I was an engineering pupil at the works in Wolseley Road, Caversham, between January and September, 1923, when I was 18.
It would be interesting to know if there are any of these fine cars still in existence. [Yes!—Ed.] My father owned two: both were very reliable and the first ran 90,000 miles, the only major replacement being a camshaft chain. In 1923 we were turning out about seven cars a week, mostly Clover Leaf open 2-litres, at £450. But, alas, the firm ran into financial difficulties and production ceased in, I think, 1927 when Thornycrofts took over the factory.
H.E. stood for Herbert Engineering. The Works Manager was Mr. Edwards and Vic Curtis was Running Shop Foreman. The designer was Mr. Sully, whom I remember very well because he smoked 80 cigarettes a day! I went quickly through all departments, starting in the machine shop. My first job was to drill holes in 2-litre flywheels. After a day of handling these, by the already cut starter rings, my hands were cut and bleeding! But I greatly enjoyed it and later I did turning and milling and worked a Fellows gear shaper. One day I dressed like a diver and tried my hand at shot-blasting crankcases shut in a steel chamber that could only be opened from the inside.
In the Fitting Shop I was first put in the “odds and sods,” as we were called, and lined hundreds of brake shoes, assembled hand-brake levers with their ratchets, and did other menial jobs before being promoted to fitter’s mate, when I assisted with the erection of lots of gearboxes, rear axles, steering gear and engines. Even after all these years I can well remember the thrill when I was handed the scraper by the fitter and told to go ahead and fit the bearings of one engine on my own, under the eyes of patient, kindly, charge-hand Frank Mutton, he went to Julian’s of Reading when H. E. closed down.
The engine was a simple robust side-valve 4-cylinder with aluminium head. We had an H. & F. brake and after running in off the shafting for many hours each engine was run under its own power, and to pass had to give 30 b.h.p. at 2,400 r.p.m. (They would actually go to 3,000 r.p.m. and give over 40 b.h.p. but the other speed suited our brake better!) If they failed we would buff the pistons and try again!
Finally I went into the Running Shop, where I helped in repair work, tested chassis with chain-smoking “Fuggy” Freeman, and at the end drove a chassis every day to Union Motors at Battersea, where the bodies were built, and brought a finished car back in the evening. This I much enjoyed, and could tell many a tale of some adventures on the road 42 years ago when there was hardly any traffic!
A famous occasion was when we won a handicap race at Brooklands. the racing car being driven by Bill Brooks, but the date I have forgotten. The same car, I am almost sure, held some short-distance records at Brooklands in a rather obscure class at a seed of about 87 m.p.h., it was a modified side-valve. A 16-valve 4-cylinder push-rod racer was also constructed about this time but was not a success. It was driven by Tommy Hann. I remember the engine well—it had 48 valve springs and volute springs on each valve and an extra spring on each rocker and pushrod. The first time it ran at Brooklands several of the volute springs failed and a valve broke about a mile after the start. I spent many hours hand-lapping the bores in the block in an effort to rectify the damage. The car was sold later and I believe ran in a few minor hill-climb events in the hands of a private owner, but I cannot be sure about this.
Chassis testing was a pleasant occupation in good weather. We fitted on quite substantial seats and a charged battery, drew four gallons of petrol and pushed off to go where we liked, the only test laid down officially was the climbing of Bix Hill, near Nettlebed, in top gear. On return we adjusted the tappets to 1 1/2-thou. (yes, 1 1/2 !), and if satisfied handed over the chassis to Vic Curtis, who took it “round the houses” for a final test.
During my time at H.E.s I lived with my parents at Wood Cottage, near the top of Streatley Hill (turn off A329 by “The Bull” and rode to work and back on a fearsome 90 x 77 1/2-mm. twin Brough Superior-J.A.P. The Angus-Sanderson car my father had was sold, because it would not climb the hill, and replaced by an A.C. The two H.E.s followed later. I now run a Triumph Herald. Yes, those were happy days!
Dorridge. H. Paxton-Petty