Scout Motors of Salisbury 1902 – 1921

on Friday, 24 January 2020. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

Wiltshire Ephemera SAL.680

From Clocks to Motor

In 1888 William and Albert Burden, with the help of their father Thomas, founded ‘Burden Brothers’ and began manufacturing church and turret clocks. Their showroom was at 101 Fisherton Street, Salisbury, and they had a factory at 155 Wilton Road, but the factory had to be transferred to Tollgate Road after being destroyed by fire in 1899. During 1902 they sold the clock business to Williamson and Son, who traded as the English Clock Company and began to manufacture motor engines. Percy Dean, a wealthy landowner from Chitterne, supplied the initial capital of £3,800 and founded ‘Dean and Burden Brothers’ – Motor Engineers. ‘Scout’ became their product name in 1905. Percy Dean owned a car from 1903, a Georges Richard which was registered in December 1903; this date is misleading, because The Motor Car Act of 1903 required owners to register all new vehicles as well as existing ones. Percy Dean’s Georges Richard could have been used at any point prior to this date. He became a test driver and director at Motor Engineers, Dean and Burden Brothers. They moved to new premises called the ‘Excelsior Works’ in Friary Lane and began making engines for boats. During 1905 boats fitted with their engines started to make their mark, winning time trials and having success at regattas. They were already fitting their engines to bicycles, AM-65 was registered in December 1903 to a Sidney Eli Silverthorne, a watchmaker who was employed by Scout to wind and maintain clocks in the surrounding villages. The 1906 price for a Scout motor cycle was £45, a mid-range price for the time. The company’s interest in motor cycles and marine engines was not maintained and eventually phased out in favour of motor car manufacture.

Wiltshire Ephemera SAL.680

The Scout Motor Car

A car was entered for the Isle of Man TT in September 1905, but unfortunately it crashed a week before the trials; the crash was reported in ‘The Autocar’ of September 1905. They managed to assemble a second car which was registered AM-702 on 4th September 1905 and arrived just in time for the trials. It started the Douglas Tourist Trophy Race with forty-one others, unfortunately it ran out of petrol 23 miles before the finish. The company was now employing around 80 men who worked 50 hours per week and paid between 2½d and 7½d per hour: about £0.80 and £2.45 today’s equivalent. Each car took 6 to 8 weeks to build and cost between £285 and £550. The Friary proved to be too small for the quantity of orders, so in 1907 the company moved to a new factory at Churchfields on Bemerton Road, now occupied by Sydenhams Timber and Builders Merchants. By 1907 thirteen cars had been registered in Wiltshire. This year saw the arrival of a ‘Landaulette’ closed body, up until this point all the bodies were open. Bodies were mostly made off-site by coachbuilders and assembled in the factory.

Salisbury Journal January 1912

Prosperity

1909 saw the introduction of small commercial vehicles, by now the company was well established with a good reputation for quality and reliability. In 1911 Percy Dean left for British Columbia in Western Canada, which dealt a major blow to the company as he was a leading force. Mr Clifford Radcliffe who had been with the company since 1907 became Director to replace Percy Dean. 1912 saw record sales figures with 31 cars registered in Wiltshire alone. The company now employed over 150 men. 1912 saw the introduction of one of the first privately-run motor bus services in the country by Messrs J. Hall and Son of Orcheston trading as Shrewton Motor Services. The service connected the surrounding villages and Salisbury, each bus could carry 20 passengers and their luggage. Two years later the Wilts and Dorset Motor Services was founded with five of their six buses using Scout chassis.

WSA G11/760/61

First World War

At the beginning of the First World War in 1914 it was business as usual with sales of cars and commercials remaining steady, but during 1915 with no sign of the war ending sales stalled. Commercial vehicles orders were encouraging, but Maxwell, Albert, Fiat and Ford had spread into the commercial market and were producing cheap, reliable models that Scout found it hard to compete against. The company received an additional blow with the unexplained death, while in the foundry, of Mr Clifford Radcliffe in September 1915. In June 1916 machines and their skilled operators were sent to centres around the country to assist in the production of aero engines as part of the war effort and machinery was also sent to France to help with vehicle repair. With the volume of the male workforce enlisting, women were now being employed and trained in the factory to produce armaments which included magnetic mines for submarine warfare.

Salisbury Journal September 1915

Post War and Decline

The war had taken its toll on the company, they were short of money, specialist machinery and the skilled workforce had been lost and their Chairman, Mr Radcliffe, had been tragically killed. Labour and material costs were high, with aluminium 2½ times and steel 3 times the pre-war price. Cheap ex-military vehicles were now available. It was not until eighteen months after the war, when the government had made payment for war work, that vehicle production was able to re-commence. Morris, Austin and Ford took advantage of the advances in production methods that the war had brought about and were now producing cheap, light cars. Scout Motors, being a small firm, found it hard to compete. At the beginning of 1920 a new model was introduced but it was expensive and heavy and had come too late. With disappointing sales in June 1921, the company went into voluntary liquidation. William, now 54, went back to clock making and Albert, 49 became a metal dealer. In the short time that Scout Motors had been in business they had become a major industrial concern in Salisbury and their demise is a sad loss for the city’s history.

Ian Hicks, Community History Advisor

This article also appears in the Wiltshire Record Society Newsletter, February 2020

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