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A mysterious building in Chester
Recently a friend of mine was visiting Chester for the first time and was walking down Northgate. He looked up to see a wonderful inscription in brick at the top of quite an imposing building. It read “Westminster Coach and motor-car works”. I had never heard of this firm and can only imagine it`s c1905 -10 and they must have been quite a large firm to have such a building. Initial enquiries from a couple of local enthusiasts provided no answers. Does any reader know who they were and what became of the firm? Close inspection shows the brickwork to be very fine.
Words by Michael E Ware.
Gepubliceerd: Monday October 12th, 2020
Messrs. J. A. Lawton & Co., coach builders and harness makers of Liverpool, announced a new carriage works for Chester in September 1899 and advertised there as the successor to William Hewitt at Northgate Street, in December. Lawton already had other coach works at Hardman Street Liverpool in operation from before 1882 and had premises in Portman Square London, Oxford Street Manchester and Guildhall Street Preston. Somewhat equivocal, they were building both horse-drawn carriages and motor cars until at least 1907.
J. A. Lawton’s car engineering and coach-building company’s extensive Chester factory in Northgate Street burned down on 1st July 1903 (not 1910), with losses of ￡20,000. Presumably having rebuilt the Chester works with new signage, J. A. Lawton & Co, motor engineers and body builders of Preston, was advertising ownership there from mid 1905. This was their 1907 sales blurb:
“LAWTON AUTOMOBILES are a conspiracy between man, material, and machinery to produce the most perfect comfort and style with the greatest degree of efficiency and safety. Our body designers are artists; our workmen masters of their craft. No expense is spared in their materials, and our contracts include Mercedes, Panhard, Austin &c. Any make of chassis supplied or repaired at our Depots in London, Manchester, Chester, Liverpool, or GUILDHALL STREET, PRESTON. J. A. LAWTON and Co.”
In addition, the Westminster Garage ran the Chester Motor Cab company from at least January 1910 until 1913; Lawton’s had operated the first motor taxi in Liverpool in 1908, a 15h.p. Napier. By 1911, they were agents for Mercedes, Mettalurgique and Siddeley Deasey cars; by June 1912, had the agency for B.S.A. cars and in 1913, were Michelin tyre stockists.
However, the partnership of J. A. Lawton, 35 Hardman Street, Liverpool, was dissolved by the official receiver in June 1913, with a sale of 80 new and second-hand motor cars, 100 carriages, 50 bodies, numerous carts and related sundries. Thomas Lawton bought the name and good will of J. A. Lawton & Co. and continued to operate a garage and body fabrication business in Hope Street Liverpool, doing aircraft work during WWI, then selling Daimlers with Lawton bodywork, and selling cars until at least the late 1930s.
The Chester building, still locally known as “Lawtons or the Westminster Coach and Motor Works” was sold at auction in mid 1926.
David, do you by chance have know of any Archive Records for Lawton in the 1909 - 1911 era, or early Mercedes with a torpedo bodied Lawton coachwork?
Georgano (THE authority on all car manufacturers) lists just one called Westminster and, unsurprisingly, it was based in Westminster, London so probably no connection. So this company must have been involved in vehicle maintenance, repair and supply.
I found the following description of the building on a web site about Chester.
“One of the best known and most distinctive examples of early motor architecture is the Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works on Northgate in Chester, very near to the Town Hall. This elaborate terracotta fa?ade is dated 1914, but appears to be based on an earlier building for the carriage-builders J A Lawton & Co that was burnt down on July 1st 1910. Their building was two storeys high, but otherwise apparently similar to the existing design.”
The building is currently being used as the Chester Library.