Stories From the Stacks: Books, Books, Books!

A regular series about the museum’s motoring memorabilia and behind-the-scenes activities, compiled and written by FMM’s Assistant Curator Sian Theron. This month, it’s about the museum’s library and, in particular, a century-old map book…


Memorabilia ranges across a wide variety of items – and that includes books. FMM has a growing library of some truly magnificent tomes that cover the entire subject of motoring. Thanks to many generous donors, the museum’s library just keeps getting better and offers researchers and interested members of the public a fantastic assemblage of information. Amongst the library collection are a number of true gems, one of which has stood out to me, titled Donaldson’s South African Motor Routes – 1924.

This hard-cover book is bound in red, and when new offered avid motorists maps of all of the motoring routes in Southern Africa. It’s a magnificent collection of hand-drawn maps that point out river crossings, railway lines, and the ubiquitous farm gates that were once so prevalent on so many of the country’s roads.

The book is divided into five sections, each covering what were then known as the Western Cape Routes, Transvaal Routes, Orange Free State Routes, Natal Routes and, lastly, Rhodesian Routes.

Paging through the book allows one to realise just how far motoring in South Africa has come, as well as how quickly it took off in the early part of last century. Travelling in the 1920s was not easy, and books like this provided important information to motorists, seeing as GPS was a long way off from being available…

The trip from Robertson to Worcester for example, comprised three gates, one road bridge and many small ones, and one railway crossing. Each map was created using knowledge from locals from the area, generally mechanics but often from other local businesses as well. The source of information is mentioned on every page. Some pages are filled with vintage adverts. It’s a truly interesting read and gives much insight into travel and tourism in the 1920s.

The FMM library is open by appointment only. No books may leave the premises, but researchers and interested parties are welcome to use our boardroom or upstairs lounge while visiting the library. Appointments are available subject to curatorial availability.