Jameson's Engineering

(West Street, Ewell)

Jameson advertisement from 1940
Jameson advertisement from 1940.
Image source Aircraft Production

If you wanted a digest of the development of high-quality car and aero engines during the 20th century, you would probably look no further than Rolls Royce; the first Rolls Royce car was unveiled in 1904. Rolls was interested in aeroplanes but could not persuade Royce to develop an aero engine - this all changed during the First World War.

I know you are asking what any of this has to do with J L Jameson, the answer being that big names like Rolls and Royce were not the only people developing and turning out engines. There were many smaller firms making whole engines, components, machinery for manufacturing components and patenting inventions to improve the products. This is where Mr Jameson came in.

Joseph Lambert Jameson was born in Birkenhead 1902, the son of a single mother, schoolteacher Louisa Catherine Jameson (died 1942). By 1911 they had gravitated to Wandsworth and it looks as if they remained in South London until moving to Surrey proper (Cheam) during the 1920s.

I have no information about his schooling or how he got into engineering, but there is a patent on file for 1927 concerning improvements to the internal combustion engine, in collaboration with one Charles John Fisher of Surrey (also to be found living in Cheam during the 1920s and, later, in Epsom). He also developed components, including a supercharger, with Thomas Gillett, of the Atlas Works in Bookham.

Racing cars

The Jameson Special
The Jameson Special
Image source Motor Sport Magazine

Information about Mr Jameson's involvement with racing cars is fairly sparse, but, thanks to an article in Motorsport magazine from 1991, we do know something about a model called the Jameson Special, which appeared in 1933. For one reason or another, it hardly ever raced in earnest, but the driver was Dudley Froy and Malcolm Campbell was also scheduled to drive it in competition. Although he didn't in the end, I think we can assume that he liked it. The special feature of this car was Mr Jameson's engine.

Before we get down to details of the Jameson Special, I should mention that a couple of sources have said Mr Jameson made some components for one of Malcolm Campbell's Blue Birds, and now we know there was a connection between the two men, this seems very possible. The problem with establishing the provenance of these early racing cars is that a lot of them were experimental, many people made portions of them and there was a lot of sub-contracting, changing engines and even bodies. For example, in 1929 Henry Segrave broke the world land speed record at Daytona in 'Golden Arrow' which was fundamentally a Thrupp and Maberly body with a Napier Lion engine. However, we know that the car was built in the works of Kenelm Lee Guinness (inventor of KLG spark plugs). The KLG works at Putney Vale also partly built Campbell's Blue Bird II; Campbell built other sections of his cars at his own works and we know that Elson's of Epsom made the body for Blue Bird II. So, we have lots of people contributing components, more people making and assembling parts of a car and someone else putting the whole thing together. No wonder then that getting to the bottom of who did what is so difficult.

Even in 1991, Motorsport magazine was speculating on the body/bodies of the Jameson Special, but at least there was no dispute that under the bonnet was a J L Jameson supercharged two-stroke engine, which was in all likelihood assembled at the then (1933) newly acquired Spring Works in West Street, Ewell. The magazine could find only one instance of the car actually being raced - at Brooklands in 1938, driven by Dudley Froy - but even then was not sure if the body was Bugatti or not, or if the 1933 engine was still in it.

Dudley Froy
Dudley Froy, pictured in the Derby Daily Telegraph of 7 March 1931.
Image source: British Newspaper Archive, Local World Limited.
Image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

Jameson's mainly made machine tools and aircraft components and, when World War II broke out, they would have been working at flat-out capacity. One former employee, Mr E A Sparrow, who worked there from 1939 to 1974 (latterly in Chessington), said that during the War as many as 180 people worked at the West Street premises. Chris Pottinger, who was a child at the time, tells of a watchman in a turret on the top of Jameson's. Here is an example of one of the firm's machine tools, which is a tape-controlled, co-ordinate positioning drilling machine - but I'm sure you'd already recognised it.

A tape-controlled, co-ordinate positioning drilling machine
A tape-controlled, co-ordinate positioning drilling machine
Image source: Bourne Hall Museum

Important though Jameson's day-to-day work was, I would guess that the general reader - i.e. the people I am aiming this at, rather than engineering experts - will not be enthralled by complicated diagrams of engines, valves etc, which I could produce in abundance, so let's move on to something more exciting. Mr Sparrow has said that the firm made a prototype for the undercarriage of the Vickers Valiant bomber, which was a post-war project, and another one was the Saunders-Roe Skeeter helicopter.

Plaque on the Spring Works.
Plaque on the Spring Works
Image source: Clive Gilbert ©2015

Aero engines

Although the theory of helicopter flight and many attempted lift-offs of varying success/disaster and duration, had been around for a long time, the first real operational example, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, flew only in 1936.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 61 helicopter.
The Focke-Wulf Fw 61 helicopter.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

You may think that it looks like an early aeroplane with a couple of rotors on the top, which it basically was, but of course the significant features are the rotors, which enable vertical flight and landing. They were the brainchild of the Cierva Autogiro Company, which was a British firm, although the ideas man was a Spanish engineer, Juan de la Cierva. For more information about Cierva autogiros and their use locally, please see Derby Day Traffic Control.

The Cierva company had begun work on the Skeeter, for military use, in 1947, but in 1950 their three-rotor Air Horse, then the world's largest helicopter, crashed at Farnborough, killing all three crew. Cierva had been in financial difficulties for some time and handed their development projects to Saunders-Roe.

Skeeter was a small two-man helicopter, intended for both civil and military purposes, primarily for reconnaissance: it looked more like the helicopters we know today.

The Skeeter W-14 from 1948.
The Skeeter W-14 from 1948.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The first Skeeter, still in the hands of Cierva, flew in 1948, powered by Jameson's FF-1 engine, but it was prone to overheating and not up to the job. The next version had a de Havilland engine. However, the machines were dogged by ground resonance problems, which were not solved until the mid-1950s.

At around the same time as the first Skeeter was being developed, Jameson's FF-1 engine was installed in the Miles M.18 Mk 1, originally a two seater training aeroplane; this version was scrapped in 1947 and the Mk. 2 used a different engine.

A Miles M.18 Mk.1
A Miles M.18 Mk.1.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Jameson's had operated a factory in Chessington since about 1950 and in 1963 they moved the whole operation there, after thirty years in West Street. Mr Sparrow has told us that the Chessington works finally closed on 31 March 1974 and the firm moved to Leatherhead, passing out of the family eventually; his notes say that the business declined because it was unable to compete successfully with imported machine tools.

The next picture shows the Spring Works after Jameson's had vacated the premises, which Mr Pottinger says subsequently became the Echo Hospital Warehouse, Ultimately the Works was demolished to make way for John Gale Court and Carpenter Close.

Spring Works
Spring Works
Image source: Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre.

This photo of the Spring Works shows a tramway which was used to trundle machinery in and out of the workshops.
This photo of the Spring Works shows a tramway which was used to
trundle machinery in and out of the workshops.
Image source: Bourne Hall Museum.

Site of the Spring Works during the building of John Gale Court.
Site of the Spring Works during the building of John Gale Court.
Image source: Bourne Hall Museum.

John Gale Court when completed.
John Gale Court when completed.
Image source: Bourne Hall Museum.


In 1931 Mr Jameson married Sylvia Grace Rogers and the couple lived in Cheam, but at some point during the War years they moved to Chessington Lodge in Spring Street (now part of Ewell Castle School).

Chessington Lodge in Spring Street
Chessington Lodge in Spring Street.
Image source: Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre.

Mrs Jameson died in 1952, by which time the family had relocated to Betchworth. There were four children and we will come back to the eldest shortly. In 1956 Mr Jameson married Mrs Pamela D'Aeth (nee Straker) and there were, I believe, two children of that marriage. Mr Jameson died in 1959.

'The Beast' and the Jameson Special Mark 2

You would perhaps expect engineering to run in the family, and it did. The eldest son, Paul (died 1992), conceived a notion for a car using a Rolls Royce Meteor aircraft engine and in the 1960s he built a chassis for it, but then sold it to local man John Dodd, who was a specialist in automatic transmissions. Mr Dodd gave the machine a body and the vehicle was a considerable hit at car shows. There was subsequently trouble with Rolls Royce, as the car sported its badges and mascots etc, but Mr Dodd removed these in the end. The first Beast was destroyed in a fire and there is now a Beast Mark 2 (with a Merlin engine), which is with Mr Dodd in Spain. There are various videos of The Beast on YouTube, most of which do not show the car in real action, but if you want to see it, albeit briefly, in proper motion and take a peek under the bonnet, try the first 1.5 minutes of this one.

In the 1970s Paul produced his own Jameson Special, which had six wheels and a Merlin V12 engine from an airliner. Mr Dodd thinks that an example still exists, possibly in Holland, but no one seems to know more than that.

Linda Jackson ©2015

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