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J H Knight collection


Scope and content

Material relating to the engineer and inventor John Henry Knight, including photograph albums, lantern slides, scrapbooks, publications, correspondence and personal papers. The collection contains seven series: [1] Inventions. Material pertaining to the 1895 car and wooden tyres, as well as general papers and correspondence. [2] Custody of the 1895 motor car. Papers and correspondence relating to the custodial history of the car between the Knight family, Farnham U.D.C., Beaulieu (MMM) and the Science Museum. [3] Material re Knight’s writings. Includes typescripts, patents and correspondence. [4] Circle of 19th century motorists. Various items, including news clippings, correspondence and photographs. [5] Publications. Includes publications, correspondence and local information regarding Farnham and Knight and the Veteran Car Club. [6] Personal papers. [7] Cars (General). Includes photograph albums, slides and lantern slides with images of various vehicles.

Please see the website for more information: http://www.nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/knight_collection

Records creator's history

John Henry Knight was born in 1847, and was the eldest son of a long-established Farnham family who owned Weybourne House, various farms, a bank, a brewery and Vernon House (now the library in Farnham). He lived with his mother and brother at Weybourne House, and in 1868 after he finished his apprenticeship with Humphrey & Tenant, Marine Engineers, he made the steam carriage (at Weybourne House), which had steering by tiller and no brake! This was eventually sold in 1877. Knight was a very keen photographer and took all of the photographs shown in the albums.

In 1885 he married Miss E B Foley, and they lived at Thumblands while their family home, Barfield, was being built. Their children Henry, Edward, Ella Mary, Robert and George were born between 1886 and 1892.

In 1884 the 'Trusty' oil engine was made, the first attempt by Knight to vaporise paraffin oil, and afterwards the first oil-driven engine was made and in 1895 was fitted to the first motor car used in England. The Knight car is central to the pioneer motoring story in Britain and has been on display at the Motor Museum since the early 1950s. It was the first purpose-built petrol driven tricar to be run on the roads of Britain. Knight made a profit from the 'Trusty' which enabled him to experiment with a mechanical carriage. Thus the 'Knighty' came into existence. In 1898 Knight wanted something better than his old home-made car, which did about 10 mph, so he bought a Benz 3.5 hp second-hand. This car was last run in 1911. The 'Trike', a motor tricycle, was made for those of his children who were under 17 years old, who had been driving the car but were not allowed to do so after the law of 1903 was passed. In their Easter holidays in 1904 they looked for a second-hand motorcycle engine and started to make the motor tricycle in August (with the help of their father). This vehicle had two front wheels and one driving wheel at the back. The 'Argyll’ was purchased in 1905 (second-hand). The 'Jappy' Tricar was a 3.5 hp Jap motor cycle to which a Phoenix Trimo forecarriage had been attached. This was eventually sold in part-exchange for a 1909 Triumph. The Gladiator 'Gladys' was bought in 1906, and had a hood and wet weather apron.

Knight died in 1917 and the 1895 car was sent to the Tunbridge Wells home of his old friend, Sir David Salomons. It was returned to Farnham in 1929 and stayed at Farnham District Council's store until the early 1950s when it came to the Montagu Motor Museum (National Motor Museum).

Archival history

Donated by the Knight family in 2011.

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Rights to access and re-use digital objects:


Rights to access and re-use archival descriptive information:

Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike

Please apply to the Archivist if you would like to make any copy of the material.

Related material

Notebooks belonging to Knight, c1911, are held by Surrey History Centre ( http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/a/A13531418 ).


17 boxes


Personal names:Knight , John Henry . (1847-1917 ) 

Language of the material


Records creator

John Henry Knight

Content provider

National Motor Museum | Motoring Archives