County could have been hub of car industry
GLOUCESTERSHIRE has long played a central role in the aviation industry, but it almost became the focus of motor manufacture in the country.
In the automobile’s fledging years a businessman named Harry Lawson acquired the rights to make and market German Daimler cars in Britain.
He toured the country looking for suitable premises to establish a factory where a pool of skilled labour existed and eventually Cheltenham and Coventry were shortlisted.
The site Lawson had his eye on in Cheltenham stood near Lansdown railway station and had been vacated by a bankrupt company called the Trusty Oil Engine Co.
Coventry, of course, won the contest and subsequently became the heart of the UK’S motor industry, but it’s intriguing to speculate what the effect on Gloucestershire would have been if the decision had gone the other way.
Curiously, cars were made on the site that had formerly belonged to the Trusty Oil Engine Co as the premises were acquired by the Cheltenham firm of H H Martyn and Company, which in the 1920s was subcontracted by Birminghambased Wolseley to build the cars that bore its name.
The only manufacturer that built cars under its own name and in volume in Gloucestershire was Hampton.
This Stroud firm had a factory at Dudbridge and produced 1,100 cars in the 1920s and early ’30s of which only five are known to exist today.
The first Hampton cars were built in 1911 in Hampton-in-arden, Warwickshire.
Production moved to King’s Norton in Birmingham, then after the First World War the design and manufacturing rights were bought by a Stroud businessman named Charles Apperley.
He was the managing director of The Stroud Metal Company, which had for some while made and supplied components for Hampton Cars.
Apperley renamed the firm the Hampton Engineering Company and moved production to Dudbridge where production began of two models, a saloon and a roadster.
Advertised as “A sturdy Britisher born in the Cotswolds” the cars were aimed at the upper end of the market and sales were healthy.
Apperley obviously had an eye for publicity, as he demonstrated the power and reliability of his cars by giving free rides up Jacob’s Ladder, the one-in-three road that rises out of Nailsworth to emerge on Minchinhampton Common.
Two thirds of all car makers in Britain disappeared in the depression of the 1920s and among them was Hampton.
The firm lurched from one financial crisis to the next, falling into the hands of the receiver, then being resurrected on a number of occasions before succumbing to the inevitable and going bust.
The last Hampton car left the factory in 1933.
The receiver appointed to wind up the business was named Thomas Godman, a flamboyant character who’d had a decorated career in the Royal Navy, before going to live in Germany during the 1920s where he married the daughter of a wealthy German industrialist whose money was made in the manufacture of ammunition.
While in the Fatherland Godman became chums with Herman Goering and other high-ranking Nazis.
He continued this association when he returned to England and became an active member of the British Union of Fascists and a friend of its founder Sir Oswald Mosley.
Consequently, Godman was appointed Fascist administrator for Gloucestershire and had his office at the party’s HQ in St John Street, Stroud.
A friend and fellow extreme right winger of Godman’s was the German motor engineer Hans Gustav Rohr, who in the 1920s developed an independent suspension system for cars and was head of passenger car design at Mercedes-benz.
Godman and Rohr talked about building a new Hampton with independent suspension, which would have made it one of the most advanced motors of the age.
But it was a venture that never materialised.
» More information about this local car maker can be found in The Story Of Hampton Cars by Trevor Pickens from which the photos you see here are taken. (hamptoncars.co.uk)
The Hampton factory at Dudbridge
The Hampton de luxe and, right, the Hampton Chalford model at the Stroud factory