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Interview of Ambrose Hitchman, 17th February 2001

Interviewed by John and Irene Jenkins

Interviewer
Ambrose, I understand that you joined the company in about 1942.
Ambrose
That's correct, yes.
Interviewer
How did you come by join Austers? What led you to Auster's in the first place?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Was this at Loughborough
Ambrose
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, '38.
Interviewer
They hadn't got any enthusiasm towards aviation at all really.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Did you get the job at Taylorcraft because you knew Mr Bates?
Ambrose
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 Taylorcraft.
Interviewer
You were actually sent there? You didn't go of your own accord?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Why do you think that was Ambrose?
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.
Interviewer
You obviously then started to cut some of the costs overall.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
A lot of these materials of course were now being made in the UK, they weren't imported.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
And this was at no.10 Works?
Ambrose
No.10 Works which was part of the garage. We had Sheffield's Garage at Syston but then there was another garage.
Interviewer
Was it Shipsides ?
Ambrose
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 course.
Interviewer
How many people do you think were working down at Britannia?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
All the works had different numbers didn't they.
Ambrose
We had 10 works actually, No.1 was the original machine shop.
Interviewer
That would have been Britannia would it?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
That brings it up to when?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
How did they transport the aircraft.
Ambrose
They came in on Queen Mary's and the like and they flew them out from Rearsby.
Interviewer
When did you move completely over to Rearsby?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Which then was the no.7 Works? No.7 Works as I knew it was on Syston Street.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
This has brought you now into Rearsby, presumably you're now working from Rearsby.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Would that be the new brick building.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Is this the Ogmar one, very late on?
Ambrose
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?
Interviewer
You had the C6 Atlantic.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
When would this have been? When did you become a Director?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Was it about this time when you instigated the purchase of the Mark 6's?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Is this when the price changed for selling one of these aircraft, from about £2,000 up to about £4,750.
Ambrose
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 disposed of.
Interviewer
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?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
You made a tremendous profit on that, even selling at £2,000.
Ambrose
You never made any profit because we spent over 2,000 hours on rebuilding them.
Interviewer
But wasn't that the later version of the Mark 6?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
The Terriers for instance and then of course the start of the Airedale, this was in Beagle days.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Which, of course, was an unprecedented number.
Ambrose
That's right, you just couldn't do it. I suppose all this led up to me being chucked out in a way.
Interviewer
Prior to that were you not involved with what appeared to be the lucrative sub-contract work?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
When did they start this automotive side?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
I know you had a lot of Austin parts, Mini components, Vauxhall and Fords.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
This would be the no.5 Works as we knew it.
Ambrose
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 published yet.
Interviewer
Did the automotive side make a profit?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Bates was a Director of Crowther wasn't he?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
What year was this?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
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?
Ambrose
I don't remember it actually.
Interviewer
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.
Ambrose
I don't remember 'bomb trolleys'.
Interviewer
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 moving on?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Did this go on for very long then?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
When you were out and you'd gone back to Rearsby to collect your things, what happened then?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Did that some include some of the Beagle components?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Was stuff moved over to Shoreham then?
Ambrose
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.
Ambrose
I did best part of a £1/4m turnover on Auster spares.
Interviewer
You probably did more there than the latter part of the Auster years.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
That was almost the close of any manufacturing to do with Austers.
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
I wonder how they got it through then.
Ambrose
I don't know, they used to say unapproved and people weren't really worried about it.
Interviewer
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?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
Presumably that was a C185 ?
Ambrose
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.
Interviewer
So really then that's almost the end of Austers as we all know it.
Ambrose
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 time.
Interviewer
We'll perhaps leave that for another time and maybe we can talk again. Thank you very much, Ambrose.
Ambrose
Right, all right well that's as far as I can go.

All of these transcripts are available in a single file in several formats.


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