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Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Curious Case of the British Baby and the World World I Flying Ace

A Baby born in Britain! My unusual Hermes Baby.
British Typewriters founder Bill Mawle in his S.E.5 biplane fighter aircraft in World War One.
It all started with Georg Sommeregger's two Sammelsurium posts on the Baby Empire (see here and here). And it led to the discovery that the man who at a trade fair in Switzerland in 1935 bought the rights to make the Giuseppe Prezioso-designed Hermes Featherweight in Britain was a famous, decorated World War One flying ace, Norman William Reginald Mawle. More on Mawle later.
In the second of Georg's posts, I was astonished to see that his very early Baby Empire (serial number 2574, made 1939) was assembled in West Bromwich, England, from parts made in the Paillard factory in Yverdon, Switzerland.
The paper plate of one of Georg's Baby Empires.
Initially this raised questions in my mind about the West Bromwich plant. But then I recalled that even though Imperial had a well established typewriter factory in Leicester, in 1930 it had used this plant to assemble its Regent portable from parts made by Weilwerke (Torpedo) in Frankfurt, Germany (see image below). Also, of course, the Salter, British (Blick-Bar) and British Empire standards, and in much later years Smith-Corona-Marchant portables, had been made from scratch in West Bromwich. Presumably, when Georg's early Baby Empire was made, either the West Bromwich plant wasn't yet fitted up to make the Baby from scratch itself, or, more likely, it may have been converted to make armaments for the war effort.
An Imperial Regent assembled in Leicester from German-made parts.
Anyway, I was to find an even greater surprise in my own house, by sheer coincidence a day after reading Georg's posts. Among the "booty" of 25 typewriters given to me some weeks ago was an assortment of four Hermes Babys and Empire Aristocrats, almost all of them in pretty shoddy condition. One, a later model Aristocrat, was in good nick and I gave it to a friend.
Thinking to customise one of the remaining three into a "Sommeregger Baby" to mark our Swiss friend's birthday (I realise it's not quite up there with a Neya!), I brought them upstairs yesterday and started to take them apart to clean them up. After all, Georg had offered to bring a Patria to Canberra, so it was the least I could do.
A work still very much in progress.
To my utter astonishment, I found among them a Hermes Baby made in West Bromwich for Paillard (see image top of post).  What's more, this machine has an Empire, not a Hermes portable serial number, R103406. This means it was made in 1951, which in turn offers no clue as to why Paillard had Babys made in England. After all, Switzerland is a neutral country. But could materials still have been in short supply after the war, one wonders?
All of which got me returning to my extensive research work over the years into the West Bromwich factory and its connection with Paillard, and to digging through it once more to see if I could find previously unearthed answers to this conundrum. I didn't exactly achieve that, but I did finally unravel - to my considerable satisfaction - the whole sequence of typewriter-making events from the Salters through the Rimingtons, the Blickensderfers, Bill Mawle and the Paillards to Smith-Corona-Marchant. And in doing that, let out of a huge sigh of relief.
Empire Corona portables at the West Bromwich factory. Empire Coronas were made from 1960-63, before SCM introduced the English-made, US-designed Corsair range in 1964.
Two years ago, a website called the Black Country Bugle ran an item by Rod Taylor on the SCM works in West Bromwich, in which Taylor included the recollections of an SCM accountant called D.H.Bayley of Sutton Coldfield. In it, Bayley said that in 1971 he had found documents relating to the early history of the West Bromwich typewriter plant and the British Typewriters Company while cleaning up the office of sacked company secretary and financial director Denis Brown.
Bayley wrote, "I had to go into Mr Brown's office to clear up files etc, and made arrangements with the secretary to file the piles of paperwork that littered a desk in there. But what I found on that desk was amazing. In these unfiled papers was the history of British Typewriters Ltd, which I found extremely interesting.
"The company was the idea of a man named Norman Wetherall Mawle, who lived in Park View Road, Sutton Coldfield. [It turns out Bayley got this name wrong, which succeeded in throwing me right off the track some years ago.] He was a salesman who attended a machine exhibition in Switzerland in 1935. At this exhibition he saw a portable typewriter and he bought the rights to it.
"On his return to West Bromwich he formed a company by appealing to all of the local businessmen. There was a list which included the names of many of the directors and owners of local firms who had been approached to buy shares in the proposed new company. The list included the number of shares that each investor intended to take. Mr Mawle must have had a considerable influence and many contacts in the area.
"There were copies of his letters concerning the acquisition of the Hudson Soap premises, which were then located in Hudsons Passage, off the High Street in West Bromwich. There were also papers that stated that he had acquired the company registration of a typewriter called the Blickensderfer, which was one of the first typewriters built. He had decided that the name should be changed to British Typewriters Limited. [1970s managing director Doug] Dwyer had one of these antique typewriting machines; where he acquired it I did not know, but it was a fascinating design and it was still working. [The British Blick company, previously well covered on this blog, was owned by the Rimingtons, John (1841-1908) and his sons George (1874-1951) and Walter (1879-1941), who had acquired the Blickensderfer trade name from the US parent company after George Canfield Blickensderfer's death in 1917. The Rimingtons had taken over Blickensderfer’s two British outlets, at Cheapside in London and in Newcastle-on-Tyne, in 1904. Walter’s son Sir John Rimington is the former diplomat husband of British spy chief Dame Stella Rimington.
British Blick's George Garthwaite Rimington (1874-1951)
"There were other fascinating papers relating to the war years, and authorising documents which proved that there were vehicles travelling though occupied France with [typewriter] equipment to Switzerland."
The Bugle also quoted another correspondent, who wrote: "My father Frank Hanley worked at British Typewriters-Smith Corona for most of his life, at first he was working at George Salter's spring works in West Bromwich when a local solicitor, Mr Bache*, decided to start a typewriter company which later became the British Typewriters Co. They moved from George Salters to Hudsons Passage in Pitt Street and were bombed out during the war, and moved to premises on the corner of Edward Street and Victoria Street. Later they were bombed again and moved to the rear of Kenrick and Jefferson in Bratt Street. In later years they moved to new premises which became Smith Corona, on Birmingham Road.
"I believe the managing director was a Mr Mawle. I also remember my father telling me that they made a gold-plated typewriter for the Queen. The typewriter became so well known because it was one of the first portable ones, it was only a matchbox and a half high. It became very popular with sports reporters, etc."
The British Queen, Elizabeth II, is presented with a gold-plated Empire Aristocrat at the West Bromwich factory on November 5, 1955.
*This Bache was not a solicitor, but the second son of the founder of William Bache & Sons, an existing firm of solicitors in West Bromwich. Salters started making typewriters in 1892 under George Salter (1856-1917), the eldest son of company head Thomas Bache Salter, who was the grandson of the founder.
Martin (1949)
Müller (1900)
The solicitor's son, Ernest William Bache (1877-1943), a close relation of the Salter family, was an engineer who joined the Salter company in 1893 and in 1906 became works manager of the spring department and in charge of typewriter manufacturing. Typewriter production was halted by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when typewriter workers were required to make gun parts.
From The Story of a Family Firm: Two Hundred Years of George Salter & Co Ltd, by Mary Bache, daughter of Bill Bache.
Bill Bache patented typewriter designs for Salter in the US in 1930, six years before Mawle took control of the Salter typewriter business.
Bill Bache's father, the solicitor William Bache, died in 1932 and left his estate of a mere £179, nine shillings and three pence to a Mildred Bowker, wife of Richard Bowker. Oddly enough, the real founder of the West Bromwich-based, Baby Empire-making British Typewriters, Bill Mawle, was born in Banbury, less than an hour (42 miles) from where Typospherian Rob Bowker now lives in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.
Bill Bache, in charge of typewriter production at Salters.
George Salter, who started typewriter manufacturing at Salters in 1892.
The Bugle also published the recollections of a Marlene Fellows, who had kept a copy of the first edition of the factory newsletter The Empire Times to be published after World War II, in late 1956. It contained an editorial by Bill Mawle, "who is evidently proud of his firm's survival given the effects of the War, but is convinced that pen and ink are consigned to the dustbin of history now that typewriter production is well and truly back on track". Mawle wrote, "Twenty years ago [1936], in those hurly burly days when the Baby Empire portable was born, I predicted quite a future for it. Hitler stepped in and dealt our thriving Baby a nasty smack. But looking back on the two intervening decades, the prediction wasn't far wrong. Upwards of a million of our Babys and their relations [the Aristocrat] have gone out to face the world. They're still going. Our organisation has grown, in spite of all sorts of difficulties. Whatever success we may have had has been due to our dealer customers. It has always been the policy of our company to sell through the trade. We believe that the same policy will bring further success in the future.'
Assembling Empire Corona portables in West Bromwich.
"We now have a brand new factory [on Birmingham Road], the latest of its kind in this country. Here at West Bromwich we have lively, enthusiastic production and sales staffs ... we're also starting a sort of French Revolution in reverse. They kicked the Aristocrats out. We're planning to put them in — an Empire Aristocrat in every home. Why not? We're rushing forward into the atomic age, the automation age. Pens and ink don't belong to it. Even if the old man never wrote a letter in his life, young Jim is studying engineering and has homework notes to make. Young Jill is secretary of the Current Crooner's Fan Club. Mrs Gossip has her 15 letters a week to write.  And then, in the small shops and little businesses, they're knee-deep these days in forms in triplicate. Doctors, solicitors, clergymen, reporters, authors, accountants - how can anybody afford to be without an Aristocrat?
Georg's Baby Empire assembled in West Bromwich from Swiss-made parts.
"I assure you we in the OED [Office Equipment Distributors] organisation are at your service."
"At the time of writing [late 1956], the new factory, equipped with all the latest machinery for its specialised work, is humming like a top with activity as skilled workers deal with the home and overseas orders for Aristocrats to meet the Christmas present rush. The move into the new factory, completed 12 months ago, started an important new chapter in the history of the organisation which, despite the wartime bombs, has been a story of rapid development.
"The roots of OED go back a long way, to the beginning of the century when what is believed to be Britain's first typewriter was made at West Bromwich.
"In 1904 the pioneer firm that made it, George Salter and Co Ltd, took over the London business of Empire Typewriters [making in Montreal, Canada, the Wellington Parker Kidder thrust-action Wellington typewriter under rights held by Charles Carroll Colby's Imperial Writing Machine Company. After Colby's death in 1907, and under Colby's son Charles William Colby, it had become the Empire Typewriter Works. The London business of Imperial-Empire had been set up by George H.Bland of Montreal in 1901.]
The 1924 British Empire I once owned was made for the Rimingtons by Salter. This machine is now owned by John Lavery. Its predecessor, the British No 12  (see ad above) emerged in April 1923, a year after Salter started making Rimington typewriters. In turn, the British came out of the Blick-Bar.
"[Salter] formed a subsidiary, which rapidly established a reputation for lightweight machines. In 1936 came the next major step. The subsidiary, British Typewriters Ltd, was entirely reorganised as an independent company [under Mawle]. It moved to premises in Victoria Street, West Bromwich, and began manufacturing and marketing a new and revolutionary portable, the Baby Empire. Streamlined and weighing less than 9lbs, the new machine had an immediate success. Three years of great activity followed, during which home and export output greatly expanded. Then came the war, and with it, in November 1940, the destruction of the premises. Stocks of typewriters, components, jigs, drawings and some tools, were lost.
The West Bromwich factory.
"Fortunately much of the modern production plant was saved. It was transferred to temporary premises and later to the old soapworks. There after the war and its consequent [shortages and rationing] problems, production of portables was resumed.
"With the introduction in 1948 of the Empire Aristocrat, the ideal machine demanded by post-war conditions, sales began to rise. Export targets set by the Ministry of Supply were invariably reached ... demand quickly outstripped the capacity of the old soapworks, and a licence to build a new factory on the Birmingham Road site was obtained. Construction began in 1952. Two years later production departments moved in. Last year they were joined by office and administrative staffs. In this new setting, OED is well equipped to continue its forward progress."
"Everybody at OED was proud to learn that an Aristocrat went to a very cold place, with a very distinguished man — Colonel Sir John Hunt, the leader of the historic Everest expedition. How far up the world's highest mountain he took the machine is not recorded, but afterwards Sir John was kind enough to say that it had been a great help to him in writing his reports." (See my blog post on converting a Hermes Baby to an Empire Aristocrat to be used by the actor playing Hunt in a movie about the conquering of Everest, made in New Zealand last year.)
New Zealand journalist Geoffrey Lee Martin using the Empire Aristocrat on the same Antarctic expedition described by Mawle below.
"Recently it was learned that OED will have a particular interest in another heroic adventure in a very cold place. Squadron Leader John Claydon, a member of the New Zealand Party which will be taking part in the 1957-58 crossing of the Antarctic Continent, is another satisfied Aristocrat user. He took his machine with him on one of the preliminary trips last winter. On it, at Shackleton Base, he typed a letter to [the trade representative in OED's London office, in which he described some of the New Zealand Party's adventures. He added: 'The typewriter is still going strong and I am finding plenty of use for it in my spare moments.' 
Claydon, third from left, beside Sir Edmund Hillary
"So OED is more than usually interested in the forthcoming Antarctic adventure, and confident that its equipment will stand up to the very exacting conditions it is likely to encounter. [In West Bromwich] is made every part of the Empire Aristocrat, excepting only certain minor components such as the rubber platen. Machines produced here go all over the world."
Mrs Fellows pointed out that rather than British Typewriters, the works entrance bore the wording Empire Typewriters.
The man who introduced the Baby Empire and Empire Aristocrat to the world, Bill Mawle.
I had long been vaguely aware of the existence of World War I flying ace Norman William Reginald Mawle, but had been thrown off the Baby Empire track years ago by the Black Country Bugle's reference, in the recollections of Bayley, to a "Norman Wetherall Mawle". It was only last night that I found the birth dates and addresses matched and the man I was really after was the flyer. Mawle lived at Wetherall, it wasn't his name!
Mawle was born on January 27, 1897, in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross after being credited with 12 official aerial victories during the First World War. Mawle was commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1916 and was seconded as a Flying Officer to the Royal Flying Corps in late December 1917. He was promoted to lieutenant in March 1918.
A Royal Aircraft Factory S.E. 5 like the one Mawle flew in World War One.
Mawle retired from the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in February 1954 as a Wing Commander, retaining the rank of Group Captain.
Bill Mawle, seated centre, recovers from wounds suffered during World War One.
Mawle’s typewriter organisation was taken over by Smith-Corona-Marchant in 1960, with the British Typewriters Company becoming a subsidiary of SCM. Mawle, who was at that time chairman of the West Bromwich Liberal Association, decided to try out his winning ways in politics and put his hand up to be the Liberal Party candidate for the town's by-election. SCM remained in West Bromwich until it took over Olivetti's Queenslie, Glasgow factory in 1981 to make daisywheel typewriters.
Mawle, a keen cricketer and rugby union player during the war years, died in Leicester of a heart attack on December 28, 1971, a month short of his 75th birthday. He had watching the Leicester Tigers play the Barbarians at Welford Road. 


Richard P said...

This is another tour de force!

I'll just comment that I love the idea that Mrs. Gossip needs an Aristocrat in the atomic age.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you, Richard. Yes, the Gossip family and their portable amused me too. But Mawle was right about the automation age, I think.

shordzi said...

No words, but close to tears... THANK YOU Robert!!

Martin A. Rice, Jr. said...

I believe my Aristocrat is the same model as Geoffrey Lee Martin's on the antarctic expedition. I'll post a pic of it on my Tlog. Perhaps I'll think better of it now, remembering my comments on Sommereger's site!