The God of Fire at the Seaside (3)

Concluding our trip to the West coast, we return, demob happy to the Vulcan story.

The rather sinister sounding (to me) C.B. Wardman took over reins of a changed name again: Vulcan Motor Engineering, and at the close of hostilities bought a football club. Thus Southport Vulcan entered the football league as the first sponsored club. This was yet another short lived affair as the Football Association banned the club because of that very sponsorship; Southport FC returned.

Speaking of returns, cars as well as commercial vehicles were built once again but in 1919 under a different guise, that of a consortium of manufacturers under the title British Motor Trading Corporation with Harper Bean being the majority shareholder. The plan was for the Vulcan side to be make purely commercial vehicles but cars continued to be built.

The BMTC fizzled out due to several matters; a drop in post war car sales, buying up companies at greater cost than first envisaged, over subscription of shares and poor management: an early portend to British Leyland, perhaps? Vulcan regained independence. Cars played second fiddle to lorries once more although a tie up with Lea-Francis did happen. Southport provided the bodywork whilst Coventry managed the mechanicals leading to quite a lot of Vulcan vehicles being sold as Lea-Francis.

By 1928, that ugly head of financial insecurity had reared itself once more forcing Wardman to resign. Officially, no more Vulcan cars were made after that time although some more Lea-Francis may have slipped through. By 1931, receivership occurred but by hook and by crook lorries and buses still rolled out until 1937 when Tilling-Stevens, a Maidstone based firm bought the remaining company. In turn, Tilling -Stevens continued to make Vulcan commercials until it was taken over by the Rootes Group in 1950. By 1953, both Tilling-Stevens and Vulcan became extinguished, confined to the history books.

Today, approximately ten Vulcan cars still exist. Considered to be the elder statesmen, a 1904 model twin cylinder two seater was originally purchased by the effortlessly English Captain Archibald Cumberland Eyton of Eyton Hall in Shropshire, and used by the Captain to tour areas and gain recruits. Sadly languishing in an old barn for many years before becoming the proverbial barn find, recommissioning occurred and it was subsequently London to Brighton-ed on a number of occasions.

Along with the Lea model, the National Museums Liverpool kindly loaned out the Vulcan to Southport for a year long display. This model 12 from 1921 was first registered in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. The car appears to have been repainted three times in its history: leaving the factory in a cream shade, becoming black sometime around the late forties, followed by yellow upon its 1980’s restoration. The museum acquired the car for around £26,000 in 1991.

This car took part in a Veteran Car Club concours d’Elegance held in Scarborough in the 1950’s where categories of cleanliness were marked for paint, brass, upholstery, engine compartment, instruments and switchgear. Being well used but also well looked after, the Vulcan won!

While it’s fantastic that such models have been preserved, given that the Hampsons and Lea were such visionaries, what a remarkable pity it is that their names and vehicles have been practically forgotten. Then as now, the car building Merry-go-round is a difficult beast to tame even when you have you have a god on your side.

With enormous thanks to Mr T.Shambrook who went along to the lecture on the vehicles described above, saw the old premises before their inevitable demise and took the pictures.

Author: Andrew Miles

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

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

  1. Great conclusion, but as Andrew says, both Lea and the Hampsons don’t really feature in history as pioneering automobile manufactures.
    There was talk of trying to get the Crossens factory listed, but alas, it awaits the wrecking ball to make way for more houses 😢.

  2. Andrew’s reference to Tilling-Stevens reminds me of that oddity, the TS3 opposed piston two stroke diesel which was used by Rootes in the 50s and 60s. It was built in what was the Tilling-Stevens factory although contrary to what I had thought the TS in the name did not in fact stand for Tilling-Stevens but rather more prosaically for Two Stroke.

  3. thanks Andrew for these intriguing stories.
    the wiki entry on The Bean adds significant information.
    on the BMTC saga.
    my father acquired one of the last of the Beans, an 18/50,
    as a young man in Western Australia in the 1930s.
    he worked his way around Australia and ended up in Melbourne
    with my mother. the Bean became an entertaining part of the boyhood
    of their four sons. the Meadows engine a splendid thing with twin
    Zeniths and a racy exhaust manifold that fed into an ineffective muffler
    which announced our comings and goings to half the suburb.
    it clocked up nearly half a million miles, being retired to the back yard
    in 1954 for us to tamper with while Dad wrestled with a grievous Daimler.

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