Interviewed by John and Irene Jenkins
Ambrose, I understand that you joined
the company in about 1942.
That's correct, yes.
How did you come by join Austers? What
led you to Auster's in the first place?
Ah well, now then I'll start because I feel
it's no good reciting from my book, all my memories that I've got there so
I've tried to get at it from a different angle. I'm trying to say how I
really got involved with Taylorcraft Auster in the first place. In the
1960s, my fiancé was at Cropston near Rothley, Barrow upon Soar etc and my
fiancé, Muriel, at the time was friendly with another girl named Ada
Marshall. Now Ada Marshall was the fiancé of Frank Bates. We linked
together quite a bit and we went to all the village dances and whatnot and
this carried on for quite a long time. At that time Frank Bates was a
motor cycle enthusiast and, of course, this was before the time of crash
helmets and he had a very serious accident and fractured his skull. They
put a steel plate in his skull to repair it and then, of course, after a
long time he was okay again. Funny enough he always reckoned this plate in
his skull improved his knowledge and so forth. He was a very clever man
but there was a story at the time about some African tribe that used to
pierce their skulls and make them into a brilliant scholar. At that time,
Frank Bates worked for Shell Oil and he had quite a good job and was
friendly with Lance Wykes who was also a Rothley near Barrow upon Soar
chap. Eventually Lance Wykes persuaded Frank Bates to join him in the firm
of Crowther Limited.
Was this at Loughborough
At Britannia Works Thurmaston, that's where
it started. In 1937 Lance Wykes gave himself a sabbatical holiday in the
United States and having had a previous connection with flying with the
Royal Flying Corp in the First World War and subsequently with the
recently formed Leicestershire Flying Club he made an arrangement with Mr
C G Taylor whose family originated from Nottingham. Taylor had linked up
with Mr W J Piper to design and build the Taylorcraft aeroplanes. On his
return to England he persuaded Bates to complete a license to manufacture
the Taylorcraft in England and raised the capital of £15,000 amongst
relatives with which they started Taylorcraft England Limited. There's
some relations of Mrs Wykes (Lance Wykes's wife) including Pickerings the
printers at Hinckley and also the Moore's family but they are the people
that raised the original capital of £15,000. Bates was never very
enthusiastic about this you know because he always doubted the sales
possibilities of aircraft at the time. This was in of course 1936, '37,
They hadn't got any enthusiasm towards
aviation at all really.
The details of the light aircraft he could
not foresee a market for them, nevertheless the project went through and
the first British built Taylorcraft was built at Britannia Works
Thurmaston near Leicester and was first flown from Ratcliffe on the 24th
April 1939. The outbreak of war later in the year brought production to a
standstill after we'd produced 15 aeroplanes, it was the original +D type,
which was a Cirrus Minor 90 horsepower engine.
Did you get the job at Taylorcraft
because you knew Mr Bates?
Yeah, I'll come to that in a minute, Irene.
The sales for the aircraft did not materialise and in 1939 they were in
rather dire straits. Now, coming to 1942, after a short spell working for
BSA in Leicester, who were setting up to manufacture the BSA gun, which
was superseded by the advent of lease lend and the availability of better
guns from the USA. BSA had to close in Leicester and I was sent to
You were actually sent there? You didn't
go of your own accord?
No I didn't go of my own accord. I went to
the Labour Exchange and after a lot of interviews I had with various
people, which weren't very satisfactory, I had an invitation to go to
Taylorcraft. An old colleague of mine, Alf Harman, was the cost accountant
there, so I rang him and he arranged an interview for me. I went out to
Syston and the first man I saw was Ken Sharp. I can remember that he was
the factory manager at no.7 Works at the time and he threw a drawing
across to me and he said could I tell b,y looking at that drawing whether
or not it could be made by skilled or unskilled labour. I wasn't an
engineer and I said the right thing I think. I said that it depends on the
ability on the man and also the tools available for the job, which was
probably the right answer. Another chap came in, I recognised him
immediately, Frank Bates. We had a bit of a chat and I was after a job at
the time and the outcome of it was,I was in his car and we went back to
the head office at Thurmaston, They used to call it 'The Woodlands', and
low and behold I was set on there and then and Bates said he wanted me as
his assistant. I worked as his assistant for quite a time. Bates wanted me
to investigate the costings. The cost of material was taken from the
vocab, which was listed from the drawings and Bates insisted that we were
using far more materials than the vocab called for. I was first put into
material usage and I proved that there were very much more materials being
used than the costings recorded from the vocab.
Why do you think that was Ambrose?
It appears that not sufficient allowance was
made for the off cuts and wastage, off cuts would not be accepted back
into the stores as they had lost their identity and batch numbers.
Consequently a lot of materials were wasted and it proved that they were
using at least 10%-15% more than the vocab called for. Of course there was
a lot of 'foreigners' were made from the wastage and many items like
tubular sledges at Christmas was the norm. The same wastage was paramount
on things like dopes and paints. When the empty cans were dumped on a
scrap heap I had a look at them and there was anything up to 10%-15%
residue at the bottom of the cans that hadn't been used, the only facility
for stirring was to remove the cap and stir it up with a plank of wood. I
instigated the installation of a vibrator to vibrate the cans before they
went in the dope shop. These weren't always used, they used to be too
quick on the job to do it but there still was always a big wastage on
dopes and paints on account of that.
You obviously then started to cut some of
the costs overall.
I tried to cut the costs but, I also made
allowances to the estimates for the costing purposes to be more in line
with the actual usage because the tubing used to arrive in probably 12
foot lengths and they used to chop off bits and leave probably 2, 3, 4, 5
foot probably sometimes which the store men wouldn't take back because
they'd lost their identity. They couldn't keep it all in order so there
was a lot of wastage. If you'd got a piece 3 foot long and they could make
something 2 foot out of it there'd still be a third of it which was scrap.
A lot of these materials of course were
now being made in the UK, they weren't imported.
Oh no none of them were imported at the time,
it was 100% British. All the tubing came from our suppliers and T45 was
the certified tubing. We had a fire once at the No.10 Works where we had
all the tubing and whatnot stored and we had a load of cheap metal come in
and we had no facilities to handle it other than by hand and so they
brought it in a sheet at a time and leaned it up against the trough of
lanolin which they used to drop the tubes in it. This went on for about
half an hour and then they put one last sheet on and upended the trough
and of course, it went straight up to the coke fire. The coke stove, which
was the only form of heating and before they could say Jack Robinson, the
place was on fire.
And this was at no.10 Works?
No.10 Works which was part of the garage. We
had Sheffield's Garage at Syston but then there was another garage.
Was it Shipsides ?
No it wasn't Shipsides, I can't remember.
Anyway, the chap who was in charge of it was more or less deaf and dumb
and he couldn't use a phone and he ran all the way from no.10 Works to
no.7 Works to tell us and, by that time he was out of breath and couldn't
tell us what was happening but eventually we realised the place were on
fire. Anyway, we got out of that all right, we lost a lot of materials of
How many people do you think were working
down at Britannia?
At the time, pre-war? I think it must have
been between 30 and 50 as a maximum. The original people concerned were
Jack Hunter and Joe Eames, I can't remember all the names without
referring to my notes but they all formed the gang. Afterwards they formed
the 39 Club which was all the pre-war employees. There's some photographs
of that of course. They'd got at the time 7 works in progress and No.7
Works was the main place with Ken Sharp in charge and then we had
factories out at Mountsorrel in the garage there and Sheffield's Garage at
Syston was another one and then there was the En-tout-car place at Syston,
we took over that for component repairs. Not only Auster but numerous
components for Hurricane and Spitfires, all sorts of component repairs at
En-tout-car works at Thurmaston.
All the works had different numbers
We had 10 works actually, No.1 was the
original machine shop.
That would have been Britannia would it?
Britannia Works. No.1 Works is the original
Crowther machine shop at Britannia Works and they took all the old metal
machining for the Auster programme. New machine tools were acquired. No.2
was the first Taylorcraft assembly shop which became the Tiger Moth repair
section, that was also at Britannia Works. There used to be a chap named
Les Dancing in charge at the time of this repair shop. No.3 Works was a
small repair shop at part of Sheffield's Garage at Syston. No.4 Works was
at Mountsorrel, this was part of Alan's Garage, used for component
repairs. No.5 Works was part of the En-tout-car works which produced
component repairs and salvage. That was at Thurmaston. No.6 Works was the
two hangers that were put up at Rearsby. No.7 was the shoe factory at
Syston where the first assembly shop took place. No.8 Works was a woodwork
shop, in the charge of Lionel Matthews, and he used to do all the woodwork
for Auster and Tiger Moth repairs. No.9 Works was a small experimental
works at Brookside Syston. The manager was Jack Hunter. No.10 Works was
the raw material at Syston, part of Wilkinson's Garage. That was the chap
that I've been telling you about where we had a fire.
That brings it up to when?
So up until the beginning of the war we'd
made 55 horsepower Taylorcraft Plus D's. They had difficulty in finding
customers for them actually and a few went round to various agents, like
Shipside Nottingham, Prentice at Norwich and so forth but of course we
only sold about 12 out of the 15 I think it was. Frank Bates' concern was
proving itself. Even at low price which was probably £500 they just
couldn't find a market for them, flying clubs hadn't got any money anyway.
Then, of course, the war came and everything came to a complete grinding
halt. We weren't allowed to fly civil aircraft anyway so things came to an
abrupt halt. Scouts went round to all the other aircraft works and they
brought in repair of various components from Hurricanes and the Tiger Moth
and then we had a contract to repair Tiger Moths as well as Austers at
No.2 Works. They used to arrive on the Queen Mary's, 2 aircraft smashed up
on the Queen Mary, we used to make 2 aircraft complete from them. They
used to demand replacement components from the maintenance units but that
was a bit of bribery and corruption to get the spares out of them. I mean
they were a bit difficult to get them away and spares and Hurricane things
because we were low on the priority list, but anyway we managed it all
right. When the war came and then eventually the Army was trying out the
Auster with a 90 horsepower engine and out of all those that they tried,
which include Messengers and various other types, the Auster was decided
was the best one available, although it wasn't the ideal it filled the
bill for what they wanted. The outcome of it was we had a contract to
convert 22 aircraft into military purposes with 90 horsepower engines,
that was the first contract we had. The aircraft proved reasonably
successful so then we had a contract for a 100, which of course set the
whole production line up. We were repairing Tiger Moths at the time and
eventually when we had the Rearsby works we started to repair Albermarles
and Hurricanes and we repaired quite a quantity of Hurricanes during the
war period. When the pilots used to collect them from the Rearsby they
always reckoned that were a much better aircraft than the new ones they
were collecting from the factory.
How did they transport the aircraft.
They came in on Queen Mary's and the like and
they flew them out from Rearsby.
When did you move completely over to
That was after the war. After the war, of
course, a lot of the factories went back to their original owners,
including no.7 Works, which went back to the shoe manufacturing and then,
unfortunately, they were making bedding I think there at one time and all
the other factories were closed and then we concentrated 100% at no.6
Works at Rearsby, apart from no.1 Works which is the original machine
shop, which is still operating.
Which then was the no.7 Works? No.7 Works
as I knew it was on Syston Street.
That's right. That went back to the original
owner because it was only a lease to the Ministry I suppose, they
confiscated it you see.
This has brought you now into Rearsby,
presumably you're now working from Rearsby.
Yes the head office was at Britannia Works
Thurmaston, including the drawing office. The drawing office was a
corrugated asbestos type building and, of course, they decided to move
that to Rearsby, which they did, but during the transition period all the
drawing office went out to somewhere at Ratcliffe and they worked from
Ratcliffe for months while this drawing office was re-erected at Rearsby.
Would that be the new brick building.
That's right. The chief designer, a chap
named Davies, used to work at Ratcliffe because there's lots of pools
there and there used to be some dead sheep floating in them and all sorts
and, of course, Davies fell in one, he said that was an adventure. He was
the chief designer at the time and eventually Dicky Bird took over the
role of chief designer and we had quite a team there, Ian Haslett was one
of them and I've not heard from him for a while. I went out to Portugal
once with Ian Haslett the time when the contract was being operated.
Is this the Ogmar one, very late on?
We produced the Autocrat and loads of various
Marks, but around about mid 60's we were only producing very few aircraft
and things got a bit difficult. We tried to get the Ultimate Aircraft,
what was it now? The Model E was it?
You had the C6 Atlantic.
The C6 Atlantic, that was the one. We
produced a prototype and it had good promise but, of course, the estimates
on the design side were so high that we hadn't got the money to proceed
with it. Ken Sharp was made a Director but Bates was never in favour of
this, he didn't get on too well with Sharp. At one period when I was made
a Director along with Alf Harman and Ronald Porteous and Dicky Bird.
When would this have been? When did you
become a Director?
1950 was when the new Directors were
appointed, that consisted of Frank Bates, Ken Sharp and supported by
Ronald Porteous, Dicky Bird and myself and Alf Harman and they had to call
in some financial firm who was also a Director named Pratley and during
the period when Bates was ill, this was before he died (probably about two
years before he died) and while he was away ill Ken Sharp tried to install
a vote of no confidence in Bates to get him out so that he could step into
the Managing Director's shoes but he didn't get away with that. I said at
the time at the meeting I thought it was a bit much to put this forward at
the time when Bates was ill, I said let's wait until he's better and we'll
face him and talk it out,. Bates came back and things then got a bit
humdrum and we'd exhausted the market pretty well on Austers. We were
producing a few, apart from the Portuguese contract where we supplied 22
aircraft complete, plus about 150 sets of parts which were sent out there.
We made some of the jigs for them but they made a lot of their own jigs
and carried out one or two innovations which didn't necessarily meet with
our approval. They tried to do away with the wing root attachment on the
windscreen, it was very difficult to manufacture at the time so they
formed a complete curvature windscreen but I know that Fred Watkin once
came out of there and he was very worried about bird strikes because it
didn't give the resistance of the ones that we'd got. I never know whether
they had any results of that.
Was it about this time when you
instigated the purchase of the Mark 6's?
They started coming in the 60's, all the Mark
5's and 6's and 7's a lot of them were put up for sale and I bought the
lot, really to stop other people buying them more than anything and we
were re-building them one at a time and Mark 6's became 6A's. Funny enough
Dicky Bird sent me a letter which I haven't got, but I wish had got saying
that the Mark 6 would never qualify for a Cof A. I got a chap named Frank
Horridge, who worked down at south somewhere and he came and bought a
wreck from me for a few hundred pound or something and he built it up and
he made the 6A Tugmaster so quite a few of them were made into Tugmasters.
But, when Beagle came in, which is another story, the word Tugmaster
didn't appeal to them at all, particularly Peter Masefield, so that was
stopped straight away and they started to rip them to pieces and build
them up. Instead of repairing components they were all thrown away and new
ones built, new ones issued and they became Terrier 1's, Terrier 2's. The
cost of those used to go up to ten times the cost of original manufacture.
Is this when the price changed for
selling one of these aircraft, from about £2,000 up to about £4,750.
Yes. I took about ten of these aircraft down
to Shoreham with me you see but of course I'd got room to house them or
work on them, so that they were stripped of usable components and then
This large number of aircraft that you
took onboard, obviously there's a large sum of money involved with that,
how did the company finance that?
The finance involved, they were less than
£100 each when I bought them. I don't know if anyone else offered to buy
them but anyway we bought them and also we did buy all the Auster spares
back as well.
You made a tremendous profit on that,
even selling at £2,000.
You never made any profit because we spent
over 2,000 hours on rebuilding them.
But wasn't that the later version of the
The later version, the Terrier types. What
they did was, they threw all the aircraft into a pool and rebuilt them
from scratch using components from whichever aircraft they came from. If
the cowling was bent, it wasn't repaired it was dumped, so price didn't
matter, they'd got to get the aircraft into a top notch condition to sell
and that made the price of the aircraft non-economical as far as
manufacture was concerned but not too competitive on the selling side.
The Terriers for instance and then of
course the start of the Airedale, this was in Beagle days.
We had abandoned this Atlantic and we, or I,
wanted them to revise this and bring it up to date and make a good
aeroplane out of it. It had got potential, it had got two large doors,
access to the rear and so forth, a nose wheel which we didn't get on very
well with because we fractured it and wrecked the thing but when it was
wrecked they called a halt to it so that was the position when Beagle took
over. They considered this C6 Atlantic at umpteen meetings but they
decided to start afresh and that's where the Airedale came into business.
Every meeting they had the Airedale was loaded up with all sorts of
equipment from radio and soundproofing and all the rest of it. I remember
Ian Haslett stood up at one of the meetings and said did I realise that
they were making this aircraft into a two seater aircraft with a poor
performance and Maisefield thumped the table and said look we will firmly
bury our heads in the sand, that was his own words and so it went ahead.
That result was that the first half a dozen aircraft that were built to
this standard had to be brought back into the works and stripped to make
them saleable otherwise it was just a two seater aircraft with a poor
performance with the weight it was carrying. Anyway that's the Airedale
and the money spent on the Airedale was colossal really in our terms. I
know I had to do an exercise once, there was a graph that you could work
to on the cost of the prototype, the second, third, fourth, fifth up to
the umpteenth hundred aircraft, how you're bringing the price down but
we'd got to produce about 500 odd Airedales to crack even on it.
Which, of course, was an unprecedented
That's right, you just couldn't do it. I
suppose all this led up to me being chucked out in a way.
Prior to that were you not involved with
what appeared to be the lucrative sub-contract work?
Well no, the lucrative sub-contract, the
motor car stuff, when Beagle came into being, Pressed Steel backed out
but, they kept the motor car part separate so Alf Harman and Gerry Inwood
went over to the automotive side of the business leaving me solely on the
aircraft side there so that's what happened in the few years prior to
Beagle taking over.
When did they start this automotive side?
That's a good question. When the boom of
selling aircraft after the war had finished we had to look for other work
and I personally went all round the motor car people to try and get work
from them but of course I couldn't show them any components we would make,
we was aircraft you see. But anyway one of the chaps on the engineering
side was a chap named Alf Higgins and he went over one day to see his
brother who worked for Rootes at Coventry and he put on the table a gear
shift lever and asked if we could make it. We said yes, we was a bit
dubious about it but we said yes we could. Eventually we did produce it
but of course at the price for Rootes to sell it was quite out of our
sphere altogether so we had to go for bulk production methods and cut some
of the overhead costs to bring it down to a competitive figure but this
was the inlet for many more motor car parts, including parts for the Land
Rover and Vauxhalls and everything.
I know you had a lot of Austin parts,
Mini components, Vauxhall and Fords.
We had Minis and so forth and this went on
for a long while and then eventually Pressed Steel decided to sell up, the
chap there in charge at the time, Ivor Vaughn, he was an ex-BMC man but he
decided to buy it. A lot of the old Auster people mortgaged their houses
to put money into buying it.
This would be the no.5 Works as we knew
The no.5 as we knew it and this then became
Rearsby Automotive which was quite divorced from the aircraft side. Since
then somebody else has taken it over but I heard from Jack Bailey at
Christmas that Rearsby was closing down completely but I haven't seen it
Did the automotive side make a profit?
Yes they made the major source of profit
during the latter years of Auster regime. Although we weren't making any
profit on aircraft the commercial side was subsidised. A lot of work came
our way. Paton and Baldwin had a factory at Melton and they asked us to go
and see them at one time. I went along and they wanted some stainless
steel dye trucks you see, well it was just like a fuselage if you know
what I mean, welded steel and we had a contract to make probably a hundred
odd of those which was quite profitable. Although I fell out with Bates on
account of this because I just did it and he came along later, had I read
the Articles of Association of the Company? I'd never seen them but he
said of course it's textile stuff and, therefore, all should go through
Crowther Limited, that beat me completely.
Bates was a Director of Crowther wasn't
That's right. That beat me completely because
we were getting all sorts of components like that for the textile trade
but I mean it was no use us estimating and selling them to Crowther for
them to sell them to these other people so really all that sub-contract
more or less came to a stop. When we were searching for other work when
the aircraft side was falling we had tried all ways. We tried it once
through an association with our sister company, Berridge Aircraft at
Nottingham, they made a caravan but we didn't make a success of it. We
started to make saw benches as well.
What year was this?
It would be about 60 I suppose or less, late
50's I suppose, but we made saw benches. I recall I went out to see a chap
in a farm who had got a complaint about one, a saw bench, and he'd lost
three fingers on his right hand so we stopped making saw benches. We tried
all sorts of things.
I remember when we had some trolleys,
they were all steel trolleys, we used to call them the 'bomb trucks' and
they were for carrying under belly fuel tanks. I believe they were for
Gloster Javelins. Did you get any involvement with that at all?
I don't remember it actually.
They had a lot of flame cut components
that were made in no.4 Works mainly by me, John Jenkins when I was an
apprentice. Once again it was only partially involving aircraft because it
was preparing fuel tanks. They made a lot of those, I would think well
over a 100 must have been made.
I don't remember 'bomb trolleys'.
We used to call them bomb trolleys but in
actual fact they were under belly fuel tanks. Ambrose, I've talked about
the latter part of the Beagle days, what really happened then when you got
the feeling that things were not going too well and it was time to be
Costs were simply ignored, the money that was
spent on the Airedale and other projects was so uneconomical that the
future, see the Pup and the 206 were there but the quantities produced was
never going to pay and I had no faith in it but I'd only got three years
to go and I thought they'll just last me out nicely but instead of that
when I was 62 years of age I faced up to London office and the Managing
Director then was Myer, Peter Masefield was ousted, he was still Chairman
but he had no powers, this Myer was the chief thing. He came into the
office and told me to go back to Rearsby, collect all my personal things
and finish, that was the end of it. I said what about my pension he said
well you'll get your own contributions back over the years and I said well
that's no use to me so eventually I demanded to see Peter Masefield and
eventually I did get some settlement but it wasn't really what I was
entitled to. When the Beagle folded up, which was only 12 months later,
the people there with the redundancy and pension fund did a lot better
than I did because there were more of them there, more power to their
elbow and they forced the issue a bit. This was raised in parliament
because of the pension fund. The pension fund had been raided by the firm
to pay wages, this was well before Maxwell but this is what happened. The
cheques used to come through monthly from the Ministry because the income
from Beagle sales was negligible almost really, they didn't get anything
much from that so we were relying entirely on government subsidies but the
money didn't arrive so they had to look round, the bank wouldn't extend
the overdrafts so they raided the pension fund to pay the wages. This was
a fact that was raised in parliament.
Did this go on for very long then?
I don't know, probably weeks but whether it
was all made good eventually I don't know because it didn't affect me
because I was already out on the limb.
When you were out and you'd gone back to
Rearsby to collect your things, what happened then?
Well they then told me that Austers was for
sale. Tom Simmons was selected as a representative so I had to deal with
Tom Simmons. Over the years I'd looked after Tom Simmons, I'd sheltered
him quite a lot because him and Arthur Picket didn't get on very well and
Picket said at one time he didn't want him, he wanted me to sack him but
Eric Hall went down to Shoreham to join the sales staff at Shoreham. I
then got Tom Simmons to come and take his place in the office so we had a
sort of a sales representative at Rearsby, this is what I wanted. Tom
Simmons then I was trying to deal with him, we were enemies to some extent
because he obviously wanted to get the best he could for being able to
upstage his position and I wanted to sell it, I wanted to be in on the
sale. I did contact several people and one of them was Ted Hawes who was
the boss of Hants and Sussex Aviation at Portsmouth and I went to see him
and he was prepared to make an offer for it and we agreed a figure between
Ted Hawes and myself of £35,000 and so I went down to Shoreham and there
was a big hanger there which had originally got an earth floor. I put a
concrete floor in it and all steel racking and he said would these house
it and I said yes it would house it apart from the big stuff like wings
and the fuselages etc and all the big jigs they couldn't get them in. Ted
Hawes made this offer of £35,000 and that was accepted.
Did that some include some of the Beagle
Not nothing to do with the Beagle, it was
purely Auster, that included jigs, tools and everything. All these lorry
loads were going down to Shoreham incessantly for about a fortnight or
more, clearing out the stuff but eventually Arthur Picket put a stop to
it, he wouldn't let anymore stuff go, he said it was costing too much
money to get rid of it and then I had the argument with him about work in
progress, which eventually I couldn't get, although there were quite a lot
of components which were partly made which I could have taken and got
finished. I shall have to find some approved people to take them over and
they'd want all the inspection records of the processes already done but
this was all nominated on what we used to call blue cards. It was all the
processes there and all the inspection stamps all down. The fabric
covering was the last thing but I didn't stock them with a fabric
covering, I carried just the components and either people could cover it
themselves or could get it done. One or two other people were interested,
including someone at Farnborough because there was a chap down at
Farnborough who was an ex-employee, Harry Stanton, he was in charge of the
Auster which became Beagle Farnborough office and he used to get a lot of
design work from the Farnborough people which used to carry out in this
office. I approached him and he said he'd be interested and he contacted
the firm and they made an offer but nothing came of it. Then Ted Hawes
made the offer and bought it but he only bought it on the understanding
that I went with it so this is why I went down there. I went down there
for £1500 a year, which was about half what I'd been getting but anyway
I'd only got three years to run and I thought it was better than being
unemployed so I took it. I worked down there for the three years to
retirement and then I carried on for another five years after that because
eventually Ted Hawes sold the whole lot residue to Saywell at Shoreham,
this was entirely without my knowledge, I was told about it after it had
all been done so Saywell collected all the stuff and we had to house all
of the de Havilland Gipsy spares so I was in charge of the Gipsy spares,
Gipsy and Seraph spares which I had in this hanger, I did very well really
on all that for five years.
Was stuff moved over to Shoreham then?
The Auster stuff was moved to Shoreham and he
had it for a time but it was such a jumbled mess, how the devil they
sorted things out I never knew but of course then it was sold to Steve
Riddington, Riddington's son had it all at Syston, at a factory there.
Then eventually it went to that chap in Lincolnshire, Cliff Baker's got it
now but it was passed round from there. Cliff Baker's got the stuff there,
he's got it all racked and shielded off in a fashion but he's reluctant to
sell anything sometimes because he's trying to build aircraft. He's
building all sorts of replicas. He's building a replica of the B4, the
ambulance freighter, of course it will never fly, his son's welded it up,
it's not approved. He's still got the Austers, I want to go down and see
him some time and Peter Stoddard he's arranging some time for us to go out
with him and see it again, see what he's doing but he has built up quite a
few aircraft and he gets somebody to sign them, one of the local chaps,
soon he's to retire but he still goes and signs for him.
I did best part of a £1/4m turnover on Auster
You probably did more there than the
latter part of the Auster years.
That's right. We continued selling stuff to
Portugal and I used to get stuff made, people by the name of Jewel at
Chichester, they were an approved aircraft firm and Follond Aircraft, they
were at Southampton but they were in the same condition as we were, the
contract had been stopped so they did a bit of work for me but they were
far too expensive for me.
That was almost the close of any
manufacturing to do with Austers.
Yes I think that Saywell had some things
made, which were a bit adventurous, more adventurous than I did in fact,
things like brake plates. We'd got plenty of right hand, low left or vice
versa but he got somebody to make them, the question of approval seem to
be waived if you know what I mean. We wouldn't touch anything unless it
was bone fide but when it got to these other people they weren't so fussy
you see. They had a lot of rogue stuff made, which was never approved.
I wonder how they got it through then.
I don't know, they used to say unapproved and
people weren't really worried about it.
Were you ever involved at all with
Marshalls of Cambridge because they used to do a fair amount of work
including completion of several of the Austers?
They never did any work for Auster but the
big thing they did for Beagle was to get the Airedale at Farnborough for
the first year but Farnborough wouldn't allow it with a Lycoming engine so
at the meeting, which was about two or three months before Farnborough, it
was decided to put a Continental engine in because at this time Rolls
Royce had got a licence to manufacture. We got an American engine, not a
Rolls Royce engine.
Presumably that was a C185 ?
I can't remember the number of it, it was
about 180 horsepower I remember and anyway Peter Masefield gave the job to
Marshall of Cambridge so they re-engineered the Airedale with a Lycoming
American engine but only on the understanding that it was part of the
licenc e with Rolls Royce. That was shown at Farnborough but there again
the investment in capital and getting it at Farnborough was quite out of
proportion to any gain that came out of it because when it came back to
Rearsby they stripped it out and put a Lycoming in again. It was one of
the Airedales. The Airedale with the continental engine never flew, only
at Farnborough, they didn't sell it as such, it was stripped.
So really then that's almost the end of
Austers as we all know it.
That's right. Cliff Baker has still got some
spares and I don't know whether he gets stuff made but he has visits from
the registration people occasionally to sort him out a bit but I mean a
lot of the stuff he is making will never fly because they're replicas.
He's made what appears to be quite a good copy of the B4, he's got all
that plywood rear portion right and he's got the fuselage made, how far
he's got with it I don't know, that's why I want to go and see him some
We'll perhaps leave that for another time
and maybe we can talk again. Thank you very much, Ambrose.
Right, all right well that's as far as I can
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