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U2 - A Private Number Plate Story

June, 13 2024 | James Russell

When you hear U2, the first thing that might pop into your head is an unwanted album added to your iTunes library in 2014.


U2 - A Private Number Plate Story

But today, we’re going to jump into one of the originally released British car registrations, U 2, and examine some of the history behind it and its owner.

Let’s get started.

The man behind U 2

Step aside Bono, we’re all about Rowland Winn today, son of architect Thomas Winn and proud Yorkshireman born in March 1871 in the city of Leeds. Not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, he started his working life as an apprentice gas engineer at a local hydraulic engineering firm. An avid engineering enthusiast and entrepreneur, he later went into business for himself, working as a cycle manufacturer and gas engineer in 1892.

Expansion soon followed, so he rented a large cellar to carry out his work, for which he paid a whopping £1 and ten shillings a month. Working as a gas and oil mechanic by day, he was a cycle maker by night, until the motor car appeared on UK roads and changed Rowland’s life forever.

A foray into motoring

Rowland instantly recognised the potential of the motor car and opened the first motor agency in Leeds. His first vehicle was a motorised De Dion tricycle, which he purchased in 1985, and by 1899 he was selling Benz, Daimler, and De Dion cars to the public.

By this time, it wasn’t easy working from the cellar where space was at a premium, especially because he had to move vehicles up and down on ropes for demonstrations to potential buyers. So, at the turn of the century, he moved onto larger premises and became a known expert in all things motoring.

In fact, he was such an expert, that he gave lectures on common motorist issues, arguing that the biggest hazard on the roads was horses. This was definitely the case and it took half a decade for horses to understand vehicles without attacking the driver or becoming confused and disoriented.

U 2, The Motor Car Act, and Rowland Winn

After settling down and starting a family in the early 1900s, Rowland frequently drove from Leeds to London in his cars, demonstrating their abilities on long journeys. He also drove one of them up and down the steps of Leeds Town Hall to show off its mechanical prowess, with a unique multi-tonal horn that caught the attention of many a Leeds local.

With the introduction of the Motor Car Act in 1903, Rowland recognised the value of owning U 1 since it was the first registration issued in Leeds, so he reserved it. However, because the Lord Mayor was seen as a more suitable candidate for the reg, an arrangement was made where he won it over Winn, who settled for U 2, instead.

Because vehicle registration was new at the time, there was a massive flurry of work for local registration offices. So much so that within a year, 50 cars and 20 motorbikes were registered in Leeds, with registrations and dealers receiving over a dozen identification marks.

After failing to acquire U 1, Rowland secured UM 1 when it was released and was the first person to register a private reg for a motorbike. He was also an avid admirer of Henry Ford and the mass introduction of cars, so he took on the Yorkshire agency for Ford.

He actually ended up purchasing multiple number plates, with the below image showing off U 1437 from his collection, on his adapted Model T Ford in Saltburn.

Rowland Winn on an Old Car

Image provided by Leeds City Council. Photographer unknown.

Court adjournments, The Motor Traders’ Association, and World War 1

In 1909, Rowland was prosecuted for “furious motoring” on the Great North Road, which he asked for an adjournment for because he “couldn’t get to court in time without breaking the speed limit”.

For reaching speeds of just under 30mph, Rowland was fined £2, but it didn’t do his reputation any damage as by 1913, he was elected president of the Motor Traders’ Association.

As part of his role, he expanded the use of motorised tractors in Yorkshire during the First World War, for which he was appointed an MBE. As his popularity grew, he visited the USA in 1926 as a British representative at the Motor World Congress, and he eventually moved into politics back in Leeds, serving as a councillor for the Conservatives.

His career hit a peak when he became Lord Mayor in 1939, with the wartime transit of Leeds becoming a huge part of his role. In addition to his eclectic working life, he was a yachting enthusiast and ran the Leeds Children’s Holiday Camp near Morecombe, specifically founded for deprived children, with Rowland donating over £15,000 to the cause.

Oh, we should also mention that he eventually purchased U 1 from the Lord Mayor. What’s even more interesting is that after Rowland’s tenure ended, he gifted it to the next Lord Mayor of Leeds and a friend of his, Arthur Currer Briggs.

This is a novel piece of history because U 1 was put up for sale by Leeds City Council earlier this year (2024) to raise funds and offset a £59 million budget shortfall the council was dealing with.

Rowland’s later years

Despite his early prosecution and fine at the start of the century, the records have Rowland’s driving record as perfect. However, in 1949, he was charged with driving without due care and attention and fined £1 by a magistrate, who was reluctant to dish out the punishment because of a 53-year record of accident-free driving.

After retiring, Leeds recognised Rowland’s achievements and granted him the Freedom of the City in 1956. Unfortunately, he died three years later.

U 2 was spotted in 2015 on a grey BMW and the last known vehicle it was spotted on was a 2019 grey Mini.

Buy private number plates online

At National Numbers, we have vast experience with private number plates. Founded in 1981, we’ve been in the industry for over four decades and our team is full of experts who know all there is to know about personalised registrations.

Give them a call on 01642 363738 or visit our website to buy your perfect private number plate.

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