Belsize Motors: The Origins

This post is part of a series on the history of the Belsize Motor Company (also Marshall and Company).

One of the Marshall cars that took part in the 1,000 mile trial in 1900. Notice the tiller steering.
An early Marshall car built in 1900. Notice the tiller steering and unusual curved front.

Marshall and Company was formed in 1896; its first car was thought to have been made by 1897. The company started naming its cars “Belsize” in 1901 after the Belsize Works that it occupied in Clayton, near Manchester. In 1903 Marshall and Company, expanding rapidly, needed more capital. It raised money through the public issue of shares and changed its name to the “Belsize Motor and Engineering Company”. Issuing more shares in 1906, it dropped the “Engineering” and became the “Belsize Motor Company”.

Many early motor manufacturers such as Rover, Sunbeam, Swift and Singer, were large bicycle producers and it was fairly common for cycle firms to diversify into motorbike or motorcar manufacture. Historians of the British motor industry attribute Marshall’s origins to the cycle industry. However this link seems to have been erroneously made.

The first reference to “Belsize” prior to Marshall’s formation in 1896 is a “Belsize” bicycle. Reference can be found in the Manchester Guardian 2 December 1893 in a report on the National Cycle Show:

“The Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company has introduced a very light safety for the first time at this show, and has improved the frame of their Belsize tricycle”

Further newspaper research shows that the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company was formed in 1887 with capital of £15,000 which later grew, through issue of shares to £50,000. The company was liquidated in July 1897. In July 1898 their assets were auctioned off, they included the “Belsize Works”. The advert for the auction, in the Manchester Guardian 23 July 1898, states:

“Lomax, Sons, & Mills will sell by auction… the Modern WORKS and PREMISES known as Belsize Works, Clayton Lane, Clayton, near Manchester, in the occupation of the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company, Limited. The premises have a ground area of 2,950 square yards….”

Marshall and Co. presumably bought the works and the modern machine tools of the defunct cycle firm; the link between Marshall and the cycle trade therefore being an arbitrary one. This raises the question: if their background wasn’t bicycles, then what was it?

Unfortunately the company’s previous location, if there was one, is allusive. There, are however some hints as to their background. The Autocar visited the Belsize Works in October 1899 and reported:

“We have long been familiar with the factory, which was erected a few years since for the cycle industry… Autocar construction is not the only work undertaken by Messrs, Marshalls, who are general engineers and manufacturers of patented specialties.”

It was common for engineering firms in the late 19th century to have a large range of product and patents, perhaps Marshall and Co. were doing this.

The name of the firm’s Managing Director, a James Hoyle-Smith, appears on a patent as the inventor of a “knife for cutting piles of velvets” invented by him for the Fustian Cutting Machine Company, Limited, of Salford. The image below is a sketch of his invention dated 1892. He also had several other patents, including a speed gear in 1894 and another knife for cloth cutting in 1894. The Fustian Cutting Machine Company was wound up in July 1894,  a couple of years before the formation of Marshall and Co..

US487974-0 - James Hoyle Smith patent application
Fustian Knife Cutter patent, taken out by James Hoyle-Smith

Examining the other Directors of the company also reveal some interesting links to other industries:

James Hoyle-Smith

Managing Director, engineer and inventor, formerly of the Fustian Cutting Machine Company.

Colin Mather

Also a Director of Mather and Platt, a famously diverse local engineering firm.

Gerald Higginbotham

A Gentleman with A.I.E.E. engineering qualifications, a pioneering motorist and aviator (see picture of Mr Higginbotham in a 60HP Mercedes).

George Pilkington Dawson

The company Chairman. A retired mechanical engineer formerly Works Manager at Beyer, Peacock; also Director of Plas Power Colliery Company Limited, Wrexham.

James Barber

A Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturer.

John Whitehead,

A Director of Wm. Robertson, Ltd of Latchford near Warrington (steel manufacturers).

Gerald Higginbotham, Marshall and Co. Director, on a newly bought 60 Horsepower Mercedes
Gerald Higginbotham, Marshall and Co. Director, on a newly bought 60 Horsepower Mercedes

This eclectic group of engineers and industrialists constituted the company’s board for several decades. It shows a wide variety of backgrounds, with specialists in metals, textiles, mechanical and electrical engineering. The comment in the Autocar that Marshall and Co. was a general engineering firm, seems more likely considering the firm’s board of directors.

While these findings go some way towards understanding Marshall and Co., there are still many unanswered questions:

Who was “Marshall” and why was the company named thus?

Where were Marshall and Co. based before July 1898?

Why did the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company go bust?

Why did the directors form the company?

Hopefully the answers are out there somewhere.


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