In April, 1899, Gerard Noel Cornwallis Mann, a Cornish electrical engineer, happened to see from an advertisement that an electrical installation business in Norwich was for sale. He came to Norwich and bought it, taking over the existing premises at number 2 Redwell Street. The vendors were Laurence, Scott & Company, who had decided to concentrate on making machines and control gear, and were therefore selling off the substantial electrical contracting business they had built up. Their annual turnover was in the region of £5,000, and they sold the stock and goodwill of the business to Mann for £2,600. Laurence Scott undertook not to engage in contracting in Norfolk for five years, and many of their employees were retained by the new owner. Mann opened new showrooms across the street at the corner of Queen Street and Bank Plain ( currently the premises of estate agents William H Brown).
In 1900 Mann took into partnership Hubert Wingfield Egerton, well-known for his early historical motoring exploits, which included a trip from Lands End to John O‘Groats in a 3.5 h.p. De Dion Bouton Voiturette - a none too easy task nowadays, but even more difficult in those early days of motoring. They started in the young motor trade in a very modest way in premises at number 5 Prince of Wales Road, which could hold two cars in the showroom, and four in the works. The first car they sold was a Locomobile Steam Car. In the early days Gerard Mann often had to test cars himself, give trial runs, do hire work, and even assist in dismantling and erecting cars. Their floor space to begin with was under 1,000 square. feet., and a staff of 10. (By 1928 they were advertising 230,000 sq.ft, which included several depots, and had a staff of over 850).
Mann, Egerton & Company Limited was formed in 1905 and by 1908 they were agents for many manufacturers of cars, and advertising garage accommodation for 200 cars. They also built up a ‘used car‘ trade and gained quite a reputation for reliability both at home and abroad. They were shipping good used cars to a trader in New Zealand in the very early years of the century.
Despite the rapid development of their motor interests, they also expanded as electrical engineers. There was ever increasing electrification of country houses, factories, churches and public buildings, and among the earliest contracts were installations for the Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Poole; Torpedo Ranges at Weymouth; Air Sheds at Pulham and War Office Camps on Mousehold.
Henry Royce and the Hon. Charles Rolls began their historic partnership in May, 1904 and five years after the meeting of Royce and Rolls Mann Egerton began their close association with them. Mann Egerton had begun coachbuilding in 1901 establishing a reputation for good workmanship. They mounted their first body, a Landaulette, on a Rolls Royce chassis in 1909 at the Cromer Road depot. It was the beginning of a long line of Rolls Royce bodies made to customers‘ requirements by the Mann Egerton coachbuilders and Rolls Royce officially recognised Mann Egerton bodies from the early 1920s.
A Trade Directory of 1910 lists Mann Egerton & Company Limited at 5 Bank Plain, Norwich with a Garage & Works at Nos. 5 & 7 Prince of Wales Road; and branches at Ipswich and Lowestoft. It was about this time that Hubert Egerton severed his connection with the company. In 1912 the Prince of Wales Road site was expanded with the erection of one of the first re-enforced concrete buildings in the country. By 1913 they had branches throughout the Eastern Counties and in London. They expanded their work as specialist coachbuilders - providing individuality and superior workmanship for the car buyer. The chassis would be purchased from the manufacturers and the customer, in consultation with Mann Egerton, would decide on the coachwork. They had a large stock of vehicles of more than nine different makes, and regularly exhibited at Olympia. They offered their customers: "Free Delivery, One week‘s free tuition Free tuition in our works for coachman Payment by instalments, if desired" .
Then came the First World War and in 1915 the Admiralty asked them to build aeroplanes. A War Loan of £30,000 enabled the company to acquire 60 acres of what was then open land on Cromer Road, Hellesdon. A huge wooden hangar was built, 200 ft. long and 100 ft. wide, with a superb ‘bowstring‘ roof consisting of 20 enormous lattice arches. The building, which used up 70,000 square feet of boarding, was begun on 5th March 1916, and by the end of April planes were being constructed on the premises. They also constructed a triangular shaped flying field on what is now a residential area. In order to cope with this work the whole of the extensive coachbuilding factory, as well as a large proportion of the motor repair and engineering works, were used for aircraft manufacture.
Ten separate and distinct models of aircraft were successfully produced, amongst which were numerous Short Bombers, Sopwith 1 V2 Strutter Twin-seat Fighters, Single-seater French designed SPAD scouts, De Havilland long range Bombers, and 184 Short Seaplanes.
On a Saturday afternoon in September 1919, there was an unfortunate accident at the Aylsham Road aerodrome. A standard De Havilland aeroplane which had been taken over by, and was the property of the Government, failed to rise properly from the ground on starting to fly to Mousehold Aerodrome, with the result that it fouled the telegraph wires running along the Aylsham Road, crashed on to a field on the opposite side of the road, and was badly damaged. The Pilot, Lieutenant Dainty, RFC, and an RFC mechanic were seriously injured and taken in a Police Ambulance to the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, the two other occupants of the machine escaped with a shaking. A spectator of the accident stated that the pilot did not seem to attain the speed necessary to lift a machine of that size and weight from the ground.
At the end of the war when the manufacture of aircraft ceased Mann Egerton were left with specialist plant, buildings and machinery and a work-force of nearly 1,200 people. Adapting to peacetime they started to manufacture custom-made furniture, and within ten years were regarded as being among the four leading designers and producers of educational furniture in the country.
As a consequence of the experience gained in the operation of tractors in Norfolk and Suffolk for the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture, a large Agricultural Department was set up, and agencies secured for the best tractors and implements. Large stocks were held and skilled engineers were employed to overhaul and repair tractors and other agricultural machinery.
In another important post-war development Mann Egerton became a public company with shares being issued. At the Annual Meeting of the Company in 1920, the Managing Director, Mr. G.N.C.Mann, reported a profit of £37,540. This was less than anticipated as there had been a serious loss of business due to the miners‘ strike, an unexpected extension of excess profits duty from 40 % to 60 % , and a slump in business. The company now included depots in London, Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds and Lowestoft. They had departments dealing with coach-building, commercial vehicles, electrical contracting work of all kinds, petrol ail gas for lighting, heating and cooking, agricultural tractors and implements, the manufacture of various engineering specialities, and of school and office furniture, and the sale of products of Messrs. Vickers Limited, whose agency the company held for five counties. The Directors at that time were Mr. A.C. Shepherd, Capt. F.C. Vernon Wentworth, C.B., Mr. L.A.C. Cole, and Mr. H.E. Hughes.
By 1922 they were listed as electrical engineers a1 Nos.21 & 23 King Street and as motor car engineers at Nos.5,7 and 13 Prince of Wales Road, 25 King Street, and Greyfriars, Norwich, with the agricultural Motor Department at Nos. 18-22 Prince of Wales Road. They built coaches to cater for the now popular ‘seaside excursions‘ being taken by the mass of the population.
In a report of a social event in the Eastern Daily Press of 18th February 1928 Mr. Mann said ‘It is our policy never to engage an outsider if there is any suitable individual already in the employ of the company whom we can promote.‘ It was said that there were always opportunities for individuals in the company because Gerard Mann‘s four children were not involved. There were no family interests, only Mr, Mann, and no controlling share interests.
On 3rd November, 1934, a fierce fire broke out at Aylsham Road. Damage was estimated at £10,000. The main sawmill was gutted and some valuable machinery lost, but the remainder of the premises escaped the blaze.
With the start of the Second World War coach-building ceased and the company once again became involved in producing vehicles for the Government, including ambulances and troop carriers. Some 4,000 vehicles were made and another 3,000 were renovated and repaired. The first radar station in East Anglia was installed by Mann Egerton, and essential repairs to shipping in ports all over the country were carried out. The woodworking department is said to have made over half a million pieces of furniture for the Government, including school and office furniture to replace that destroyed in the blitz.
Gerard Mann, formerly of The Oaks, Harvey Lane, Norwich, and later of No. 100, Newmarket Road, died in 1941, and therefore did not live to see the era of prosperity, and the expansion of his company after World War 11. The car-owning population increased and there was an enormous demand for vehicles. The woodworking department expanded their activities - supplying thousands of items to the London County Council, to other authorities and the universities. They fitted out laboratories, lecture theatres, civic centres, hospitals and hotels, and were awarded the main contract for the provision of shelving at the new Central Library, Bethel Street, Norwich.
The firm acquired more and more companies but the engineering works and goodwill were sold to the Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company in April, 1964. The former engineering works and the now vacant coachworks were converted into a vast specialised vehicle centre at Cromer Road.
In 1955, on a site in Surrey Street Street, once the secluded garden of St. Catherine‘s Close, a new depot was built. The building was flanked by rose gardens, with showrooms and workshops and there were large expanses of glass to enable the public to view how the motor vehicles were serviced in the new workshops. The Ford Depot in King Street was transferred to these premises, and in 1960 an extension was built for commercial vehicle repair. A new Commercial Vehicle Centre was opened at Cromer Road, Hellesdon in March, 1965.
The Chairman of the Company, Mr. W.A. Paton retired in November, 1962 after 42 years‘ service. He had joined Mann Egerton as a pupil in 1920 and subsequently held various executive posts before being appointed a Director in 1933. He served in the Army in both World Wars and was awarded an M. C. during the second war, and was twice mentioned in despatches. He retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel and returned to the Company as Director and General Manager in 1944. He became Managing Director in 1946 and Chairman in 1948.
It was in 1962 that Mann Egerton adopted the famous TERN IN FLIGHT symbol, to be used, always in black and white, on all vehicles, stationery and publicity issued by the company. They chose this graceful, neat, easily recognisable design because of the company‘s East Anglian connections and because several of the commoner forms of this attractive sea bird breed on the Norfolk coast.
The breakup of Norwich based Mann Egerton began in the early 1960s - in 1964, the electrical department was sold to the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company. On 11 September 1973 the Eastern Evening News contained the following announcement: ‘Inchcape & Company, a large public company with world-wide interests in commerce and industry have made an offer valued in excess of £17.5 million for Mann Egerton, the Norwich based firm. Acceptance of the offer was recommended unanimously by the Directors of Mann Egerton‘.
The Jaguar car operations were transferred to new showrooms and workshops at Cromer Road it October, 1986. The move, costing £500,000 created space at the company‘s Prince of Wales Road site, where the Austin Rover and Land Rover franchise remained.
In December 1986 it was reported in the local press that the furniture business at Reepham Road was to be sold to its own management team and it was not anticipated that any of the 115 workers would lose their jobs or that there would be major changes of policy. This meant the end of Mann Egerton‘s involvement with all trades not directly related to the motor industry.
Today in 2008 the small business that started at the end of the last century no longer has premises on Prince of W ales Road but its successor the Inchcape Group retains extensive premises on Cromer Road, Norwich where cars are sold. Inchcape plc claim to be ‘the leading independent, international automotive retailer, with scale operations in Australia, Belgium, Greece, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK‘ . The Mann Egerton name has been retained as the brand name of the Inchcape chain of car dealers across East Anglia.
Joyce Gurney-Read 1987
Revised by Nick Williams April 2008