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British Industrial History

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William Hillman

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William Hillman (1848–1921)

1848 November 13th. Born in Chapel Street, Stratford, Essex, the son of William Hillman, a shoemaker in Stratford, and his wife, Sarah Stichbury.

He trained in the engineering works of John Penn and Sons at Greenwich; Penn had also employed James Starley as his gardener, during which period Starley demonstrated his aptitude with mechanical devices.

Hillman moved to the Coventry Sewing Machine Co (later Coventry Machinists Co), which was the first British manufacturer of velocipedes, based on James Starley's adaptation of a French design.

1870 When the Franco-Prussian War halted French production, Coventry manufacture of velocipedes boomed.

c.1870 James Starley left the Coventry Machinists Co and, in conjunction with William Hillman, started on his own account in St. John's Street, Coventry to make sewing machines. Starley and Hillman patented the Ariel, an all-metal "ordinary" with modern-style wire-spoked wheels.

1871 Starley was joined in business by William Borthwick Smith as Smith, Starley and Co at St. Agnes Lane, Hales Street (from where they later moved to Ariel Works, Spon Street).

1872 The partnership of Smith, Starley and Co with William Hillman was dissolved when Hillman left [1] 11th December 1872. Starley continued to make the "Europa" sewing machine and the "Ariel", the first practical penny-farthing cycle.

1873 Married Fanny Moreton Brockas

1875 Founded his own enterprise Hillman and Herbert with capital put up by William Henry Herbert, the son of a Leicester builder and brother of Alfred Herbert. (A reference says that alongside bicycles, the company also made roller-skates and sewing machines). This was eventually so successful that four plants were established in Coventry and the successor company expanded to Nuremberg in 1896.

1876 Patent. '3197. And to William Hillman, of the firm of Hillman & Herbert, Machinists, of Coventry, in the county of Warwick, for the invention "improvements in bicycles, and in machinery or apparatus for manufacturing bicycle and other wheels."'[2]

1880 Hillman and Herbert became Hillman, Herbert and Cooper which became known as the world's largest manufacturer of cycles, with patent innovations swelling the sales revenues.

1887 New company formed: Auto Machinery Co; this pioneered the mass production in Britain of ball and roller bearings, and the energetic Hillman established a variety of valuable patents.

1880s Formed the Sparkbrook Manufacturing Co

1891 Hillman, Herbert and Cooper was sold to the Premier Cycle Co, which employed 600 people and produced cycles at the rate of over 100 a day.

1905 Hillman's enthusiasm for motor races led him to build his own car, with the intention of winning the Isle of Man tourist trophy.

1907 Hillman founded the Hillman Coatalen Motor Co with Louis Coatalen.

1910 Coatalen left and the company became the Hillman Motor Co

1921 Hillman died at his home, Keresley Hall, Coventry, on 4 February, a very wealthy man [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 25 December 1872
  2. [1] Gazette Issue 24357 published on the 25 August 1876. Page 21 of 56
  3. The Times, Thursday, Jun 02, 1921
  • DNB
  • Wikipedia
  • Coventry’s Motorcycle Heritage by Damien Kimberley. Published 2009. ISBN 978 0 7509 5125 9