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Knight collection

The Knight car pictured in 1896 with John Henry Knight and one of his sons

We are pleased to announce an exciting addition to our Motoring Archives. Thanks to a generous donation by the Knight family we now hold a substantial collection of material relating to distinguished engineer and inventor, John Henry Knight including photograph albums, lantern slides, scrapbooks, publications, correspondence and personal papers. 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.

John Henry Knight, born in 1847, was the eldest son of a long-established Farnham family who owned Weybourne House. In 1868 after finishing an apprenticeship with Humphrey & Tenant, Marine Engineers, Knight completed his first major invention, the steam carriage with tiller steering.

In 1884 Knight developed the ‘Trusty’ oil engine, his first attempt to vaporise paraffin oil, and approached George Parfitt some ten years later about putting a similar engine to the ‘Trusty’ on wheels to make a motor vehicle. Parfitt was Foreman and later a Partner at the Reliance Engineering Works in Farnham and was to play a major role in the design and building of the Knight car.

Improvements and modifications to the earlier engine design led to construction of the four-stroke engine which powered the Knight car. Work began at Knights home, Barfield, and at Farnham in February 1895. In May of that year Knight went on holiday to Europe and was unfortunately injured in Switzerland by a shying horse on a mountain pass. Convalescing abroad in July, most of the work on the car was completed in his absence, by the enterprising Parfitt and his apprentices. Correspondence passed between the two men; the letter from Parfitt telling of the good news of the car's first trial run is said to have done John Henry more good than any of the doctors' treatments. This correspondence is part of the donation from the Knight family.

Staff at the National Motor Museum Trust with the Knight archive collection

After John Henry Knight’s death in 1917, his son Edward collected notes and photographs with the intention of writing a book about his father’s achievements. This material now makes up a prominent part of the Knight archive collection, which also includes photographic material and lantern slides used by Knight to illustrate his book and lectures.

The project by archive staff and volunteers to catalogue the Knight collection is continuing and nearing completion.


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