So far as the advent of motor cars and motorcycles were concerned, Britain was at least a decade behind France and Germany. In 1896 there were only ten cars in the whole of the UK.*
Mr George Webb of Crockers Ash had probably been in business before this selling conventional pedal type cycles from his shop in Priory Street, Monmouth, where he advertised as being ‘Agents for all leading makes’ but he soon had ideas of breaking into the expanding new motor car and motorcycle industry with two or three new patents.
In 1889, Mr Webb formed a company called The Ganarew and West of England Cycle Company Ltd. With a registered office at 8, St Marys Street in Ross on Wye, he raised a capital of £3,000.00 mostly in £1.00 shares. Later this became his Monmouth Motor Company with a car sales and workshops and garage repairs business for which he trained and employed up to 30 local skilled mechanics. A large local business even by today’s standards
The general very rough state of roads at this time was blamed for all too frequent failures of the suspension, bearings and tyres of motorised vehicles so Mr Webb‘s motor cycle was offered as a machine ‘fitted with strengthened cycle parts’ and his patented ‘better bearings’ and assembled to order in his Crockers Ash work shop. By 1903 he was advertising ’his’ motorcycle but whether he manufactured the strengthened cycle himself or bought them in to order is not clear but he did fit them himself with a 2 speed Clement-Garrard petrol engine # which, from the picture, must have involved some fairly extensive modifications to the frame and wheels so it may well be that he made the whole bike in his workshops in Crockers Ash and where he went on to build over 50 machines.
One of his esteemed local customers was said to be the Right Hon’ Lord Llangattock and father of Mr C S Rolls, of Monmouth.
Because early motor cars carried no spare wheel a puncture meant removing the wheel to the nearest garage. His other patent was for a new type of car wheel with a ‘detachable divisible rim’ (as used in all heavy lorries today) that came apart enabling a puncture to be repaired more easily at the road side. Later he developed a detachable wheel rim holding the inner tube and tyre. This was the forerunner of the spare wheel we know today and a concept adopted by every car and lorry worldwide until very recently.
Mr Webb also made and sold a few motor cars but other than having a water cooled petrol engine I can (to date) find no further details although there are 2 photographs published one showing him and his family ‘in his car’ ## on the occasion of his sister in law’s wedding in 1903 and also, in a different car in 1906 with Field Marshall H R H Duke of Connaught and other dignitaries outside Drybridge House. The party was later in the same day to be involved in a car crash near Hay on Wye with no serious damage done resulting in the chauffer of the other car being accused of being drunk whereupon he threatened to kill himself. Such shame is not seen nowadays. It is not clear if the cars in the photographs were of Mr Webb’s manufacture.
There are stories of Mr C S Rolls, who was then interested in developing a high quality motor car, considering entering into a partnership with My Webb but this did not happen. ### In stead Mr C S Rolls and Mr Henry Royce developed the world famous Rolls Royce motor car company in Manchester.
Over the years Mr Webb had several subsidiary companies formed to develop products from his patented ideas and in conjunction with other noted component suppliers.
In 1932 Mr George Webb died in Ganarew where he started his business.
* At the time Britain’s rail network was so extensive that even the landed gentry lived quite close to a station and where they were taken to and from by horse and carriage in comparative comfort. It was not necessary for them to make long journeys by automobile.
# Clement Garard was an English company manufacturing motorcycles in Birmingham between 1902 1nd 1905. Clement sold ”clip on” engines to various bicycle manufacturers to insert into their cycles . So it sounds as if Mr Webb was doing the same thing.
A similar named company, Clement, also made motor cars at this time and, although it sounds likely, I could not prove there was a link between them.
Starting in Wolverhampton in 1917, the Villiers Company did exactly the same but on a much larger scale making engines for the majority of UK motorcycle companies at one time or another until the 1970’s.
At about the same time as this engines and chassis were usually made and sold by engineering companies such as Clement and Royce and then sold to a ‘coach builder’ who would finish of the car by making and fitting bespoke bodywork. Mulliner was perhaps the most famous English coach builder fitting bodywork to high quality cars such as Rolls Royce.
Clement allowed their product to be ‘badged up’ under the retailers name. I cannot find any evidence to suggest that Mr Webb purchased his car engines from the Clement car company to install in his cars but it is a nice thought, which if true would round off the story nicely.
The suggestion that Rolls might have entered a partnership with Webb in stead of with Royce is just a fantasy of a local writer. When reading the history of C S Rolls and his motor car business such an alliance was never on the cards.
In 1904 Rolls was operating the largest motor car sales and service business in London selling principally Mors and Panhard cars made in France. Daimler was the only wholy British car in those days and when Rolls met Royce who was developing his first cars in Manchester he was so impressed with his first models that they entered a partnership where Henry Royce would manufacture the cars and Charles Rolls would sell and service them through his business in London.
George Webb was born in 1863, one of five children of Henry Webb, who was a blacksmith in Crocker’s Ash. His mother was Sarah Susanna Bricknell and his parents had moved to Crocker’s Ash from Bledington. George attended Monmouth Grammar School.
Some additional notes: by Diane Reardon-Smith (nee Webb), great grand-daughter of George Webb of Crocker’s Ash, Ganarew
His grandparents were Robert, a stone mason, and Mary Webb (originally from Leckhampton, Glos.). Five generations of the Webb family, including George and his wife Annie, his brother Fred, his parents, his grandparents, his daughters Vera and Molly and his grandson Douglas George Webb are all buried in St Swithin’s Churchyard in Ganarew.
George’s wife Annie Morris was born in Rose Cottage on the Doward and played the organ at St Swithin’s Church for many years. They married in Ganarew on 25th June 1892.
George began his cycle and engineering business at the family home in Crocker’s Ash, where his father had had his blacksmith’s shop. George built and repaired cycles, and was appointed Official Repairer to the Cyclist Touring Club; to obtain spares he regularly had to cycle to Birmingham and back.
By 1898 he had produced and patented a new hub bracket. Samples of this invention were shown at the National Cycle Show at Crystal Palace in Messrs Miller and Company’s exhibit and were favourably commented on in “The Cyclist” paper dated November 30th 1898. The improved ball bearing hub was used in cycles, motor cycles and cars and was manufactured by Messrs Miller of Birmingham.
In January 1899 a company was formed with a share capital of £3000, in 3000 £1 shares, to acquire Mr Webb’s cycling and engineering business and the patent for the invention. Mr Webb was to receive £150 for the patent and a royalty of 4 pence per bearing sold. The company was called the Ganarew and West of England Cycle Company and Mr Webb became the General Works Manager.
At the turn of the century, a successful meeting with the Honourable C. S. Rolls (later of Rolls Royce) led to the family moving from Crocker’s Ash to live on the Hendre Estate where George was put in charge of Lord Llangattock’s motor cars (C. S. Rolls’ father’s cars). George only worked at the Hendre in the mornings and evenings however, because he was still running his own business in Monmouth.
Lord Llangattock (father of C. S. Rolls) decided to invest £10,000 in Webb’s business andspurred on by this, between 1900 and 1901, George invented the “detachable and divisible rim for motor cars to solve the problem of punctures by means of a spare wheel”. He was paid £3000 plus royalties for the patent rights of this invention by the Spencer Moulton Tyre Company Ltd. Wheels were made in the Monmouth works in Priory Street and were fitted to many cars, including in 1905-6, the four Rolls Royce Cars owned by Lord Llangattock, (the first Rolls Royces). The cost for conversion was about £30 – a considerable sum at the time.
By 1901 Webb had built around 50 motor cycles fitted with a 1 1/3 Clement Gerrard engine. He built a motor car of his own design in 1903 with a single cylinder low tension ignition, water cooled engine from Simmons and Co. and established the Monmouth Motor Company in Priory Street Monmouth. Apart from the Priory Street garage and factory, he had a retail cycle business in Agincourt Square, Monmouth.
A photograph of George Webb dated 7th August 1906 and taken outside Drybridge House shows him at the wheel of a car which he owned, a Humber 18/22. As Inspector General of the Forces, Field Marshall HRH the Duke of Connaught (third son of Queen Victoria) had engaged him to drive to Rhayader with General Sir John Maxwell and the Hon. Miles Ponsonby ADC. The Humber was involved in a head on collision with another motor car. It was initially thought that the driver of the other car was drunk and indeed the driver threatened to kill himself, but it was discovered later that there was a mechanical fault with his vehicle.
During World War One the family moved to Dumfries, Scotland so that George Webb could take up a position as departmental manager of the Arrol Johnston engineering works.
Towards the end of the war they returned to Monmouth, where they had a house on the Dixton Road. George’s business card from this time states that he is a member of the Motor Trade Association and distributing agent for Arrol Johnston and Galloway cars.
Finally the family returned to Crocker’s Ash, where George built “Rosemount”, a four bedroomed house, looking towards the Doward Hill (whilst in Scotland they had lived on Rosemount Street, Dumfries). George embarked on a new venture as proprietor of GanarewQuarries, however the building of the infrastructure to the quarries required too much capital and this last enterprise was not a success.
George Webb died on 20th December 1932 at the age of 69 while out walking in Ganarew. His son Henry (Harry) Webb continued to work as a mechanical engineer in the area and his two unmarried daughters continued to live in Crocker’s Ash in “Rosemount” until their deaths in the late 1970s and 80s. George was for some time a member of Whitchurch Parish Council and was also a freemason.