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    3-wheelers.com e-interviews

    Jane Neil

    Jane Neil’s great uncle was Edward Butler, the chap who invented the “Butler Petrol Cycle” two years before Karl Benz invented his vehicle.

    3-wheelers.com

    I can appreciate that as a child being the great grand daughter of Edward Butler probably did not hold that more interest though I know that you have a number of photos and information now, so what was it that made you take an interest?

    Jane Neil

    Just to correct something here Edward Butler was my great uncle; my father’s uncle so I’m his great niece. You’re right when I was growing up I didn’t have much interest. However my aunt was the keeper of the family history and from time to time the subject of family would come up and out would come photos etc. Also Eric Butler, Edward’s son was still alive when I was a child and we’d visit him from time to time not that I remember any talk about cars but it was family and I did know who he was. An inventor in the family was a bit out of place as the rest of my family on the Butler side were farmers. When my aunt died I inherited a number of her things including the photos and various letters and diaries. I now have children of my own and as I don’t live in England anymore it’s been important for me to let my kids know their “British-ness” including family history.

    3-wheelers.com

    It is said that Edward Butler exhibited plans for his 3-wheeler in 1884, two years before Karl Benz and yet Karl Benz is recognised as the inventor of the modern motor car. Who do you recognise as being the inventor?

    Jane Neil

    I was going to say it really doesn’t matter to me but that’s not quite true as I certainly use this “fact” as a conversation piece from time to time. The “fact” being that my great uncle invented the first British modern motor car and did so before Daimler and Benz. At the time of the invention Britain wasn’t ready for the car; the continent was and so the time was right for Benz. My aunt was a little bit more aggressive about this fact and would write off to any publication that mentioned the inventor of the modern motor car and put them right if they didn’t mention Edward Butler, which they usually didn’t.

    3-wheelers.com

    In 1900 Edward Butler wrote to "The Autocar" magazine mentioning the early attempts of Benz and Daimler and that he had drew up the plans for a vehicle in 1884. I guess he was frustrated that it was due to automotive laws in the UK that were present in 1884 (like the 1865 Red Flag act) his attempts at creating a successful vehicle were hindered. Do you think without such laws, you could have been a relative of the Butler car empire (equivalent to that of Mercedes Benz).

    Jane Neil

    Yes! And that’s usually how I start off any conversation ‘I could have been a member of the Butler car dynasty”! As I said before Britain wasn’t ready for the car. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time and my great uncle just wasn’t in the right place when it came to the car.

    3-wheelers.com

    I understand that you helped the London Science museum with photos of your great uncle. What sort of exhibition was this for?

    Jane Neil

    The Science Museum put together this exhibition from its own collection of photos and documentation. The exhibition was the John Player Foundation British Genius Exhibition at the Science Museum, London in 1977. The exhibition marked the Silver Jubilee of H.M. The Queen. I have a copy of the book “A Salute to British Genius” by Gordon Rattray Taylor that accompanied the exhibition. The book includes a couple of photographs of the Butler Petrol cycle and on page 29 it says

    “The petrol engine, though similar to the diesel, operates at a higher speed. It is usually conceded that the Germans were the first to build a car, despite the fact that Edward Butler’s “Petrol-cycle” – a sort of motorised bath-chair – appeared in 1883. It aroused so little interest that he lost heart. The German Gottlieb Daimler patented his first petrol engine in 1885 and it was about then that Otto Benz produced his powered tricycle. In 1887 he actually sold one. He did not produce a petrol-driven four wheeled vehicle until 1893, the year in which Maybach devised the float-carburettor – but here too Butler had anticipated him”.

    3-wheelers.com

    As you have the original blue prints for the Butler Petrol Cycle, and if the opportunity arose would you like to see a replica of the vehicle built? I know that there are a number or replicas of the machine Karl Benz built.

    Jane Neil

    It would be wonderful to build a replica – but first the blue prints would have to be found. I don’t have the actual blue prints. I have an old photograph of the blue prints – or part of them. On the back of the photograph are the words “The Board of Education has accepted for Exhibit at the “Museum of Science South Kensington: 3, lithe drawings 18x14, 3 cloth tracings 4ft x 3 ft, 2 photo. prints 18 x 14 showing the details of construction of this, the first Petrol Motor Car made in this Country. Photographs were also shown at the Franco-British Exhibition, “White-City” London.”

    I also have a letter written in 1941 from my grandfather (Edward’s brother) who said that the plans for it were deposited at the Kensington Museum.

    This suggests that the Science Museum may have the blue prints.

    3-wheelers.com

    Some histories on petrol seem to suggest that the term first arose in 1892. I am guessing they have never seen the 1884 Butler Petrol Cycle. Was it your great Uncle who coined the word Petrol?

    Jane Neil

    I believe so and so does G.N. Georgano in his book “A World of Wheels – Early and Vintage Years 1886 – 1930”. It was certainly before Carless, Capel and Leonard as the photos of the Butler Petrol Cycle clearly show the word petrol.

    The following exert is taken from A World of Wheels – Early and Vintage Years 1886 – 1930 by G.N. Georgano 2002 Mason Crest Publishers, Inc ISBN 1-59084-491-2

    “Butler christened his machine the Petrol Cycle, the first time that the word “petrol” had been used, and six years before it was adopted as a trade name by the London oil importers of Carless, Capel and Leonard. He planned to have his tricycle manufactured by Butler’s Patent Petrol Cycle Syndicate…….”

    3-wheelers.com

    I believe that Edward Butler's wife (Kate Gildersleeves) is thought to be the World's first lady motorcyclist. Do you know how that was found out?

    Jane Neil

    This suggestion was made in a cartoon “The Rudiments of Wisdom. Motorcycles: two-wheeled, motorised human transporters” compiled and drawn by Hunkin published in the Observer magazine 14 March 1976. I also have a photograph of Great Aunt Kate on a three wheeler with Edward and son Eric – I don’t know the year. As to the first? Who knows, but there can’t have been too many ladies willing to take a turn on a modern, noisy, cranky, bumpy invention such as that.

    3-wheelers.com

    In a previous email you mentioned a letter sent from Edward Butler to his brother Tom (your grandfather) in 1934. Part of it states: "We live in changeful times I wonder sometimes what will be the end of it all." 76 years on since that letter, do you think he would be disappointed that perhaps, despite their refinement, modern cars haven't really moved on that much from his design in 1884?

    Jane Neil

    I think he would be disappointed that we are still using petrol when clearly the world needs to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel and he’d probably still be disappointed that the same disinterest and protectionism that he experienced prevents the environmentally sustainable car from making it to the top ten list.

    3-wheelers.com

    Do you ever come across articles on Edward Butler that you know are wrong? The internet is a great place but at the same time a number of articles can sometimes amend history in favour of the article.

    Jane Neil

    From time to time I’ll come across something and get annoyed – usually when you have jogged my interest again! I’m not quite like my Aunt in sending off missives to get things corrected. Maybe when the kids have left home I’ll have time to do so.

    3-wheelers.com

    I believe that in 1896 Edward Butler broke up the Butler Petrol Cycle for scrap and that the patent rights were sold to H J Lawson. Do you know if this was this the same H J Lawson who founded the Daimler Motor Company in the same year?

    Jane Neil

    According to G.N. Georgano in his book “A World of Wheels” Edward Butler sold his designs to the British Motor Syndicate. I believe the Daimler Motor Company was part of BMS.

    3-wheelers.com

    Jane, thank you very much for taking part in this interview for 3-wheelers.com's 10th birthday and indeed for helping me with information in the past. Your time both then and now is much appreciated .

    Jane Neil

    It was good to get the “stuff” out again and look through what I have.  Also I realised I have another three wheeler story in the family but this time on my mother’s side of the family (related only by marriage). The father of my mother’s brother-in-law was a Martin Harper. He wrote a book “Mr Lionel. An Edwardian episode” . He was in service to Lionel Rothschild as chauffeur/mechanic for 11 years in the early days of motoring in the early 1900’s. It is a quite lovely story of motoring across the continent and how the very rich lived. Anyway he tells his story and just before he met Mr Rothschild he was working in a workshop for the Automobile Club in Cambridge (where he did soon meet Mr R) and he wanted to have the means to take his girlfriend (and future wife) out. So he built his own Motor Tricycle. This was in 1902.

    For other e-interviews please click here

    Jane Neil

    The 1884 Butler Petrol Cycle

    Edward Butler aboard his Butler Petrol Cycle. (Photo taken at Erith, May 1889)

    One of the Blue Prints for the Butler Petrol Cycle

    The Butler Family (Edward Butler with his wife Kitty (Kate Gildersleeves - thought to be the World’s first lady motorcyclist) and his son Eric) aboard another 3-wheeler in the early 1900’s.

    My thanks go to Jane Neil for all of these photographs along with plans

    All images are copyright.

     

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