The Sound of Progress?

A stench in the ear.
Undomesticated music.
The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization.
Ambrose Bierce

For centuries, the sound of village life was familiar and unchanging: the striking of the blacksmith’s anvil; the sawing of timber; farm animals; church bells; birdsong; horses hooves; children playing; and, sometimes, the pure sound of silence. The noise of a motor-engine was an altogether new sound. For many villagers it was quite unwelcome and for those driving horses it could be troublesome.

On the morning of 19 April 1909, a pair of horses attached to an empty waggon belonging to Mr. Cheriton of Down St. Mary, were travelling along the main road toward Lapford Station when they were frightened by the noise of a motor-cycle approaching from behind. The horses bolted, carrying the wagon and its driver along uncontrollably at great speed.

Ultimately, the shaft horse fell, and the leader, disengaging itself from the traces, continued its wild gallop almost as far as Lapford Station, when it stopped, and quietly waited by the side of the hedge. In the meantime, the driver held the head of the shaft horse down till assistance arrived, and, after considerable difficulty, the animal was freed from the harness and the waggon. It had cast a shoe, and was cut and bruised…

A pedestrian who was overtaken by the runaways narrowly escaped being knocked down. Fortunately, the road was clear of vehicles, otherwise there would have been a very serious disaster. Credit is due to the driver for the plucky manner in which he held on to the horses.
The Western Times, Friday 23 April 1909

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the incident is that a photographer got to the scene! We have this image of the moustached motorcyclist and his machine. His clothing suggests he was gentleman. Note the motoring jacket (usually tweed) with shoulder cape, soft cap and goggles. He also appears to be wearing long boots which was common motorcycling attire even in 1909.

There are several other newspaper reports of horses in the village being frightened by the arrival of motor-engines. No doubt, there were numerous unreported incidents too.

Today, motor-engines are a noise to which the village has become accustomed and tolerates. In 2020, the Covid lockdown silenced daytime engines. Birds were able to communicate at distance, so their song returned. For just a few weeks, something that had been lost to the motor-revolution could once again be experienced.

Above: The motorcyclist looks towards one of the horses being reharnessed. The photograph appears to have been taken at the foot of the hill that rises midway between Lapford Cross to Bury Cross. Bury Barton is visible in the background.