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British Industrial History

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Henry John Lawson

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1896. Harry Lawson and the Lord Mayor at the 1896 London-Brighton Run.

Henry John Lawson (1852–1925), keen cyclist, bicycle designer and company promoter, was an early enthusiast for the motorcar and bought up many patents in an attempt to control the industry. He launched the first major show in May 1896 and also used his influence to help remove the 4 mph speed limit. He was a small man, just five feet tall, and reputedly died almost penniless after spending two spells in prison. He claimed to have been almost killed on the 'Sussex'.

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1852 February 23rd. He was born at 1 Nevill's Court in the City of London, the eldest son of Thomas Lawson, brass turner and Calvinistic Methodist minister, and his wife, Ann Lucy Kent, who were married 15th November 1849 at Newington. They had two sons and two daughters and HJL was the eldest.

1856 October. Advertisement. 'Moderator Lamps Cleaned and repaired, T. Lawson's, 31, Great Bath street, Clerkenwell'[1]

1861 Living at 31 Great Bath Street, Clerkenwell: Thomas Lawson (age 32 born Vauxhall), a Mechanical Model Maker employing one man and one boy. With his wife Ann Lucy (age 43 born City of London), and their children Henry John Lawson (age 9 born City of London), a Scholar; Thomas Lawson (age 7 born in London City), a Scholar; Miriam (age 5 born Clerkenwell), a Scholar; and Martha A. (age 2 born Clerkenwell). Also a visitor. [2]

c.1867 He gained a two-year apprenticeship at W. Melville's Iron Factors at Islington

1871 Living at 43 John Street, Finsbury: Ann Lucy Lawson (age 53 born London). With her children Henry John Lawson (age 19 born at Clerkenwell), a Model Engineer; Thomas Lawson (age 17 born London), a Commercial Clerk; and Martha A. (age 12 born Clerkenwell), a Scholar. [3]

1871 July 'The Rev. J. Lawson is staying at 27, Rose Hill Terrace'[4] (Presumably a typo for Rev. T. Lawson)

1873 The family moved to Brighton. Little is known about Lawson's early life, but he followed his father as a mechanical model maker in London and then appears to have gained experience in the bicycle trade in Brighton as a young man. With his employer, James Likeman, he patented a lever-driven bicycle

1870s Lawson designed several types of bicycle in the 1870s. His efforts were described as the "first authentic design of safety bicycle employing chain-drive to the rear wheel which was actually made", and he has been ranked alongside John Kemp Starley as an inventor of the modern bicycle.

1876 Haynes and Jefferis made a few 'low' bicycles to the patented design of James Likeman and Lawson [5].

1878 Listed as 'Lawson, Henry John, bicycle agent, Preston road'[6] Note: Rev Thomas Lawson (Congregational) is at 27 Rose Hill Terrace

1878 Partnership dissolved. '...Henry John Lawson and James Likeman, trading under the style or firm of Lawson and Likeman, at Brighton, in the county of Sussex, Patentees and Manufacturers of the Safety Bicycle, was dissolved, by mutual consent...'[7]

1879 January 25th. He married at the Providence Chapel, Brighton, Elizabeth (Lizzie) (b. 1850), daughter of George Olliver, carpenter. They had two daughters and two sons.

He moved to Coventry where he was involved with Haynes and Jefferis and merged it with the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co of which he became manager. He sold his Brighton business to W. H. Halliwell, a gentleman who was afterwards very well known in trade and political circles in Coventry.

He started up Queen Cycle Co

1880 January. Proceedings for his bankruptcy. '...Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrangement or Composition with Creditors, instituted by Henry John Lawson, formerly carrying on business at the Rink, Lewes-road, and in London-road, both in Brighton, in the county of Sussex, and then residing in Springfield-road, in Brighton aforesaid, afterwards in lodgings at No. 17, Hertford-terrace, in the city of Coventry, and now in lodgings at No. 40, Hertford-street, in the same city, Machinist...'[8]

It was not till many years later (1895) that Lawson was publicly acclaimed as the inventor of the rear-driven "safety" bicycle.

1880 With Henry Hughes and Co he claims to have invented the first motive-power tricycle. [9]

1880 When the Tangent Cycle Company joined with Dan Rudge to become the Rudge Cycle Co he became sales superintendent.

1880 Birth of his daughter Elizabeth Anne who married Charles Wilson Harris, an egg and butter merchant.

1881 HJL was living at 860 Warwick Road, Coventry age 28 and was a bicycle salesman. Also in the house were his wife Elizabeth (age 31) and Elizabeth A. (age 1) plus one servant (age 14). His father (a Calvinistic minister), mother and sister Martha A. were living at 109 Ditchling Rise, Preston, Brighton. His brother Thomas Lawson was living in Strood, Kent as an Accountant and Independent Minister with his wife Rebekah and her mother Amy Sandland.[10]

1882 Birth of his son Thomas Ebenezer Lawson who became a medical practitioner.

1882 Birth of his daughter Marie Rhoda who married Herbert Harris, an egg and butter merchant.

1883 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Barnet Joseph Vanderlyn and Henry John Lawson, at the National Works, Spon-street, in the city of Coventry, as Velocipede Manufacturers, under the style or firm of the National Bicycle and Tricycle Manufacturing Company, was, on the 19th day of November, 1883, dissolved by mutual consent...'[11]

1885 Birth of son Henry J. Lawson

1887 He was Superintendent of the Sales Department of the Rudge Cycle Co when it was made into a joint stock company.[12]

1889 Floated the London and Scottish Trustee and Investment Company which became the London and Scottish Issue Company and this was also liquidated but gave birth to the Financial Trust and Agency in 1890

1891 Birth of his son Reginald William J. Lawson at Watford

1891 Living at Coniston Lodge, Watford: Henry Lawson (age 39), Director of Trust Company. With his wife Lizzie (age 41) and their children Lily (age 11), Maria (age 9), Thomas (age 7), Henry (age 6) and an infant son (age 1 month) plus Alice Lawson (age 23) and Francis Kent (age 67) both visitors. Four servants. His brother Thomas Lawson was in Northfleet, Kent as a Congregational Miniater with his wife and three children [13]

1892 He launched the British Cattle Foods Co but this resulted in liquidation in 1892[14]

1892 May. President of Watford Cycling Club.[15]

1895 As one of many attempts to promote his schemes and lobby Parliament for the elimination of the Red Flag Act, Lawson and Frederick Simms founded the Motor Car Club of Britain.

1895 March. Chairman of the Beeston Pneumatic Tyre Co and applies for its winding up. '..."That it is desirable to reconstruct the Company and accordingly that the Company be wound up voluntarily...'[16]

1896 June. Launched the New Beeston Cycle Co; the first works to be taken over would be Quinton Cycle Co. In a P.S. to the announcement, Harry Lawson said this was the last Cycle Co that he intended to be connected with[17].

1895 June. Holding powers of attorney on behalf of the Assurance Trust Corporation in the winding up of the Hounslow Brewery Co[18]

1896 March. He set up the Daimler motor company with Gottlieb Daimler and Frederick Lanchester having purchased the rights from Frederick Simms. Was chairman. [19].

1896 June. Court action against him to recover damages of 7,750 pounds. In 1892 he was a director of the Licences Insurance Corporation and Guarantee Fund and had made certain verbal promises but these were not in writing so action dismissed.[20]

1896 December. Chairman of Beeston Pneumatic Tyre Co and the British Motor Syndicate and a director of the Great Horseless Carriage Co. President of the Motor Car Club. [21] [22]

1896 November 14th. Lawson and the Motor Car Club organised the first London to Brighton run, the "Emancipation Run", which was held to celebrate the relaxation of the Red Flag Act, which eased the way for the start of the development of the British motor industry.

Lawson attempted to monopolise the British automobile industry through the acquisition of foreign patents. He acquired exclusive British rights to manufacture the De Dion-Bouton and Bollée vehicles; bought the Humber Bicycle Co; and British patent rights for US bicycle designs. He founded a succession of promotional companies including: the British Motor Syndicate (which was the first of many of his schemes to collapse in 1897), followed by the British Motor Co, British Motor Traction Co, Great Horseless Carriage Co, Motor Manufacturing Co (MMC), and he bought in the rights of Gottlieb Daimler, and of Edward Joel Pennington, forming the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Co.

1897 Criticism of a patent of Lawson's that had just been published, that it was of little inventiveness, something that could have been achieved by a competent mechanic [23].

1899 Produced the 'Motorwheel' as a self-contained unit that could replace a pony in the shafts of a trap. This was a single-cylinder air-cooled engine mounted on a light open frame and driven through gearing. [24]

1899 Fronted the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Co in New York.[25]

1900 Newspaper suggestion that if Lawson's involvement in the British Electric Street Tramways Company had been known, the subscription for shares would have been even poorer than was the case, because of the recent experience with British Motor Co, Great Horseless Carriage Co, London Steam Omnibus Co[26].

1901 Living at Eglington, Lyndhurst Gardens, Hampstead: Elizabeth Lawson (age 51 born Brighton), Married. With her five children; Elizabeth A. Lawson (age 21 born Coventry); Marie R. Lawson (age 19 born Coventry); Thomas E. Lawson (age 19 born Coventry), Civil Engineer; Henry J. Lawson (age 16 born Coventry), Mechanical Engineer; and Reginald W. M. Lawson (age 10 born Watford). One visitor. Two servants. Henry John Lawson is not present. [27]

Many of Lawson's patents were not as defining as he had hoped, and from 1901 a series of legal cases saw the value in his holdings eroded. Lawson's patent rights were subsequently eroded through successful lawsuits by the Automobile Mutual Protection Association.

1904 February. Death of his father. 'The funeral of the late Rev T. Lawson took place yesterday (Wednesday) amid every manifestation of sorrow. The deceased, a follower of Calvin, had been Pastor of Providence Chapel over thirty-three years, and was beloved by all who knew him. the cortege left the residence of the deceased in Springfield Road at two o'clock, and proceeded to Providence Chapel, where a memorial service was held. The building was crowded in every part, many having to be accommodated in the schoolroom. The body was enclosed in a polished oak coffin with brass furniture, and bore the inscription: THOMAS LAWSON. Died February 4th. 1904. Aged 75 years. Six mourning carriages followed the car, containing two sons, Mr H. J. and T. Lawson, Mr T. Robinson (son-in-law), and Mr Thomas Lawson. Jun; the second, Mr Jack Lawson, Mr C. Harris, Mr Leslie Robinson...'[28]

1904 May. Lawson, aged 52 and of Lyndhurst Gardens, Hampstead, and E. T. Hooley, aged 45 and of Risley Hall, near Derby were tried in court for fraudulently obtaining money from shareholders including Alfred John Paine; Lawson, after representing himself in court, was found guilty of issuing false statements concerning the Electric Tramways Construction and Maintenance Company and was sentenced to one year's hard labour which he commenced in March 1905 at Wormwood Scrubs after a delay of some months because of a claimed illness. [29][30]London Evening Standard - Tuesday 07 March 1905

1905 December 16th. Released after serving nine months in gaol, having spent most of the time in the infirmary and written a book on his experiences.[31][32]

1911 Living at 11 Ornan Road, Hampstead: Henry John Lawson (age 59 born City of London), Electrical Engineer and Employer. With his wife (married 32 years with six children of five are living) Elizabeth Lawson (age 61 born Brighton) and their son Reginald W. Lawson (age 20 born Watford), a Stockbroker's Clerk. Also his sister-in-law Sarah Cleary (age 56 born Brighton), a Widow and his nephew Victor E. Robinson (age 13 born Brighton). Two servants.[33]

1913 February Application for restoration of a lapsed patent. '...Henry John Lawson has made an application for the restoration of the patent granted to him for an invention, entitled "Improvements in wheels for vehicles," numbered 14099 of 1908, and bearing date the 3rd day of July, 1908, which expired on the 3rd day of July, 1912, owing to the non-payment of the prescribed renewal fee...'[34]

1915 HJL with John Henry Swinburn and C. W. Langford were fined for irregularities in the shares of the Bleriot Manufacturing Aircraft Co, the English branch of Louis Blériot's aircraft company. Lawson secretly acquired control of the company just before a public subscription to help expand its war effort, but soon found itself in breach of its contract with Blériot; when this came to light the company was wound up and its director found guilty of fraud and dishonesty.[35]

1918 July. 'Henry John Lawson, aged 65, Golders Green, was charged at Bow-street, London, to-day, "that he, between 1 March and August, 1914, unlawfully conspired with Stuart Alfred Curzon to cheat and defraud such members of the public as should be induced to subscribe for shares in a company called the General Omnibus Supply Manufacturing Company, Ltd.' He claims he was almost 'very severely wounded in the 'Sussex' and was given out as killed' and has since been treated for four months.[36] 1918 July. Found guilty and sentenced to 'twenty months in the second division'.[37]

1925 July 12th. Lawson died at his home, 25 Roxborough Avenue, Harrow, Middlesex. Probate to Thomas Ebenezer Lawson, Medical Practitioner, and Elizabeth Anne Harris (wife of Charles Wilson Harris). Effects 99 pounds.

One son, John Oxenham Lawson, who married Enid Dorothy Maxwell in 1926 [38].

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Clerkenwell News - Saturday 11 October 1856
  2. 1861 Census
  3. 1871 Census
  4. Brighton Gazette - Thursday 13 July 1871
  5. Biography of Henry John Lawson by Richard A. Storey, ODNB [1]
  6. 1878 Post Office Directory of Sussex
  7. [2] Gazette Issue 24635 published on the 22 October 1878. Page 24 of 54
  8. [3] Gazette Issue 24804 published on the 20 January 1880. Page 36 of 52
  9. The Times, Thursday, May 21, 1896
  10. 1881 Census
  11. [4] Gazette Issue 25314 published on the 1 February 1884. Page 18 of 42
  12. Pall Mall Gazette - Tuesday 18 October 1887
  13. 1891 Census
  14. [5] Gazette Issue 26354 published on the 16 December 1892. Page 93 of 96
  15. Herts Advertiser - Saturday 28 May 1892
  16. [6] Gazette Issue 26606 published on the 12 March 1895. Page 36 of 90
  17. The Standard, 18 June 1896
  18. [7] Gazette Issue 26637 published on the 25 June 1895. Page 65 of 66
  19. The Standard 5 March 1897
  20. Morning Post - Friday 26 June 1896
  21. The Times, Tuesday, May 19, 1896
  22. The Times, Tuesday, Dec 01, 1896
  23. The Pall Mall Gazette 4 March 1897
  24. The Light Car by C. F. Caunter. Published in 1970. ISBN 11 290003 8
  25. Roads were not Built for Cars by Carlton Reid
  26. The Pall Mall Gazette 27 December 1900
  27. 1910 Census
  28. Brighton Gazette - Thursday 11 February 1904
  29. The Times, Wednesday, May 18, 1904
  30. London Evening Standard - Wednesday 01 February 1905
  31. London Daily News - Saturday 16 December 1905
  32. Leeds Mercury - Monday 18 December 1905
  33. 1911 Census
  34. [8] Gazette Issue 28692 published on the 21 February 1913. Page 36 of 116
  35. The Times, Thursday, Dec 30, 1915
  36. Evening Despatch - Tuesday 08 January 1918
  37. Coventry Evening Telegraph - Monday 22 July 1918
  38. The Times, Wednesday, Jan 27, 1926
  • Veteran and Vintage Cars by Peter Roberts. Published 1972
  • Wikipedia
  • DNB
  • Daimler Century by Lord Montagu and David Burgess-Wise. Published 1995. ISBN 1-85260-494-8