It is possibly grossly unfair, but the Ryknield had always conveyed to me the impression of an undistinguished low-performance sort of motor-car, one that was noisy and went about to the grinding of gears: this seemed the way to regard lesser-known cars that had arrived on the scene in what we now know as the veteran and early Edwardian periods. And so it was, datewise, for the Ryknield made its bow in 1903 and did not last later than 1906. Let us, however, look a little more closely into this product of the engineering town of Burton-on-Trent.
It is fairly common knowledge that some of the great car-designers served their apprenticeships in railway workshops. W O Bentley, for example, who was taught his skill as a premium apprentice at Doncaster in the Great Northern locomotive works and Sir Henry Royce, who started as a boy in the GNR running-sheds at Peterborough, to name but two of the most eminent. The Ryknield car was built in a railway works, or more accurately, in a factory which was to become well-known for its industrial locomotives. (This is why I have had much help with this piece from the Burton Daily Mail, a newspaper with a keen appreciation of the past as it affects Staffordshire, and which published an article on this factory some years ago, based on the book by Rodney Weaver, “Baguley Locomotives 1914-1931”, published by the Industrial Railway Society of Woking. Incidentally, I am pleased to learn that the Editor-in-Chief of the Burton Daily Mail is a regular MOTOR SPORT reader.)
It all began in November 1902, when Major Ernest E Baguley became manager of the newly-formed Ryknield Engine Company, at the age of 39. This gentleman had served an apprenticeship with R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, at their Tyneside shipyard, before he moved on to this company’s locomotive works at Forth Banks, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. By 1890 he had become a senior draughtsman there and that same year he went to Stafford, as Chief Draughtsman at W H Pagnall Ltd where he re-organised the factory and designed for them his first light steam-locomotive, in 1892; it was to set a pattern for most of the subsequent narrow-gauge locos made under this well known name.
By 1901 Major Baguley saw that motor-cars had a secure future and he set about the task of designing a four-cylinder single-acting, piston-valve steam-engine, intended for installation in a car. His employer failed to see any significance in this departure from locomotive construction and after a conflict the Major left, to join the Ryknield Engine Company Ltd, as its manager, in Burton-on-Trent, at the end of the year. This company may well have been set up to further the Baguley steam-car engine, because steam was just about holding its own with petrol on the road at this time. It was set up by the Clay family. Arthur, Charles, Gerald and Wilfred Clay of Burton-on-Trent being responsible for its formation, in conjunction with Baron Burton, William Worthington, and Robert Radcliffe, who were closely associated with brewing in Burton, the town being prominent today in this respect, as the headquarters of the Bass Brewery and the Bass Museum. The Ryknield Engine Company was registered in February 1902, with Messrs Worthington and Arthur Clay as its Directors.
The Ryknield Engine Company’s premises were set up in a new factory at Shobnall Road in Burton, beside the LM&SR line, where Major Baguley became manager in July 1902, having been largely responsible for setting up the new factory and its layout and equipment. He was allotted 500 shares in the company in return for the rights in his steam-engine. By March 1903 all was ready for production, the plan being to make up to 600 vehicles a year, mostly steam cars and commercials, but also a petrol-engined light-car.
It took six months before the first vehicles appeared, and after it had been found that the petrol-engined cars were superior to the steam cars the latter were abandoned. The first Ryknield was a normal sort of 10hp light-car, with a vertical twin-cylinder engine, water-cooled by thermo-syphon, with three-speed gearbox, and shaft drive. It weighed 15cwt unladen and by 1904 was offered at a price of £305 15/- as a four-seater. It was supplemented by a light delivery van on the same chassis, at £335 and what Ryknield described as a Station Luggage Cart, weighing a ton and priced at £340.
Wilfred Clay had joined the Board of Directors and the 10/12hp twin-cylinder Ryknield cars were joined in due course by 15hp and 20hp four-cylinder models. For 1905 these had magneto ignition and the larger car used chain final-drive. In spite of some impressive bodywork even on the small Ryknield, it all came undone and by October 1905 financial difficulties forced in a Receiver, who in April 1906 sold the company’s assets to Wilfred Clay, who formed the Ryknield Motor Co, the Ryknield Engine Company being finally wound up by November 1906. The aim of the new company was directed towards the commercial vehicle market. Arthur Clay and Francis Burton being fellow Directors, although the last-named was replaced by Charles Whitehurst in 1909. Major Baguley managed the company’s affairs and gave them a suitable chassis, before moving to the BSA Company in 1910.
For a while all looked prosperous. The LGOC took Ryknield chassis, and the brewery backing for the company ensured sales of trucks to brewers such as Bass and Truman. The little 10hp Ryknield chassis made a one-ton truck and a 35hp omnibus found favour with the Leeds and Todmorden services and the Great Central Railway. Its 8-litre engine had dual-ignition and a seperate paraffin carburettor, among other unusual features. Eventually a 9.8-litre £635 4-ton truck was manufactured, and James Duckworth Ltd was another local firm using a Ryknield van. Forty buses were sold to Brussels, and Sir Oswald Moseley, then living at Rolleston Hall, Staffs, bought a handsome Ryknield car. Yet by July 1910 Wilfred Clay had asked J E Pritchard to act as Receiver and manager and by April 1911, as Liquidator, he contrived for the company to be sold to Baguley Cars Ltd that September; it was finally wound up in April 1912. It is, I am afraid, very much the sort of situation many companies are now facing here and in other parts of the world.
Baguley Cars Ltd took over from BSA (which was by now concentrating on manufacturing sleeve-valve engines to Knight patents for the Daimler Company, in its Birmingham works) the Brewery manufacturing rights for motor-rail cars, all the drawings and patterns being transferred to the Shobnall Road factory. Here Baguley Cars, registered in September 1911, had as its Directors Walter Evans, Thomas Garner, Wilfred Bennis, William McElroy, and Wilfred Clay, with Ernest Baguley as Managing Director. The new concern had capital of £30,000 and very soon the assets of the Ryknield Engine Company were bought for £6,600. The first Baguley car appeared in November 1911 and the first factory rail car was made in the Baguley factory by March 1912. It would seem that railway work occupied more time than car manufacture and when war broke out in 1914 Major Baguley, who had been second-in-command of the 6th Battalion. North Staffordshire Regiment, was called up and saw active service in France. However, he was recalled early in 1915 to assist in the experimentation that led to the first Tanks and their development on the Western Front and to supply Baguley narrow-gauge locos and railway equipment to the WD Light Railway network in military useage in France. During this time he was promoted to Colonel.
After this the Burton works made all kinds of steam and railway equipment and there were a confusing number of changes in management and policy until the factory closed in October 1931. Before that Baguley Cars Ltd had made the Ace, a tiny four-cylinder, two-speed, chaindrive, two-seater selling for the proverbial £100, and the Baguleys that war had virtually killed off, although the latter persisted up to 1921. Not surprisingly, as the Major had gone to BSA for a while, it centred around the 1910 12/15hp BSA with a worm-drive back-axle, although a larger version was introduced in 1919. In all, apparently 98 Baguleys were produced. The company had also toyed with the 11.9hp Salmon, just prior to the war, but only three of these were made.
When the factory where all this activity had taken place was sold in 1931 the Colonel’s own Baguley car fetched a mere £4. He continued to run a railway-equipment repair business, as E E Baguley Ltd, until 1946 and died at the age of 85 in 1948, having been in harness for some 70 years. The old factory was taken on by Sharp Bros & Knight Ltd, timber merchants, and I believe that the original Ryknield office block may still be in use. WB