EARLY BEGINNINGS

 

The founder and the man who guided the destiny of the Morgan car for almost fifty years, Henry Fredrick Stanley Morgan was born in the village of Moreton Jeffries, Herefordshire, in August 1881. His father was the Reverend Prebendary H. G. Morgan, Curate at the church in the nearby village of Stoke Lacy (where Henry Morgan, George’s father was Rector).

 

Harry as he was known to family and personal friends (or simply ’H.F.S.’ throughout the industry), was educated at Stone House, a school in Broadstairs, Kent, Marlborough College, Wiltshire and the School of Practical Engineering at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, south London. Whilst at Crystal Palace he developed a passion for cycling and then changed his allegiance to the motor car. After a hair-raising first drive in a 3 h.p. Benz that ran away with him down the 1-in-6 gradient of a hill between Bromyard and Hereford, he emerged intact but considerably poorer. Damages to the car cost about £28 for repairs and delayed his ambition of owning his own car. In 1901 H.F.S. was apprenticed to two of the greatest railway engineers of the period, William Dean and George Jackson Churchward, Chief Engineers of the G.W.R. Railway Works at Swindon. Once he had completed his apprenticeship, he worked briefly in the G.W.R Swindon drawing office and thus having made a modest contribution to the history of steam he left the G.W.R. in December 1904. During his time at Swindon, Harry bought his first car, a 1902 Eagle tandem, which was replaced in June 1904, by a Little Star, a well built machine from the Star Motor Company in Wolverhampton. He soon realised that his loyalties were divided between the locomotive and the motor car. The motor car won!

 

In May 1905, with the encouragement and financial support from his ever-enthusiastic father George, H.F.S. purchased a house called Chestnut Villa in Worcester Road , Malvern Link, a short distance from the railway station and built a small garage alongside. Here he set up business to attended to the needs of the Edwardian motorists and became a dealer for Darracq, Wolseley, Siddeley and Rover cars. Harry’s close friend Leslie Bacon (another motor car enthusiast who had served an apprenticeship with the railways) became his business partner and took up lodgings with Harry in Chestnut Villa. A skilled motor engineer from Birmingham called Alfie Hales was appointed foreman of the workshops. H.F.S. also ran Malvern’s first omnibus service with regular runs between various districts around the Malvern Hills. In 1906 a second garage was established in the nearby city of Worcester, (close to Foregate Street station for easy access on the train) but this branch of the business closed little more than a year later. However, despite the success of the Malvern Link garage, Morgan’s passion for engineering meant that he was soon experimenting with ideas for a motor car of his own design. 

 

The success of the Morgan Motor Company was founded on an icon, the Morgan Three-Wheeler. This brilliant but simple design by H.F.S. Morgan became one of the most successful lightweight cars of the early days of motoring. The principal of fitting a powerful motorcycle engine and simple transmission into a light-weight chassis and body inspired a new type of vehicle which generically became known as the ‘Cyclecar’. Thus the fashion for ‘new motoring’ introduced the freedom of the open road to those of more modest means. The Morgan Runabout was at the forefront of this movement and therefore Harry Morgan can be regarded as the man who first introduced motoring for the masses.


The prototype was constructed in 1909 and was a simple three-wheeler with a tubular steel chassis fitted with a 7 h.p. Peugeot V-twin engine. One of its main features was the unusual power to weight ratio of 90 brake horsepower per ton, which enabled this little vehicle to accelerate as fast as any car being produced at that time. H.F.S. had invaluable assistance from Mr Stephenson-Peach, the engineering master at Malvern College and Repton School in Derbyshire, in whose workshops much of the development work was carried out. Although not originally intended as a commercial venture, the favourable reaction to Morgan’s machine encouraged him to consider putting the car into production. Leslie bacon decided that this was far too risky and quit the partnership, although the two men remained close friends for the rest of their lives.
 

The first production Morgans were simple single-seat machines steered with a tiller and powered by either a single cylinder 4 h.p. engine or an 8h.p. V-twin engine made by the London firm J.A. Prestwich. A patent was granted, the patent drawings being produced by a bright youth who was later to become famous as Sir John Black of the Standard Motor Company. The Runabouts (as the machines were to be called) were unveiled to the public at the Olympia motorcycle show in London in November 1910. 

 



Despite the interest shown just a few of these were built and sold, mainly because of the lack of a two-seat version and the somewhat old-fashioned tiller steering. However, to prove the soundness of the design, one month later H.F.S. Morgan entered the Runabout in the MCC London to Exeter Trial, and his remarkable performance won a Gold Medal. This was the first of many such victories in all forms of motor sport such as reliability trials, plus racing and record-breaking particularly at the Brooklands autodrome.


The following year a two-seat ‘Runabout’ was developed, equipped with wheel steering and even a hood. This proved a huge commercial success when it appeared at Olympia in 1911. This novel machine attracted the interest of the managing director of Harrods, Mr Burbridge, and as a result the car appeared in the shop window of the famous store, the only car ever to have done so. Harrods became the first Morgan dealer with an exclusive deal to sell all Morgan runabouts. To cope with the considerable demand initially only the running chassis were built in Malvern, these to be fitted with Harrod’s own bodies. This arrangement didn’t last long since the heavier Harrods body adversely affected the car’s performance and H.F.S. terminated the agreement. Soon after, an extensive network of dealers was established around the country.
 

 



The factory experimented with other designs such as a four-seater for Mr Morgan and his family, although this car didn’t go into production at that time. Cars were built in ever-increasing numbers in Worcester Road, Malvern Link. Not only was the Morgan one of the first Cyclecars, it was without doubt, the best engineered, the most reliable, and the most successful vehicle in its class which set the standards for all other manufacturers to follow. It featured a simple two speed transmission (fast and very fast), but no reverse gear (to go backwards required gravity, or the driver had to get out and push). Engines were usually J.A.P. V-twins, although the simplicity of the chassis design allowed many other types to be fitted. The Morgan Motor Company was formed as a private Limited Company in 1912 with the Reverend H.G. Morgan as Chairman and his son as Managing Director. In June 1912 Harry married Hilda Ruth Day, the younger daughter of Rev. Archibald Day, Vicar of St.Matthias’s Church in Malvern Link. The couple departed for a honeymoon in Wales in a very smart Runabout, rather appropriately painted white.

In the few years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914, Morgans had secured 10 British and World Records for various classes of cyclecars, won 24 Gold Medals in major reliability trials and had achieved numerous victories on the race track. These successes included an astonishing drive by Mr. Harry Martin who easily won the first International Cyclecar Race at Brooklands, finishing over two minutes ahead of the second place car even though Martin had completed the race in just 8½ minutes! A few months later Harry Morgan won the Cyclecar Cup for the 1100 c.c. one-hour record, travelling at a fraction short of 60 m.p.h. for one hour at Brooklands. His father the Prebendary H.G. Morgan was present and in his imposing ecclesiastical attire this is probably the only time a top hat had ever been worn at the popular circuit. 



From the start it was very much a family business and Mr H.F.S Morgan's sister, Miss Dorothy Morgan, was a regular entrant in reliability trials gaining many first class awards in a Morgan three-wheeler. In 1913 a Morgan made the fastest time at the celebrated Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb at an average speed of 22 mph. And at the end of the year the Morgan Runabout had gained a greater number of awards for reliability and speed than any other Cyclecar or Light Car.


The most significant victory of the early years was that of W.G. McMinnies in the International Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens in France. McMinnies and his passenger Frank Thomas won against strong opposition from many continental four-wheelers. This in spite of an enforced stop to change an inner tube in one of the front tyres! 


W.G. McMinnies, was the editor of the “Cyclecar” magazine and his success gave Morgan a great deal of publicity. After the event he christened his particular car “Jabberwock of Picardy”, and a new model, called the Grand Prix and based on the race winning car was introduced to the Morgan range. This victory also resulted in a further increase in orders for Morgan cars and it was soon obvious that despite recent extensions, the Worcester Road factory was too small to cope with the demand.
 



In December 1913, H.F.S. purchased a plot of land on Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link, from Earl Beauchamp. This was open farmland just a quarter of a mile from the Worcester Road factory and here, in the summer of 1914, two large workshops were built. This is now the site of the present factory, which has traditionally been known as the "Works".

Development of the Pickersleigh Road site was soon curtailed by the outbreak of the First World War, and whilst car production continued at Worcester Road, the output dwindled as men were called up to fight and existing resources were allocated to munitions production. One wartime customer, the famous flying ace Capt. Albert Ball of the Royal Flying Corps, had ordered a special-bodied Grand Prix, of which he said “to drive this car was the nearest thing to flying without leaving the ground”. Alas, Capt. Ball was shot down and killed shortly after taking delivery of his car.

 

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MORGAN MOTOR COMPANY

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