I am coming to the end of this blog–just about one month now until the paperback of Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts appears in book stores near you, at which time I’ll wind down the blog writing. And in sorting out the research boxes for this project, I came upon a brief note from the National Historic Preservation Center in the Girl Scouts of the USA national headquarters in New York. It was entitled “Extracts from a letter written by Mrs. Dance, who lived at Wellesbourne House when a girl,” and contained this interesting bit:
“[The Lows] had the first motor car ever seen in Wellesbourne—a De Dion Bouton—and the village children used to earn pennies by pushing it up the hill to Ettington—once with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) inside.”
I have been to Wellesbourne, in Warwickshire, England, and with the generous assistance of Peter and Rosalind Bolton, two local historians, I toured the area. We saw the garage on the Wellesbourne property that Willy Low built to house his automobiles. The Boltons’ research had uncovered some of the other cars that fascinated Willy Low–including a Golnon and a Meteor. One of the several cars the Lows owned was large enough to ferry a number of guests from the train station to their home in comfort. It is certain that the first automobiles in a small, sleepy village would have caused quite the stir. Willy and Juliette had buckets of money. He loved luxury and she loved new gadgets. Their motor cars surely made them the talk of the county.
What, I wondered did this De Dion Bouton look like?
We cannot know for sure, because we don’t have the records of sale, but I know the window of time in which the Lows would have purchased their autos. So, below are my educated guesses. Imagine, when you look at them, how extraordinary they would have appeared in Wellesbourne…how they would have sounded…what people would have thought as they jumped out of the way when walking their dogs, or steered nervous horses to the side of the lane when the Bouton zoomed in sight. Juliette makes no mention of the Low cars in her letters to her family. Probably they were mostly Willy’s toys, as he purchased them during the time their marriage was falling apart. Still, they were in some measure a part of Daisy’s world, and after his death she was known to have one of the early cars in Savannah. Driving in Georgia, in London, and in Scotland posed no fears for her; indeed, she had rather a reckless reputation as a driver! And the 1920 Girl Scout Handbook contained a “Motorist” badge.
Here is a postcard featuring a 1898 De Dion Bouton:
and here is a little later De Dion-Bouton, from 1903:
This is a photo of a 1905 De Dion-Bouton to give you a sense of its size (that is not Willy Low driving!):
Here is where the Lows kept their motor cars at Wellesbourne:
Above the white garage door, Willy Low had this engraved nearly 110 years ago: