Townmead: coachbuilders

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Motor historians are often as interested in the old companies which made coachwork as in the cars themselves. So, having come into possession of some notes on the Townmead Motor & Carriage Works Ltd, I intend to share them with you. This bodybuilding firm had premises in Bagley’s Lane, off the New King’s Road, in Fulham, before the First World War.

The company made it clear that it was concerned with making bodywork for motor chassis, not being restricted to hide-bound traditions. It was claimed that its premises at Walham Green were the largest works devoted to this trade in the United Kingdom, with two acres of floor space and a further two acres of adjoining ground, where additional buildings could be erected should the need arise. Entry was via an archway on the righthand side of the buildings, where the offices were situated. To the left of them were the stores, where parts of various sizes were stocked in pigeon-holes. Many of these came from Townmead’s own smithy and machine shop, although hood sticks were bought in.

The smithy was occupied with making parts ranging from angle brackets to luggage-grids, including items such as screen-frames, cushionbases, steps and mudguard-irons. It also altered gear and brake lever positioning, as and when required. Next to this busy shop was the timber store, covered over but with air circulation. From here, a door led to the machine shop, where equipment driven by a forest of belting carried out such operations as cutting curved sections for back panels with the band-saw, shaping body-frame members with the morticing and tenoning machines, ready for joining up, and smoothing wood surfaces with the planing-machine. An ingenious spindling machine was used to groove the edges of window-frames, screen-frames and flush joints. In the body-building shop, lead-coated sheet-steel of various gauges was cut by hand to the sizes required and then rolled, before being passed to experts who beat them on ‘faces’ to the requisite sweep or curve. The finished panels were screwed into place and the joints covered with aluminium moulding strips. Mudguards were rolled between steel mandrills, the edges turned over and wired to provide strength and a good appearance. Footboards would have rubber mats and brass edgings. Hood sticks, bought in square sections, would be rounded-off in the aforesaid spindling machine. The completed bodies were mounted on the chassis destined for them and taken to the paint shop. Here the wood surfaces were sandpapered and then given four coats of filling and a second rubbing down, before final flatting down. Varnish was then applied, in dust-proof cubicles maintained at a temperature of about 80 degC. The cars with their new bodies and upholstery, the latter made by Townmead, would be taken to the dispatch department, able to accommodate 30 to 40 vehicles. Before contemplated expansion, the works could turn out some 30 to 40 bodies a week.

The standard Townmead bodies comprised a sports-type two-seater, a wide two-seater Torpedo (a name hardly fitting the unsporting lines of this body), a single Torpedo with exposed dickey seats, four-seater Torpedo bodies of various sizes, seven-seater tourers, a coupe with dummy hood-irons, a landaulette and a taxi, also with hood-irons and roof luggage-racks. The luxury bodies included square-back and round-back limousine-landaulette and a cabriolet, with 8ft 6in body space, and a Townmead limousine with two inches more room and open sided chauffeur’s compartment — surely rather belying the description of limousine? There was even a hearse. Prices ranged from £48 for a two-seater body with hood and screen suitable for a 10hp chassis to £150 for a seven-seater tourer. Closed carriages were a speciality, costing from £95 to £110, and very large pullman limousine bodies varied in cost according to specification. Anyone who was getting fed up with a drenching could buy from Townmead a hood, screen and side curtains for £10.

If a group photograph is to be believed, Townmead’s staff numbered some 115 men. One of their clients was Harvey & Co, tobacconists and sundriesmen of Essex Road, North London, who had van bodies made there. I believe that in 1913 the Fulham premises may have been taken-over by Darracq, who moved there from Walnut Street Walk.

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