The Woodpeckers Van

The Jowett Bradford was a respected light commercial in its day, but survivors are now thin on the ground. Bob Weir went to historic Glamis Castle in Angus to meet Barry Eddon, and his early example of this postwar classic.

Glamis is the historic home of the Bowes Lyon family, and the current Earl of Strath more can trace his roots all the way back to King Robert the Bruce. Childhood home of the late Queen Mother, the castle and its royal connections go hand in hand. It is one the most famous stately homes in Britain, and the Earl himself owns several classic commercials. The castle also plays host to the Strath more Vintage Vehicle Club’s Scottish Transport Extravaganza heck every July.

Club member Barry originally hails from Northallerton in Yorkshire, but moved up to Scotland in 19G8. He is a forester to trade, and worked for many years on the Glamis estate. Recently retired, he still lives next door to the castle’s main entrance. “I started in forestry when I was a teenager,» he recalls. ‘‘Once you get involved with trees, there’s no going back.” His liking for the Jowett Bradford also goes back to a young age. He said: «My father was also involved in forestry, and owned a couple of the Jowett’s. I remember on one occasion we were loaded up with a heavy winch for a Fordson Major tractor, and struggling to climb this hill. The traffic was queuing up behind, but father said that if we were to pull over we probably wouldn’t get the van going again.»

Barry is also a keen classic vehicle collector, and over the years his haul has included a Unipower Hannibal and a post-Second World War Marshall tractor. He still gives logging demonstrations at the Transport Extravaganza, and these always draw a knowledgeable crowd. He is also a dab hand with a trombone, and like many Yorkshire men loves the sound of a brass band.

He said: «Although the Hannibal’s working days are over, it can still occasionally get called out in the event of an emergency. The Glamis estate runs to 14,000 acres, and many of the narrow access roads run through wooded areas. The lorry has been used on more than one occasion to come to the assistance of other vehicles, which have slipped off a road and on to the verges.»

A Yorkshire man’s Yorkshire van

The Bradford van was produced between 1946 and 1953 in Jowett’s factory at Idle on the outskirts of the Yorkshire textile town.

The design was based on the prewar Jowett Eight, and was the first Jowett to be re¬introduced after the Second World War. In spite of being very basic the van was typical of this period of postwar austerity, and gamed a popular following because of its availability and economy.

The chassis featured front and rear half elliptic leaf springs, with beam axles. The 19bhp engine was located at the front, and drove the rear wheels via a three-speed non- synchromesh gearbox. The drum brakes were made by Girling, and operated mechanically.

The engine was uprated to 25bhp (19kWj in 1950, resulting in a top speed of 53mph.

During the same makeover, synchromesh was fitted to the top gear ratio.

The van was the only model available during the Bradford’s first year of production, but the following year an estate version was added. Marketed as the ‘Utility’ the specification was basically the same as the van. with the addition of side windows and rear seats. Jowett also produced several examples as a pick-up truck.

The company also had some success selling the basic drive-away chassis and cab-chassis versions to independent coach builders. These were sold in large numbers, both home and abroad.

As one might expect the Bradford’s overall performance was nothing to write home about. The deluxe version of the Utility could only accelerate from Q-5Qmph in a leisurely 47.6 seconds. Fuel consumption was more promising, averaging out at 35mpg. The deluxe specification also included a running board, dual windscreen wipers, trafficators, a rear bumper and some chromium plating, all for the princely sum of £778.

Although Barry’s Bradford would have started life as a van, the rear end of the vehicle has been subsequently altered to convert it into a utility type model.

He said: “I’ve been in touch with the Jowett Club and assuming the registration hasn’t been changed at some point, I’m fairly confident that my van started life as a factory runabout at the Jowett plant. The vehicle’s history is a bit of a grey area, although it is believed to have passed through the hands of five different owners.

«The van eventually resurfaced working for some gamekeepers on a big estate. By all accounts it had been worked pretty hard, and run Into the ground. It was subsequently rescued by a Mr. Harris from Buckie in the north east of Scotland, who refurbished it to its current state. I spotted it for sale in a newspaper advert in 2011, and decided for nostalgic reasons I’d better go and check it out.

«A member of my family owns a trailer, and we drove up to the north-east of Scotland. When we got there. I discovered that the Jowett hadn’t been used for some time. Although the body had been reasonably well looked after, the engine had seized up. One of the unusual things about the Bradford was that it has a handbrake on all four wheels, and this had also been left on. The brake was now locked solid, and the car had to be physically dragged out. and loaded on to the trailer.»

A new home

Once the Bradford had been safely returned to G l a m i s, it was stored at the Strath more Vintage Vehicle Club’s Bridge View house premises on the A928.

“I stored it there until I had It up and running.” Barry explained. «As things turned out, this wasn’t a straightforward task. A pal of mine Colin Smith from L o g i e agreed to help me out, and the first thing we did was to take the starting motor off. We then worked a screwdriver into the starter dog, to try to get it to turn over.

«We then put WD4Q and diesel down the plug holes to loosen things up, but to no avail. I then tried pouring hot water down the jackets to warm up the cylinder. When this still didn’t work I tried using a blowlamp, and after a bit of coaxing this did the trick. We left the spark plugs out, and towed the vehicle round a bit to blow out all the rubbish. I then put a small drop of petrol into the cylinders, put the plugs back in. connected everything up, switched it on. pressed the starter, and away she went.»

Barry also recalls that he had a bit of excitement when the time came to put the Bradford through its M o T. “The mechanic decided to give it a road test to check the brakes,” he recalls. «Not having seen many Jowett types before, I don’t think he was aware that the vehicle had such a powerful handbrake. When the time came for me to pull up the stick, we stopped so suddenly that he nearly went through the windscreen.”

The Utility version of the Bradford was only introduced in 1947, which raises a question mark over NSJ 73Q’s rear end. Barry said: “I’m not sure If the work was carried out by the previous owner, but the van’s rear end has been revamped using a lot of glass fibre. This has made it a bit lighter than the norm, but it still has its original wood paneling.

Despite the Bradford being nearly 70 years old. Barry uses it almost on a daily basis. «It ticks over beautifully and runs like a dream said Barry. “I obviously take it on a lot of rallies, but I also use it for day-to-day errands. It will do over 4Qmpg, and will cruise all day at 45mph. This is quite adequate for most of the roads round these parts. I also still have some equipment from my forestry days, and now that I’ve got rid of my old Land Rover it’s easier to put them in the back of the van than lug them about in a normal car.’’

And the van’s unusual sign work? “Woodpecker is a slang term for anybody involved in forestry work,” Barry smiled. «At least where I come from.”

The Jowett story

Jowett was founded in 1901 by brothers William and Benjamin, with the help of Arthur V Lamb. They started selling cycles, but soon moved on to develop power plants for driving machinery. These included one of the earliest V-twin engines on the market.

In 1904 they became the Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company. Operating from their workshop at Back Burlington Street in Bradford their next project was a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder unit, which was used to power their first prototype car in 1906. After an extensive period of trials lasting four years, this 6.4hp model was put into production.

By 1919 the company had relocated to their new Springfield works at Idle on the outskirts of Bradford. The Roaring Twenties was a profitable era for the company as it looked to expand. Then in 1930 disaster struck when their factory was burned down. Undeterred two new models were put into production, including the Jowett Kestrel. At the same time, the company increased its turnover by making engines for other car manufacturers.

Jowett had first started making commercial vehicles as long ago as 1922. Based on existing car chassis, this became an increasingly large part of the company’s business. The 8hp Bradford van was a particular success, although the vast majority of the vehicles were earmarked for export to help reduce Britain’s postwar balance of payments deficit. Following the end of hostilities, the company also launched the first British all-new car to enter the market.

The Jowett name was further enhanced by a string of good results at the Monte Carlo Rally, and one of its cars also topped its class at Le Mans. The company had developed special plastics and a new flat-four push-rod engine, which made the bodies exceptionally light.

Despite all the glory, by 1950 the company found itself in financial trouble. This was mainly due to poor planning and a reputation for unreliability, problems that would haunt the British motor industry for years to come.

The last vehicle rolled off the production line in November 1954. Although the company managed to avoid bankruptcy, it had to sell its factory to International Harvester the tractor manufacturer. The plant was eventually demolished In 1983.

Jowett continued to soldier on manufacturing aircraft parts In a former woolen mill near Batley, and in 1956 what remained of the firm was taken over by the Blackburn & General Aircraft Company. Spares for the motor vehicles were still made available until

1963, when the Jowett name finally ceased trading altogether.

Thanks to the brand’s strong Identity and keen sense of innovation, the marque has managed to retain its identity and still has a loyal following. The Jowett Cars Ltd name is alive and well, and owned by the oldest one- make car club in the world.

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