Assuming the delivery address is in the UK, please send a
cheque for £12 made payable to
"Frenchay Village Museum" to;
5 Cliff Court Drive
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Link to excellent review page in Real Classic Magazine
The Story of Francis Alexander Simpson (Technical Artist) - by Alan Freke
Frances and Ethel Simpson aboard a Douglas combination manufactured at Kingswood, Bristol
As a break from frightening myself to death by the speed and power of my Matchless G2CSR, I spend much of my retirement acting as curator of our village museum. We are very lucky in the village of Frenchay to have past villagers who were not afraid to travel the world and found cities, universities, climb mountains, invent chocolate, but perhaps most importantly create record breaking cars.
David Fry, the last of the family to be involved in J.S. Fry & Sons the great chocolate manufacturing business, built his "Freikaiserwagen" Hill Climb Special here in 1936, and it held both the inaugural VSCC record at Prescott, as well as the first post-war record at Shelsley Walsh. Some years ago the Fry family allowed us to borrow one of their record breaking cars, and we held a "Vintage Vehicle Extravaganza" in the car park next to the museum featuring this car and other interesting cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. In subsequent years the show has grown, and during the 2007 event a fellow museum volunteer told me that he was involved in clearing a house of a recently deceased friend of his. During the process they were finding lots of bits and pieces of paper relating to old motorcycles. He asked if I was interested.
Of course I was. The unearthed material had belonged to the father of the last owner of the house, and his name was Francis Alexander Simpson. It transpired that he had spent much of his life as a technical artist in the motorcycle industry, and following his death in 1975, his only daughter - the recently deceased - had simply kept all his possessions.
Most of Simpson's career was on the staff of "The Motor Cycle" - starting in 1916; however, he was also on the staff of Douglas Motors of Kingswood for two years as their advertising manager. One of the advertisements he produced for Douglas has cricket being played on Frenchay Common as a backdrop to the Douglas outfit, with the slogan "Douglas - always a sport". In 1932 he left "The Motor Cycle" and went freelance working for many great names in the days when Britain's motorcycle industry led the world. During this freelance period he was also involved with many other industries, including radio, television, boatbuilding, and even aircraft.
The material found in the house dates from 1910 through to the mid-1930s, and includes notebooks, diaries, scrapbooks, a book of press cuttings, badges, medals, membership booklets of local motorcycle clubs, printer's proofs, and a number of original drawings. Those original drawings give an insight into the way that he worked, but presumably as they had never been sent to the printer, they are almost certainly unpublished ones. All the originals were drawn 3 or 4 times full size with a finished dimension alongside. In the normal course of events the printer then photographically reduced the drawing to publication size, and binned the original.
Fortunately there was a small portfolio of his work that he probably produced to solicit work from new customers during his freelance years. Besides giving a cross section of examples of his work, there was also a brief Curriculum Vitae that gave a chronology of his working life, and enabled some sense to be made of the random piles of material discovered.
Simpson developed a close relationship with Matchless during his freelance years. They used his sectioned drawings of the Silver Hawk originally published in "The Motor Cycle" in leaflets they produced advertising the bike at the time of its launch. Unusually they have Simpson's signature on them. He appears to have contributed to their 1933 catalogue: it's full of his drawings. At this time Colliers also owned AJS and a separate AJS catalogue was produced. "perfection in detail" is the emphasis, and it's littered with Simpson's drawings highlighting various technical features.
Matchless Catalogue 1933 Matchless G3
When the G3 was being developed, he illustrated the owner's handbook, and the illustrated parts list. The material found in the house included proofs from both.
In 1934 he bought a new Matchless 250cc ohv model F4 from Colliers, and the surviving invoice shows he was given 20% discount on list price (more than a dealer got in those days) plus an additional 3¾% for cash within 7 days. The bike finished up costing him £30 12s 0d - including extras such as foot gear change, electric horn, and a luggage carrier.
In 1936 he bought a bicycle from them - a "flyweight sports tourist model C4/L". This was a lady's model, and was almost certainly for his wife, Ethel, who was a midwife.
I didn't know that Matchless made bicycles at this time, but a 1936 Matchless catalogue supplied to me by the Veteran Cycle Club showed that they made 30 different models (plus tandems). The catalogue also tells the intending purchaser that the bicycles are "made alongside the famous Matchless motor cycles"
There are no original Matchless drawings amongst the surviving material, but there is a single AJS drawing produced during the 1930 Isle of Man TT for "The Motor Cycle" . It is of their ball bearing fork - an amazing device where the eight bearings of a typical girder fork of the period were replaced by no fewer than sixteen ball bearings. The result was a frictionless fork action that required a very large friction damper to prevent the 'bike bouncing all down the road! Why go to so much trouble to get rid of friction, only to have to put it back again?
AJS Ball Bearing Forks
His TT diary for 1930 shows that he did the ink sketch on the Island, but that he didn't send it on for publication - I suppose that's why he still had it at the time of his death. The only originals done for a manufacturer are the illustrated parts list for the Series "A" HRD. These are pencil sketches of all the engine components laid out so that a minimum number of pages are needed. The ink version must have been sent to the printer, and a set of proofs amongst his material show the finished article. There are very few differences from the pencil sketches.
Matchless G3 Sporting Engine
It was difficult to know what to do with all the material found in the house. Eventually it was decided that it should be lodged with Bristol Record Office. Here anyone can have access to the original material, but in order to make it known to a wider public it was decided to produce a book containing a selection of his work.
The book is called "Precise in Every Part" and it's a look at Simpson's work as a technical artist, and his activities with Bristol Motor Cycle Club, as well as covering prominent local motorcycling personalities of the day with whom he had dealings, such as Edward Kickham and Eli Clarke.
The book is an A4 128-page hardback, fully illustrated in black and white, and it costs £9.99 from Frenchay Village Museum. It costs £12 including post and packing for the UK, and cheques (made payable to "Frenchay Village Museum") should be sent to Alan Freke, 5 Cliff Court Drive, Frenchay, Bristol BS16 1LP. For overseas enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a postage cost.
p.s. The only thing amongst the Simpson material that dated from after 1936 was a three-page article torn out a copy of "The Motor Cycle" dated 1966. It is entitled "Four Before its Time", and it's a look back at the Matchless Silver Hawk by Phil Vincent. It uses the Simpson sketches used at the time of the launch, but why he kept this one post-1936 item is unknown.