The Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company was established in Bradford in 1901 by Benjamin, William and Ruth Jowett. The company initially designed and built engines but designed a car in 1906. They decided to commercially produce the car in 1910, manufacturing almost 50 cars between 1910 and 1916. Some Jowett records were collected by the Jowett Car Club, whose aim was to uphold the tradition and reputation of Jowett vehicles, promoting competitive events and social meetings and providing practical assistance to Jowett owners. The Jowett Car Club collection was deposited with us in March 2007. Reference: WYB324.
The Jowett Journey to Africa first began when Mr Frank Gray (Ex Oxford M.P) accused British Manufacturers of producing the ‘wrong type of car’ for overseas use. Jowett Cars Limited propositioned Mr Gray to travel across Africa, a challenge he accepted.
On 16th March 1926, Mr Gray and Mr Sawyer embarked on their journey from Lagos to Jebba, Bida, Zungera and Zaria, crossing the Niger at the Jebba railway bridge. Having read the story by Jowett Limited, this event made history as it had never been attempted on any form of mechanical transport. Furthermore, it had to be done in the shortest time possible as no advance arrangements had been made for petrol, oil or any mechanical assistance. It was the 1920s version of a Top Gear challenge.
The story illustrates the difficulties faced by the Jowett cars and drivers during the journey such as crossing the Bunga ‘river’ which was a wide stretch of sand, deep and soft; or driving over the mountain range Ouera which they simply describe as ‘caked mud’. It also refers to their relationship with the natives and how an ‘Arab begged them to take some clean and really good water’ as well as how they had to convince the officials that they were not political agents. By the 31st May 1926, the journey had been completed.
Newspapers such as The Sketch commented in June 1926 that this event proved that ‘British built motor vehicles can give full satisfaction to its owner in any clime… and the sooner people stop scoffing at British products the better’. This shows a triumph in British Engineering, it represents Bradford and Yorkshire at its finest. Mr Gray and Mr Sawyer were invited to a Civic Reception at the Midland Hotel in Bradford to commemorate their trip.
The Jowett Car Club Collection is one of the treasures of Bradford Archives. It consists of copies of Jowett road tests from early editions of motoring magazines such as Autocar and The Motor. There are instruction books for various models, sales catalogues, illustrated price lists, various technical diagrams and information. It shows Bradford in its prime and glory, so please do come and see!
Documents used to write this blog were (REF: WYB324/12/1, Scrapbook, Feb 1926 – Oct 1926 and REF: WYB324/17/2/8, Across Africa by car in 60 days, 1926). By Ameena Mughal.