Fragments on forgotten makes
No. 29—The Deemster
The Deemster was one of the many makes of light car which was in production for some years after the First World War but which faded away through no fault of its own. I am indebted to V.S.C.C. member Malcolm Jeal, who runs an Austin Seven Chummy, for an introduction to Mr. G. E. Hester, who was Works Manager of the Ogston Motor Company (5901) Ltd., which made Deemster cars, and who kindly told me something about them.
Mr. Hester drove his first motor vehicle, a 2½-h.p. Quadrant, more than sixty years ago. He was with Napier for fourteen years, being second-fitter in the racing and experimental department at Acton in the great days of S. F. Edge, Earp, Macdonald and the 60-h.p. and 90-h.p. Napier racers. He recalls “Samson” and other racing Napiers at the Brighton Speed Trials and was at Brooklands during Edge’s successful 24-hour record bid in 1907.
Mr. Hester stayed with Napier until just after the advent of the Lion aero-engine as mechanic, charge-hand and foreman, then went to Hendon with the Aircraft Manufacturing Company under Capt. Wilkinson, Who had been with Napier and returned to them subsequently as Chief Designer. In the Hendon days this gentleman ran a Peugeot car.
Just after the Armistice the Ogston Motor Company was a “ship full of holes,” having introduced the Deemster Small car just prior to the outbreak of war. Mr. Hester was offered the task of supervising the post-war fortunes of the company. It was owned by two Joint Managing Directors, H. C. Scofield, who looked after the business side, and J. N. Ogston, a Scot, who coped with design and engineering. In 1919 they leased part of a factory in Southfield Road, Acton, from the -Wilkinson Sword Co. and a little later took over a factory on the corner of Victoria Road. Here they built a 9.5-h.p. small car with watercooled 4-cylinder engine (62 x 90 mm.) of their own design, doing all their own machining, Qualcast supplying the cylinder block castings—this firm, better-known for lawn-mowers, had a, very good reputation for quality castings; Georges Roesch told me only the other day that he went to them for castings for the 14/45 Talbot.
Mr. Hester ran over the car from radiator to tail-lamp, finding the biggest shortcoming in the dippers of the lubricating system, which were of copper and used to break off and hill in the sump, with dire effects. When these were re-designed in a good quality high-tensile steel, the trouble was overcome.
Finance was extremely restricted; the Deemster was a first-class little car, “full of life,” and might otherwise have been a very great success. As it was, production in the early ‘twenties was only about 15 to 20 a week. An unusual feature was a mechanical starter, consisting of a hand lever operating on the gearbox layshaft.
In 1922 an Anzani 69 x 100-mm. engine replaced Deemster’s own power unit, these being brought to the factory by the engine maker. Bodies, both 2- and 4-seater, were supplied by Auto Sheet Metal Co. of Shepherd’s Bush, but were painted in the factory under the supervision of a foreman called Cowlin.
At first the Deemster Directors were big-car men., Mr. Scofield having a Sunbeam and Mr. Ogston a Daimler, but it wasn’t long before they were running-about in Deemsters of their own, while Mr. Hester had one as well, in which he undertook some strenuous journeys, Such as a holiday trip with his wife and daughter to Llandudno, as a means of discovering any defects in the cars. (He is, incidentally, still a keen motorist, at the age of go, owning, after a long line of Morris and Standard .cars, a Ford Anglia, in which he and his brother drove to Scotland and back last summer.)
When the Directors mentioned that something like so m.p.h. and 50 m.p.g. would be excellent publicity, the Deemster being notably economical, Mr. Hester set to and evolved cars with h.c. heads, everything absolutely free and in balance, in one of which he tied with Mundy’s G.N. with a figure of 90.8 m.p.g. in the Second J.C.C. Fuel Consumption Trial in 1920.
Thus encouraged, later that year a 9.5-h.p. Deemster was submitted to an R.A.C.-observed trial of speed and economy. It was a 2-seater weighing 11.9 cwt. empty, 15.25 Cwt. with driver and passenger, pulling gear ratios of 13.5, 8.0 and 4.5 to 1. At Brooklands, on aviation petrol, it covered the flying at 45.98 m.p.h. and climbed the test hill at 13.71 m.p.h., although the wrong plugs caused it to mis-fire at speeds over 40 m.p.h. Then, with no alteration except to substitute benzol fuel, it was driven from London to Beckhampton and back, averaging 76.65 m.p.g. Coasting downhill was allowed and a special extra air valve devised by Mr. Hester was used, while he also raised the compression-ratio from 5 to 1 to over 6 to 1 by machining the head, omitting the head gasket, and making a “face” joint between block and head. He-also fitted a special external fuel tank to ensure that no petrol was trapped in the system. Even normal Deemsters were doing badly if they did not achieve 45 m.p.g., and two agents, one in Barrow-in-Furness, the other in Church Stretton, claimed so and 64 m.p.g., respectively.
When the J.C.C. 200-Mile Race was mooted in 1925 the Directors asked Mr. Hester to enter, although there was absolutely no money to spend on a specialcar. So Mr. Hester set to work to prepare-a standard chassis, which was fitted with a racing body finished in chequerboard. (Details appear on page 83 of ” The History of Brooklands Motor Course,” by W. Boddy—Grenville, 1950.)
At the time, Mr. Hester’s brother, Short, and Phillips were testers under Mr. Watson, and W. H. J. Phillips was chosen to drive the 200-Mile Race Deemster. He made a non-stop run, finishing third in the 1,100-C.C. class, at 67.07 m.p.h. I asked Mr. Hester if competition successes paid dividends, and he replied: “I don’t know about dividends but the publicity was thoroughly worthwhile, especially as all the cups and medals were displayed in the showroom window. I used to give drivers £5 for a gold, £3 for a silver, and £1 for their bronze medals, so that we could put them on display.” And victories the Deemster certainly had: at S. Harting Hill-Climb, in the 1920 J.C.C. General Efficiency Trial in which a team of three won the Westall Cup for best performance, in the Axe Edge, Staxton, Aston Clinton and Kop Speed Hill-Climbs of 1921, as well as in trials like the Southampton-Exeter, Colmore Cup, London-Manchester, A.C.U. Two-Days, London-Barnstaple, etc., and, naturally, in the M.C.C. classics, while Don made f.t.d. in the Eastbourne Speed Trials of 1923.
Kaye Don was later signed on, starting with a stripped 2-seater which won the 1923 President’s Gold Plate Race at Brooklands, lapping at 82.59 m.p.h., and then driving a very handsome single-seater Deemster at Brooklands, which lapped at 92.23 m.p.h. These ears were still virtually standard internally, except for polished ports, high-lift camshafts, etc. “We hadn’t a shed at the Track—couldn’t afford one,” says Mr. Hester. But these racing Deemsters were driven to Weybridge from the “Deemster Works” in Victoria Road, Acton.
From 1922 to 1925 the Anzani-powered Deemster gave virtually no trouble and was a good-looking and excellent little car. Unfortunately finance ran out and the factory closed down in the latter year—it no longer exists in its old form, incidentally.
The Directors had other interests, including the Tolworth Brick Works, but for Mr. Hester it meant resignation. He had the choice of jobs with Sunbeam, Ruston Hornsby or Smith and Sons. Reasoning that while Sunbeam were well established, Ruston Hornsby were new to cars and might go under, but Smiths supplied the whole industry, he went to the last-named firm, at Cricklewood. His task was to organise an efficient production department for Smiths carburetters, then used by Morris, Bean, Bentley and others.
This successfully accomplished, he took the position of Service and Repairs Manager, and on the outbreak of the Second World War took charge of the Government scheme for repairing all aircraft instruments (a total of 30 different makes) in the Smiths factories, surviving complete loss of the works by enemy action and being responsible for handling half-a-million instruments by the time of his retirement at the end of the war.—W. B.
* * *
Other articles in this series have been:-
- The Star
- The Cluley
- The Day-Leeds
- The Gibbons
- The Cubitt
- The Adams
- The Arab
- The Straker-Squire
- The Calthorpe
- The Warren-Lamber
- The A.V.
- The H.E.
- The Brocklebank Six
- The Belsize Bradshaw
- The Castle Three
- The Argus-Sanderson
- The Craig-Dorwald
- The Pilgrim
- Te Tamplin
- The Minerva
- The Rothwell
- The Silver Hawk
- The Blerot-Whippet
- The J.M.B.
- The De Dion Bouton
- The Autovia
- The Imperial