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A surprising genesis from Woodsmoor's history

It seems appropriate to start the WSF blog series on the subject of transportation by writing about some local Woodsmoor history. Events from almost a century ago that culminated in something all car enthusiasts will recognise. It aptly demonstrates why Woodsmoor has a very special place in car and transport history.

You see, every now and again you hear some information that leaves you, as the UK vernacular goes: 'gobsmacked!'

I recently discovered that Woodsmoor is ground zero for Jaguar cars. You could have slapped my face and called me Susan in the time it took for that info’ to register. And it’s true. Who would have thought it?

The narrative goes that William Walmsley, the son of a wealthy Stockport coal merchant, returned from serving in World War One and started to make motorcycle sidecars in his shed in the grounds of an imposing Victorian villa on Flowery Fields. And what creations they were. So beautiful, so elegant; they sold like the proverbial ‘hot cakes’. He called them Swallow Sidecars, also known as ‘Stockport Zeppelins’, due to their dirigible airship-like structure and shiny aluminium cladding. Soon Walmsley had to move to a bigger unit in Heavily in order to scale up production to meet the ever-growing demand.

It was only when William’s family moved to Blackpool, taking the fledgling side-car business with them, that the story gains pace. Enter one William Lyons. He was younger than Walmsley and much more entrepreneurial. He spotted the commercial potential of William’s creations and formed a partnership with him. Soon they built up the sidecar business and further diversified into building bespoke coach-works for established manufacturers, including the Standard Swallow. All too great effect. As the business progressed it moved to Coventry to be nearer the epicentre of British car manufacturing and during this journey the Woodsmoor story line starts to lose its grip.

In 1935 Walmsley, a somewhat reluctant businessman, chose to dissolve the partnership. He sold his shares, moved back to Blackpool and quietly removed himself from automotive history. Choosing instead to start a small company designing caravans and trailers. Lyons on the other hand pounced and went on to form Jaguar cars. Eventually, he was granted a knighthood for creating a prestige car brand. Over the years Walmsley’s contribution was gently edged out of Jaguar’s official canon giving most the impression that Blackpool, Lyon’s birthplace, is where Jaguar had its genesis. We know better now don’t we?

You see, my Dad after having owned a Mark 2 upgraded to a Mark 10 Jag in the early seventies – it was a huge whale of a thing I don’t know how he drove it. My father-in-law had a white XJS in the eighties which I’m pretty sure is now a pile of rust. Fictional detective Inspector Morse famously drives a cranky old Mark 2. Enzo Ferrari described the E-Type Jag as one of the prettiest cars ever made. All of this would have been impossible without the efforts of a bored ex-serviceman living and working in Woodsmoor.

How can we know how many Jags in the intervening decades have cruised down the M60 motorway under the magnificent Stockport viaduct? How many Big Cats have been parked in Woodsmoor the owners ignorant of the historical thread that extends from years earlier, snaking through the borough, from the old century into the new. Coiling ever tighter until coalescing into the high-end motor they will fret over as they leave it at the kerbside.

As a coda to all this, rumour has it there are moves to get a commemorative blue plaque mounted on the house in Flowery Field where the Jaguar story began. And, just around the corner from the site of William’s humble shed, some new houses have been built one of which is known as Walmsley House.

It’s not much to mark William Walmsley’s considerable contribution to Woodsmoor's history but perhaps, given his low-key nature, it’s just enough.

Originally published on the Sylvian Scribblings Classic Car Blog in January 2015.

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