Photo:Winifred Turner seated upon an early model Benz

Winifred Turner seated upon an early model Benz

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'WINIFRED TOWNER' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'WINIFRED TOWNER' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'WINIFRED TOWNER' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'WINIFRED TOWNER' page

Seated upon the first motor car in Newhaven - 1901

By Reg Towner

I scanned these images from a photographic print passed to me by my relative Norma Jenner.

On the reverse of the photo is a handwritten note "Mother 1901 Mercedes Benz First Car in Newhaven".  The mother in question is a young looking Winifred (nee Stone) Towner, wife of Henry Arthur Towner and Norma's own mother.  

The picture gives us a number of clues to correctly identifying the car in question.  Firstly, we can see that it is an open topped compact vehicle with a high bench seat and four wheels of two different sizes.  The wheels have wire spokes, simple bolt-on mudguards and pneumatic tyres, all revealing the car's bicycle technology genes.

I am pretty certain that the car is a Benz & Co. "Velo" or possibly a Benz "Comfortable" (note not "Mercedes" as that name came much later).  These models were made in Germany and were on sale from around 1895.  By that time the Towners had become quite well off due to the success of a number of local business ventures in the town including the main brewery.    

Some members of the family were also trained engineers working in the port.   One of these was Norma's father Henry Arthur who, Norma told me, was sometimes referred to as "HAT".  The Newhaven Towners were in a position to be able to afford one of the 1,200 or so Benz Velos made.  They would have also been fairly confident in being able to look after a car without incurring the high cost of repair.

The family home was "Homestreu" in the High Street but the Benz would have probably been kept in an outbuilding or stable at one of their many public houses, possibly the "Newfield Hotel".

The car must have been the cause of some excitement when seen being driven around the town and beyond.  I would be interested if anyone knows of any local anecdotes which mention it.

For the more technically minded, the "Velo" had a twin cylinder gasoline fuelled water cooled engine.  This would have produced about 5bhp with a top speed of around 12mph.  The engine was located underneath the bench seat.  You can see the typical vents to the engine compartment in Norma's photo.  The car also features an upholstered back rest, a horn and a driving "lantern".  Unlike modern cars, the steering wheel is placed horizontally and operated by a vertical knob arrangement.  My final image is a surviving museum example of the same make and model car.

This page was added by Reg Towner on 21/05/2010.
Comments about this page

Most certainly a Benz Velo, but a bit older than 1901. Most likely built 1899, so quite likely second hand in the picture, unless not used prior to then.

By Malcolm Pelling
On 08/02/2015

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