Sheffield Motor Manufacturing 1900-1930 – by Andrew Swift – 7th July 2014.

(Andrew’s career was in education and not in engineering, but he has always been very interested in cars and the history of car manufacture in Sheffield.  He managed to acquire a large archive of Sheffield motor manufacturing information.  He brought the archive with him so that members could look at it after the talk.)

In the Fulwood area in 1900 there were no cars, but by 1910 there had been an explosion of car ownership.   Previously, transport had been by horse-drawn carriages, that left up to 4 tons of horse manure per mile per day on Sheffield’s roads.

Car ownership was for the wealthy only because cars were expensive and maintenance was very costly too.  One owner reported that he spent £100 per year on tyres alone.

Many engineering companies in Sheffield flirted with car manufacture as a sideline to their normal manufacturing businesses.

(1902 – 1906)  Frank Churchill persuaded his father, owner of the Hallamshire Motor Company, that they should make cars.  By 1906 the company had stopped manufacture of cars for economic reasons, but still made bus bodies.

(1903 – 1905) The Cavendish company started the Cavendish Motor Company in Cavendish Street, Sheffield.  It seems that they did not actually make cars but bought in other makes and re-modelled or re-badged them.  The company was really a car dealership and later became Kennings.

(1903 – 1905) The Burgon and Ball company set up La Plata Cars but did not actually make the cars.  They sold Talbots etc. and perhaps re-modelled some cars, but they were really  car retailers.  Burgon and Ball are still in the engineering business making garden tools etc.  At this time the Yorkshire Motor Car Company made car bodies but not the chassis and the engine.  They put a customised body onto a standard chassis from another manufacturer.

(1907 – 1909) The Yorkshire Engine Company made engines and power trains and built sports cars, but did not make the chassis.  They used Simplex and Daimler-Mercedes chassis.  YEC advertised a car at Brooklands that they said they were going to make, with a Daimler-Mercedes chassis, but did not have permission from the Benz company to do this.  The problems caused made YEC scrap their car company and go back to  railway engineering.

(1906 – 1914) Sheffield Simplex was, at the time, the only real rival to Rolls-Royce.  Simplex cars could do anything that a Rolls could, and do some things better! Earl Fitzwilliam moved the Simplex factory from Sheffield to some land he owned in the London area. The Simplex cars were the first to have an electric starter and dynamo-powered lights and electrics. Simplex opened a showroom in Conduit Street, London, near to the Rolls showroom. Simplex cars sold only to the very rich.
The Prince of Wales toured the West of England in one of their cars and said it was extremely comfortable (but did not buy one!)
To prove reliability a Simplex car was driven from Lands End to John O’Groats and back again without stopping the engine and they didn’t need to change gear.  (Presumably some sort of automatic gear box was installed.)  Rolls-Royce could not beat that.

Sheffield Simplex ceased manufacturing cars in 1914 because of the Great War, but continued to make lorries.  (1923 – 1928) Stringer-Winco  cars were made in Wincobank using other manufacturer’s engines. A medium-light Stringer-Winco car cost £286 for the chassis only! Meanwhile, Herbert Austin (originally from this area) had set up the Austin company in the Coventry area and was producing a whole car for £150. In 1926 Stringer-Winco halved their prices, and in 1928 made further reductions, but could not compete and went under.

(1919 – 1922) The Finbat Works were manufacturers of tin-plate toys until the war.  After the war brothers Ernest and Charles Richardson began to make cars. The Richardson 2-3 seater light car model D sold for £235. (This was a reduced price.  Probably Austin’s model was much cheaper?) The factory produced about 600 cars, but went bust in 1921 when a strike of die-makers meant that they could not complete the cars. After that Ernest refused to take risks with his future and went back to an engineering job.  Charles went into property, apparently quite successfully.

(1919 – 1928)  Charron-Laycock was part of the Laycocks Company, Archer Road. The cars were claimed to be British built throughout and were aimed at the posh car market (today’s BMW, Mercedes, Porsche market). The Coupe cost £625, the 2-seater cost £525, and the 4-seater cost £575. Actually, the French company Charron produced the engines and insisted that their name was included with Laycocks on the brand. Problems started when Laycocks bought 2000 units from Charron and found that they did not meets the required standard and parts were not available.  By 1929 production of the Charron-Laycocks cars had stopped.

By 1930 cars were no longer made in Sheffield although steel was still being supplied in quantity to manufacturers elsewhere. Big cities like Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford etc. that had flirted with making cars had all stopped doing so.