Meldreth's First Car?
Meldreth’s first car is believed to have been owned by Hubert Ellis. It was a 1910 Straker-Squire 15hp ‘Windham’ Detachable Tourer, registered at Cambridge County Council as CE 3728.
Straker-Squire commenced motor vehicle manufacture in around 1901, building steam wagons and later, petrol engined buses. The company was headed by Sidney Straker and L.R.L. Squire, trading as S. Straker & Squire Ltd. of Fishponds, Bristol from 1906-1918, moving to London in 1918 and continuing in business there until 1926. Their first motor cars were built under licence from French-based Cornilleau St Beuve in 1906. However by 1907 they were building cars to their own designs.
1910 was a landmark year for the company with the introduction of the 15hp model, powered by a four-cylinder, side-valve engine with a capacity of 2,853cc, designed by A.H.R. Fedden who had been recruited from the Bristol Motor Co. The car was conventional in all respects, driving through a leather- covered cone clutch to a three-speed gearbox. Veteran Car Club records noted it to be a 1911 model with later carburettor and Autovac fuel delivery system fitted.. A dashboard plaque confirmed original supply by Mitchell’s Garage of 114 Wardour Street, London.
After Hubert Ellis’ death in 1942 his nephew, John Hitch Ellis, asked John Gipson to take the car to Meldreth railway station from where it was transported by rail to Norwich.
The car later passed to Messrs Johnson and Brown of Bromley, Kent, and later found its way to the USA where it is believed that some restoration was carried out by the mayor of Colma, San Mateo County, California, Paul Garbini.
In 2004 the car was sold at auction by Bonhams & Butterfields at Quail Lodge CA for $23,989 including premium. Rumours that the car had returned to UK are confirmed by DVLA records (2013) which show that CE3728 is indeed taxed back in its home country. In 2020 the car changed ownership again and is now in Cambridgeshire.
On Sunday, 2nd August 2020 the new owner of the Straker-Squire brought the car to Meldreth. He had seen this page on our website and made contact. Time had gone full circle and Meldreth’s first car made a special guest appearance in the The British Queen car park. After 71 years the grand old lady came home.
Acknowledgement: much of the above technical information is taken from Bonham’s sale catalogue.
Just over a hundred years after the appearance of Meldreth’s first car, the village’s first electric car was a BMW i3 owned by Jane and Richard Remnant.
John Gipson remembers Hubert’s old Straker-Squire in this transcript of an interview given to Angus Bell on September 23rd 2010. You can hear John relating the story by clicking on the play button on the audio clip on the top of this page:
Angus: “There are some stories about Hubert Ellis being very strongly a Conservative?”
John: “Yes, oh yes.”
Angus: “And arguing with anybody else who wasn’t?”
John: “Oh yes.”
Angus: “Can you remember anything about that?”
John: “Well, all I can tell you is that he used to go round in his old Straker-Squire car collecting people to take them to the Polling Station and, in fact, when I was asked to put it on the train by his nephew the last licence was 1933. That’s when it was last used.”
Angus: “And so I imagine for many people it was their only opportunity to get a ride in a car was it?”
Angus: “A Straker-Squire must be a very rare car, there weren’t many of them?”
John: “It was – about 1910/1911 I think, made in Fishponds in Bristol and later on the Company moved to Tottenham, so I’m told.”
Angus: “And so was that the same – you mentioned it was a nephew who asked you to move it?”
John: “Yes – John Ellis.”
Angus: “So it was a different one from the nephew who was the MP?”
John: “Yes, different, yes. John Ellis was a jeweller I think, from Norwich.”
Angus: “And so you got the car on the train did you?”
John: “Well, I had a shed behind the pub when I came out the Army and this bloke wandered round one day and he said was I John Gipson and I said ‘Yes’ and he said do you think you could put my Uncle’s car on the train? So I said yes I s’pose so. Anyway, course it’d got beaded edged tyres and they were all flat and the tubes were all perished but I got it started up and I drove it round the village on four flat tyres! (laughs).
After Ellis had it, he sold it to a garage somewhere in Essex and it was bought by some Americans and it was shipped to America and Susan Van der Ven’s [Meldreth District Councillor] mother lived in California – somewhere – and she saw this catalogue with this car in it for sale and that’s how I found out about it you see and then a chap from Liverpool he went to America and bought it back. But, I can’t remember his name now but he – it’s been sold on, I don’t know where it’s gone now I’m not sure. It’s still around somewhere.”
Angus: “We must find it. So how did Susan Van der Ven’s mother make the connection between the car and Meldreth?”
John: “Well, there was a picture of it in this magazine which said it belonged to a Mr Ellis”
Angus: “Oh I see.”
John: “I think it fetched about £45,000 I think when it was sold in America or $45,000 I suppose it would be, but it had all been restored and everything done, leather seats all re-covered. It must have cost quite a bit of money ‘cos it was in a terrible dilapidated state you know as it was.”
Angus: “Yes. It would be interesting to see it again wouldn’t it?”
John: “It was an open car you know with no side windows in it and things like that.”
Angus: “Well we’ve got some photographs of it on the Community Archive.”
John: “Yes you will have, yes.”
Angus: “Around the time you will have been taking it to the station because it’s on the back of a truck of some sort. So that would have been what, 1940 – late 1940’s?”
John: “It would have been around between 48 and 50.”
Angus: “48 and 50?”
John: “Yes it took me a long time to get it started up. I had to take the mag. off first of all and clean the contacts and one thing and another and of course there was no electric start, it had only got a starting handle.” (laughs)
Angus: “It looked a very imposing car, a very large one?”
John: “Yes, yes.”
Transcription by Gloria Willers