I worked at Jarrott & Lett's

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We recently interviewed Mr. Charles Smith, who spent some tame at Jarrott & Lett’s. Smith’s father was hairdresser at Browns Hotel, his clients including Kipling and the Queen of the Netherlands. The son’s motoring interest started when he found a driving licence in the road and returned it to the owner, who took him out for his first ever drive.

In 1915, aged 13, he applied to Harold Lambert, brother of Percy, at Jarrott and Lett’s for a job. The showrooms were in London’s Great Marlborough St. Like all apprentices he had to spend three months in the stores and three months in the machine-shop, where he had a very thorough grounding in various skills. J & L were then agents for Panhard-Levassor, Lorraine-Dietrich, Bugatti etc., and the Works-foreman was Charles Whitehead. Mr. Smith drove the Company hack, which was an ex-racing Lorraine-Dietrich with a van body. The Bugattis J & L sold were driven from France, but their Maxwells arrived crated, and were assembled at the works. Smith never saw Charles Jarrott, all the time he worked there. A J & L building still exists, in Paige St., at the back of Strutton Ground, by Horseferry Road.

The company also dealt in Crossleys, including those for the RFC. These cars came from the Gorton, Manchester, factory by road. Any faults were put right and they were then collected by RFC drivers.

“New boys” at J & L were called “learners”, aged from 15-18, and “improvers” were those aged from 18-21. Instead of keeping a stock, facings for leather-lined cone clutches were cut from hides on the premises from a variety of special templates. At one time Lord Swatheling’s 300 h.p. Fiat was in for work to be done on it. Also, Kaye Don was a salesman and tester for J & L.

After this Mr. Smith went to work in the Sizaire-Berwick factory, making Le Rhone aero-engines. Piece-work rates were good here during the war. After the war was over he tried to move back to J & L, but there was no room for him, so he took a post as Foreman in a garage in Horseferry Road run by two ex-Officers. This did not last long, and he turned to chauffeuring, being employed first by Frank Hodges, the General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation, and Civil Lord of the Admiralty. Hodges was an Alvis fan, using a Silver Eagle. He then bought one of the first Lanchester Eighteens with a fluid flywheel — “slow on the uptake but a good tourer.” This was later replaced by an Alvis Crested Eagle with Wilson pre-selector gearbox, but a manual clutch. This car was very difficult to drive smoothly, as it always snatched. Mr. Smith always drove — Hodges never did, but he also had a three-litre Bentley. Hodges later was a Director of Beardmore’s and Mr. Smith went up to Scotland briefly while they were developing an articulated-truck in conjunction with Chenard et Walcker. Apparently this was a brute to drive. Hodges also was a friend of Lord Nuffield’s — “one of the nicest people to talk to” — whose house had two Morris-Oxford engines (nos: 100,000 and 100,001) driving generators. When on one of their frequent visits to Lord Nuffield’s house, Mr. Smith was invited to try a Riley V8 Special, which had a Wolseley chassis. Mr. Srnith eventually left Hodges to avoid moving to the Midlands, when the latter bought an estate there.

His next employer was John S. Truscott, who dealt in the more interesting cars. Smith drove many of the cars that Truscott’s bought and sold, such as a 32/280 h.p. Mercedes, 4-1/2-litre Bentley, etc. Lord de Clifford was a Salesman there, too. In those days, fog was a menace but one could buy yellow celluloid masks for the headlamps. In a really bad fog, the Police would put out kerosene-flares around Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch, when visibility was otherwise only a few feet.

Truscott was a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club and had a yacht called “Iseult”, which he would lend to Smith for holidays. Many cars were sold personally at Brooklands; Truscott and Smith would take, say, a Lagonda or a Cord, give prospective clients a spin on the Track and nearby roads and sell it there and then . . . 

The next move was to Charles Pickup — the only garage in Dulwich, in South East London. They ran private ‘buses, but Smith’s first task was to assemble a box of bits which when complete proved to be a Lancia Lambda. One of the customers was the racing rep for Wakefield’s and Smith tuned his Riley.

After a spell with a firm in Curzon Street, W1, Smith took the post of Engineer on the yacht “Nonita” belonging to W. E. Evans, Chairman of British Gaumont. During the war, Smith worked on Quad gun-tractors and trucks. Afterwards, he joined a taxi firm in Chelsea as Foreman and remained there until he retired, in about 1966.

G.C./W.B.

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