On this day : The 23rd of December 1903

First London Number Plate


Until the Motor Car Act of 1903 was passed drivers enjoyed anonymity, which may have influenced the way they drove in the early years. That act introduced an annual charge of 20s per vehicle, and 5s for the driver’s licence (though this would not be subject to a mandatory test until 1935); and it included a speed limit of 20mph. But it also paved the way for registration numbers to be issued for vehicles.
It is thought that other authorities beat London to the punch, though no precise details are readily available: and exactly when the first London plate was issued is unclear, though it had certainly been granted by December 23 1903, as it was reported in Car Illustrated on that date.
Not only was the registration of interest – A1: its owner was too. Lord Russell, elder brother of philosopher Bertrand Russell , was a car enthusiast who was so keen to obtain A1 that he queued all night for it outside the London County Council Offices, completing the paperwork with council employee Mr L.H. Oliver of Edgware . The plate was for Russell’s Napier car.
Russell was already something of a celebrity, found guilty of bigamy in 1901, earning him the sobriquet of The Wicked Earl. His conviction, however, didn’t later prevent him serving in Ramsay MacDonald ’s government.


Year Description
1903 This is the year that the Motor Car Act became law. The A1 number plate was sold by London county council in 1903 to the second Earl Russell, who queued for the entire night outside the council offices to have the right to be able to buy it. He beat someone else to it by just five seconds.
1906 The plate was sold to the Chairman of the London County Council along with the registration and the car it belonged to, a Napier.
1907 The head of the Maudes Group Motor Business, Mr. George Perry, bought the plate and was successively transferred to each of his personal cars over the years. These included:

1950 The Sunbeam was bequeathed to Mr. Trevor Laker after George Perry’s death. A condition of this was that, after his demise, Mr. Laker sell the plate and the proceeds be given to a dogs’ charity. The plate was sold for £2,500 and the money donated to The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
1970 The Dunlop company took ownership and rights to “A 1”. The plate was put onto a Daimler limousine that was used to transport VIPs to and from the Dunlop factories.
1975 The plate was used for a brief period on the Director of Engineering’s car, a Mini. The tyre division later took ownership and was used for promotional purposes, including the marketing of the Denovo “fail-safe” wheels.
1985 BTR plc gained the “A 1” plate after it acquired Dunlop. The company’s headquarters in Birmingham placed it on a Ford Granada.
2000 / 2005 The “A 1” plate was bought by Jefri Bolkiah after its sale by Insignia Registrations alongside the plate, “1 A”. The plates were placed on matching, white Bentley Azures.

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