The God of Fire at the Seaside (2)

In this second instalment, we turn to the story of Vulcan. 

(c) T. Shambrook

At a similar time to Lea, the Hampson brothers, Thomas and Joseph were setting up their business just East of Liverpool in the town of Wigan. Young Thomas was a keen pupil at Bolton Technical college in the late nineteenth century. Both brothers were mad for motoring; an article from the Wigan Reporter dated September 1899 stating that Joseph had been fined 40 shillings for “driving a motor car to the danger of passengers!” Sadly it is not stated as to what vehicle he was driving nor what happened to his passengers.

Misdemeanours notwithstanding, the brothers had an idea to set up factory in Southport to build and sell motor cars. Believed to be the first company to use such an iconic talisman, the Vulcan Motor, Manufacturing and Engineering Company was set up in Yellow House Lane in 1902. Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and on good terms with Hephaestus, the Blacksmith patron.

VMMEC’s initial creation was a 4hp, belt-driven two seater launched that same year. Shown in both Liverpool and London motor and agricultural shows, the cost was 130 Guineas. Sales it would seem took off for the Yellow House Lane premises were quickly outgrown. Relocating to Hawesside Street which in time was renamed Vulcan Street, by March 1903 a light car was in full production. Costing 165 Guineas for the 6.5hp model to the heady heights of 9hp, setting you back 175 Guineas.

(c) T. Shambrook

As with William Lea, Vulcan’s success came rapidly. Sales rocketed from a not insubstantial £9k in 1904 to £17k the very next year. A leap to £43k for 1906 precluded another change of location to that of Rufford Road, Crossens, a district of Southport and also a rename; omitting the ‘Manufacturing’ and by now employing around 700 in a then state of the art factory; electricity driving the company forward. Expansions were frequent, sales grew. In time the buildings they once occupied were demolished: the Vulcan Way factory making way for that other twentieth century marvel, the telephone exchange.

The Vulcan light car was aimed at the professional chap who wished to drive rather than being driven; sounds like Aston Martin to me. Very un-Aston like, a van was produced in 1908 with a 4.8 litre 6 cylinder engine meaning local deliveries became faster. Engines offered before the Great War became a varied lot; a 2.4 litre four cylinder (10/15), a 2.6 litre four pot (15/9), a three litre four pot (15/20) finishing with that in-line six cylinder unit known as the 25/30.

Watch some clart-brain pinch this for their Aston Martin garage. (c) T. Shambrook

With war darkening the world, by 1914 production had shifted to that of the 30cwt chassis truck that could easily be made into ambulances. Munitions and aircraft parts were also made at Rufford Road.

But a series of events in 1916 led to immense changes. Misuse of company finances led the Hampson brothers to leave, immediately. Ever the optimist, Thomas went from poacher to gamekeeper. Or should that be engineer to politician? On leaving Vulcan in dubious circumstances he promptly became Mayor of Southport but would soon enough endure some ‘porridge’ falling foul of aiding and abetting, garnering a twelve month stay at his majesty’s pleasure. As for Joseph, well he falls off the radar completely.

After the war, the model 16 came equipped with a 2.6 litre Dorman engine. The staple model 12 could be had with varying British engines from now long gone names such as Dorman, British Anzani and Meadows. The model 12 would eventually see Vulcan car production out.


Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

3 thoughts on “The God of Fire at the Seaside (2)”

  1. This is very insightful indeed. It is such a wonder to me how a company can expand, become massively successful and then experience a demise by virtue of company mismanagement. All things considered, it is a shame really. I cannot wait for part 3.

  2. I love these stories, full of history and facts, especially about my childhood town. £43k sales back in 1906 was not an inconsiderable sum of money. Quick calculation using the dearest car at 175 Guineas, that’s 230+ cars. Doesn’t sound many by today’s standards, but these were all hand built and at the very start of the automobile revolution. Can’t wait for part 3 👍🏻

  3. Andrew, thanks for these stories. The first few decades of automobile production are something I don’t really know a lot about, except the very well-known manufacturers of course. But I was aware of the hundreds of companies that tried, with more or less success, to enter this market. Sometimes it’s also interesting what made some sorvive and others not. I suspect it’s not always technical superiority that was decisive. Company mismanagement, politics, personal circumstances could play a major role.

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