Catching the Road Hog

Edwardian Britain saw the introduction of legislation for all types of road users including horse riders, carters, cyclists and motor vehicle drivers. As road usage increased, police officers became evermore vigilant in their enforcement of the law.

In 1905, typical offences reported in Lapford included: riding a bicycle without lights (James Dee); being an “unreasonable distance from his horse and cart” (Richard Stoneman); and speeding at 24mph, 4mph over the limit in a motor car (Captain George Prideaux-Brune).

Compliance with the law wasn’t altogether easy. Oil-powered or carbide lamps lamps were difficult to maintain and could easily stop working during a journey; carters were easily tempted away from their horse to alert the recipient of a delivery; and most cars didn’t have a speedometer!

When local police forces began to introduce ‘motor-traps’, many car owners suspected that it was primarily a measure to boost police funds.

There was general agreement that action needed to be taken against the reckless speeding of ‘road hogs’ through towns and villages, but there was fierce opposition to the prevalence of speed traps on open country roads. These were often positioned to catch-out even the most careful of motorists.

In 1905, Captain Prideuax-Brune became the first motorist to be caught in a trap in Lapford. It had been set up on a stretch of road between two police officers: PC White of Chawleigh and PC Webber of Lapford.

Most traps around this time involved timing a car over a furlong (one eighth of a mile). A cricket pitch measure was commonly used to pre-measure the distance. Police officers then hid behind a hedge at either end of the furlong armed with watches. Attempts were usually made to synchronise watches but not always accurately! The furlong distance was short enough to enable officers to signal to each other. Later that year, one police force introduced a cabling system enabling automatic signalling across the furlong and onward signalling for another furlong to a police officer with the job of halting any offending motorist.

The Lapford speed-trap that caught Captain Prideaux-Brune was set, according to the resulting court case, “between Eggesford and Lapford”. It may be that the trap was set on a furlong stretch somewhere between the villages, but it is possible that the officers had set a trap running the full distance between the two villages. If so, it is an early example of a long distance trap requiring electronic communication between the officers. It is quite conceivable that the officers were located by Eggesford and Lapford railway stations where they were able to utilise the telegraph system.

It is interesting that the trap should have been located near the Earl of Portsmouth’s Eggesford House. The Earl appears to have been a target at the time, the most lucrative speed trap in the country being located on a road across the Earl’s Hampshire Estate, netting £360 in 1905 (see Driven to Failure). The Earl was one of the most prominent politicians to speak against “unnecessary traps” and may have been viewed by the police as fair game.

Captain Prideux-Brune was involved in a number of motoring incidents: in 1902, he was fined for exceeding the 12mph speed limit (based only on eye witness estimates); the same day, he drove down a narrow street and found himself approaching a market with around 50 horses and carts, one of which badly damaged his car; in 1906, he hit a horse and trap as he was coming around a corner; and, in 1928, he hit a telegraph pole trying to avoid another car.

So, was Captain Prideaux-Brune a “road hog” or just a bad driver? It would be 26 years before the Highway Code was introduced, and 30 years before driving tests were introduced.

Captain George Prideaux-Brune was born just two weeks after the death of his 28-year old father. He grew up at Glentorr, Bideford before serving the Army in the Boer War. He was a keen sportsman competing in Tennis, Polo, Sailing, Cricket and Golf.

THE ROAD HOG

The term ‘Road Hog’ was originally used to describe those who disliked cyclists using the roads. Carters, in particular, could become so infuriated by cyclists that deliberate attempts were made to dismount them. When motor vehicles arrived, the carters turned victim and the term became generally applied to reckless motorists.

Road Hogs weren’t just a problem in built-up towns and cities. Is is interesting to note that two prominent users of the A377 through Lapford were vocal campaigners for the harsher punishment of Road Hogs. In 1905, the MP for Barnstaple tried to introduce the “Road Hog Bill” raising fines for reckless driving and introducing prison sentences. Lord Portsmouth of Eggesford House had previously put forward similar views in the house of Lords.