Come aboard my road yacht!

Our Friday Lady looks especially pleased to welcome her gentleman to their luxuriously appointed motorized caravan. And well might she – because this could quite possibly be the first true motorhome.
In 1907, many years before this photograph was published in January 1928, Lloyd Osbourne, the American stepson of the famous British author Robert Louis Stevenson, published a novel, “The Adventurer”, which featured an ambitiously designed motor caravan – at that time no doubt considered to be a wild dream of the author. But it was the English aviator, inventor, publisher, and Member of Parliament Noel Pemberton Billing who recaptured the spirit of this fictional design in his Road Yacht.
Based on the chassis of an Erskine Six, the Road Yacht had a deliberately nautical theme; we can just see a sailing yacht in the edge of the picture, and this prototype was described and named as ‘light cruiser Dawn’. Although only 18 feet in length, Dawn’s cabin was said to have the accommodation of a thirty-foot waterborne motor cruiser – with a quality and quantity of fittings that would have cost “considerably more than a thousand pounds” on water, against a quoted cost for the Road Yacht of 495 guineas (without chassis).
Some of the furnishings are quite remarkable – such as: seating for five passengers on either side of the dining table that sits on top of the engine housing (itself equipped with a comprehensive instrument panel); a large zinc sink under the table top, with an electric heater for warming the water; bookshelves; an electric fire; a powerful wireless set; a gramophone; a writing desk; a shower; and ‘miniature dressing tables on the forward bulkheads of the staterooms, complete with all requisites for a lady in one room and a gentleman in the other.’ And a cooker. The only criticism from the enthusiastic reporter were of the strange look of the machine, and the lack of a periscope, ‘to enable the helmsman to see behind when going astern.’
Pemberton Billing was a fascinating and complex character – but we’ll let you find out about him from his Wikipedia entry. For the moment, let’s imagine our Friday lady anticipating a most enjoyable drive with her gentleman friend – or should that be a sail? Most confusing.

Words by Peter Moss. Pictures from the Richard Roberts Archive.


Published: Thursday November 30th, 2017

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