County could have been hub of car in­dus­try

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

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

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