August 2017

I am Charlotte Gallant, the Deputy Archivist. While there are many parts to my job, one of my favourite activities is helping to accession new items and donations which are being added to our Archive. This means I get to look at a wide range of material most of which, despite being created decades ago, has links to the motoring world of today.

A recent donation contained a comprehensive record of the motoring career of Miss Dorothy Lammin of Folkestone, Kent. It is clear, from the care she took in preserving her motoring paperwork, that she loved her cars. The selection spans from 1921 to 1972 and includes her 1930s driving licence along with receipts and coupons relating to the fuelling of the vehicles. Her insurance and maintenance documents show that she owned several Austins during her lifetime, a Wolseley Fourteen de Luxe saloon, a Rover '90' saloon and – her last car before retiring from driving – a Jaguar 3.4 Mark II. There is also membership correspondence from both the RAC and the AA.

Pamphlet issued by the RAC in 1947

Why this Document?

The subject of powering motor vehicles has been in the news a great deal recently, from the search for renewable energy to the recent commitment to ban petrol and diesel cars from Britain's roads by 2040. My document of the month is an RAC pamphlet from 1947 which is connected with the history of motor fuel and its impact on society. During the Second World War, the basics of car care became increasingly difficult and sometimes even political. This did not end after the war when, as this pamphlet shows, consumer organisations like the RAC had to fight to regain the rights of motorists.

When the Second World War was declared on 3 September 1939, the government quickly sprang into action, organising the war effort both abroad and at home. One week after war was declared coupons were already well into production, ready for the introduction of rationing on 16 September. Rationing didn't just include food – clothing, fuel and even furniture would all be restricted during the next few years. For petrol (or 'motor spirit' as it was termed at the time) coupons and ration books were available from the local Post Office upon production of an owner's car registration book. The owner was then issued with two ration books – 'First month' and 'Second month'. These contained the number of ration coupons (usually one gallon per coupon) allowed them according to the rating of the car as shown in the registration book. Among Miss Lammin's paperwork is a newspaper cutting which explains these allowances:

1-9hp (or up to 1,100cc) 6 gallons a month

10-13hp (1,101cc-1,600cc) 7.5 gallons a month

14-19hp (1,601cc-2,400cc) 9.5 gallons a month

20hp and over (2,401cc or more) 10.5 gallons a month

Unfortunately she did not keep the date or name of the newspaper from which these figures were extracted. However, it must have been around 8 September 1939 when the first fuel ration coupons were being produced.

Finding left over fuel coupons from the war period is extremely rare as they were generally all used. Miss Lammin's paperwork was no exception. However the covers of her ration book from 1939 and 1940 have survived, along with coupons from after the war when fuel became less scarce.

The petrol ration was only to be used for business and work purposes, with priority being given to military, agricultural and industrial uses. When the war ended in 1945, rationing remained in place, although fuel for private use was made easier by the introduction of a basic petrol ration. When this ration was abolished in 1947 it sparked outrage among motorists. A national petition was organised by the committee of the RAC and sent to the Government demanding they restore the basic petrol allowance. Pamphlets like my document of the month were widely distributed to all RAC members – approximately five million owners and users of automobiles including Dorothy Lammin.

The first million signatures were presented at the House of Commons on 29 October 1947, the second million in December. The following year, while the campaign continued, the Motor Spirit (Regulation) Act 1948 was passed introducing the use of red dye to be put in petrol designated for commercial vehicles. A private car driver would lose their licence if red petrol was found in their car. Likewise, any petrol station selling red petrol to a private car driver could be shut down. On 26 May 1950 fuel rationing was finally abolished, largely due to North American companies agreeing to supply oil in exchange for British goods.

The history of petrol rationing has continued since. It was re-introduced for a number of months in 1956, a mere six years on, as a result of the Suez crisis; it was almost brought back in 1973 during another oil crisis (to the extent that the government even produced the coupons though they were never used, examples of which we also have in our Archive); and in September 2000 rising fuel prices led to a series of protests and blockades, causing a wave of panic buying throughout the UK.

As well as her love of cars, Miss Dorothy Lammin was a keen golfer and in 1960 helped found the Society of Lady Captains of Kent Golf Clubs (or 'Lammin's Lovely Ladies' as it was unofficially known). As past captain of Folkestone and Littlestone Golf Clubs she was the Honorary Treasurer for many years. She remained in the area until her death in 1973.

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