The BW&CW Co. Nameplate
The roots of the Bristol Wagon & Carriage Works Company Ltd go back to 1851 when Albert Fry acquired premises in the Temple Gate area of the city.and some stock of Stratton & Hughes, coachbuilders, of Stapleton Road. Albert was a member of the family of the famous Quaker chocolate manufacturers and had been approached by John Fowler who was requiring an agricultural engineering company to manufacture and produce a mechanical method of steam ploughing equipment which he was devising, and so the company Fowler and Fry was born. Following much success at agricultural trials, Fowler left the company in 1855, to go to Leeds to set up his own firm which was to become world famous for steam traction engines. Albert's brother Theodore took up the vacant partnership and the company continued to trade successfully as A & T Fry in Temple Street making carts, wagons and agricultural machinery until 1866 when Theodore decided to go into politics full time as he had by then become elected as Member of Parliament for Darlington.
Contracts with the expanding railway industry prompted an expansion programme, capital was raised, and the Bristol Wagon Works, later the Bristol Wagon and Carriage Works Company Ltd. was formed with a newly acquired 13 acre premises at Lawrence Hill with its own siding from the Midland railway (later, after closure of the Works, this became the London, Midland & Scottish or LMS). Albert Fry was the managing director. Railway rolling stock was built, not only for the home market but mostly for developing railway systems all over the world. The factory was well planned, modern even by today's standards and possessed all engineering facilities including foundries for iron and brass, carpentry and coachpainting. Hence other non transport related products were offered at the showroom in Victoria St., steam winding engines, steam hammers, mortar mills, pulleys, along with carts, vans and wagons, sack trucks, grindstones, garden rollers, municipal park benches and laundry wringers. Many examples of the latter two items can often be seen today. In 1899, the company was employing over a thousand personnel at Lawrence Hill. The showroom was an imposing architect designed building by Sir Henry Crisp which eventually formed a corner at the intersection of Victoria St. and the new Temple Way. Rooms were leased out in the rear from time to time; for example to such diverse activities for example as a Friends Meeting House and a Corsetières.
A Victoria 3hp engine No 3129
For reasons which are hard to define, in 1905 the company filed a patent for a 4½ hp. agricultural petrol stationary engine and the first engine was exhibited at the Smithfield Show in 1906. The first known advertisement appeared in a trade journal in November of that year showing an engine having a rounded style cylinder rather like the much later Lister L-type. This early engine was soon changed to the more familiar later type with a flat topped monobloc cylinder but still with an inertia weight governing system; by 1908 the engine was advertised rated at 5 hp. Also in early 1908, a 3 hp version was announced with a 7 hp version later on in the year. The entire range of engines bore the same overall likeness, but the 3 hp. had the cylinder rotated at ninety degrees, while the 7 hp. was governed from the opposite flywheel. A 10hp was also listed in two versions, agricultural and semi-industrial, but there is no knowledge of an example of either version still existing. In 1913 a 1½hp. engine was added to the range but of a totally different hopper cooled style. The first of these was shown at the North Somerset Agricultural Show and thence to Cox's Cave, Cheddar for lighting and pumping duties. The earlier 3 & 5 hp. had battery and coil ignition with a magneto as an option but as far as is known, the 7 hp. was only offered with magneto ignition. The style remained like this with only a few small detail changes to the end of production in 1920. All engines were smartly finished in pillar box red with black coachlines and could be supplied mounted on a wooden frame or sturdy trolley. These features showed the engine manufacturer's origins and skill as a wagon builder to perfection. The 5hp was offered in kerosene form from about 1913, being started from cold on petrol and these engines were painted green. Few are known to survive and must have been a problem as they all seem to have different features. On the early kerosene engines the petrol actually needed to be ignited externally which was not a good idea with many engines installed in barns where hay and straw was liberally scattered around. One of the directors of BW &CWCo was a Mr Henry Wilmot, whose brother ran a galvanising business in St Philips, Bristol so it is not surprising that the water cooling tank of a Victoria engine is a quality product, heavily galvanised and many engines around today still have the original tank. With the overall view of hindsight, the engines distinctly compare to those of American manufacturers, for instance the lack of gaskets and the simplicity of design, even the colour, are features found in a multitude of contemporary engines from the USA. This asks the question, did Albert Fry ever visit America and therefore become inspired to employ an engine designer (Mr E. Rooke) to enable the firm to build what is certainly one of the earliest petrol-powered production engines known in the UK?
Recent information has come to light (2004) which does suggest that a representative (possibly a Mr Perry or Parry,) of the company may have visited America in the latter years of the 19th century in connection with contract leasing arrangements with the multitude of emerging railway companies spreading out all over America. The company was, in collaboration with a former director of the Midland Wagon Works, ( note the Midland Railway, later LMS, connection) supplying thousands of railway carriages to these railway companies. These American companies were constantly becoming insolvent and breaking their contractual agreements and were thus difficult to deal with.
The Final Years, and after...
The company kept its connection with the Fry family with Mr Falconar Fry becoming joint managing director about 1915. He lived at Lulsgate, to the south of the city, and it is interesting to note that his private airstrip was eventually to become, after requisitioning by the ministry for war use, the present Bristol International Airport. Here also on a private race circuit after the war, Joe Fry with a talented small team, developed a racing car which was quite successful in hillclimb events. Many Victoria engines have been discovered on their original sites in this vicinity, probably due to the company having a permanent stand at nearby Winford cattle market. In 1920, the firm was taken over by the Leeds Forge Company, by now part of Cammell Laird, which wanted to keep its carriage and wagon building operation in the North of England. The engine sales must have been suffering for some years with increasing competition from growing companies such as R.A. Lister & Petters and imports from the USA. Contemporary advertising showed all engines being offered at discount prices after mid 1920. The agricultural sales side of the business including the Victoria St. showroom and offices were sold to Mr A. M. Wilmot, who ran a galvanising business in St. Philip's Marsh and became known simply as the 'Victoria Wagon Works'. This firm produced cattle and sheep feeders and similar farm and dairy equipment and was an agent for other engine and implement manufacturers until being sold to Western Counties Agricultural in the early 1950's.
The factory site and its properties in the Easton area were sold by auction on July 24th. 1924; the purchasers of the factory being the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Co. (who had leased office space on the site for some years) as a servicing depot for the new and expanding long-distance motor coach and charabanc service. Its successors still occupy the site today. This purchase gave rise to the erroneous assumption that the two companies were one and the same. They were not at all at any time; one company being owned by the Fry family and the other by Sir George White who also developed the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Bristol Commercial Vehicles and later, an offshoot Bristol Cars The BW & CW Co never even built any bodies for Bristol Tramways trams but did do a batch of nine bodies for Milnes trams which were sold to BT&CCo later.
The Preservation Scene
The author - filling the fuel tank of the 5hp Victoria No 3393 at a rally in Somerset
Of some 2500 engines produced between 1906 and 1920, a good many still
exist in the hands of preservationists in the UK. However, a large volume
of the production went overseas and a few have turned up in Australia,
South Africa, Ireland, Canada and Holland. In other than colonial countries,
some were marketed as 'The Spark' engine and in France by a number of agents
who gave them their own name. In Australia, the Toowoomba Foundry made
a direct copy of a 5hp model and sold it as a Southern Cross for some years;
this was most probably an illicit copy as the BW&Co- made engine was
also later exported to Australia with the woodwork made locally. Some of
the existing engines have been subjected to a total rebuild from scrap,
many are displayed at rallies in their original paintwork and on the original
base or trolley. In September 2005, a one-make garden rally devoted soley
to Victoria engines was organised at the home of an enthusiast near Bristol.
Named "VE Day" (Victoria Engine Day)to coincide with the anniversary celebrations
of the same name, it encouraged over thirty restored engines ( in 1.5hp,
3hp, 5hp, & 7hp sizes) and their owners to attend, proving not only
the longevity but the reliability of the design from the first few years
of the 20th century.
Some other products appear from time to time, the park benches with cast iron legs resembling rough-cut trees can still be seen on Horfield Common and on Bristol Downs near the Suspension Bridge and a few of the dairy laundry wringers of different sizes sometimes appear in local farm sales. A garden roller was recently seen in South Gloucestershire.
In my own collection I have late examples of 5 hp. and 3hp. engines, a dairy wringer ( rescued from being a garden ornament), various style nameplates, and a Bristol Wagon Works park bench serves as a garden seat in a shady corner of my lawn. I have also a 'register' of 150 or so engines and their owners around the world.
This webpage is biased toward the engine history and is precis-ed from a much larger document I have compiled about the company.
©Strictly Copyright E.G.Brain. 1996
( and that includes all you engine people who display a copy of my red BW&CW logo with your engine at many rallies and shows!)
Minor revisions July 2000, April 2001, Oct 2003, Nov 2004, March 2005, Sept 2005 and December 2006
(All rights reserved)
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