Don Williams, author of 'The Great No. 1
Factory at Kingston, Surrey' (see Newsletter Number 6 for review), puts
One of Sopwith's undoubted strengths was his ability to choose not only
reliable members of staff but also business associates. But did
he make a mistake with Granville Bradshaw?
Bradshaw's reputation as an engineer, businessman and human has
suffered from the freedom of historians to besmirch the deceased,
sometimes on flimsy evidence. It has been suggested that, despite
Bradshaw's OBE, his apparent acceptability to the Institute of
Mechanical Engineers as late as 1945, and the certainty of his many
engineering achievements, he was a plausible rogue.
Sopwith and Granville Bradshaw
However, it is
clear that, from 1911 when Sopwith bought a small ABC engine made by
Bradshaw at Brooklands, Sopwith and then Harry Hawker held Bradshaw in
high regard. This happy relationship must still have been extant in
1920 when the Kingston factory began to make ABC motorcycles. At that
time Sopwith had been aware of, and seemingly in at least tacit
approval of, Bradshaw's Dragonfly engine for over two years. Yet it is
the Dragonfly engine which is cited most often by Bradshaw's detractors.
The prototype Dragonfly, a big twenty-three litre, nine cylinder static
radial, was built by Guy Motors of Wolverhampton and the writer, who
was employed by Guy Motors when Sydney Guy was still its chief, finds
it difficult to believe the Company would willingly have become
involved in a project obviously a dud.
Yes, in July 1921, it was a Dragonfly that powered the Nieuport Goshawk
biplane in which poor Hawker died, but the engine fire which crash
witnesses described was due, not to Bradshaw's basic design, but to one
of the engine's three carburettors having shed its float chamber. LK
Blackmore in his book "Hawker", describing Hawker's last flight does
not emphasise Bradshaw's overall responsibility for the engine's
bought-out ancillaries, but he seems to have been open to censure.
Did such censure come from Sopwith? Or did Sopwith overlook the
carburettor failure and accept that the fire had been blown out in the
(intentional?) dive reported and that the aircraft could still have
been landed had Hawker not at that moment suffered paralysis of his
legs due to the bursting of a long-existing abscess on his spine?
Eighty-five years have passed but only seventeen since Sopwith died, so
it is still possible that someone in the Hawker Association has the
answer. Two reputations are involved: Sopwith's for his choice of
associates, and Bradshaw's already tarnished image. Unlike Sopwith's
feelings the subsequent history of the Dragonfly is well documented. It
is a story of major modifications, thought worthwhile by other than its
designer, and decline in demand for which Bradshaw can hardly be blamed.