Mad about Motors 2

 

 

LAP 1: On two wheels 

 

LAP 2: Two wheels plus an engine (Nortons)

 

LAP 3: Four wheels (Peugeot to Alvis Silver Eagle, via Auto Union)

 

LAP 4: Moving up a gear (Aston Martin to MG Magnette)

 

LAP 5: The car that never was (Bédélia)

 

 

 

LAP 2

 

Two wheels plus an engine

 

 

The advent of the Great War brought boyhood adventures to an abrupt end. Already a Territorial in the London Rifle Brigade, HW volunteered for overseas service and was soon in the Front Line at ‘Plugstreet Wood’ (Ploegsteert Wood, near Ypres) where he experienced the now legendary Christmas Truce of 1914 – a dominating factor throughout his life. Shortly afterwards he was hospitalised and sent home with severe enteritis (dysentery) and trench feet. Once recovered he applied for a commission, which he obtained in early April 1915.

 

This initially meant intensive training on how to be an officer. Training involved travel, and to facilitate this – and no doubt to celebrate his commission – HW bought, on 1 May 1915, a second-hand 3½ h.p. 1914 Model 9 Norton motor-bicycle, LP 1656, for which his bank book records that he paid an ‘A. R. Rayner’ £38. He named this machine ‘Doris II’ after his first love, a girl living in the same road called Doris Nicholson. This young lady is ‘Helena Rolls’ in the Chronicle and is the young girl he waved to from his uncle’s Panhard et Levassor during his momentous ride in it.

 

 

motors21 Norton Doris II

HW on his first Norton, LP1656, in 1915 in Eastern Road, Brockley;

Hilly Fields in background.

 

 

(Please note that the most of the photographs reproduced on this page are from very small prints now over 100 years old, many of which have faded or otherwise deteriorated.)

 

There are very few details available about this exciting purchase, but we read about it in A Fox Under My Cloak (vol. 5 of the Chronicle, 1955), chapter 10 ‘Helena’; although there may be a little embroidery, HW’s total recall and addiction to true details gives a vivid picture of several rather nice motorcycle models of the time.

 

Phillip Maddison (HW), newly commissioned, is sent to Sevenoaks in Kent for an ‘Officers Instruction Course’. He is initially driven there by his friend Desmond Neville (Terence Tetley in real life) in a ‘little brown open car . . . a Singer open two-seater’ lent to him by his uncle for a few days only, which Phillip obviously admires. But to make life easier while on this course Phillip adopts a cunning plan. He approaches a garage stating he wants to buy a motorcycle and can he therefore try it out for a day.

 

He went to one of the garages in the town, and asked to be allowed to try out a second-hand motor-cycle for sale. It was a Fafnir, with poppet inlet valve, very old, priced five pounds. He took it back afterwards saying it was not fast enough. The next day he took out a Triumph, but this too had a defect, he explained upon returning: it whistled loudly through the belt pulley. . . .

 

A third garage had what Phillip thought looked like a Stick Insect on Wheels: a four-cylinder shaft-driven Belgian F.N.

 

The F.N. was duly returned, with the criticism that the handlebars were too far back. . . .

 

In this way the first week was passed, six machines in all being ‘tested’ . . .

 

And, more importantly, he has learnt how to ride a motorcycle! But Phillip gets caught out in a scam by a man who has overheard him discussing yet another motor-cycle, a ’10 h.p. twin-engined N.U.T.’, in another garage and later catches up with him, riding

 

a rather nice-looking two-stroke with red and green tank . . . making a fine buzzing noise.

 

This is a Connaught, and he is told: ‘The engine has no valves to break, none to grind in, no springs to lose temper, no oil to pump into the crankcase.’

 

Phillip is persuaded to buy this machine and parts with thirty-four pounds. Later the same day he sees in yet another garage, ‘a new 1915-model Connaught for £29.10s.’

 

(The Fafnir was a German make; the N.U.T. so-named from the town of manufacture – Newcastle upon Tyne; the FN – Fabrique Nationale de Herstal – a Belgian company; the Connaught was produced in Birmingham by Bordesley Engineering as a single-cylinder two-stroke machine at the 1912 Olympia show. Like the earlier bicycles and the list of early cars kept as a boy, there was quite a range of excellent machines on the road, and HW’s interest and enthusiasm is obvious.)

 

Phillip realises he has been done, for not only has he been over-charged – the garage owner tells him it would have cost £15 from him direct – but the Connaught also had a cracked crankcase. However, at the end of the week, Phillip sets off for home on this machine:

 

The Connaught ran with a pleasing purr, and he soon mastered the way to change gear without clashing the teeth, with decompressor valve lifted.

 

He enjoyed the shape and colour of the red and green tank, [and] long aluminium foot-boards . . .

 

Phillip’s intention is to impress Helena Rolls by appearing on this splendid machine, but he is not successful. A few days later he spies another opportunity to impress this unattainable young lady. Stopping for petrol in a garage near his home he sees in the workshop

 

a racing motor-cycle, the sporting lines of which immediately took his fancy. . . . It had racing handlebars, small rubber-padded foot-rests, a single-cylinder engine with big cooling fins, a straight-through exhaust pipe of large diameter.

 

This garage owner, most generously, offers him a straight swop and urges Phillip to try the machine out:

 

‘It’s a Bink’s three-jet carburettor, she fires at once on the pilot jet’.

 

The engine fired at once, with the least opening of the lever. The saddle was comfortable too. He lay forward, body-weight on wrists, knees gripping the leather pads strapped round the tank, feet well back on the rests. His body felt like an arrow into the wind. And what a fine drum-like beat of the exhaust! He was entranced.

 

And so Phillip becomes the owner of this motorcycle. He has it repainted – black enamelled frame, tank to be pearl-grey, lined out with thin red, and the name ‘Helena’ to be painted in small letters on the left front-end of the tank, in black. The motorcycle make is not mentioned, and the machine is known as ‘Helena’, but this is of course HW’s first Norton – a second-hand 1914 Model 9 (490cc, direct belt drive, ‘flat tank’) – which he named ‘Doris II’

 

 

motors21a Norton LP 1656 Doris II

 

 

The motorcycle gave him freedom to roam – to escape. It also gave him trouble and got him into trouble. Throughout his life HW expected the engines of the vehicles he owned to be perfect – and was very impatient when they were not. His understanding of mechanics was really rather rudimentary, and in trying to correct problems he often created more, meaning that he was forever spending considerable amounts of money he couldn’t really afford having experts overhaul the current beast.

 

After that initial course HW was posted to Newmarket for further training. He immediately found himself in trouble on all fronts, mainly due to a gauche manner and lack of the rigid upper-class social graces still prevalent, and a tendency to play the ‘giddy goat’ inappropriately! Worse, he questioned their out-of-date military practices, pointing out that ‘It is not done like that at the Front’. All of which made him unpopular with his fellow officers, who duly took their revenge. All the ensuing contretemps are related in A Fox Under My Cloak.

 

A newspaper cutting from the Newmarket Journal, 11 September 1915, pasted into a notebook, corroborates a scene from this novel, revealing that he had been summoned ‘for driving a motor cycle at a speed dangerous to the public’. He was fined £1. The magistrate’s summing up ended that he hoped it would be a lesson to other ‘young bloods’. His witnessed speed had only been about 25 m.p.h., but in Newmarket – home of the horse-racing fraternity – anything above 10 m.p.h. was a danger both to horses and people, in that order.

 

 

motors22 Young bloods cutting

 

 

The episode is embedded – and embellished – in A Fox Under My Cloak, where we read that Phillip is advised by a fellow officer to plead guilty:

 

‘This is a town famous for bloodstock, and trainers have an established right to lead their strings through the High Street, and the burgesses to insist on protection for their valuable animals on whom the prosperity of the district largely depends.’

 

We read further about ‘Helena’ in The Golden Virgin (vol. 6 of the Chronicle; 1957) (the title refers ostensibly to the famous statue on the church in Albert in France, but with double entendre for a young girl named Lily). Phillip takes the young, uneducated and inexperienced Lily (later tragically killed in an air-raid) for a ride on his beloved motorcycle out into the countryside to his childhood ‘preserves’:

 

In 1916 it was not easy to start on a motor-cycle driven by a rubber belt and a fixed pulley, when you were on level ground, unless you could run and spring on when the bike was in motion. But when you had a flapper on the bracket it was impossible. The way to start was to go to the top of a sloping street, wait for your passenger, let her seat herself on the bracket over the rear wheel, while you straddled from the saddle; then, all being balanced, you stood up and pushed off with your feet, the handlebars taking all the forward thrust. It was a precarious few moments while you wobbled forward, ready to drop the valve-lifter; and when you did so, and the engine fired, a quick adjustment of weight was necessary, for you who had pushed were now pulled. If your flapper was calm, you were all right; your strong forearms kept the bike straight, as you sat back on the saddle, trailing your feet for a moment, to show your easy mastery of the situation.

 

All went well on that occasion, and sad, hapless Lily enjoyed her trip. A few pages on from this incident, Phillip is accosted by an official for a breach of the law and we find revealed the registration number – but still not the make – of his motorcycle: it is the actual LP 1656.

 

On convalescent leave, in the early summer of 1916 HW ventured down to Devon on the Norton, with his friend Terence Tetley on pillion (Desmond Neville in the Chronicle), to the cottage later known as Skirr in Georgeham (seemingly permanently rented by his Aunt Mary Leopoldina, with whom he had spent an idyllic holiday in May 1914). No doubt the pair of young soldiers, with all the irresponsibility of youth, caused considerable mayhem in that small and then remote village!

 

 

motors23 HW TT Norton LP 1656

 

 

HW wrote to Motorcycle magazine extolling the virtues of his Norton. The firm used a sentence from this letter in an advertisement that appeared in another magazine Motor Cycling, dated 17 October 1916:

 

 

motors24 Norton advert Oct 1916

 

 

Once fully trained, in February 1917 HW was sent back to the Front Line as a Transport Officer, attached to 208 Machine Gun Company (the fictional 286 MGC). In early June 1917 he was badly gassed (indeed, narrowly missed being killed) while taking provisions and ammunition up to the troops on the front line at night. Hospitalisation and then a long convalescence followed.

 

However the Norton was still in use. There are several cuttings from Motorcycle magazine which show he was having trouble with what he called ‘Konking’ – explaining that it was a ‘long-stroke single-cylinder motor-cycle engine’ – fine running from start, but if stopped and then went up a steep hill, banging occurred.

 

Replies offered remedies including one from a Captain Lindsay.

 

 

motors25a HW letter

 

motors25b HW Konking letter

 

motors25c replies inc Lindsay

 

motors25d Munitions

 

 

Captain Lindsay also wrote to him personally, giving explicit instructions on how to sort out the problem.  (His handwriting is very difficult to decipher and some words impossible to read.)

 

Belgium

 

21/3/17

 

H.W. Williamson Esq.

 

Dear Sir,

 

Your query re your Norton in last week’s “Motorcycle” prompts me to suggest one or two things to you.

 

I take it you have a TT or BRS engine in your machine. As you know when turned out these 2 engines have a pretty liberal piston-cylinder clearance, which naturally ultimately means that it becomes excessive for all but Brooklands. I would suggest that your trouble is due to a combination of two causes

 

1) Excessive piston clearance

2) Bad present day fuel, on benzole, a good petrol you would not have been troubled with this piston slap.,

 

I would suggest you write Nortons and return your piston for them to measure etc. As a temporary expedient very slightly oversize rings may help considerably.

 

Will you pardon one other suggestion, namely that if you have a BRS (guaranteed speed) model or even a TT engine do not gear higher than 4½ to 1 for use on the road, 43/16 to 1 has been very top gear on several of these engines and with it you can still make a 7-9 Indian look silly over the Hog’s Back.

 

In good tune the 79 x 100 engine will rev up to about 9600 rpm, so that speed there is in plenty even on 4¾ -1 gear.

 

Donovan, I believe, has got nearly 4200 rpm out of his track machine. So the engine, although essentially a pulling one, delights in revving because [of its?] very light reciprocating parts.

 

I hope you will get rid of your trouble OK.

 

Yours truly,

 

A. Lindsay, Capt H.A.G.

 

54th Heavy Artillery Group, R.G.A.

B.E.F.

 

(Dan O’Donovan had joined Norton in 1913, winning various races and braking records at Brooklands. He was known as ‘The Wizard’ for his ability to tune machines for maximum performance.)

 

A second letter covers four pages and runs straight on with no paragraphs whatsoever. One senses the urgency of a man at the Front

 

B.E.F. Belgium

 

4/8/17

 

Dear Williamson,

 

Thanks for your letter. I know the district you recently vacated as I was with my lot covering that part until quite recently. This spot however makes our previous locality seem like a Sunday School picnic. The reason for the running late timing Mr Norton wrote you about is merely one of the great reasons for the success of the long stroke engines. The power expansion of the burning gases has an appreciably longer time to press on the dcscending piston, hence a timing that would be too late in a short stroke high speed engine is not too late in a long stroke slow speed engine. Incidentally this long expansion makes for power and petrol economy and cool running. All these three attributes eventually follow. I have given a 79 x 100 engine 10 mms (35°) advance but find 5-7 mms advance on the mag quite sufficient. i.e. with ignition fully advanced points just separate when piston is 7 mms from top of compression stroke. As you say it is the single cyl 3½ engine just as the A.B.C. is the flat twin, the 2¾ A.J.S. was the 350cc single – the 6hp A.J.S. the 750cc sidecar machine. The riding position is, as you say, excellent and safe at any speed. It inspires confidence. If you change carburettors the Binks 3-jet is the thing, but don’t try to set it as an automatic. Set it as a semi-automatic. You can use it as a single lever for starting and then as a two lever once properly under way. Jets 00, 4, 7 or 8, give plenty of life and economy. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it set right in the first fortnight as it takes some learning to get the best out of it. I speak from a long experience of it. To get an easy start only open to the 1st pilot jet. Mark the jet position on the L.b. control. [small sketch here] For everything except all jets use both levers as usual in a two lever carburettor. For speeding ignore the bottom lever extra air. Close it. And push the throttle (top lever) right out to the third jet mark. The engine will misfire for a second or so and then settle down to its work. For hills at speed bring back the throttle lever a bit to enrich the mixture, as the pace comes down. As your engine is getting much more air with this carb. Use your ignition control carefully to prevent pinking when pulling hard uphill. I usually take off the bottom air-clip altogether and have the holes uncovered. [small sketch showing this] The Amac I have always looked on as an --------- was ------. The Senspray is good for hills and open country but rather uncomfortable to handle in traffic or town work as the machine will not throttle down obediently on it. In open country a Senspray with 38 jet is the goods for getting a move-on. Petrol consumption is also poorer than with the Binks. I have got over 160mpg with the Binks on a solo Norton B.R.S. and 90 to 110 on the Senspray. Ordinarily the Binks on the 79 bore engine should give you 95-140 mpg with good roads and long runs. I mean 95-140 miles covered per gallon not consumption at the rate of 140 mpg. Liverpool to Stirling on 1 gallon Benzole and ½ gal Shell No.1 was my best consumption run done in one day, approx. 270 miles and no attempt at tuning or faking. I was going back home from the 1914 TT. Jets no 000 3-6 and luggage on board the bike. My first Norton secondhand 1911 3½ manual which cost me £20 and which was sold by a pal of mine recently (to whom I sold it in 1914) for £25!! A good old bike. If you can beg borrow or steal a Bosch single point plug do so. Failing that a 12/6 Lodge ano is next best – the next Sphinx Lodge 3 point etc to use for any speed over 40mph. Sometimes one can be picked up in an obscure village garage. I wish I were able to take out my B5 Norton now instead of having to trot round on a dull as ditchwater dud Triumph. I’ll foam at the mouth for years to come at the sight of either a Triumph or a Douglas. The T. engine is absolutely lifeless. It keeps going, bar when an exhaust valve breaks, but to drive it, after a Norton, is like driving a tired horse after riding a Derby winner. Whilst those perfectly bad spring forks make me mad. Let me know how the Binks does, as writing about Nortons is next best to riding one.

 

Yours truly

 

Alex Lindsay

 

54 H A Group.

 

The beginning and end of Captain Lindsay's letter:

 

 

motors26a Capt Lindsay etter eg

 

..........

 

motors26b lindsay letter end

 

 

HW clearly also wrote to Norton about the problem, for he pasted a note on the timing in his pocket book which was very likely enclosed in their letter to him, of which page 2 survives (the date is unknown):

 

 

motors25e timing

 

motors25f Norton letter

 

 

*************************

 

 

In 1919, with the war over, HW was stationed at Folkestone with the task of overseeing troops returning from the Front after the Armistice. While there he upgraded – buying a new Brooklands Road Special (BRS) Norton motorcycle No 8: the price was 73 guineas, with an additional 6 guineas for a Phillipson pulley.

 

A letter from Norton shows he placed his order as early as 1917:

 

 

motors27a Norton letter 1321919

 

 

On the reverse of this letter in very faint and almost unreadable pencil script, HW has written a few words in one corner – a note for what was a very early (and later abandoned) version of his first novel:

 

He sat still in the other room, and his thoughts pursued their way into the future. The smell of varnish was in his nostrils, and from the far room he could hear the deep hum of Gerald’s voice and occasionally the higher note --------------

 

There is a receipt from Bartlett’s for a deposit of £10, dated 25 February 1919, another on 6 June for £50, and then a full receipt for the balance, the total cost being £82.19.0. This also reveals the following important details:

 

Engine no. 19636

Frame no 1940

Magneto no. 29005

 

 

motors27b Norton receipt 1

 

motors27c Norton receipt 2

 

motors27d Norton letter

 

motorsda final receipt

 

 

This is the motorcycle that HW took delivery of on 16 June 1919. The photographs must have been taken soon after purchase, judging from its pristine condition. The location is unknown, as is the name of the young lady posing on the new Norton:

 

 

motors28a BRS LW82

 

motors28b BRS norton query location rider

 

 

Both these photographs have been restored - this is the first photograph in its original condition:

 

 

motors28b Norton 2

 

 

At this stage of his life HW had two major love affairs, first with a young lady called Doline Rendle, and then with her (married) cousin Mabs Baker. These two women feature in the early novel The Dream of Fair Women and in the later Chronicle. The new BRS Norton was used to hair around mainly in pursuit of first one then the other of these two lassies, as Phillip (and HW) pines and gets ever more depressed and wrought-up over his lack of success (though he and Doline remained on friendly terms for the rest of their lives).

 

The following cutting shows an incident from life in Folkestone at this time – a visit to Southampton for the motorcycle races. HW and Mabs Baker are among the spectators in the picture, and HW has marked faintly in pencil where they are:

 

 

motors29a HW Mabs Races southampton 1919

 

 

And at this time too a report appeared in the London Evening News under the heading ‘FAST MOTOR-CYCLING’, stating that Lieut. H. Williamson had won the ‘motor-cycle race "flying" mile held near Folkestone. The winner’s speed was at the rate of 721/3 miles per hour.’

 

 

motors210 HW Flying mile 1919

 

 

HW was demobilised in September 1919, returning to the family home with its inevitable restrictions and tensions. He had determined to become a writer, but meanwhile had to earn his living. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Leaver, director of a large stationery firm, used connections to get him a job on The Times as a canvasser in the Advertising Department.

 

He began work in January 1920, but soon also started writing short articles; by mid-July 1920 he was writing regularly for the Weekly Dispatch a weekly column on light cars under the title ‘On the Road’. These continued until January 1921. These short articles have a charm almost of innocence today, and importantly have a great deal of information on the motoring scene at that time for the enthusiast. (These articles were painstakingly retrieved with HW’s permission by John Gregory in 1969. They were published by the Henry Williamson Society in 1983 under the title The Weekly Dispatch. Copies are available from the HWS website, together with the e-book edition, re-titled On the Road.) There is considerable information about cycle-cars, which possibly underlies the fictional ‘Bédélia’ episode that appeared later in It Was The Nightingale (vol. 10 of the Chronicle, 1962) and will be dealt with in a later ‘Lap’.

 

In April 1920 HW had the engine overhauled. A letter from Norton shows an amusing rapport – Graham Walker was a well-known motorcycle racer in his early years, and later equally well-known as a broadcaster and journalist. He was the father of Murray Walker, famous for his idiosyncratic and enthusiastic motor-racing commentaries.

 

 

motors212a Norton letter 1920

 

motors212b norton letter p 2

 

 

motors212c Receipt

 

 

motors210b HW BRS 1920
A much-worn photograph from 1920 of HW on his BRS Norton

 

 

In March 1921 HW heard that his first book, The Beautiful Years, had been accepted for publication. On the strength of the £25 advance royalty payment, he got astride his ‘Brooklands’ Norton and roared off down to the Georgeham cottage to begin a new life, writing in his journal: ‘All my eggs are now in one basket.’

 

We read in The Sun in the Sands (Faber, 1945; but actually written in Georgia USA in 1934) of HW’s departure for Devon (in March 1921) with loving details of the beloved Norton:

 

I thought of the thousands of miles we had journeyed about England, my beautiful long-stroke Norton and I. To York, along the Great North Road, where we had touched 67 m.p.h.; the many journeys between Folkestone and London; and along the south coast; to Cambridge for May Week . . . I had cleaned and polished it that morning, my lovely Norton, with its silver-grey tank and long low riding position, dropped bars and nickel-plated exhaust-pipe curving from the cylinder and sweeping straight away to the rear, suggestive of its flashing speed. . . .

 

The 499 c.c. long-stroke B.R.S. Norton was the first model made after the war by a Birmingham firm which later was to become supreme, owing to its successes in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races. It weighed about a hundredweight, and had no gears, no lamps, no horn, no extras whatsoever. Its engine drove a rubber belt from an automatically expanding Phillipson pulley to a large rim on the spokes of the back wheel. It had cost nearly a hundred pounds and I had spent half of my war gratuity on its purchase. I loved it. . . .

 

Sunrise was behind me; the wet grey road ahead. I wore my old flying helmet, new ill-fitting goggles which let the wind into my left eye, ancient flying leather coat, my field boots, and yellow breeches of cavalry twill. The speedometer needle wavered between forty and fifty. My feet and hands were cold. The note of the open exhaust drummed pleasantly in my ears. I gave another pumpful of oil to the engine, and holding the left grip of the handlebar lightly, glanced over my right shoulder and downwards at the faint blue haze drifting behind. This was the Great West Road and I was on my way to Devon! My right fore-finger slid open the throttle and I whacked the engine up to sixty, thrilling at the marvellous absence of vibration, when compared with my previous Norton, a nineteen-fourteen model bought for thirty pounds . . .

 

I went on my journey, passing and overtaking occasional cars going westward, shoving open the throttle lever of the Binks 3-jet rat-trap carburettor as I rocketed by . . .

 

Tales of his noisy engine with its open exhaust as he thundered around the village and surrounding countryside, soon accompanied by his flamboyant friend, Frank Davis (as ‘Julian Warbeck’ he appears in various books), who joined him from London, abound to this day, handed down as village lore!

 

 

motors213 Norton Vale House

HW on his hard-ridden BRS Norton, by now showing some signs of wear and tear,

outside Vale Cottage in Georgeham, c. 1922

 

 

Around 1922 HW became tutor for a short time to a young lad, the son of a composer living locally who had to make a visit abroad for his work. Almost at the end of his life HW wrote up this episode from his early life in Devon in what was to be his last book, The Scandaroon, a charming tale set in Barnstaple about pigeon racing and the efforts of the boy to rear one of this rather strange species of pigeon. Fifty years after the event we find HW had not forgotten his BRS Norton: The narrator, ‘Nry’ (HW) goes to see his young pupil and takes him into Barum (Barnstaple):

 

thither we arrived on the Brooklands Road Special 499cc Norton motor-cycle.

 

In the early summer of 1924, while out with the Cheriton Otter Hounds researching material for the book he was writing about an otter, he met a beautiful young ‘maid’ (a traditional Devon term) Ida Loetitia Hibbert, whose elderly father was an official of the local Cheriton Otter Hunt. The pair became what today is known as an ‘item’ – so much so that the Master of the Hunt, William Rogers, prone to singing a special song at dinner after a meet, added this verse:

 

Here’s to Mr Hibbert

If he’ll pardon me the libert-

y of introducing him into my song, boys.

Here’s to Henry and to Ida

Who’s a very dashing rider

On the Norton motorcycle going strong, boys!

 

Ida, or Gipsy as she was always called, had three brothers. Her mother had died in 1917 from TB, and the ‘Boys’, as the brothers were known, after serving in the war in the Merchant Navy, had set up a small engineering works post-war as part of their garage business, which was run from their home in the tiny hamlet of Landcross, just south of nearby Bideford. To do this they ill-advisedly borrowed money on the strength of family Trust, money due to them on the death of their father. They were very talented, but totally lacking in business sense, or urgency in completion of work. They drove HW, drilled in army efficiency, to distraction: while they found him very irritatingly interfering!

 

Turning was a Hibbert family skill. ‘Pa’ Hibbert (a gentleman of the old school in every sense) had his own lathe and had worked with wood all his life. The boys took this further, with metal lathes and a great deal of ancillary equipment. An example of their prowess is the fact that they made new piston rings out of cast iron drainpipes. Another involved a car had been left with them for some small reason – they noticed a problem. It had a cracked crown pinion. They solved this by casting a new bronze unit– then fashioning the same on the lathe, a feat of considerable skill. When the owner collected his car, he stated that he hadn’t asked for that repair and refused to pay. ‘WHY didn’t you ask first?', fumed HW!

 

The Boys owned a Quadrant motorcycle onto which they fitted a very professional looking sidecar, as the accompanying photographs from Loetitia's album show. HW’s future bride is astride with her younger brother Robin in the sidecar! (Known as ‘Bin’ by the family, he is featured as ‘Sam’ in The Story of a Norfolk Farm and ‘Tim’ in the Chronicle.) 

 

 

motors214 Loetitia and Bin

 

 

motors215 Quadrant

 

 

Bin used his skills to great effect in later life, becoming a Master Craftsman in Ornamental Turning, producing most excellent items in ebony and ivory, and winning the honour of Master Craftsman of the Year at some point.

 

The Hibberts also had a Tamplin tandem-seated cycle-car, shown here loaded up with Gipsy’s camping gear and Bin at the steering wheel. She was a very keen leader in the Guides.

 

 

motors216 Hibbert car Tamp

 

 

An advertisement for this cycle-car gives a fairly detailed specification:

 

 

motors216 Tamplin advert

 

 

At the time of the marriage between HW and Ida Hibbert (early May 1925), it seems that the Boys made a side-car for HW’s Norton to enable the young couple to travel across Exmoor to a remote farm, where they spent some time before travelling on to France for a tour of the recent battlefields of the Great War. Clearly it would not have been possible to fit the BRS Norton with a sidecar. However, there is a photo of a third Norton in HW’s archive about which no details have been found, showing the young couple together outside HW’s family home. In an article on the Vintage Norton website Martin Shelley has identified the machine as a solo 16H 4.90 h.p. Sports Norton, and that ‘XX 294’ is a 1925 London registration. Obviously it was that model that was modified with the sidecar.

 

A new 16H cost £59.10.0, against which HW would have traded in his BRS, now six years old and ridden hard.

 

 

motors217a1925 Norton 16h
Courtesy of Martin Shelley

 

motors217b Norton with ILW on Norton no 3
Loetitia and Henry with the new Norton outside his parents' home in Eastern Road, Brockley

 

 

After a few months' use, the new 16H needed some attention, for a packing note from Norton shows parts for the 16H engine supplied in October 192-. The parts were sent to 'Messrs Hibbert Bros, Engineers' at Lancross, so clearly the Boys carried out the repairs at their Works.The complete year is not given, but it must have been in 1925.

 

 

motors219 receipt wok on engine 11650

 

 

A small envelope would seem to relate to this machine, as the address is also that of the Hibbert family home at Landcross:

 

 

motors218a envelope

 

motors218b reverse

 

 

It actually contains the following document – the Guarantee for a Norton – which is obviously for XX 294:

 

 

motors218c Guarantee inside envelope

 

 

Undated, there are some scribbled calculations in a notebook in which HW appears to attempt to convert r.p.m. to miles per hour . . . the last line tells the story! 

 

 

motors220 HW calculation

 

 

*************************

 

 

The Williamsons' first child was born in February 1926. The young couple had moved from the original thatched ‘two up, two down’ rather primitive Skirr Cottage to the more substantial Vale House just a few yards away. Vale House was rented from the Lamplugh family – and it was Aubrey Lamplugh who drove Gipsy to the nursing home in nearby Braunton in his Trojan – as I have noted in my 1995 biography of HW:

 

 . . . the motorbike and sidecar being considered even by Henry as too primitive a form of transport for a woman about to give birth.

 

By this time HW was working hard on writing Tarka the Otter, published in 1927, the book which made him famous when it won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature the following year. A classic, Tarka has never been out of print over the ensuing nearly 100 years. Like classic cars, it is well made, enduring and loved.

 

Now a family man, it was time for HW to put away two-wheeled transport, and advance to four.

 

 

*************************

 

 

Go to:

 

 

LAP 1: On two wheels 

 

LAP 3: Four wheels (Peugeot to Alvis Silver Eagle, via Auto Union)

 

LAP 4: Moving up a gear (Aston Martin to MG Magnette)

 

LAP 5: The car that never was (Bédélia)

 

 

 

*************************