Heritage

Every story has a beginning and we are proud to share ours.

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Establishment

Sir George White Bt., (1854-1916), a 'self-made' entrepreneur and philanthropist introduced the first conventional electric tramways to Great Britain. Bristol Tramway's electric system opened in 1898 and London United Electric Tramways followed in 1901.

Sir George White

Through Imperial Tramways, he pioneered electric street traction in many other cities. He introduced motor busses to Bristol in 1904, setting up a factory to build "Bristol" commercial vehicles in 1908. In 1908, he also introduced motor taxis to the streets of Bristol, while at the same time turning his attention to the air.

In 1910 he founded what was to become the Bristol Aeroplane Company. His aircraft works at Filton were the first in the United Kingdom to be organised and financed on an industrial scale.

"Bristol" aircraft distinguished themselves in both World Wars and by 1944 the company's workforce had risen to 70,000 men and women.

To maintain employment at the conclusion of the Second World War, the company began to manufacture motor cars under aircraft standards, under the direction of George S.M. White, the founder's grandson.



Bristol Tramways

In 1871 a London syndicate proposed building a street tramway in Bristol. The City Council rejected the plan and instead formulated its own scheme. Rails were laid by spring 1874, but costs escalated wildly.

The City also found itself legally unable to operate the system and was obliged to seek outside help. John Stanley, a prominent Bristol commercial solicitor therefore instructed his office junior, George White, to assemble a Bristol syndicate to take the project on.

This he did and the Bristol Tramways Company was formed in 1875 under the chairmanship of the Bristol oil and tar manufacturer William Butler. George White was appointed Company Secretary and negotiated the Parliamentary Bills to extend the system. He became the driving force not only behind Bristol Tramways, but behind numerous other tramway companies including Imperial and London United.

He was in due course appointed managing director at Bristol and from 1900 until his death in 1916, served as chairman. During this latter period, he also founded the Bristol Aeroplane Company, linking advanced road transport with the conquest of the air.


Bristol Tramways Timeline

1874-1895

The first twenty years of the Tramways Company saw a rapid increase in the size of the system. Scheduled horse buses were run as feeders to the trams and in those areas where tramways were resisted by the local community. Steam locomotives were tested on the tramlines, but the smoke and sparks they emitted, proved to be their downfall.

Bristol horse drawn bus

George White, Managing Director and James Clifton Robinson, the engineer to the company, therefore chose to pioneer 'electric street traction', using the 'overhead trolley' system, which later became commonplace throughout Britain. The first electric trams were launched with great ceremony and amidst huge crowds on the line running from Old Market to Kingswood in 1895.


Personalities

William Butler

In the construction of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, Isambard Kingdom Brunel needed a satisfactory wood preservative for the sleepers. He decided to make use of creosote, a coal by-product recently patented by John Bethell. With Bethell's assistance, he set up a Tar Works at Crew's Hole, near the Bristol Avon in 1843, appointing his protégé William Butler to take charge.
 
By 1863, having already set up a second tar works on the River Severn at Gloucester, Butler had taken over the business, trading as William Butler & Co. In 1878 he purchased the Crown Preserved Coal Company of Cardiff, making his chemicals company a substantial enterprise.
 
Butler was clearly one of the magic circle of leading Bristol businessmen well known to the Bristol commercial solicitor John Stanley. When Stanley instructed his office junior George White to assemble a consortium to take over and run Bristol Council's failed tramline in 1875, Butler was an obvious choice as chairman.
 
Butler at once appointed the young George White as Secretary to the newly formed Bristol Tramways Company and wisely gave him his head. White worked tirelessly to expand the business under Butler's watchful eye and must have learnt much from him. Given the size of the transport and engineering empire that George White was eventually to create in addition to the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, it is perhaps no surprise that he had at first been mentored by the successful entrepreneur Butler.
 
Butler as a young man had experienced Brunel's genius. Brunel in turn had worked under his father Marc Brunel, who had himself worked closely with one of the greatest engineers of his day, Henry Maudslay.
 
If that was not enough, Brunel had in his youth not only been influenced by the work of his great uncle, the chronometer maker Thomas Mudge, but had studied in Paris under Abraham Louis Breguet, a watchmaker and engineer of consummate skill. There could have been no more remarkable set of business skills coming together in Butler, than that.
 
With the advent of the internal combustion engine, William Butler & Co turned in 1890 to the pioneering distillation of motor benzole. Although Butler himself died in October 1900, his company went on to form a subsidiary under the name of "The British Refined Motor Spirit Company" in 1903 and indeed registered the first motorcar in Bristol under the 1904 Motor Act, the licence plate being "AE 1". No doubt this ready supply of fuel had a direct influence on the introduction by Bristol Tramways of motorbuses, lorries and taxis in the years immediately following Butler's death.

William Butler

The Bristol Aeroplane Company

By the end of the 19th century, Sir George White Bt (1854-1916), stockbroker, entrepreneur and philanthropist had built himself a considerable transport empire.

He was much involved in revitalizing railways and had introduced conventional electric tramways to Britain. He now turned his attention to motor busses and lorries, importing motor taxis from France.

Meanwhile relations between Britain and Germany were deteriorating rapidly. Germany was vastly increasing their naval strength and in 1908, Count von Zeppelin shocked the British nation with the success of his airship LZ4.

In France the same year, Wilbur Wright astounded Europe by revealing the Wright brothers' ability to fly. The British Government and her armed forces seemed paralyzed as Britain's traditional strength as an island fortress melted away.

Sir George determined to take matters into his own hands and spent 1909 laying plans for a properly financed aircraft industry for Britain.

With his brother Samuel and his son G. Stanley White as founding directors, he announced the formation of the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company in February 1910.


Bristol Aeroplane Company Timeline

1908-1910

Many of the finest motor vehicles at this period were manufactured in France. Sir George imported numerous French cars and taxi chassis to England through Emile Stern of 17 Rue Montaigne, Paris. Stern also acted as agent for Léon Bollée cars in France and was their sole agent in America.

Bristol boxkite

There is little doubt that when Bollée invited Wilbur Wright to erect and demonstrate his aeroplane at the Bollé factory near Le Mans, news of the event quickly reached George White at Bristol.

On October 31st 1908 a 'Bristol' delegation, consisting of Emile Stern, Sydney Smith (George White's nephew and tramway employee) and George Challenger (a tramway employee and aeronautical enthusiast) travelled from Paris to meet Wright and his European agent, Hart O. Berg at Auvors.

Within days, Sir George himself was in France and in February 1909 he travelled to Pau, to watch both Wright brothers fly. In August he attended the great Rheims Air Meet.

After six months careful planning, Sir George purchased the British manufacturing rights for the French Voisin-designed 'Zodiac' aeroplane.


Personalities

Sir George White Bt.
Founder and first chairman of the Bristol Aeroplane Company

George White was the second son of a Bristol painter and decorator. At the age of fourteen and after a rudimentary education, he obtained a job as office boy to Stanley and Wasbrough, then Bristol's leading commercial solicitors. His hard work and obvious intelligence drew him to the attention of Mr. Stanley, who trusted and mentored him. At the age of twenty-two, he set himself up in Bristol as a stockbroker and public accountant.
 
Through Mr. Stanley he had already been appointed Secretary to the newly formed Bristol Tramway Company and had been entrusted with the negotiation of the necessary Parliamentary bills.
 
From this he never looked back, soon being consulted on tramway matters throughout England, while at the same time investing in failing transport enterprises (including railways), and turning them to profit before selling out.
 
Through ceaseless hard work, he became managing director and then chairman and principle shareholder of Bristol Tramways. He acquired Imperial Tramways, which owned lines in Dublin, Reading, Stockton, Middlesbrough and other cities.
 
Having been appointed Receiver to the failed West Metropolitan Tramways in London, he took the Company over and re-launched it successfully as London United Tramways.
 
With his lifelong friend, the engineer James Clifton Robinson, he pioneered the introduction of the conventional electric tramways in Great Britain, opening the first line in Bristol in 1895 and the first in London in 1901. Other cities followed.
 
Through London United he became involved in the race to pioneer electric underground railways beneath London's streets. Interested in the possibilities of the internal combustion engine, he began running motor taxis and motor buses in the first years of the 20th century and began to manufacture his own Bristol lorries and buses in 1908.
 
George White never forgot the financial strictures of his childhood and throughout his life gave generously to charity. He largely financed the building of two hospitals, the cause closest to his heart being the Bristol Royal Infirmary, of which he was President. He opened its state of the art new building, the Edward VII Memorial Hospital to Royal acclaim in 1912.
 
Clearly concerned by the advance in world aviation and the apparent inability of the British Government and British armed forces to protect Britain from the air, he determined from 1908 to found a British aircraft industry for the defence of the nation. This he did in February 1910, basing it in his native city, but with little expectation of any immediate financial return.
 
He urged the government constantly to take aviation seriously, declaring in a speech in 1912, that within five years "the Powers will be calling for thousands if not tens of thousands or airplanes" and adding his deeply held belief that the "possession of a strong fleet of aeroplanes by any country will be a dominating influence for peace."
 
Similarly concerned by the threat posed by the newly invented German U Boat, he backed the development of the anti-submarine and anti-mine Paravane with his own money. He pioneered the first "air stations" or airports in Britain. His flying schools were so successful that by the outbreak of war, they had trained half the pilots available to the forces.
 
Having appointed his son G. Stanley White Managing Director of his British and Colonial Aeroplane Company (later the Bristol Aeroplane Company) in 1911, Sir George died suddenly in 1916. His company would later to become the largest aircraft and aircraft engine manufacturer in the world.

Sir George White

Bristol Cars

The British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic loss of orders and great financial difficulties following the Armistice of 1918. To provide immediate employment for its considerable workforce, the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the Bristol Monocar), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Sir G. Stanley White, Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1911 to 1954 was determined not to suffer the same difficulties a second time.

The Company now employed 70,000 and he knew that he must plan for the time when the voracious wartime demand for Bristol aircraft and aircraft engines would suddenly end.


The Bristol Collection

As early as 1941 a number of papers were written or commissioned by George S.M.White, Sir Stanley's son, proposing a post-war car manufacturing division. It was decided to purchase an existing manufacturer for this purpose. Alvis, Aston Martin, Lagonda, ERA and Lea Francis were considered.

A chance discussion took place in May 1945. It was between D.A. Aldington, a director of Frazer Nash then serving as an inspector for the wartime Ministry of Aircraft Production, and Eric Storey, an assistant of George White at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It led to the immediate take-over of Frazer Nash by the Aeroplane Company.

D.A. Aldington and his two brothers had marketed the "Fraser Nash B.M.W." before the war, and proposed to build an updated version after demobilisation. This seemed the perfect match for the Aeroplane Company's own ambitions to manufacture a high quality sports car.

Sir George White and H.J. Aldington, with the support of the War Reparations Board, travelled to Munich and there purchased the rights to manufacture three BMW models and the 328 engine.

George White and Reginald Verdon-Smith of the Aeroplane Company joined the new Frazer Nash Board. However in January 1947, soon after the first cars had been produced, differences between the Aldingtons and Bristol led to the resale of Frazer Nash. The Bristol Car Division became an independent entity.


Bristol Cars Timeline

The “Raison D’être”

The British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic loss of orders and great financial difficulties following the Armistice of 1918. To provide immediate employment for its considerable workforce, the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the Bristol Monocar), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways.

The Bristol factory

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Sir G. Stanley White, Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1911 to 1954 was determined not to suffer the same difficulties a second time. The Company now employed 70,000 and he knew that he must plan for the time when the voracious wartime demand for Bristol aircraft and aircraft engines would suddenly end.

As early as 1941 a number of papers were written or commissioned by George S.M.White, Sir Stanley's son, proposing a post-war car manufacturing division. It was decided to purchase an existing manufacturer for this purpose. Alvis, Aston Martin, Lagonda, ERA and Lea Francis were considered.


Personalities

George White

George White was the grandson of the founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He was educated at Harrow School and Magdalene College Cambridge, where he studied under W.S. Farren.
 
He left to work on the B.A.C. shop floor, rising to become general manager in 1940, a director in 1942 and ultimately serving as joint managing director and deputy chairman. He held both the latter positions until through mergers, the Bristol Aeroplane Company effectively ceased to exist in 1967. He was responsible for the direction of the aircraft and armament divisions during the Second World War and was the link between the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the company.
 
In planning for the post-war manufacturing activities of the B.A.C, he particularly urged the production of the Bristol Freighter and of high quality motor cars. He devoted much time and enthusiasm to the formation of the Car Division and to the acquisition of Frazer Nash.
 
He took charge of the division from 1946 and was appointed managing director of the division in 1947, when Bristol and Frazer Nash separated. On the formation of Bristol Cars Ltd in 1956 he became its chairman and managing director. At the same time he also served as a director of Bristol Aeroplane Plastics, which amongst an array of advanced products from aircraft drop-tanks to yachts, made car bodies for Nobel and Lotus.
 
Following the merging of the Aeroplane Company's airframe and engine divisions to form the British Aircraft Corporation and Bristol-Siddeley Engines in 1959, he purchased Bristol Cars Ltd. He sold a forty per cent interest in the company to Anthony Crook, by then the sole Bristol distributor. George White became senior partner when the company was restructured, retaining exclusive control of management and policy, while Anthony Crook remained fully responsible for sales.
 
In September 1969, George White suffered serious injury in a car accident, from which he never fully recovered. With very great sadness he recognised his inability to continue running his company and sold his majority holding to Anthony Crook in 1973.
 
George White and his future brother-in-law rebuilt and drove an early GN while still at school in 1930. He subsequently owned an Alvis and two Aston Martins, but his father Sir G. Stanley White, forbade him to drive cars competitively.
 
Encouraged by Sir Roy Fedden, he took up motor-boat racing from 1931 onwards. He achieved numerous British and World records in his Riley powered "Bulldog II" and his Lycoming powered Bulldog III.
 
In 1937, with the help of Capt. George Eyston, he was actively working on Bulldog IV, powered by a Napier Lion engine, with a view to attempting the World Water Speed Record. A serious accident in April 1938, in which Bulldog III rolled over during a 24 mile record attempt in Poole Harbour, cut short George White's sporting career.

George White

Bristol Cars Models

1946: Bristol 400

Bristol 400

The first Bristol to go into production, the 400 was a close-coupled two door saloon. Inspired by the pre-war 326 and 328 BMWs, it benefitted from the metallurgical advances of WW2 aviation. Low aerodynamic drag, high mechanical efficiency and modest weight meant it proved a successful rally car. With a top speed of 95.7mph and a six cylinder 2 litre engine, it was unusually efficient for its time.

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