John Maythorn, ‘Journeyman’, founded a coachbuilders shop in Fox’s Yard, Sun Street, Biggleswade in 1842. The stage-coaching era was coming to an end, but he found plenty of work building coaches for gentry and commercial carriers. In 1854, he was described as a ‘Coach Builder and Harness Maker”. By 1862, he moved his growing business to the corner of Station Road and the Market Square as in the illustration above c1886. In 1885, Kelly’s Directory described the business as ‘John Maythorn and Son, High Street, Station Road, Palace Street, Cemetery Road (The Baulk) and Market Place’. The firm manufactured every type of horse-drawn carriage and was renowned nationally. John Maythorn took part in public life, being a member of the Board of Guardians, Lighting and Burial Committees. He became a Director of Biggleswade Gas Company in 1876, helping to make it profitable after a period of stagnation. John Maythorn died in 1897 aged 75.
His son, Frederick Alfred Maythorn, took over the business and expanded into building motorcar bodies. He purchased the old National School in Station Road in 1909 (now Flutters Bingo Club) and a dozen old cottages in Palace Street in 1914, to extend the factory that covered a large area in the town centre. When he held a party to celebrate completion of the new workshops, there were about 200 employees. Maythorn & Son built high quality wooden bodies of ash. Three cars mentioned at the 1919 Motor Show at Olympia were a Limousine mounted on a 35hp Lankier chassis, a special Curtis Coupe on a 25hp Talbot chassis and a three quarter Landaulet on a 15-20hp Fiat Chassis.
Frederick Maythorn entertained 110 employees of Maythorn & Son Ltd at his retirement party on 30th January 1920. He mentioned that in carriage days Maythorn provided more doctors vehicles than any other firm in England. He also talked about Royal Patrons and said that recently, they had constructed a car for Prince Albert (later King George VI), who paid a personal visit to the factory. The new heads of the Company were Guy Pelham Clinton and M.G.W. Burton with Mr. Thornton (Manager) and A.S. Berry (Secretary. The Maythorn residence ‘North View’ was on the factory site, facing the Market Square. Frederick built a fine house ‘The Lawns’ in The Baulk (now a Health Centre) for his retirement.
There was a dreadful fire in 1923, when a large part of the factory was destroyed. An even larger works was completed by 1925 with a handsome building dominating the Market Square causing more cottages in Palace Street to be demolished. The other works in Palace Street and Station Road were not affected and production continued, albeit with difficulty. Mr. Fred Butcher in a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle 7/2/86 wrote that the cars were mainly Rolls Royce Daimler and Bentley, but they also worked on Bugatti, Delage, Mercedes, Minerva, Lincoln, Hispano Suiza, Lanchester and Armstrong Siddeley. The Maythorn nameplate was always below the front door fixed to the body. He also mentioned my Uncle Ernest (Jim) Page as being the last of the coach painters. “Jim was a real craftsman. He would lock himself in a booth with a big Rolls Royce and give it a perfect finish, all by hand. When he applied the final varnishing coat, he always moved slowly as he reckoned too much air disturbance affected the finish” His son, my cousin Reginald Page also worked at Maythorn as a coach painter and left in 1926 to work in Ipswich. He recalled a bell at the top of the pre 1923 building with a rope down to the ground floor where Bill Reynolds used to toll the bell to let workers know the time to start and finish, also lunch break. Reg believed that the bell was buried with Bill when he died!
Maythorn & Son Ltd became a subsidiary of Hoopers Coachbuilders Ltd at 46, Dover Street, London in 1920. Frederick Maythorn died in 1928, when the Company was still flourishing. The Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain Ltd opened their factory at Cowley; Oxfordshire beside Morris Motors works in 1926. This resulted in a limited trade for wooden bodied limousines’ and as Hoopers of 46 Dover Street, London now had surplus capacity, the Biggleswade factories closed and Maythorn & Son Ltd was liquidated in 1931. [Ed – A list of the employees on the final payroll is at the end of this article.] Many employees found work at Vauxhall Motors, Luton finding that their expertise was not required in mass production. Hoopers Coachbuilders Ltd eventually closed in 1959.
Cars with Maythorn Coachwork are still sought after by enthusiasts and are rarely available. A Daimler Coupe built in 1923 appeared at Manhattan Cars, Sandy in 1993. One of the last cars to leave the works in 1931, a Rolls Royce 20/25 saloon in need of total restoration auctioned at Beaulieu in 2003 made £5,875.
NURO (Biggleswade) Ltd who purchased the main factory in 1935 were set up to manufacture roll films, previously imported from Germany. There were problems, however, resulting in the company being wound up on 22nd July 1938, with a deficiency of almost £11,000. At the meeting of creditors it was stated that one of the directors was associated with the importation of films from Germany and when tariffs were imposed on imports the Germans suggested the formation of a Company in England to manufacture films. All the directors were British, but they had a German technical advisor Dr. Ruedel. He was recalled to Germany in 1937 and an eminent English photographic chemist was called in. The rumour was rife that the Germans were taking aerial photographs of England for use later, but this was never substantiated.
The Regal Cinema was opened in 1936 on the site of the National School purchased in 1909 and parts of the old school building can still as part of the building facing the car park.
The next owners Weatherley Oilgear Ltd purchased the Palace Street works in 1939 and they moved to a new factory at Dells Lane in 1958. The Navy Army and Air Force Institute (NAAFI) purchased the main building for a warehouse in 1940; they closed down in 1958.
Delaney Gallay Ltd (DG Light Engineering) who specialised in thermal insulation for aircraft took over the main factory in January 1960, becoming Gloster Saro Ltd in 1978 and eventually Insumat Ltd they moved to the London Road Trading Estate in 1989.
Redevelopment in 1990 saw the site used to build three large shops; two of these are now Iceland Frozen Foods and the third, Lloyds Chemists. They were designed to look something like the original premises. Part of the original Maythorn factory remains in Bonds Lane (formerly Palace Street) now Fairfield Care Products. Another portion on the site of Biggleswade Foundry between Foundry Lane and Hitchin Street is awaiting demolition.
With thanks to Tony George whose family lived in Biggleswade for many years, as did he, and his Grandfather,
James George, was manager of Maythorns.
Payroll of Maythorn Employees on 6th May 1931 in payroll number sequence (note that missing numbers relate to employees who had previously left, the reson for the complete sequence number change is not known):
2. Dempsey T. 3. Hudson W. 4. Small A. 5. Hill E. 6. Page E. 8. Baines F. 10. Docking P. 11. Worth G. 12. Keys E.G. 13. Millard H. 15. Little A.J. 16. Aggiss J. 17. Pates S. 18. Northwood W. 19. West W. 20. Goss W. 21. Goss S. 22. Duke J. 23. Harwood C. 24. Perryman T. 25. Cox E. 28. Piggott E.H.R. 29. McDougal J. 31. Green A.R.G. 33. Boness E. 34. Carpenter F. 35. Lambert A.S. 36. Gadsby F.C. 37. Cox J. 38. Northwood H. 41. Albone F. 42. Huckle R. 43. Bibbs H. 44. Panter G.E. 45. Wheatley A. 46. Allen F. 47. Wade F. 48. Nightingale E. 49. Humphries F. 50. Bishop C.V.P. 51. Green J. 52. Pates A. 53. Rook F. 54. Hackerman G. 55. Seward C.F. 56. Martin A. 57. Humes J.R. 58. Walters G. 59. Croft J.H. 60. Cole A.J. 61. Coote A. 62. Kinna E. 63. Rowley J. 64. Mills B.O. 65. Green D. 66. Wren I. 67. Harper F. 68. Pearson R.J. 69. Stimpson G. 70. Hawkes F. [Frank] 71. Borrett P.J. 72. Bilcock E. 73. Crowther W. 74. Desborough R. 75. Rutt N. 76. Covill C. 77. Hackman D. 78. Endersby H. 79. Woods E. 80. Coote J. 81. Clark S. 82. Handscombe J. 83. Huckle L. 84. Suttle R. 85. Pope H.D 86. Albone E.G. 87. Holland A.E. 88. Leach W, 89. Candy F. 90. Coote F. 91. Butcher F. 92. Webb H. 93. Ladle G. 94. Chamberlain R. 95. Miss Houseden 96. Stoten F. 97. Butcher B. 98. Miss Webster 99. Miss Albone 100. Pressland H. 101. Taylor E. 103. Lincoln H. 104. Moggridge A. 105. Pope F. 106. Day J. 109. Edwards J. 110. Tyrell J.T. 111. Hodson G.A. 114. Odell C. 115. Archer E. 116. Rout S.E. 117. Archer E. 118. Green L. 119. Milton L. 121. Endersby J. The sequence had run up to atleast 135 and then jumped to: 402. Wallows E. 403. Wagstaff A. 405. Olney E. 411. George F. 412. Wagstaff J. 415. Roberts F. 416. Mitchell F. 417. Moss B. 419. Stephenson E. 420. Goodwin H. 425. Albone G. 426. Stephenson G. 428. Plant H. 430. Maddock J. 431. Stephenson D. 433. Gentle A. 434. Green C. 435. Stephenson A. 436. Gale S. 437. Izzard C. 441. Upchurch G. 446. Lucas A.N. 447. Rogers L. 448. Kitchener G. 452. Males A. 453. Cowles F. 454. Day A. 457. Tucker W. 458. Smith S. 459. Street N.S. 461. Leicester A. 462. Ginn A. 463. Marshall C.J. 464. Thompson E. 467. Keys J. No Numbers: Downes J. Baskerville J.