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Middle Ages [it's all mine now?]

I was bought up in a small township in Eltham (Leslie Townsend Hope's also) in South London, now live in The-Garden-of-Kent aerial during the fifties Elvis was beginning to make a noise and ....in contempt of court

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Been meaning to get this on top for some time / go to moonfruit and search for the lawsonagenda.. THE

The Daily Telegraph for
Saturday, January 20, 1996.
As the British Motor Industry celebrates its centenary David Burgess-Wise begins a six part history by revealing that the business was founded by a notorious conman.

When the motor industry celebrated its centenary on Wednesday with a commemorative service in Coventry Cathedral and a gala banquet in Birmingham. There was a skeleton at the feast: the spectre of company promoter Harry J Lawson
Who incorporated Daimler as this country’s first motor manufacturing business on January 14, 1896, but ended his glittering career in penury and disgrace.
Lawson, an evangelic visionary and conman, started modestly enough in the 1870’s As a cycle maker in Brighton. As early as 1880. he patented a gas-propelled tricycle That he later claimed as “the first British motor car”. He also patented a low-built
“safety” bicycle and moved to Coventry - the centre of the cycle industry - where in 1887 he helped convert Rudge Cycles into a joint stock company with such success that he made company flotation his career. His ventures followed a consistent pattern
: a beguiling prospectus attracted investors who were rewarded with spectacular dividends for a couple of years before the inevitable insolvency.
By the end of 1895 Lawson had profited hugely out of 15 such over-capitalised flotations, often working with the most notorious company company promoter of the Day, Terah Hooley, who added tone to his boards by recruiting impecunious noblemen on a sliding scale - £10,000 for a duke, £5,000 for an earl, and so on.
When Hooley bought the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company for £3 million and floated it as a new concern for £5 million. Lawson made a reputed £500,000 out of the deal.
But there was a new sensation on the way - the horseless carriage. Even though cars could not legally be driven on the roads of Britain. Lawson foresaw the huge fortune that would come from controlling the motor industry. In mid-1895 he formed
The British Motor Syndicate to acquire key patents and extract royalties from the owners of every motor car in the land. As his first step he bought the Daimler Motor Syndicate (which imported power units from Germany) for £35,000 and relaunched it as a manufacturing company.
Despite City misgivings, the Daimler launch was over subscribed (though of the £100,000 invested, £40,000 was pocketed by the British Motor Syndicate), and Lawson began constructing a house-of-cards empire of car companies while lobbying
Parliament to legalise the use of motor vehicles.
He spent an estimated £400,000 buying more than 70 “master patents” (many of which subsequently proved worthless) and organised an exhibition of motor vehicles in the Imperial Institute, Kensington, in 1896 at which the Prince of Wales first rode in a petrol car. He also ran the Motor Car Club “for the protection, encouragement and development of the motor-car industry” and organised the first London-Brighton
Run to celebrate the raising of the speed limit from 4mph to 12mph in November 1896. And, despite the dubious nature of many of Lawson’s ventures, he had a re-markable eye for business talent: several of the young men who joined the British
Motor Syndicate at it’s offices on Holborn Viaduct in 1896 went on to hold high office in the motor industry, including Percival Perry who became chairman of Ford Britain. “Harry Lawson,” recalled one of his associates, “was neither a greedy man
Nor an egoist. On the contrary, he was always fair and extremely generous.”
While the may not have been the opinion of those he duped, it was certainly true that when times were good Lawson paid his acolytes well.
Conman he may have been visionary he certainly was. At a time there were fewer than a dozen cars on British roads, he envisioned a future in which roads, hotels and restaurants would be built to cater for road users, rural land prices would rise
Because the car would enable people to commute to work, the police and Post Office would rely on motor transport and the Army “would no longer waste money on
Horse power”. Lawson who was only 5ft tall, had also inherited the eloquence of his preacher father.
Amazingly, the British Motor Syndicate declared a 30 per cent dividend on it’s first years trading before a single car had been built, but while Lawson’s next venture,
The Great Horseless Carriage Company, raised £750,000 in mid-1896 (£500,000 went to the British Motor Syndicate), it was in liquidation in 1898.
Daimler, fortunately, had already broken free of his control and avoided the knock-on effects of the depression that hit Coventry in 1898 as a result of reckless over-producation by the cycle industry, fuelled by those extravagant company promotions:
Hooley filed for bankruptcy (but managed to keep some £200,000. much of which he had secretly put in his wife’s name.)
Though Lawson made a profit of more than £50,000 from the floatation in 1898 of an ambitious scheme to provide London with a steam bus service, his patents were proving increasingly difficault to enforce (and the most expensive of them, which
Had cost £100,000 to acquire, had proved worthless). The man who had sold him those worthless patents, a flamboyant bunco artist Edward Joel Pennington, was an American: and so Lawson decided to try his luck where Pennington had perfected his dubious art. He arrived in America in 1900, calling himself “Sir Harry”,
And persuaded bicycle magnate Colonel Pope to produce his Lawson Sociable in Chicago under the name of “Ttrimoto”. He had less luck foisting this gawky front-wheel drive three-wheeler on the British public when he tried to produce it in Coventry.
Then the “master patents” monopoly burst: in 1904 Lawson and Hooley were tried for fraud over their Electric Tramways Construction Company, condemned by the Crown as a “paper” concern siphoning large sums of money subscribed by
The public into Lawson’s hands. Hooley was aquitted but Lawson, found guilty of making false statements, got 12 months hard labour.
He popped up a few years later in the aviation industry, under the cover of a new blanket company known as the Army and Navy Contract Corporation, which in May 1915 floated a £200,000 firm trading under the respected name of aviator Louis Bleriot. It was business as usual: at a meeting before the Bleriot Company’s
Winding-up eight months later, angry shareholders threw missiles at Lawson, who escaped through a side door.
“There was nothing to show for the money of the shareholders and no hope of any dividend,” said the Offical Receiver in winding up yet another Lawson venture.
In March 1916 Lawson survived the torpedoing of the cross-Channel ferry Sussex in the English Channel by a German U-boat, but was unable to attend the London Bankruptcy Court that August as he was still in hospital. He died aged 73 on July 12, 1925. in Harrow-on-the-Hill, with just £99 left out of the thousands he had
Extracted from a gullible public, forgotten by the industry he had founded.