Most of us are used to carrying around our driving licences in our wallets. It is an essential form of ID which proves who we are, as well as our right to drive various vehicles. This article looks at one of the first driving licences issued in Warwickshire.
The document, which covered driving a motor car only, was the 39th driving licence to be issued by Warwickshire County Council in 1904. It belonged to Mr Thomas Howard Ryland (1876-1948) of Moxhull Park (now Moxhull Hall) in Wishaw. According to his obituary in the Tamworth Herald, Ryland “devoted the greater part of his life to public service” and held several political positions. He was also elected as an alderman in 1931, and was made vice-chairman of the county council in 1941, before becoming chairman in 1947.1 He was a keen supporter of agriculture and was a former president of the National Farmers’ Union and Warwickshire Agricultural Society. Most notably, he was awarded a CBE in the King’s Birthday Honours in 1944.
The first driving licences
Like today’s driving licences, the record features Ryland’s name and address. However, there are some differences. First, it does not feature a signature by the holder. Second, the document was valid for one year only. It appears that the licence had to be renewed each year, for inside the document a separate licence for 1924 is inserted. Interestingly, the UK was not the first country to issue driving licences. According to the National Motor Museum, “France introduced the first driving licences under the Paris Police Ordinance of 14 August 1893.” However, “the Motor Car Act of 14 August 1903, which took effect on 1 January 1904, introduced the driving licence (along with registration numbers for vehicles and a new speed limit of 20mph/32.19kph) into Great Britain.”2 The driver’s proficiency was not tested.
Administering licenses and registration
Local authorities like Warwickshire County Council were tasked with the issuing of registration numbers and driving licences, which they did separately. They registered the vehicle information in log books and gave a copy of the entry to the owners. More information about vehicle registrations can be found in this article.
This document, then, shows how an everyday item such as a driving license can look rather different a century ago to how we know it today.
1 Tamworth Herald, Saturday 16 October 1948
2 Riden, Philip. How to Trace the History of your Car. 2nd Ed. Merton Priory Press Ltd: Cardiff, 1998, p. 10 (available to consult at Warwickshire County Record Office, reference D.351.8783 RID).
This article was Document of the Month for Warwickshire County Record Office in July 2018. Further articles can be found on their website.