Dan Simpson: Manchester Motoring Pioneer

Dan H. Simpson was born at One Oak, Cheadle Hulme, in 1874. He was the son of William Simpson, a partner in the Manchester firm Messrs. Simpson and Godlee, calico printers, and also a director of the Manchester Ship Canal. Rather than enter the family business Dan apprenticed with Duncan, Stewart and Co. in Glasgow makers of engines for steamships. Incidentally the company would go on to produce commercial vehicles.  On finishing his apprenticeship Simpson returned to Manchester, at the spritely age of 22, to form Simpson and Bodman with Walter Bodman, a local coachbuilder, in 1896. The firm had a small workshop in Didsbury and a small team of engineers and it is likely that financial backing for the enterprise came from Dan’s father.

The sole aim of the company was to manufacture a commercially viable vehicle for haulage. It was the first company of its type to do so in Manchester. Other early firms in the North West included the Lancashire Steam Motor Company of Leyland (later Leyland Motors), Coulthard and Co. of Preston and Musker of Liverpool. All four companies produced commercial haulage vehicles pre-1900.

An advert for Simpson and Bodman, from The Autocar 6/10/1900
An advert for Simpson and Bodman, from The Autocar 6/10/1900

Simpson showed a keen interest in the problems of the horseless carriage and was prominent at the various early trials and shows that involved motor vehicles. He also developed and cultivated friends in the motoring press.  In 1907 the Commercial Motor described him in the following words:

No man in England has been a more fearless pioneer, in heavy motor traffic, than Mr. D. H. Simpson… his ability as a raconteur is unequalled”

Despite his enthusiasm it took Simpson and Bodman over 3 years before they produced a vehicle that was ready for the trials and sale to the public. They attempted to get a model ready for the Liverpool Heavy Traffic trials of 1899; however they were unable to make the start. The Autocar, August 1899 reports:

“but for sickness in their works, and one or two other unfortunate occurrences at the new factory, which has been only recently instituted, they would undoubtedly have kept their engagement, and we hope very shortly to deal fully with their vehicle.”

Success in trials and shows during these early years could be make or break for some firms, and unfortunately Simpson and Bodman were to suffer from bad press, as their entry to the 1901 Liverpool Heavy Traffic trials failed to finish. It is possible that these failures led to the firm suffering against its Northern rivals.

The firm Simpson and Bibby (Bodman left in 1900) ended in 1903 after only 4 years of production. Dan returned to Glasgow, the city of his apprenticeship, to merge his business with Alley and Maclellan, Limited, of Sentinel Works, Glasgow, where we would remain as Consulting Engineer.

Dan's De Dion tricycle pictured outside The Autocar offices, from The Autocar 28/4/1900
Dan’s De Dion tricycle pictured outside The Autocar offices in Coventry, from The Autocar 28/4/1900

Dan was also an early member of the Manchester Automobile Club, patronised by many who were involved in the early local industry. He is pictured taking part in a run in October 1901, driving with Frank Gresham, later to experiment in motorcar manufacture. The picture above shows a De Dion tricycle that he had modified himself in 1900. Keen in all things motoring, he took this tricycle to the start of the 1,000 trial in 1900, which Edwin Shrapnell Smith, the editor of the Commerical Motor recollected:

On the opening day, I well recollect the coming-up, perched unprotected upon his de Dion tricycle, of Dan Simpson (Manchester) at Marlborough he was thickly coated with dust, from head to heel, his beady looking eyes peeping through, and, so yellow was his visage, that we nearly mistook him for a Chinee.”

Dan joined the army as soon as the war started in 1914. He went to the front, but was later recalled to Britain because of “his special knowledge” and worked for the Director of Trench Warfare Brigadier-General Louis Jackson. Dan died late in 1916 after crashing his motorcycle in heavy fog whilst on duty, aged 42.

Dan's portrait, from his obituary in The Commercial Motor 4/1/1917
Dan’s portrait, from his obituary in The Commercial Motor 4/1/1917




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