Saturday, 24 May 2014

Reg Weatherell – the charming motorcycle maker

Reg Weatherell was an inventor, manufacturer and motor cycle rider who made bikes in Kilburn in the 1920s. He had a very charismatic personality, and was described in court as having a ‘mesmeric’ effect on women. Although he was only in Kilburn for a few years we think readers will find his wider story interesting.

Born in Hunslet, near Leeds in 1896, by the time of the 1911 census the family had moved to Middlesbrough, where 15 year old Reg was helping his father who had a shop selling fruit and sweets. But Reg’s passion was motor cycles: he owned an old de-Dion bike by the time he was 13, and took up an apprenticeship with an engineering firm. He was also a keen boxer and between 1913 and 1916 he had 27 professional fights to earn extra money. On 3 July 1914, a local Middlesbrough paper announced that evening at the Stockton Hippodrome, ‘Mademoiselle Carpenter, champion lady boxer of the world will spar three rounds with Reg Weatherell, the champion fly weight of Cleveland.’

In 1915 he married Mary Woodward, but sadly she died just three years later. During the First World War, Reg worked as a mechanic for the Army repairing motorcycles. After marrying his second wife Allieen Dorothy Dixon in 1918, he took the name ‘Reginald Dixon Weatherell.’ He and Dorothy had three children.

Making Motorcycles

Reg on a racing version of one of his Scout Motorcycles

The couple moved to Billericay in Essex and Reg set up a small workshop and second hand car business on the High Street. In July 1919 he used his life savings of £2,000 to buy land in South Green, about a mile south of Billericay, where he built a small bungalow and a workshop to manufacture his own ‘RW Scout’ motorcycles. Prices ranged from 60 to 100 guineas. Reg advertised in magazines and claimed he couldn’t keep up with demand, employing four men in the workshop with the same number on the road as salesmen. But in October 1921 he appeared in the Chelmsford bankruptcy court where he denied offering a bailiff money to burn down the workshop so he could claim on the insurance. He applied for discharge from bankruptcy in 1922 and left Billericay.

In the 1920s Reg began racing his bikes in major events at the Brooklands track in Surrey and the Isle of Man TT races. In 1922 he won a 100 mile race at Brooklands. Other riders also used his bikes in competitions. Billericay historian Ian Fuller, after talking with Roland Shelley, Reg’s mechanic who raced in a sidecar with him, believes that a motorcycle was left on the Isle of Man and is probably the only remaining model in existence.

Following the bankruptcy hearings, Reg set up the ‘Terrace Works’ in Kilburn and made motorcycles there from 1922 to 1923. The bikes were now branded as ‘Weatherell’. The works were in a small road called The Terrace off the High Road on the Willesden side. It was next to the larger Palmerston Works, as shown on the map. This was first John Allen’s Builders yard and then became the factory of the Central Aircraft Company who made their Centuar planes there from 1917 to 1927. 

Kilburn in 1912 showing Palmerston Works

Both the Palmerston Works and the site of Weatherell’s factory were swept away in 1937 when Gaumont Super Cinemas Ltd bought the land and built the enormous 4,000 seat Kilburn State cinema.

1922 Advert showing the Kilburn address

Reg didn’t stay long in Kilburn and by 1923 he was living in Grosvenor Road in Chiswick, later moving to Bolton Road. He was selling cars and motor cycles in Dover in 1924. Shown at Savoy Mansions, Savoy Street WC2, he’s also listed at nearby 392 Strand in the phonebook from 1926 to 1931, presumably his office.

Always keen to try out new ideas, in February 1926 he patented a portable baby carriage. Rather bizarrely, this was fitted to the end of a walking stick as the illustration shows.

By 1931 Reg had moved from riding motorcycles to power boats and he won the International Outboard World’s Championship on the Thames.

The Court Case
In March 1935 Reg became headline news when Ursula Lloyd, a young millionaires, took him to court to reclaim a letter of agreement they had signed.

Ursula was born in Blackburn in 1912, the daughter of a house painter. After working in shops and offices in London, her looks and vivacity secured her a few small film parts. Ursula married Charles Reginald Francis Hanson, the only son of Sir Francis Stanhope Hanson in 1932. But seven months later he was drowned in a boating accident at Sunbury on 30 May 1933. He and a friend, Peter Reid, the son of the licensee of the Weir Hotel, were attempting to cross the Thames late at night, to get to the hotel. The inquest jury decided that the accident was caused when Ursula’s dog ‘Spider’ jumped into the boat and upset it. Charles was trapped under the boat and drowned. Although Ursula inherited her husband’s large estate estimated to be worth £120,000, at first she was only paid an allowance.

She soon met Captain Charles Lloyd, a retired Army captain and air survey pilot. On 2 October 1933, the couple were lucky to survive an air crash. Shortly after taking off from Jersey, the plane piloted by Captain Lloyd, crashed into a fence on a racecourse and burst into flames. Ursula escaped with slight burns and bruises, while Lloyd walked away with just a cut over his eye. She told a reporter that she was going to buy another plane and fly to India where she wanted to stage several air pageants to further British aviation in the East. Ursula and Charles married a few weeks later on 27 October 1933 and they lived at 10 Richmond Mansions, East Twickenham.

That month, Weatherell and his wife Dorothy were introduced to the Lloyds at the Waldorf Hotel. Sharing similar interests in racing cars, motorcycles and aeroplanes, they quickly became friends and socialised, going to the pictures and playing cards together. Weatherell told the Lloyds that he was a consulting engineer and a financial adviser. He offered to help Ursula with her inheritance and the claim to her first husband’s estate. Late one night at the Lloyds flat they agreed terms and Reg typed up a document dated the 14 November 1933. Weatherell’s address at the time was 28 Bolton Road, Chiswick. Ursula agreed to pay Reg £520 a year for up to ten years, and £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000, depending on the amount of money he could obtain from her first husband’s estate.

The Lloyds also agreed to set up a company called Technical Trust with Weatherell, each holding a third of the shares. The company would buy and build racing cars, motor boats and aeroplanes to enter in competitions, aiming for a speed record. Having thought better of it, on 29 November the Lloyds asked for the letter back, but Weatherell refused. Captain Lloyd said they’d sue him and the bad publicity would finish his racing career. Weatherell replied; ‘Do your damndest. I will fight you to the bitter end.’

In court, Weatherell was described as having a mesmeric effect on women; the agreement had been signed just weeks after he met the Lloyds for the first time. The rival lawyers attempted to blacken the character of both Ursula and Reg. Much was made of an incident on 23 November when Weatherell drove Ursula in her new car to see her parents in Blackburn. They dined in Manchester and Ursula claimed that Reg asked her to spend the night with him. She refused, saying she was not ‘that sort of woman’. In his defence Reg said, ‘the boot was entirely on the other leg’. Ursula had suggested the idea; she was very lively and she often pounced and physically wrestled with him.  

Reg’s lawyer asked Ursula about her statement that she wasn’t ‘that sort of woman’. She was handed pieces of paper with the names of three men, including Peter Reid who had been in the boat when her first husband drowned. She denied she had sexual relationships with any of them but broke down under questioning, crying ‘leave me alone.’ The Judge ordered a short adjournment and when the case resumed, Ursula claimed she’d been ill when she signed the contract with Reg. Reg said this was ‘absolute bunkum’ while his wife Dorothy Weatherell told the court Ursula was full of fun and used to dance around the living room. The hearing lasted three days and after just 15 minutes deliberation, the jury returned, having found in Ursula’s favour. Weatherell was told the agreement wasn’t binding and he must return the letter. He also had to pay costs. After winning the court case, Ursula applied for bankruptcy against Reg in August 1935. He obviously had continuing financial problems and in 1948 he was still only able to pay his creditors small dividends. 

The Lloyds continued with their exciting lifestyle. On Christmas Day 1935 she and Charles were flying their plane in Abyssinia when they crashed in a remote area. They told reporters how kind the local people were to them. They were taken by mule and Ursula was carried by stretcher on the difficult 50 mile journey to Addis Abba. Once again this shows the dangers of flying in early aircraft and how lucky they were to survive. Charles, Ursula and Reg were all thrill seekers and they clearly loved the danger.

In the 1930s and 1940s Ursula travelled widely to New York, Sydney and Bombay. But she and Charles seemed to have separated and she had returned to her home town of Blackburn. Ursula died in Nairobi in 1956.

After the 1935 court case Reg doesn’t appear in the newspapers again. In 1945 the Weatherell’s were living in Birmingham. Then from 1959 to 1963 they were at 70 Delancey Street in Camden Town. Reg died on 18 April 1963 when he was living at Barton Green House, Worcestershire. Despite going bankrupt several times, he must have done quite well because he left £44,119 to his wife and daughter. (Today, this is worth about £760,000).

Knowledge about Reg Weatherell’s time in Billericay is drawn from an excellent article written in 1991 by Ian Fuller a local historian, who has kindly given us permission to use his work.

1 comment:

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