OVER the years Warrington has earned its reputation as “the town of many industries” with history books often quoting glass making, beer brewing, soap boiling, wire weaving, tanning and even ship-building as significant local industries.
But thanks to Warrington History Society another trade can now be added to the list – motorcycle-making!
Granted, it only occurred on a small scale, but as the images on this page testify, it produced some very impressive specimens.
The trade was unearthed following an email to our Chairman Andy Green from a Yorkshire based auction house. The email, from auctioneer Andrew Spicer, read: “I’ve been asked to sell an early motorcycle that was made in Warrington and wonder if you have any records of the firm or the man who made it?”
Enclosing some photographs, Andrew went on to say the machine in question was a 1914 ‘Fairfield’ made by Alfred Forster of 41 Mersey Street and that he believed production ended in 1915 possibly due to the outbreak of war.
Warrington History Society took to its archives and Facebook to see if any additional light could be thrown on the man or the machine. A day or so later relative Lynda Bushell got in touch.
Said Lynda: “The name Alfred Forster rang a bell from my family tree which I researched a few years back. I’m related to Alf through my dad’s Uncle and I’ve actually got some pictures of Alf and his son on two separate Fairfield motorcycles.”
Another lady Elizabeth Cartledge contacted us from Australia to say she too was related to Alf through her husband. Both Lynda and Elizabeth had an old press-cutting that threw more light on the Warrington-born Inventor.
The cutting, dated 1962, revealed Mr Forster had worked in the motor trade for around 50 years and that during this time he had brought out “the well known Fairfield motorcycle which sold for 25 pounds.”
Our additional research revealed that the Fairfield was produced for a total of two years (1914-1915). All models were fitted with a 269CC Villiers two-stroke engine with Druid forks. Purchasers could opt for either direct belt drive or an Armstrong three-speed hub.
It appears Alfred, who was born in Warrington in 1885, also made three-wheel cars for the article quotes him as saying: “When I bought out my first three-wheeler car people wanted to back me but I wouldn’t have any of it. I decided going into production on a large scale wasn’t for me. I believed the car industry was going to be plagued with money and labour troubles and I’ve been proved right.”
Instead of accepting investment and the possibility of big bucks, the “sprightly inventor” carried on making his Fairfield motorcycle – possibly called Fairfield because of his workshop’s Mersey Street location in Howley & Fairfield – before later switching to selling and repairing cycles until his retirement in 1949.
Although originally employed as a wire galvaniser’s labourer in Warrington, it seems Alfred perfected his engineering skills working on the first UK-manufactured Model T Ford which was assembled at Trafford Park, Manchester in 1911/12. Indeed, in later life, aged 77, Alfred was given a VIP tour around Ford’s new Halewood Plant as a thank you for his contribution.
The article concluded by saying that even though Alfred’s eyesight was failing he was now working on a special kind of tin opener that he was hoping to patent!
“That was apparently Alf all over,” said Lynda. “A relative told me he was always tinkering about with something.”
Alfred died in 1970 aged 85. It is not known how many Fairfield motorcycles he made but at least one unrestored version is still in existence. It was owned by Alf until 1950 when he sold it to a gentleman in Grappenhall. This is the machine that will be auctioned by Andrew Spicer of Dee, Atkinson & Harrison on 3 November 2018.
Andrew has kindly offered to bring the motorcycle to a future Warrington History Society meeting for local history and/or motorcycle enthusiasts to look at before it is auctioned. If we manage to organise this it will be an opportunity to see a rare and once forgotten piece of Warrington’s history in the town in which it was made.
ABOUT WARRINGTON HISTORY SOCIETY
Established in 1964, Warrington History Society’s aim is to encourage an interest in all aspects of local history with particular reference to Warrington and its surrounding areas. Our 2018/19 lecture programme can be found here.