Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 5

Mr. Basket, the butcher next door, had a BSA motor cycle and sidecar, he will always be remembered for the number of times he came in for the odd nut and bolt, especially at meal times. Ian Hollis will be remembered for his Rudge multi motor Cycle and sidecar, belt driven and about 20 variations of gears. Charlie Brading with his Dunelt, Albert Pudan with his ATS, Bert Oakley with his 2 V2 round tank BSA, Billy Bowden and Rob Hood with their 2 V2 two stroke Dunelts.

The whole town was beginning to buzz. The Indian motor cycle combination was sold and a second hand Rover 8HP twin cylinder opposed air cooled engine was bought. It was now that I learned to drive in the confine of the garage yard. The car was kept at Nattie Robertson's, she owned the yard and at a much later date she sold the site to a Mr. Petty for his lawn mower and ironmongery business. The shed was shared with a vintage car belonging to Nattie Robertson, a Clyno car owned by George Ansel and Ian Hollis with his Royal Enfield combination. It was the expected thing that when September 30th came vehicles were laid up for the winter when all repairs and recarbonising was done, this is something never done today. When March 24th came it was the start of the spring quarter, all vehicles were relicensed. Terrific activity and excitement. I had no lights on my motor cycle so that's how I always know that it gets dark at 7.00pm at this time of year.

Arthur Holmes of East Cowes was the Island agent for Rover cars, he was a very active agent. I can remember a lot of the Rover Twin Cylinder air-cooled 8 HP opposed engine (the engines called opposed because the cylinder head protruded through the side of the engine's bonnet) running around the island. The strange thing is that I have never seen one since, either in car museums, books , rally or vintage magazines. I have two snap shots of the family in the one we had.

We had our first holiday on the mainland, Dad and I had been preparing the car for weeks. We got to Southampton and could not start the engine to drive the car off the boat, we were pushed off the boat onto the pier. The problem was soon sorted out and we set off. We made our way to Cheddar caves, where we parked the car and went inside. When we eventually came out there was a thunderstorm underway and as you might say it was raining buckets. We made our way to the nearest pub and farmhouse and stayed the night.

The morning was one I shall never forget. The sun was now shining brightly, the smell of newly mowed grass, bacon and eggs was really something.

My Father, apart from running the cycle shop, was also the local postman, so we got to know most of the postmen and telegraph boys, names like Bill Lee, Olly Sinnicks, noted for his whistling, Charlie Cook, Jim Foss, Bill Allbrook, and Jimmy Wentworth the postmaster.

"Promise you will not smoke until you are seventeen (Dad was a heavy smoker, he used to roll his own) and you can have that new Mckenzie motor cycle in the shop window." So on my 14th birthday I cycled to Newport and bought my first driving licence. I had stopped home from school on this occasion, so I came home and took out the Mckenzie DL3901, (belt drive, no clutch or gear box, the drive being direct). I was still wearing my school shorts and was stopped within two minutes by PC Cornet'. "Where's your driving licence "he demanded, and noting the licence I produced was stamped and dated that morning said, " You soon learned to drive."

That bike gave me untold amounts of pleasure; nothing like the first one. Up to the age of 211 had seventeen motor cycles and three cars. Dad and Mom paid for the first three, the others I managed myself.

Wireless sets were now coming into their own, Crystal Sets and so on. The average crystal was about the size of a garden pea and looked like a small solitaire diamond, it was held in position by three small adjusting screws and a coiled spring on the end of a rod or arm was swivelled about to find the spot on the crystal that produced sound and music, of course using headphones. Loud speakers came later.

Our supplies of crystals came from James Bridger, of East London Rubber Co who were the manufacturers. The crystals arrived in rather large lumps, about the size of a walnut and a supply of small coloured boxes lined with cotton wool. These crystals were broken up into smaller pieces of crystal and placed into the small boxes at various prices and names. One of the names I remember was Hertite.

The radio sets were powered by a 2 volts accumulator, and when charged would last the average household one week. Most people had two batteries, one in use, one being charged.

These I collected from a few customers I then took them to Mr. Worrell who lived at Stevenson Road, West Cowes, who recharged them. I then collected those batteries I had previously taken and then delivered them to the customers. I made about 1 p per battery, and this was my main source of money supply to buy petrol for my motor cycle.

Petrol was bought in a 2 gallon can there being no petrol pumps in those days. My 2 gallon can was about my monthly supply.

There was only two boys in East Cowes at that time with motor cycles, Bob Hill and myself Bob had a scooter, as it was called, made in the purpose built Somerton Factory at Northwood, later to become an aircraft factory, and later still a Southern Vectis Bus Depot.

The scooter had a one and half h.p, 4 stroke, O.H.V. engine situated under the driver's seat, it did look just like a scooter. We took the engine to pieces so many times that we could have assembled it blindfolded. At that time nobody could tell us anything about motor scooters.

Bob stuttered and so did I at that time so we were a good pair.

Bob's father was the captain of a large cargo ship. At their home they had servants, and one could say the family was a cut above the average. But Bob and I got on very well together. I met him at St Joseph College, York Avenue, East Cowes, a Catholic boy's school. I had left the Osborne Road school and stayed at this finishing school for about one and a half years. We were made to work very hard homework in large amounts every evening.

I now left school and though my mother had said "My boy will never go down the docks", (as it was called), it was the first place I went. Really there was no other choice.

I went for an interview. I was taken to a very large room and an elderly gentleman who I learnt later was Sam Lovett, sitting at his desk and I standing some ten feet away. He said to me "Are you any good at spelling", in fact I am not even to this day. I felt awful but I said, "I'll try." Spell FLEM, this was how I spelt it, I found out later that it was PHLEGM. What a way to start a job. I was sent to the drawing office as junior office boy. There was the Ship drawing office managed by a Mr. Brading, on the same floor as the Engine drawing office, the Diesel drawing office managed by Mr. Wilkey on a floor down, and the print room one floor up, reached by a spiral steel staircase.

After school days, life as an office boy was very exhausting and tiring, running up and down the stairs all day, and at the beck and call of the drawing offices and the Print Room. All the draughtsmen busy at their drawing boards would call on us (there was two boys) and say "I would like the boiler room mounting of ship no 2189", we would have to go to the stores, check the chart, find out where the drawings of this particular ship were stored , go up or down stairs perhaps using steps and find the bundle, go through and now find the boiler mountings.

Take it to the draughtsman, who may look at it fora minute or two and then give it straight back to you, so when you were not attending to anyone else you would have to put the drawing back into the bundle and replace it in the store. Sometimes the draughtsman may keep it fora week or more, even asking for drawings fora third or fourth ship. One now had the situation where there were several bundles, all curled up on the bench, shall I put them away or wait until the drawings I had handed out were returned., which ever way I decided never seemed to be right.

Multiply this by about 40-50 draughtsmen in the three offices and one had a full size problem. Being the junior office boy I had to collect all of the waste paper and take it to the works foundry for burning, this included the paper from the print room with the spiral staircase.

Picture of Harwoods fruit shop  c1900
Percy Harwood's grandfather outside his shop probably 1897 (Diamond Jubilee year) as the shop appears to be decorated.