle, Sir David Salomons, 1st Baronet, in 1873. Having also inherited estates from his father he was financially secure and was able to indulge his interests in scientific and artistic pursuits. He extended the laboratory facilities provided by his uncle and added workshops, and built a Science Theatre designed for a laboratory, optical projections, lectures and if required at any time, for theatrical purposes. He said “I was born a mechanic and never cared for ordinary toys, a clockwork engine, some building bricks and a box of tools occupied my playtime.”

He was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, invented an automatic railway signalling system, was a founder member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and he installed electric lighting at Broomhill – one of the first homes in Britain to be lit this way. Of greater interest to us is the fact he was an original member of the Automobile Club of France and of the Automobile Club of Great Britainand Ireland, later knopwn as the RAC. He was also one of the prime movers in the abolition in 1896 of the four miles an hour limit and the signalman carrying a red flag, who had to precede vehicles.

In 1874 he had built a small electrical road carriage but owing to the fact that no accumulators existed at the time there was difficulty recharging the batteries and it was only in use for a short while. The same year he built an electric powered tricycle, although not a complete success, as it had a tendency to set fire to the user's clothing !

In the 1890s he was a frequent visitor to Paris and would have seen the developments in automotive engineering. He probably saw the Paris to Bordeaux automobile race held in June 1895 won by a petrol engined Panhard et Levassor driven by Emile Levassor and after its clear win over the steam driven vehicles it convinced him that the petrol engine rather than steam was the way forward.

In 1895 he purchased a Peugeot in France and after a half hour of instruction and several months driving on the French roads he brought it back to England. In October of the same year he organised the first British motor show calling it Horseless Carriage Trials. This was held at the Tunbridge Wells Agricultural show ground and he sent out over a thousand invitations to MPs, leading engineers, members of professional engineering societies, the Royal College of Physicians and many “English and French gentlemen connected with motor carriage methods”. He also advertised it in foreign, national and local newspapers as well as relevant periodicals and wrote an article on the Horseless Carriage which was published in the Tunbridge Courier a fortnight before the show.

At this time the only two automobiles in Britain belonged to David Salomons and Evelyn Ellis. Six machines were listed to be exhibited but only five appeared on the day. These included a Panhard et Levassor automobile and a Panhard et Levassor Fire engine both with Daimler petrol engines owned by the Hon. Evelyn Ellis, a petrol powered tricycle shown by Messrs de Dion and Bouton of Paris, and a Steam Horse attached to a carriage also shown by Messrs de Dion and Bouton . A Tricycle was to be exhibited by M. Geudon of the Gladiator Cycle Company of France the fuel was mineral naptha and ignition by electric spark. The pedals were used to start but were automatically disconnected once the motor was running. Unfortunately this tricycle failed to turn up. The sixth exhibit was the Vis a Vis built by Peugeot of Paris with a Daimler engine shown by Sir David Salomons. According to a French newspaper some automobiles did set off from Paris but only left the day before the exhibition so did not arrive in time.

After successful demonstrations in the ring the two cars were driven along the road to Eridge where, according to the report in The Autocar, “The roadway was lined with spectators and horses and carriages were stationed at frequent intervals. The motor vehicles were shown to be under perfect control and not one of the horses so much as lifted an eye as the horseless carriages sped somewhat noisily by”. The cars certainly would have exceeded the four miles an hour speed limit but the local police took no notice as it would have probably not been considered the done thing to arrest the town mayor.

With an entry fee of one shilling £180 was taken at the gate so there were 3600 paying visitors and with invited guests and friends numbering around 1,500 the visitor numbers would have been over 5,000. So not only is Bexhill known as the pioneer of Motor Trials for the 1902 event but nearby Tunbridge Wells goes down in history as the site of Britain's first motor show in 1895.

Having purchased Broomhill in 1829 ,“a very elegant small villa” set in extensive grounds, in 1850 the first Sir David Salomons demolished this and built a large country house. He continued enlarging and landscaping the grounds for the rest of his life. When Sir David Lionel Salomons inherited the property in 1873 he built the tower to the house and the workshops were built in 1882 and two years later the Science Theatre was completed. By 1894 an extensive stable complex with accommodation for 21 horses and coach house for 12 carriages plus loft areas for grain and hay plus accommodation for the coachmen and grooms had been erected but by the following year Salomons' interest in cars had taken over and a set of earlier stables were replaced with a range of five garages which are considered to be an example of one of the finest early motor-carriage houses in Britain. These incorporated cavity walls, central heating, inspection pits at a suitable depth for the chauffeurs to stand in, and accessed through the rear at basement level. The interior layout is still as originally constructed together with access through the original doors.

They now sport a red Transport Trust plaque stating they are a Transport Heritage Site. A wooden panel exists listing the 62 cars Salomons owned during his lifetime and was originally in one of the garages


The whole estate now renamed Salomons is open to the public and is owned by Canterbury Christ Church University, the house being used as a hotel and conference centre, also available for weddings and housing a small museum. There are walks across the extensive grounds and one can view the outside of the garage block.

Gillian Beecher