The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Pilgrim’s Way Motor Company

Women working in the factory in 1918

Title: Women working in the factory in 1918
Description: Courtesy of Chris Shepheard by-nc

Research and text by Peter Minett, as published in the Farnham and District Museum Society Journal and the Surrey Industrial History Group Magazine (Issue No. 215, August 2017)

Plans were submitted in September 1905 for workshops on land at Weydon.  The architects were Messrs Niven, Wigglesworth, and Falkner.  When completed the buildings became the home of the Pilgrims Way Motor Company; its first chairman was Mr Edward Armitage of Greenhills, Tilford, and the works manager was Mr F. Leigh Martineau M.I.A.E.

In 1906 a new Pilgrim car chassis was produced, known as the 25/30 hp, designed by Mr Martineau.  It was unusual in having a 4-cylinder engine of some 5?½ litres placed horizontally across the chassis, the cylinders pointing towards the front.  The speed of the engine was varied by controlling the inlet valve lift with a handle below the steering wheel, and it drove through a pedal-operated 2-speed epicyclic gearbox to the rear axle via an enclosed chain.  This large car had a wheelbase of only 8 ft 6 in, space being saved because the front seat was over the under-floor engine.  The footbrake worked a band on the countershaft, and the hand lever applied large expanding rear-wheel brakes.

The chassis was priced at £492-10s in 1909, but tyres were listed as £42 to £80 extra, presumably because many customers were choosy about their preferred make and size of tyres.  Coachwork was also an additional cost, the style and supplier being chosen to suit the customer’s rquirements.  A Pilgrim car equipped with bodywork by Thomas Warren of Wrecclesham was exhibited at the 1908 Motor Show at Olympia, where it was considered as one of the stars of the show.  The number produced was not large – perhaps 18 cars of this model.

Competition from foreign imports was increasing, especially after Ford had introduced their Model ‘T’.  This was also the time when ladies were starting to drive.  So Pilgrims brought out a new lightweight car of 10/12 hp which became known as the “Little Pilgrim”.  The car was exhibited at the 1908 Motor Show, where it attracted much attention, being of another unusual design by Mr C.T. Hulme.  It had a horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder engine of 1538 cc under the floor, driving forward to an epicyclic gearbox, from which the drive was taken to the front wheels through a differential mounted on a sub-frame.  The car cost £185 complete.

The new small car also formed the basis of a commercial vehicle.  The van had a forward driving position with central steering column which, though commonplace today, was revolutionary at the time.  Because of the front-drive mechanism, the starting handle protruded from the rear !  The spacious bodywork ought to have appealed to laundries and similar operators, yet it seems that not more than half a dozen were made.

The last Pilgrim car was made in 1915, by which time the country was at war.  However, the firm had been bankrupt since 1908, mainly due to competition from cheaper foreign imported cars.  By cutting down on staff and overheads, all debts were cleared by 1918.  Many younger men left to volunteer for the forces, and women were employed throughout the war for production of machine tools and munitions.  Mr Evrard Armitage took over in 1924; he had an engineering degree from Cambridge.  He invented an oil pump called the Pilgrim Pump which was used on British motorcycles right up until 1967, when the firm was sold.

Sub-contract work was undertaken, and large quantities of the Wall Autowheel were produced.  This was a single wheel with a tiny engine, and a petrol tank mounted above it, designed to be attached to the rear of a pedal cycle.  At some point the law changed such that this ‘three-wheeler’ became liable for tax, while the new models of two-wheeled auto-cycle were not taxed.  In 1935 Pilgrims became substantial sub-contractors for Vickers at Weybridge.

During the Second World War the Pilgrim factory made hydraulics for aeroplane undercarriages for Vickers, and also other secret weapons, in some of which Barnes Wallis was involved at Weybridge.

In 1959 the company name was changed to The Pilgrims Way Engineering Co., and Mr Adams joined the firm.  He had invented a thief-proof wages bag, which exploded on pressing a lever, throwing out three long spikes and closing the handle, so that a thief attempting to run off found his fingers in a firm grip?!  However, it did not sell as well as expected.

The firm was sold in 1967 when some of the land was compulsorily purchased by the Council for the construction of the Farnham Bypass.  The buildings were then occupied by Plasmec, a plastics company, until they were finally demolished in 1990.

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One Response to “The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Pilgrim’s Way Motor Company”

  1. Graeme Mew

    Thank you for this article. I came across it while looking for information about my grandfather, Evrard Armitage. He died in 1969 – not long after the company was sold.

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