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SNAPSHOT 230: 1911 20hp Rothwell

A summery scene; and a look back to a time when motoring was commonly rather more of a recreation than mere transportation. A truly knowledgeable enthusiast might identify Rothwell as the make of this car – this being a worthy, not to say solid, marque whose factory was located in Oldham and which produced cars as well as other engineering items in the years from the Victorian era, up to just after the Great War. The two Rothwell brothers, Fred and Tom, named their firm the Eclipse Machine Co. Ltd., modestly proclaiming that their products ‘Eclipsed All Others’, and of between 500 and 600 cars produced, just a single survivor remains. This is now the property of Oldham’s town fathers and is on display in the foyer of Gallery Oldham, along with a vintage Bradbury motorcycle, another, if unrelated, product of local industry.

Oldham is one of the authorities that providentially retained their registration records, if only up to the early 1920s. ‘BU’ was the index mark for Oldham CBC. The photograph seen here is included in a family album recently purchased via eBay, which proved on investigation to have links with the Rothwell family – indeed, some of the people seen in these 100-year old images have been identified. Three views of this particular car, BU 291, are included: registered on April 19, 1911 it is a 20hp model and its first owner was A F ‘Freddie’ Rothwell, of the Eclipse Machine Co.. Freddie (1882- 1961) was Fred Rothwells’ fifth child and second son, remembered as something of a character, as is his wife Adelia, almost certainly seen here; the child is likely to be their second son, Gerald, who was born in 1912 but was to die at the age of only 24.

Both the Model A and Model B 20hp Rothwells shared the same engine, but their chassis were quite different, the Model A having a more upmarket specification and wider track axles, cast aluminium firewall, larger and better wheels and much else. ‘Freddie”s car was the considerably less expensive Model ‘B’. Whilst proprietary engines were fitted to the earlier Rothwell models, it seems certain that the 20hp power unit, current from 1906 to the end, was all their own work. A hefty twin block 4-cylinder of 4125cc, it had overhead inlet and side exhaust valves; the inlet valves were push-rod activated and mounted in cages, and those of one of each pair of cylinders could be removed by undoing a single hexagon nut. A cone clutch and right hand gate change three-speed gearbox took the drive aft.

Not only that, but the car was a perfect adjunct for picnicking, with rugs and spirit stove, a liqueur bottle, even; handy running boards and a windscreen that doubled as coat hooks!


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