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London Hotel Car Rally

London Hotel Car Rally Taunton Somerset

This scene is from a postcard by Henry Montague Cooper. Not a rare card as it appears sometimes rather over priced on Ebay. The card was used by guests at the hotel over quite a long period of time as the photo was taken on 21st July 1904.

In 1914 W.F. Whittingham acquired the hotel and the address box was altered to include his name instead of E.H. Claridge.The image shows the newly formed Somerset Automobile Club with French automobilists sponsored by The De Dion Bouton Motor Co.

Most early cars in the UK were engined by French or German companies as Britain was a little slow in accepting the new fangled motor car. De Dion engined cars were being sold in Bridgwater by The Bridgwater Motor Company in 1901 and small car suppliers were springing up in Taunton around the same time. Incidentally 1904 was the year that motor registration was introduced. The first Somerset number being Y1.

Normally the cost of the machine included free tuition and many horse carriage drivers took up driving. Apparently the hard part was stopping them shout “ whoa “! The man on the tricycle is Tom Crump, a well known Taunton character, surveyor to the Rural District Council and pioneer motor-cyclist.

The photographer Henry Montague Cooper became an early motorist himself acquiring a 3.5 h.p. Benz, a De Dion two-seater in 1903 ,soon to be upgraded to 9 h.p. MMC ( Y 308 ) then quickly followed by a 12 h.p. Belgica

( Y 388 ) demonstrating the quick advancement in engine power. The last three motors all appear in scenes photographed by Mr Cooper around Somerset. One can see him chugging into a local village followed by a horde of small children ( also included in many scenes ) then setting up the bulky camera equipment often in the middle of the road.

Henry Montague Cooper was born in Cheltenham in 1864 leaving home as a teenager . He came to Taunton and married Jane ( Jenny ) Morley, the daughter of local photographer William Morley, in 1888. William Morley retired and the young couple took over the successful photographic business specialising in studio portraits and stereo views of Taunton. Henry Cooper initially traded as H. M. Cooper but being a canny businessman soon adopted his full name as Henry Montague Cooper.

They lived at    the studio in East Reach close to where Primark is now. The Coopers had no children of their own but brought up two “ nieces “ who everyone assumed were the children of a late brother. In fact both children were the illegitimate daughters of Cooper and one of his shop assistants Harriet Fanny Ellis. Mary and Gladys Cooper were brought up by Mr Cooper and Jenny both births being registered at Exeter giving the father’s name as “ Henry Montague “. This subterfuge worked for many years until the daughters became adults and Mary’s children were not aware of the secret until after her death aged 91 in 1988. All of this was accidentally revealed when Mary discovered the truth when applying for a passport to visit Australia after her husband’s death. Clearly Jenny Cooper was complicit in all of this and clearly the Cooper’s had meant never to reveal details of the family scandal.

Business prospered for the Coopers. They were able to buy the motor cars, employ a servant and embark on foreign holidays. Mr Cooper caught the postcard boom and opened more studios in Burnham, Chard , Wellington and Lynton. About 1929 Henry Montague Cooper retired and sold all his glass negatives to one of his staff who , unable to find a home for them, had them all destroyed. A great loss to Somerset though many thousands of his postcards survive.

By Nick Chipchase

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