The Ryknield


Mr. Gaskin’s article in the June issue (p. 676), recalling the short-lived attempt to establish a motor industry in Burton-upon-Trent, did not tell the whole story of the two Ryknield Companies which flourished briefly in thy first decade of the present century. I have been delving into the history of Baguley-Drewry and their many ancestors, tracing the history and development of their railway products, but in doing so it has proved impossible to escape the automobile side of the business, so closely is it involved with the career of one of the principal characters in the story, the late Major Ernest E. Baguley, T.D. (1863 – 1948).

To begin with, it is not made clear in Mr. Gaskin’s article that Ernest Baguley was the inspiration of the Ryknield enterprise in the first place. As Chief Draughtsman of W. G. Bagnall Ltd. of Stafford he had made a name for himself both as a locomotive designer and a factory planner when, some time before 1900, he became interested in motor cars and began to design a steam car powered by a four-cylinder poppetvalve engine. Baguley may have had visions of building this car at Bagnall’s Castle Engine Works, in imitation perhaps of their French rivals in the light railway business, DecauviIle. Bagnall himself had different ideas – he saw no future in the motor industry and considered that Baguley had been wasting his time. Others thought differently, particularly a group of Burton businessmen, headed by members of the main brewing families who were acquainted with Baguley and were also looking for a new industry which would alleviate the unemployment in the brewing industry that they feared would result from the new Licensing Laws. As a result, Baguley left Stafford to become Manager/Chief Engineer of the Ryknield Engine Company, designing for them a new factory in Shobnall Road, Burton-upon-Trent, intended to produce 600 vehicles per annum. It was intended that Baguley’s steam car would be the principal product, but, perhaps with an eye to the rapidly expanding market for a cheaper car, a 10-h.p. petrol car was also designed (by Baguley) and prototypes of both built in the new works. The petrol car proved more practical and plans to develop the steam car were dropped. (Does anyone have details of the prototype steam car, or even a photograph?) The Ryknield car in its various sizes was built for just three years; Shobnall Road works opened in 1902 and the company went bankrupt at the end of 1905.

Wilfrid Clay, a director of the old company, launched the Ryknield Motor Company to take over Shobnall Road works. The new company did not build cars, however; Clay felt that commercial vehicle chassis were more viable and, for a few years, this policy paid off, the Baguley-designed chassis proving quite popular for ‘buses in a number of towns, both at home and abroad. Baguley left within twelve months, however, and this may have been the basic reason for Ryknield’s failure to develop, and for their eventual collapse in 1911.

Baguley left to become Manager of the new BSA Motor Division – again probably acting as Chief Engineer as well. No sooner had he joined BSA than he found himself designing railway equipment again, for the Motor Division took on the manufacture of petrol-railcars for the Drewry Car Company of London. Their choice of subcontractor may have been influenced by Baguley’s appointment and his dual background of automobile and railway engineering. All went well until BSA bought up Daimler in 1911, whereupon all original BSA work, together with Drewry railcar production, was given up in favour of mass-production of Knight sleeve-valve engines. The Ryknield Motor Company being on the verge of bankruptcy, Baguley and Wilfrid Clay launched Baugley Cars Ltd., to take over the works at Shobnail Road for the manufacture of railcars and motor vehicles, the Baguley car being a development of BSA designs and not directly related to the old Ryknield car, other than by having a common designer. The fascinating Story of Baguley Cars Ltd. and their successors belongs mainly to railway history, with ventures in tank development, as recounted by Mr. Gaskin. They built, according to my researches, a total of 95 cars, the first three being turned out on December 22nd, 1911 (chassis Nos. 351, 353 and 355, and the last four in 1921, the only recorded completion date being for chassis No. 1134, turned out on February 19th, 1921. Almost two thirds of this total were built before the end of 1913; from then the growing railcar business plus Baguley’s involvement in locomotive work, following the purchase of the assets of McEwan Pratt & Co. ltd. in 1913, eclipsed the car side of the business. In April 1923 the name of the company was changed to Baguley (Engineers) Ltd.

Although the first number in Baguley’s work’s list was 351 this may not be an accurate guide to the total number of vehicles built by the two Ryknield companies between 1902 and 1911; many firms started their number series with quite arbitrary figures on the basis that few customers will purchase the first off the assembly line! The car shown in the right-hand illustration on page 676 was not a Ryknield but it Baguley, possibly No. 408 turned out November 10th, 1913 for Bass & Co.; the main breweries all had Baguley cars in the years immediately before World War I. The other car shown is believed to be thy prototype 10-h.p. Ryknield of 1902, production cars were much neater.

Having outlined part of the Baguley side of Baaguley-Drewry history, may I now appeal to readers for information about the early days of the Drewry side? Drewry & Sons, originally it family cycle-repair business, became one of London’s earliest garages, by adding motor repairs to their repertoire somewhere around 1900. Their premises were in Herne Hill, and it was here that the first Drewry railcars were put together in 1903 -1905. So popular did these become – by 1906 they had been exported to South America, South Africa, India, Australia and even Hawaii – that a separate firm was set up to take over the business. Only J. S. Drewry, designer of the car, remained with the railcar business, the rest of the family returning to the garage business, and he left not long after the decision to subcontract design and construction and the appearance of Baguley on the scene. I would be very interested to learn anything of the activities of Drewry & Sons, the whereabouts of their premises in Herne Hill, and the fate of the business.

Kemilworth, Rodney Weaver