Rocky road I: From ACC to ACU

As any history of motor cycling will tell you, in 1907 the Auto Cycle Club evolved into the Auto Cycle Union. You’ll find reference to the new name in this timeline. But, inevitably, there was more to it than that. Passions ran high and the debate was intense.

THE ACC DATED BACK TO 1903, WHEN IT WAS ESTABLISHED as a branch of the Automobile Club of Great Britain. In 1907 the Automobile Club was granted royal approval by Edward VII and renamed the Royal Automobile Club. The RAC flourished but not many motor cyclists bothered to join the ACC and the Motor Cycling Club reckoned it was time to form a stand-alone organisation just for bikes. It proposed: “That the ACC be reconstructed, and in future be known as the Auto Cycle Union, composed of affiliated clubs only, the same to control the sport of motor cycling. The union to be formed by representatives from all the affiliated motor cycle clubs in the kingdom.” Clearly a conference was called for.
The committee of the Auto Cycle Club met and GJ Wilkinson, Secretary of the Lincolnshire MCC, was tasked with finding a venue for what became the Lincoln Council of Motor Cyclists. The ACC General Committee passed a resolution for the conference: “Bearing in mind the strong position now occupied by the ACC on account of its agreements with the Royal Automobile Club and the Motor Union, and also that the [individual] affiliation scheme has only been in existence for a short period it is undesirable that the present constitution of the ACC be tampered with… any premature reconstruction would be highly detrimental to the motor cycle movement as a whole.”
Every motor cycle club in the United Kingdom was invited to send two delegates, preferably the chairman and secretary. Also invited was JW Orde, the secretary of the Royal Automobile Club, and W Rees Jeffries, the secretary of the Motor Union. The Motor Cycle reported: “This conference will be at 10am… at 2.30pm the delegates of the clubs affiliated to the ACC, and the other members of the council of the ACC, will meet for their first provincial council meeting. Robert Todd, chairman of the ACC, who is connected with other motoring organisations, will preside at both gatherings, and in the evening there will be a dinner. It is expected that many most important matters will be discussed at the two meetings, and that altogether it will be a notable gathering. There will be a meeting of the Lincolnshire MCC committee to complete the arrangements. In this way every motor cycle club should be represented, and much good should result.”
GJ Wilkinson, a driving force behind the conference, said: “The clubs have been concerned chiefly in the protection and safeguarding of their members, and now we need the clubs to band together. We can grumble and complain to our heart’s content, but alone we can do nothing. If the whole of the motor cyclists could be banded together they ought to be able to achieve almost anything. At any rate, they would not be ‘sat on’, as is the case in some things. For this reason it is highly necessary that every motor cycle club in Great Britain and Ireland should be represented at the conference at Lincoln…and that whatever grievances, of whatever nature, which exist should be thoroughly discussed and action decided upon, and that there should be a thorough discussion, and decision, as to what form the organisation of motor cyclists should take. Possibly invitations have not reached all clubs, but the secretaries of any such clubs should at once communicate with the secretary of the conference.”
The Lincolnshire MCC duly booked a public hall and negotiated discounts on delegates’ railway fares and hotel rooms. The club promised “dinner in the evening will be a very good one at a moderate price and the musical programme will be carefully selected…most of the delegates will arrive on Friday, and it is expected the party will not disperse till Sunday. It to be hoped that every motor cycle club…will be represented, and, in some way, secure the motor cycle organisation we all desire and need…It is very evident that the ACC is the ideal body for motor cyclists, and, except for its connection with the RAC and Motor Union, could be made into the purely motor cycling organisation so much to be desired. If it has failed or fallen short of expectations, that is because it has not had the support of all motor cyclists, though why does not materially matter.
It ought to be possible, on a moderate affiliation fee, to do all we require, and to provide a fund large enough for our purpose. Every motor cycle club should, however, subscribe, and for that reason, and for the obvious need for all motor cyclists to stand shoulder to shoulder, it is to be hoped that every motor cycle club in the whole kingdom, the Irish and Scottish clubs included, will attend this conference and emphasise what is required. The committee of the Lincolnshire MCC has decided to form a guarantee fund, restricted to its members, for the purpose of meeting the expenses of the conference, etc, and any member desiring to join in the guarantee should communicate with the secretary or treasurer.”
Welcoming to the delegates, Deputy Mayor Newsum (having apologised for the Mayor’s absence due to a previous engagement) offered a “cordial and hearty welcome to the old city of Lincoln”. He expressed the hope that they would enjoy a fine day, and that the result of their deliberations would be the strengthening of the organisation of motor cyclists. He was glad to see from the notepaper of the Lincolnshire MCC that they had taken the motto ‘Union is strength’, and that there was a desire for union between the various associations of motor cyclists throughout the country. Delegates were urged to call on the ACC and Motor Union to work for special legislation “on behalf of motor cyclists apart from autocarists…It has never been properly brought to the notice of the authorities that motor cyclists as a body are very much more careful in their methods of driving, principally because they know perfectly well that, should an accident occur, it is they who would sustain the greater damage.”

Clubmen and delegates at the Lincoln conference that marked the launch of the ACU.

The Motor Cycle subsequently reported: “The conference held at Lincoln on Saturday last will stand out as the most important gathering ever held in the motor cycle world. There were several who went down to Lincoln believing there would be a complete revolution…The agitation that has been going on for time, and which found an expression at the meeting, came to a head…The representation is to be, as now, one for each 25 members, the private members of the ACC being on the same basis, the ACC being really considered as a club pure and simple, but joined to the new [Auto Cycle] Union. This being accepted by the delegates representative of the leading clubs in the country, the air was cleared, and the remainder of the proposals went overboard. A committee of eight (men of what has been termed the ‘reform party’) was chosen to prepare a scheme for the composition of the new Union, and to meet the committee of the ACC at Nottingham, the whole of the details of the scheme to be there worked out, and submitted to a full council, which will probably meet in London during the Stanley Show week.
“This is really something attempted, something done…the scheme as a whole was accepted by the ACC so that everything is in a fair way of accomplishment. The great fight was at the conference in the morning. The whole thing was worried out there, and the representatives of the affiliated clubs at their council in the afternoon accepted it.”
“The necessity for an Auto Cycle Union, by EL Bates, hon treasurer, and SW Carty, hon sec, Newcastle & District MCC: Since the recognition of motor cycling as a pastime in this country, the Auto Cycle Club has been to the fore promoting competitions, trials, and tests, with a view of improving the efficiency of the machine; but, apart from this, it has devoted no time or attention to the conditions under which these machines are used.
We cannot stand still or at the best confine our attention to improvements in only one direction any longer. The motor cycle is now to all intents and purposes reliable, and the next step is to give the user greater freedom in the use of the machine. If this can be done the popularity of the motor cycle as a vehicle is assured. As it stands at present, nothing is being done in that direction but ‘judicious advertisement’, and that is not reaching the class whom we wish to draw from, ie, the man who does not motor cycle, and who is round us in his teeming thousands, ready to come into the fold if he can see that there is any reasonable prospect of being exempt from being bled by police and bureaucrats.”
The delegates to the council of the ACC met in the press room at the Agricultural Hall during the Stanley Show. The major points to be approved were:
☞ The name to be changed from Auto Cycle Club to Auto Cycle Union.
☞ The social programme to be dropped.
☞ Local Centres to be formed, as in the National Cyclists Union.
☞ The ACU Committee to specially take up the motor legislation as affecting motor cyclists.
The meeting was unexpectedly stormy. First, an amendment called for a combined title: “The voting was then proceeded with. For ‘Auto Cycle Club and Union’ there were 25 for and 26 against. As the counting was, however, disputed, a recount was made, and the proxies were counted, and it made 33 for the amendment and 28 against. It was pointed out to the Chairman that, although he had urged the name ‘Union’, he had voted for ‘Club and Union’. He explained that he had given the proxies he held to the amendment…he, however, would put it again as there was evidently some confusion in the minds of those voting, owing to the many speeches made, and the fact that there were three proposals. He then put the matter to the vote as for or against the name ‘Club and Union’. The voting was against the combined name. Then came the simple voting ACC as against Auto Cycle Union. For the name ‘Club’ the voting was 16, and for ‘Union’ 40, and proxies made it 17 and 53.
“The second of the recommendations of the joint committee, ‘That the social programme be dropped’ led to a long discussion, in which again most of the speakers wandered from the subject, and dealt with all sorts of things, having to be repeatedly called to order by the chairman…A general discussion arose, and on being questioned as to what was being discussed, the Chairman said it was ‘miscellaneous’. It was evident that there was agreement with the spirit of proposal, and when a speaker referred to the intentention to bring in the clubs in Scotland and Ireland, the Chairman questioned that, and said they had ‘home rule’ and would not willingly give it up.
“The Chairman said that he had not liked to say it before, but he thought the reform committee had gone about it in a most unbusinesslike way. He then referred to what he said at Lincoln as to how far the ACC were willing to go. and he repeated that at Nottingham. It was not correct to say that he assented to the new body. If it was to be a new body the ACC did not assent. On the grounds that the scheme had not been circulated he would not have it considered that day.”
So, as planned the Auto Cycle Club became the Auto Cycle Union but that alone entailed two hours of heated discussion between the eight club delegates appointed at the Lincoln meeting and the ACC. It was impossible to find agreement on detailed plans but it was resolved the the social programme would be dropped, local Centres would be formed on the pattern on the National Cyclists Union, and the ACU committee would concentrate on motoring legislation that affected motor cyclists.
Clubmen doubtless hoped that the confused situation would be resolved at the follow-up meet. Again, they were to be disappointed: “The important meeting of the ACC council and representatives of affiliated clubs held at the Stanley Show on the 23rd ult has come and gone, and very little has been done beyond the change of name and a somewhat ambiguous rendering of the definition of the ‘social programme’. We regret to notice that a somewhat acid tone has crept into the reported utterances of some of the speakers. This is regrettable in every way, and we hope the ACU may be placed on a very firm foundation without further resort to acrimonious personalities.
“The chairman of the ACU acted entirely within his rights in refusing to hear any discussion on the scheme which has been drawn up by the hard-working committee of eight, and which they thought would certainly be heard at the meeting; but we think that it might have been advisable to have permitted the scheme to be read, instead of adhering rigidly to the agenda, and then to have deferred the discussion and voting upon it to a future date. Those responsible for the labour of formulating the scheme had misunderstood the rule regarding the agenda, and they went away dissatisfied with the results of the meeting. After all they do not desire the disintegration of the ACU, but merely to assist in the formation of a stronger and more representative body composed solely of motor cyclists, which shall act with, instead of under, other similar bodies…”
An angry enthusiast had his say in the Blue ‘Un’s correspondence column: “…these busybodies—the noble eight—seem to be aiming at nothing else either practical or useful except cheapness, so as to get into the fold, I expect, the man who owns a five-year-old crock and expects to get for 6d the same as a man who now pays his £1…In conclusion, I should just like to add that if another ‘packed’ council meeting of the ACC pass any more of these ridiculous ‘reforms’ and so tend to destroy all traces of the once-honoured ruling body, it is time that the parent club—the RAC—came to the rescue and vetoed any more ridiculous schemes brought forward by outsiders and prompted by nothing but jealousy…”
Another correspondent chose to stir in just a soupçon of sarcasm: “…every motor cyclist with a grain of commonsense must by this time realise that it is high time we swept away the effete organisation of the Auto Cycle Club and started upon entirely new and up-to-date lines, if the ACU is to expect the capitation fees of the provincial clubs, which are the backbone of the sport, and infinitely better than the Cockneys. The reformers mean well, no doubt, but they do not appear to realise the necessity of their reforms being drastic enough. The idea of the half-crown capitation fee is plutocratic extortion; what the clubs want is a shilling capitation fee, and even that is an exorbitant tax upon the clubs unless adequate benefits are assured in return. In addition to the present privileges, I consider that every member of an affiliated club ought to be entitled to the following advantages :
1. The RAC and Motor Union Journal by post weekly.
2. The free use of the RAC garage.
5. The run of the club house at 119, Piccadilly, when we
visit town.
4. Wholesale terms from all motor cycle makers, accessory dealers, repairers, and garages.
5. 33% per cent discount off hotel bills.
6. Free legal advice and assistance when summoned.
7. An arrangement with the county councils whereby
motor cyclists will pay a reduced fee for driving licences.
8. The Union to pay all fines.
9. Railway fares and hotel expenses for delegates to all
10. Free permits for races, and the Union to provide them.
11. Free accident insurance policies.
12. Old age pensions.
“If these advantages, and a few more that will readily occur to your readers be granted, the Union would make a commencement towards meeting the reasonable demands of the provincial clubs; but it must be understood that in formulating these demands we will not be dictated to by any upstart officials in London. Of course, when the scheme has been fairly established, the accumulated funds would enable the Union to reduce the capitation fee to sixpence, and, with a little management, and plenty of honorary labour on the part of London officials, it ought to be ultimately reduced to fourpence.”