The Story of the RAC 'Hudlass' Box


The Royal Automobile Club was the first motoring organisation of its kind in Britain. The club provided its membership with help from its network of patrolmen. It soon provided sentry boxes for its patrolmen to shelter from inclement weather. Sentry boxes were later fitted with telephone equipment that allowed patrolmen to keep in touch with headquarters and for their members to use to summon assistance. In total, an estimated 500 sentry boxes were installed across Britain by the Royal Automobile Club.


The Hudlass Sentry Box is of timber construction with a pitched roof. The main body of the box tapers outwards towards a square base. The body has a timber outer frame, clad in tongue-and- groove timber boards. The box is painted in royal blue. The box is fitted with a stable door, divided horizontally in half so that the top half could be opened independently. Each half of the door has exterior strap hinges at the top and bottom. A white-painted RAC sign is affixed to the outside of the bottom-half of the stable door. A small rectangular number sign, showing the box's unique identification number is affixed to the top of the door. The left and right-hand sides of the box carry large metal-plate diamond signs showing the RAC logo picked out in white on a royal blue background, with a small rectangular number sign at the top. The left-hand side of the box carries the telephone equipment and external bells. The zinc-metal plated roof projects from the front and rear gable ends and is faced with royal blue-painted wooden eaves. Above the front door intel a large rectangular name sign is affixed to the front gable end. The sign shows the location of the sentry box, spelt out in capital sans-serif lettering.


The Royal Automobile Club was founded in 1897. It was the first organisation that provided roadside assistance to its membership. A decade later the club receiving its Royal Charter in from King Edward VII, allowing it use the word 'Royal' in its name. The club's purpose was to provide its members with help if they ran into trouble with their car. The club employed a corps of patrolmen tasked to help motorists in need. Sentry boxes were provided by club so that their patrolmen could shelter from bad weather, but also as a place to store spare fuel and to provide first aid and information. At the time motoring was a hobby as cars were expensive to purchase and they were prone to breaking down. Following the development of the telephone, each sentry box was fitted with a telephone for use by patrolmen and members. With each sentry box carrying its own unique number, an RAC patrolmen could be dispatched to a specific sentry box once a member had provided details to RAC headquarters. The RAC never installed as many sentry boxes as its rival the Automobile Association, but from 1947 onwards members were able to use sentry boxes of either organisation as the keys would open any sentry box.

Heritage legacy

From the early 1910s to the 1950s an estimted 500 examples were installed by the RAC. The club installed a number of different types, with the Hudlass sentry box being one of the earliest RAC designs. The boxes were of timber construction and were never intended to be permanent structures. The fact that a very small number have survived is therefore remarkable, given Britain's inclement weather. The few surviving RAC sentry boxes, now in museums around the country, are rare examples that tell an important part of the story of early motoring in Britain.


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