I was working at our large-object store at Wroughton the other day, looking at some of the vehicles in our transport collection. One of them is a really lovely Renault taxi from 1910:
Ain’t it just a peach? Anyway, on the train back from Wroughton I was reading a 1930s book by Herbert Hodge, called It’s Draughty In Front: the Autobiography of a London Taxidriver. I was amazed to find that in 1915, aged fifteen, Hodge got a job in a taxi garage that ran Renaults just like the one I’d just seen.
In the book, he provides a terrific first-hand description of the cars and what they were like to run.
“When the drivers arrived I was expected to start their engines for them – a heart-bursting job in those days, especially with war-time petrol… I soon acquired the knack, learning to ‘dope’ the cylinders with petrol, and heat the plugs on the gas-ring, and all the other dodges necessary for those ancient engines.”
He went on:
“The most difficult knack to learn was the sharp pull to start the Renaults. The first time I got it, I gave such an almighty jerk, I brought the open bonnet down on my head. But I started the engine.”
I love finding these first-hand accounts of what new technology was really like, especially relating to stuff we’ve got in our collections. I feel genuinely closer to our Renault taxi having read Hodge’s words, and next time I visit Wroughton, I’ll be all over that car, imagining Hodge struggling to start the engine back in 1915.
Hodge was a very interesting character in other ways. More on that another time…