Heritage Locations

Salomons Motor Stables, Tunbridge Wells

Private motor stables in original condition, built at the dawn of motoring


Period of construction:
1850 - 1899

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Salomons, David Salomons Estate, Broomhill Road, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 0TG


Nearest Town:
Tunbridge Wells

Heritage Centre:

David Lionel Salomons is widely credited with introducing the motor car to Great Britain and designed some of the earliest examples of a new building type, the motor house, at his residence. His interests were both intellectual and practical, particularly in the field of science where his range of talents was outstanding. He was an electrician, an engineer and a craftsman in wood, ivory and metal. 

An expert on motor mechanics at a time when few people even knew what a motor car was, in 1895 he organised Britain's first motor show, at Tunbridge Wells on the area which is now known as Showfields. He was also an accomplished photographer; in 1870 he invented an electric exposing camera and in 1895 - by then a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society - he was experimenting with and showing cinematograph films.

In 1874 he was granted a patent for his invention of an automatic railway signalling system. A man engaged in so wide a variety of scientific and artistic pursuits clearly felt himself confined even by the substantially extended house left to him by his uncle, 'Broomhill'. So acting as his own architect throughout (with the exception of The Stables), he threw himself into a programme of further extensions and additions which lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1876 the Water Tower was completed and in 1882 the workshops. Next came The Stables and in 1894 work was commenced on The Theatre - the largest privately constructed Theatre in England at the time, to which he attached a photographic studio, dark rooms and a chemical laboratory. This work was completed within two years. The last building works to be undertaken were the garages, the library (now the Dining Room) and the top storey of the main house. Throughout, Salomons employed local labour, stone from a local quarry and bricks made on the Estate.

By 1896 a dynamo had been installed to provide Broomhill with electricity for 1,000 16 candle power lights. As early as 1874 there was an arc light in the workshops, and by 1882 there were 60 lamps of 50 volts - supplied from accumulators up until 1911 when the current was supplied from the Tunbridge Wells plant. Broomhill was the first building in the country to use electricity for cooking and other domestic work.

In 1902 Salomons contributed a chapter "The Motor Stable and its Management" to the Badminton Library volume Motors and Motor-driving in which he gave a detailed description of the facilities at Broomhill as they existed at the time, intending them to be used as an exemplar. These purpose built "motor stables" remain in their original condition and present a unique record of an early private garage complex.

A photograph of c. 1900 (the second image above) shows the original layout of the motor stables - with two garages bisected by a narrower bay, possibly used for bicycle storage located slightly to the south of the existing buildings. One houses a motor tricycle, the other a pre-1900 motor car. With cars becoming both wider, and more complex necessitating inspection pits - the facility was completely rebuilt by 1902 (the first image above).

The five garages were described in great detail in the Badminton Library chapter - "long narrow rooms", varying in size. One, equipped as a repair workshop will accommodate two moderate-sized vehicles, or can be used as a washing house in bad weather¯. Another could store three small cars, another two large ones, while a smaller "stable"¯ would hold two small or one very large car. The final garage could be used as a cycle house, or to store a small car.

The garages benefited from both central heating and electric lighting, as well as 2.4 m (8 ft) deep inspection pits which were concrete lined and drained. Access to the pits was via a basement area which incorporated a store room, a forge and a changing room with toilet facilities. Petroleum was stored in a separate structure which held two 1,365 litre (300 gallon) tanks.

It was Salomons who achieved a profound change in British legislation to permit motor vehicles to drive on the public highway without a red flag warning and at a greater than four miles an hour. He was also heavily involved with legislation for the storage and selling of petrol and oil.

The estate is now a university campus, conference, wedding venue, hotel and estate; the garage complex is Listed Grade II as part of the curtilage of the house and theatre. The Museum houses papers associated with these change in legislation and with the formation of the Self-Propelled Traffic Association and other automobile clubs. There are also items connected with motor car trials and with early motor races. As well as motoring history, there are a considerable number of items connected with railway history, and a few with flying - D.L. Salomons' extensive collection of prints and drawing relating to the history of transport is now housed at the Bilbliotheque Nationale in Paris .


Beaulieu, Lord Montagu of, Behind The Wheel: The Magic and Manners of Early Motoring, Paddington Press, ISBN-10: 0448226766 (1977)

Chambers, Roy, Some Early Motoring Advertisements, Bellona, ISBN-10: 0850760178 (1969)

Demaus, A. B., Motoring in the 20's and 30's, Batsford, ISBN 0 7134 1538 X(1979)

Flower, Michael & Wynn Jones, Raymond, One Hundred Years of Motoring, RAC, ASIN B00159N2JQ (1981)

Harmsworth, Sir Alfred, Motors and Motor Driving, Longmans, The Badminton Library, (1904)

Jakle, Prof. John, The Gas Station in America, John Hopkins University Press, ISBN-10: 0801847230 (1994)

Johnson, Claude, The Early History of Motoring, J Burrow & Co, ASIN: B000PI2TH4

Meynell, Laurence, Rolls: Man of Speed; a life of Charles Stewart Rolls and Some Account of the Early Days of Motoring and Flying, J Lane, ASIN: B0000CINAG (1953)

Oliver, George, Early Motor-Cars: 1894-1904, Hugh Evelyn, ASIN: B0007JGH1U (1966)

Pascal, Dominique, Stations Service, ETAI (France), ISBN 2-7268-8341-9 (1999)

Rolt, L. T. C., Motoring History, Dutton, ASIN B0010ZXCK4 (1964)

Russell, Tim, Fill 'er Up: The Great American Gas Station, Voyageur, ISBN-10 0760328714 (2007)

Salomons, David, The Early Days Of Motors And Motor Driving - The Motor Stable And Its Management (1902), Read Books, ISBN-10: 9781445524160 (2010)

Ware, Michael, A Roadside Camera, David & Charles, ISBN 0 7153 6791 9 (1974)

Opening Times:
Open daily - visit website 

How To Find:

By road: Off A26 - at Southborough take Speldhurst Road, then Broomhill Road

By rail: Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Stations are approximately 5 km (3 miles) away. There are taxi ranks at both stations.


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