Fatal Car Crash

The first recorded motor accident fatality occurred in Rye on 25 March 1905.

These remarkable photographs by local photographer Mr. Whiteman, and the accompanying report and drawing from a Rye newspaper tell the whole story in vivid detail.

First Car Crash in Rye

Mr. William Oak, who was killed was afforded the honour of a Military Funeral. The injured men recovered.

It is interesting to note. that, even 65 years ago, a leading question put at the inquest was – Had the driver been drinking? The answer was No.

There were questions as to the soundness of the brakes but no record of anyone at the inquest raising the point that seven people might have been too heavy a load for the vehicle.

The Funeral of William Oak
The Funeral of William Oak


The following newspaper report appeared a week after the accident.

Late on Tuesday night as a party who had been attending a smoking concert at Peasmarsh, were returning to Rye in a motor car, a terrible accident occurred. Nearing the bottom of Rye Hill the driver seems to have lost control of the car,

One Man Killed and Four Injured which dashed into the fence of ‘Mountfield’, the residence of Dr. W.V. Skinner.  The whole party were pitched out of the car and more or less injured. The name of the driver was Charlie Dodge, a Folkes­tone man, and the other occupants of the car were Mr. C. F. Smith, a married man living in Mermaid Street, Rye; Mr. C. H. Small, builders apprentice, Rye.; William Oak, a chemist’s porter, Rye, Mr. C. H.  Mountain, schoolmaster, of Icklesham; Mr. T. Clark, a private in the Icklesham company of Volunteers, and Mr. Barbery, a newspaper representative, of Rye.

William Oak Funeral. Passing the scene of the Motor Accident on the way to the cemetary
William Oak Funeral. Passing the scene of the Motor Accident on the way to the cemetery

The man Oak was so badly injured that he died the following morning. Oak was the only son of a widow and was the support of the family.- The driver was badly mutilated and was conveyed to the Workhouse, where he remained unconscious until Thursday morning, and is still in a critical condition.  Pvt. Clark was also very badly hurt, and Mr. Barbery was jammed between the car and the fence, and was still unconscious this (Friday) morning. The only two who escaped injury were Mr. Small and Mr. Mountain, but these two do not apparently know how the accident occurred.

Motor Accident Rye Hill 1905
Motor Accident Rye Hill 1905


 The Inquest

The inquest on the body of Oak was held at the Town Mall on Thursday evening.

Charles Henry Oak recognised the body, and said deceased was 19 years of age. Charles Henry mall deposed to being in the car and said they left Peasmarsh about ten o’ clock and all went right until the bottom of Rye Hill was reached, when he felt a sudden swerving and knew no more until he found himself in front of the car with his feet upwards. He did not remember going into the fence. In answer to the Coroner, witness said the driver was perfectly sober. Mr. Pearson local cycle maker, said he understood brakes, and had examined the machine that day and there was nothing wrong with them. George Henry Burt, shepherd at Playden, said he saw the car coming down the hill. It went perfectly straight until it got just beyond Grove Lane, when there was a sudden swerving. Henry James Bannister, another witness, said the car was travelling as fast as any motor he had ever seen. The owner of the car, Mr. Maltby, said he had absolute confidence in the driver. – He was perfectly satisfied with the car and the driver. The Coroner said the only thing they could do was to adjourn the inquest until the driver and others who were in the car recovered. They would not be in a condition to give evidence before a month that day. The inquest was adjourned until April 20.

April – May – June  “Rye’s Own” 1971

This report is taken from a newspaper cutting kindly loaned by Frank Palmer