When I ventured down to the West Country in the summer of 2013, I decided to try and find the exact location where the diesel powered Norton motorcycle created by the Freeman Sanders Engine Company back in the 1950's was actually constructed. Of course, I wanted to find the long lost motorcycle itself, but that was always going to be a bit of a long shot. But even so, the whole trip was certainly worth while and very interesting...
Arthur Freeman Sanders astride his ground-breaking diesel Norton produced in 1952.
Day one saw me gunning my Tiger down the A303 to Cornwall and ultimately, Land's End. I felt it was appropriate to go looking for this old diesel motorcycle on such a modern motorcycle powered by the same fuel. If I'm honest, just knowing that my bike would soon be traversing the very same roads used by this old oil burning Norton ES2 gave me a bit of a thrill. Judging from documents I'd unearthed and brought together before I set out, the motorcycle came about as part of a development process. Feeman Sanders and his company set out to improve upon injection methods and piston design for diesel engines used on Ferguson tractors. It was (and still is) not unusual for motorcycles to be used as 'test beds' to try out advances in technology as they are cheap, plentiful and easy to work on. I've no doubt the advances made with this bike materialised, one way or the other, in later patents and engines developed by the company.
Arthur Freeman Sanders shows off his creation. The bore & stroke were similar to a Ferguson Tractor.
After a 7 hour journey West, I wound my way down the final road towards Land's End, found a campsite and set up the tent on a windswept, but spacious field towards the rear of the park. Sennen, the last town before the Atlantic was but two miles away. The place I sought was Trembath Mill, the building that was purchased by Freeman Sanders Engine Co. and converted into a workshop in 1946. It was originally constructed in 1938 and all I knew was that it was situated on the stretch of road between Land's End and Newlyn - but I didn't have an exact location. Now I was on the spot, I contacted local diesel biker Ian from our forum and he lost no time in unearthing the exact location by identifying the site as being 'listed' or protected from development. Armed now with a postcode (TR20 8TR), I was able to call up Google Earth and see that the site was back along the road to Newlyn.
Ian's Help saved valuable time!
The next morning I fulfilled a prior engagement and visited friends who had a cottage on the nearby coast before heading inland and to the long lost workshops.
When I came upon the driveway I immediately vetoed any idea I had about driving down it. It was a steep, tree lined track with a surface covered in mossy stones. Part of me had wanted to ride my motorcycle right up to the door of the place I sought but it was just too risky. I rode the Tiger round the block and parked up in a lay-by before walking back down the lane. Wearing my Belstaff coat and clutching a transparent plastic envelope stuffed with everything I had on the Freeman Sanders Norton, I carefully made my way along the side of the busy road and under a canopy of broad leaf trees. The first house I came too was Trembath Cottage, situated right on the main road and at the entrance to the long track that lead down to the river, the most likely spot for the Mill.
Getting warm! But this wasn't the place I sought.
The second house I came across was on the river looked promising - but its name plaque stated quite clearly that it was Trembath Pottery. I decided to walk on and came across a third building of a mill-like construction. Unlike the second, this was definitely deserted and so I walked on to the next building which turned out to be a stable. Undaunted, I had a quick look about just in case an old motorcycle might be rusting away in the corner and then walked onto the fifth building on the lane which was obviously a farmhouse. I pushed open a wooden gate and knocked on the door but got no answer so decided to walk back to the Pottery. On the way back I chatted to some walkers about the buildings and they confirmed that despite being away from the river, the third building had indeed been a Mill.
One building too far. This was the third building down the track and the original Mill.
Thanking them I examined the place a little more closely, just in case there was a motorcycle out back, but alas, I could see nowt. What windows there were, were too high to peep through. Frustratingly I could see oddments stacked up inside behind the dirty glass. At times like this you wish you had a step ladder in your back pocket! Behind the building was an over-grown hole and I'm guessing this is where the wheel was. But is was quite a way up from the river?
I strolled back down the track and entered the 'Pottery' through a set of gates that looked rather substantial. I was later to learn they were the original ministry gates from when this site was government owned, but I am getting ahead of myself!
Gripping my bundle of articles on Freeman Sanders, I walked over to the front door of the Orangey coloured residence and knocked. On the driveway and to the left of the door was a huge cannon whilst to the right was what looked like a normal, if rather long, garage.
The main house to the left (no pictures on purpose) and ahead, the garage-like structure.
The door was opened by owner Ruth Stedman, who, on hearing of my quest and seeing my papers, invited me in. She immiediately tells me that she knows something of the history surrounding the house but did not know of the motorcycle connection. It so happens that her young relative is an engineering student and Mrs Stedman asks if she may copy my articles to show him. I readily agree and as her copy machine slowly runs through my material she explains all that she knows about her home.
"Look closely," she says, "and you will see that it was indeed a government building, built to last!" Indeed! I allow my eyes to wander around me and past the everyday household items. Immediately I'm struck by just how thick the walls are and the slightly odd layout of the rooms. To enter the kitchen is no mean feat, requiring anyone to lift their leg over a step that that must be not far short of two feet thick. I'd read that Freeman Sanders had to cut windows in the walls to make the place more habitable and can see why he'd had trouble doing so. The place was built like a castle!
Mrs Stedman also mentions that under the carpet there is the remains of what looks like a vehicle inspection pit! On hearing this I wonder where the drawing office must have been for this company? Perhaps in one of the two other out-buildings that have now disappeared?
Mrs Stedman continues to tell me that her and her husband were previously in the medical profession and that, as a motorcyclist, I should take care riding the A30 between Sennen and Newlyn.
Diesel Norton ES2 - 68mph & a claimed 18bhp. The frame was new from Norton but the engine was ex WD.
"It's a good biking road," she says, "but we've treated many a motorcyclist with head injuries over the years. They enjoy the twists and turns, but often hit foreign drivers who leave the many campsites and drive on the wrong side of the road." These are some very wise words I think!
I am then treated to a little story concerning two bikers who arrived in the area late one night and actually drove their bikes down the house track in search of a camp site. They were braver than me I thought because if I'd ever driven down that track way it's doubtful that I'd have ever got back up it!
"We even cooked them breakfast," continued Mrs Stedman as she tidied up our respective piles of paperwork
After the documents have been copied I am invited back later in the day to meet with her husband, John, who knows more about the history of the property.
I say my farewells and walk back to the bike from the rear of the house, taking great care to stick to the centre of a rather rickety bridge that crosses the mill river there. Put one foot wrong I'm told and you'll end up in the drink for sure! I can see why this was an ideal site for a Mill as the river, although not very wide, looked pretty fierce to me. Was this a wise place to build something relying on electricity I wonder?
Using a Triumph to find a Norton! The Tiger achieves 120mpg to the Norton's 140mpg.
I throw a leg over the Tiger and head up over the hill and into Newlyn where I park up near the docks and hunt down a coffee house. Time flies and before I know it I'm heading back to Trembath Potteries.
I park up, re-trace my steps and am warmly welcomed in, this time by John Stedman.
"If there was a motorcycle in my garden shed we'd be talking pound notes already," he says, a wry smile on his face. I laugh at that one and tell him a bit about my quest.
"Every time we do some gardening we turn up remnants of the old machine shop that was here," he tells me. "They made some parts from stainless and, of course, it doesn't rust away does it?" With that he gets up and promises to get me some samples as a little souvenir of my visit. Sure enough, he returns a short time later with a handful of lathe swarf, some of which is quite substantial in size.
Swarf from the very machines that helped created the diesel Norton can still be found on site.
I examine them briefly knowing that the same machines that produced these almost certainly made parts for diesel Norton produced on this very site. Touching the curly pieces of metal is like flicking a switch. It transports me instantly back more than sixty years to a time when this place echoed to the sound of machinery and smelt of cutting oil.
It is said that Arthur Freeman Sanders was one of the first to experiment with stainless steel in engines so it’s nice to come away with this little connection to the past.
Then there is a knock on the door and I'm introduced to a family friend named Guy. It turns out that Guy knows the daughter of the chap who originally researched and published the article (J. Hodge) specifically on the exploits of Freeman Sanders at Trembath.
A picture from the J. Hodge article. The technology was used on early London Taxi Cabs.
To give it it's full title it was 'Diesel Engine Development in Penzance'. This was an important document so kindly provided by Graham and Jennifer Thorne of The Trevithick Society at the last minute before I set out for Cornwall. I wasted no time in giving Guy a card, just in case he ever gets wind of where the motorcycle maybe these days.
After drinks John invites me outside to view the building off to the right, the building I took to be a garage. Well, that's what it is today he tells me, but before this site even became the workshop for Freeman Sanders it was a war time emergency Cable Station and a vital link between the Land's End and the Penzance-Newlyn area.
John Stedman shows me the layout of the old building that housed the Lead acid batteries. Note the Green stone floor.
Back in the day it was actually a place that housed the giant lead-acid batteries used to help power the equipment that kept the messages flowing. The whole site itself was a kind of generating station and to this very day still shows the signs of it. The floor is very dusty and I ask if I may use a nearby broom to sweep the floor so that I may get a better look at it and John says go ahead. It's not that often that a complete stranger turns up on your doorstep and asks to sweep up for you is it?! I notice that Green stone is laid on the floor and John tells me that this is special and used to protect the floor from spilled battery acid, which presumably would leak from the less than perfect, primitive battery banks. Down the very centre of the floor were seven circular drain holes complete with wooden bungs. These were all linked by a single ceramic pipe which made evacuating any acid much easier.
Later, I am to learn that the cables that once stretched from this Cable Station to Land's End are often exposed after bad weather on the coast. Gale force winds are responsible for bringing long lengths of the old copper wire up from the sea bed and divers often chance upon it. Mr Stedman also shows me remnants of cabling that comes from the main house and was originally routed to the garage like structure.
Just outside the 'garage' door I can see a rectangular manhole cover and John tells me this is the access point to a large diesel tank which was installed by Freeman Sanders. “One day”, says John, “a heavy vehicle is going to roll over that and it will break sending the vehicle down it!"
Legacy: This was put in by Freeman Sanders to store diesel fuel on site.
Reading the J.Hodge article further I see that two other workshops were constructed on the marshy ground and wonder how the whole company was laid out in these grounds.
Back in the kitchen, it was interesting to later hear from Mrs Stedman that one of Freeman Sanders colleagues (J.N. Martin) returned to the site in the early 80's to see how things had changed. Apparently he was a native Cornishman and had been away working on designing cars or engines in Detroit, U.S.A. of all places. He was quite amazed at how the old place had changed, I'm told. You can see him second left in the picture up the page.
If I really want to locate this old motorcycle I guess the next line of enquiry would be to trace these six or seven engineers or their relatives to see if they know where this Diesel Norton went? It's the kind of job for a proper detective agency (but it didn't stop me trying my luck with the phonebook later that evening. I had no succes I might add!). It's at times like this that I wish our vehicle licensing department (DVLA) would be more forthcoming, as their refusal to give out details, even for reasons of historical research, isn't helpful.
I thanked the Stedman's for their help and John offered me a lift back in his car to where the Tiger was parked. The heavens had opened and the rain was sheeting down so I was very grateful for the short ride up and away from the Pottery and river.
Although I never stumbled across the motorcycle I was looking for, it was an interesting day and with the new information I had gathered, it may, who knows, still produce something...!
Many thanks to John & Ruth Stedman for being most welcoming, showing me their home and explaining the history to me.
Many thanks to the Trevithick Society in supplying me with and allowing me to make available the J. Hodge article on Arthur Freeman Sanders.
Note 1: Arthur Freeman Sanders lived nearby in Penzance at Redinnick House, TR18 4AF. Others who worked alongside him were, D.H.Harris, Clarence Blewett (later with Holman Bros. Camborne), S.Cox, W.E. Chappell, John Hill (later with E.C.L.P. St. Austell) and the aforementioned J.N. Martin.
Some of the many patents taken out by Arthur Freeman Sanders: 552695, 556000, 556666, 557947, 559575, 559980, 560329, 560498, 568458, 581575, 592995, 609261, 643088, 692927, 704236, 713867, 716510, 723617, 732856, 742719, 757268.
I have been told that Gordon Glover (he of the Ariel Red Hunter diesel motorcycle) had often related a story concerning some apprentices who worked over at Holman Bros., Camborne, and how they also had a diesel motorcycle. It was hard to start and they would all give a hand to bump start the machine sending one of the lads home for lunch on it. After he had eaten it was much easier to start as he lived on a hill and would simply get some speed up before knocking it into gear. This machine was by all accounts a Norton. Now, after reading the report on Arthur Freeman Sanders and his business in Cornwall (written by J.Hodge), I knew that Freeman Sanders had made his first business connections after relocating to the West Country, with Percy Holman and E.C. Mills of Holman Bros. The reason for the connection was the Lister diesel engine used in the compressors by the mining company.
Further reading of the J.Hodge article reveals that two of the employees at the Freeman Sanders company (D.H. Harris & Clarence Blewett) later worked for Holman Bros. at Camborne so it is very conceivable that one of these chaps did indeed take the diesel Norton developed at Trembath Mills over to Camborne where it ended up in the hands of the apprentices. All speculation of course but perhaps a good reason why I could find no trace of the Norton in the Penzance area?
The plot thickens........!
A shot from a magazine article on the #diesel #Norton.
Update: 31st March 2015:
It's amazing how even the slimest of leads can bear fruit! My speculation in the above update proved correct as you will see...
In the summer of 2014 we visited Camborne and stayed at the excellent Lavender Fields Touring Park run by Mick & Julie. Having only a few days in the area we began asking about and following up some leads offered by the locals. We talked with local motorcycle collectors, talked to Ben at the working exhibition King Edward Mine and even attended a bike night at the local McDonalds but all to no avail.
But then, having mentioned our quest to the site owners, we had a stroke of luck when a family member David told us he knew someone who had actually seen the Freeman Sanders motorcycle in Camborne and that this fellow, Scottish Billy, had even seen it started! Clouds of black smoke were seen to eminate from the machine as it roared into life! Well, we lost no time in going to where this momentous event had been witnessed only to find that the site on the corner of Trevu Rd had been re-developed 1 year previously! The bike had been seen in the forth shed back from the main junction, opposite the pub there, which is located just down from the rail Station. Further investigation reveals that the sheds in question were part of Holman's Joinery workshop and the word 'experimental' was used at one point which may have been an indicator as to why the bike was stored there.
So, we have come to the conclusion that the Holman's Estate have probably moved the motorcycle to a place of safe keeping given that the redeveloped site still proudly displays the company name. Either that or it went away on the back of a builders lorry! At some stage we shall investigate further!
Watch this space!
It's one year on and I'm back in Camborne to ask more questions after the Freeman Sanders Diesel Norton.
I start with a trip to Trevu Rd, the site of the last sighting & pop into the town library which is right opposite after walking up through the town, grabbing a coffee on the way.
I'm going the route of looking up who developed the site from the Holman's estate but don't have much luck inside. The receptionist struggles somewhat with my needs and hesitantly suggests I look up the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth. This wasn't quite the start I'd hoped for but outside was another story. A young chap cycles up with his two kids and I ask him if he remembers who tore down the old buildings & built the new flats. He doesn't but suggests I look up Nostalgic Camborne on Facebook to see if anyone on there knows anything. A request has been sent just before starting this piece.
From the library I go up to have a closer look at the new development
And wander into a small automotive yard. I see a guy in a small office and enquire about the area and he in turn points me towards another building, Auto Leisure Specialist Group run by Paul Stimpson. I had a good chat with Paul who had been working in the area for fourteen years but had no knowledge of the unusual motorcycle I sought. I thanked him and as I left got held up by a passing train. At the barrier I get chatting to a passerby who turns out to be a biker on the point of restoring his Dad's old BSA Bantam. He points me towards some lettering in the bottom right of the flats main windows saying these people run the flat complex for disadvantaged people and I should try that route. I thank him and retire to the local Costa Coffee place to locate 'Coastline' the name displayed on the windows. Ten minutes later & I'm driving through Camborne industrial estate to arrive at Coastline, a pretty large establishment dealing with many people it seems. They promise to get back to me concerning who developed the site.
Next I head for a little old Morris garage hidden away just out of town. Here works a chap who might have a vehicle build by Freeman Sanders I'm told. I locate the place and, armed with all details of the motorcycle I seek, exit the car and wander over.
The gentleman is very interested in my quest but alas has no knowledge of Freeman Sanders or his engines. But, after listening to my tale, he offers a couple of other avenues to look down. Firstly the Holman's Social Club which is local to my campsite and secondly, he suggests I look up Camborne Joinery, a company that occupied much of the site years after Holman's had ceased to be. I do just that, using the Google maps on the iPhone to again find and direct me straight to the company in the same area.
I park up and to the sound of high powered saws cutting through wood, enter a large workshop dedicated to constructing anything from wood. With to smell of sawdust up my nose I get the attention of a chap who, as it turns out, happens to have worked at the Trevu Rd site for many years before they were forced to move out.
He tells me they pretty much had the run of the whole site and he doesn't remember seeing such a machine on the premises. He takes me into the main office and shows me an ariel view of the old site framed and hanging on a wall saying this shot was taken before it was completely developed. He goes on to say the company managed to get onto that site originally because the owner had previously been employed by Holman's and so had an 'in' to start with. He is sadly no longer with us he tells me but his wife will be in tomorrow and she has a very good memory for things like this. He says he will ask her on my behalf and as I hand him a card he says I could also try Camborne company Richford's Fire & Flood as they were also present on that same site.
I thank him and go back to the car where I again locate that company on the phone and drive straight over to them. Reception is secure and I am required to dial 0 to state my intention. I do this and a secretary comes out to hear my quest & take my details. She is most helpful and says she will tell the boss but that I shouldn't be too hopeful of a reply. I understood fully, it being a busy company.
I stop off at the local fast food joint to get my notes together and then do a quick shop for food before heading back to the campsite. On the way I stop off at the social club but nobody's at home.
Holmans site at Trevu Road after the recent redevelopment.
On arrival back I'm told by the owners that they saw and asked a Rat Biker at Tesco if he had seen an old diesel motorcycle in these parts. He replied that he had and that he had seen it twice at Portreath beach car park.
I still had a few hours left that afternoon and being that it was only 15 minutes away drove straight over there. I wound my way down the steep road and entered the car park noticing that there were five or so bikes parked up. I grabbed my folder and lost no time in engaging the guys on the subject of the lost Norton. They immediately told me that the old diesel bike seen was in fact an Enfield and so my hopes were dashed somewhat. But we had a good chat about bikes in general before they rode off only to have another knowledgeable chap arrive on a beat up old Honda moped. This chap had been mentioned earlier because of his knowing about bike collections locally but he couldn't offer anything new about the bike I sought. He bought me a tea as I showed him my info and we talked bikes for a good hour before he mentioned the Hayle bike meet on Tuesday evening. I'd been to this last year and will attempt to make it along again tomorrow.
Driving back I pass the Holman Social Club and the lights are on! I swing the motor around and pull in. The green out back is populated by ex employees of the great company playing bowls. I am directed to the club hut to find Gerald who is the head man. After telling of my investigations he furrows his brow saying that the site was Holman's No.3 site and that hardly anyone there he knew had worked there. But he did mention apprentices were perhaps in that building which ties in with some having got hold of the bike.
Again, I left my details in the hope that something might turn up.
Aerial shot of the Holman's site before the develpment.
I start the day talking with David, son of the campsite owner & a guy who has been most helpful. Also there is his Dad and some campers. When the subject of my quest comes up the owner looks over and says, "my wife is obsessed with this fucking motorcycle of yours more so than she is of helping me run this place!". We all laugh but it's true. Along with David, his Mum has continued to ask about even though I've been away for a year.
Soon after I head into Helson to make enquiries at the town museum & grab a breakfast on the way. The Helston museum turns out to be a fantastic building crammed full of historical artefacts along with a good selection of local books - and entry was free! One such book entitled The Last Great Engineer gets my attention but the price almost immediately puts me off. It focuses on one William West & I decide that I will keep an eye out for it elsewhere.
I ask of the desk about artefacts that may have come over from Holman's in Camborne and the chap tells me my best bet is to go to Poldark Mine some six odd mile away. I do just that and they inform me that they took in quite a bit from there, even tracking down a catalog they had. Sadly there was no diesel Norton on the manifest but they did let me copy the said document there and then with the excellent Turboscan I had on the iPhone.
It turns out that this museum had recently gone bankrupt and was now under new ownership. They told me that the last owners had sold off some valuable stuff (much to the present owners disgust) and that they were trying to get some items that had been overlooked, cleaned up & put on display. Lucky I thought that the bike wasn't in the catalog or it too may have gone.
It was at this stage that I got talking to John Peck, local author & photographer and showed him some of my notes. Seeing that one of the original Freeman Sanders engineers was named 'Blewett' he suggested I should try a bakery of the same name in Redruth in case the guy was related? An interesting angle I thought and he then when on to suggest I visit another mine museum situated behind Morrisons the supermarket. With time running out for the day I made a note to try this first thing tomorrow but not before I had joined the que again to purchase a copy of John's book 'Painting a Mine with Light'. Having bought a ticket for the tour of the mine I then made my way though the buildings before donning a hard hat and going deep into the ground with quite a few other paying customers.
With the tour guide being so knowledgeable about the different types & colours of rocks therein I take the chance to ask him about 'green stone', something I saw back where the motorcycle came into being. It was used there to line the floor as it was impervious to the battery acid used at that site. The guide tells me it was probably Serpentine.
The tour is most enjoyable & nobody dies before we make it out, passing on the way, Britain's one and only subterranean Post Box!
I leave the mine, grab a pizza and head off to the local biker night at Hayle McDonalds. Some interesting machines but certainly not the one I seek! I call it a day and head back to the campsite for a cuppa.
No call or emails had come in from the previous day's cold calling.
Wednesday dawns and today I head over to the East Pool Mine after a rather hasty breakfast of cold pizza & hot coffee. This particular mine is situated at the back of Morrisons which itself is on the main road through Camborne. I drive into the supermarket car park and because it is an NT property it's free entry for members like myself.
It's been raining hard all morning making life particularly difficult for campers like me but I suit up and, clutching my rucksack full of notes, dash from the car to the entrance of the mine itself. Shaking the rain off I approach the counter and mention that I'm looking to talk to people with a Holman's connection. The helpful woman gestures to a chap who suggests I visit the site across the road before noon on Thursday because someone there may know something? I promise to do this and then engage another guide, Steve Allen, who goes out of his way to call his wife to get a number for me. He succeeds and scribbles it down before handing it over.
"Try Mike Tredrea," he says. "He will know just about everything & everybody to do with Holman's Site No.3. I thank Steve and head off to take the Mine tour, climbing the three flights of stairs upwards to view & photograph the huge pump engine. On the way round I get some information on the engine itself from another guide but we're interrupted when my phone goes off.
It's Nigel from Camborne Joinery who informs me he cannot talk to the late owners wife there just yet as she is away but then he goes on to offer a few more names of chaps associated with Holman's, namely John Woodward & Paul Tallem (or Tallam?) from Weath rd? Surrounded by a visiting party of noisy school children I struggle to hear Nigel but thank him for his efforts before ringing off.
I wander back down to the reception and purchase some cheese palmiers before making the dash back to the car through the unrelenting rain. From there I decide to head to McDonalds for refreshments but pull into Jewson's the building merchants on the way to investigate what David back at the campsite had mentioned. This time I'm following up who developed the site in recent years having heard it could have been Howden's.
I approach the counter and the young chap listens to my request before turning on his heel to ask a more senior member of staff. After finishing a call he's on this guy listens to the youngster, picks up his tea cup and strolls over.
"It was more than likely Linden Homes who developed the Trevu Rd site." He says, "but don't quote me on that - I can't be 100% you understand ". I nod and venture the name Howden's but I see that he is immediately doubtful at my suggestion.
"We see a lot of so called building companies come and go in our trade," he said. "It was most likely Linden." I thank him for his time and jump back in the car before taking off for the nearby fast food joint.
Soon after I follow one of Nigel's tips and travel over to JW Engineering down some of the tightest little roads I've been on. I arrive but cannot find anyone about the place and so decide to email them later. I drive back into Camborne, grab some cut price pasties for my evening meal & return to my car where I dial Mike Tredrea.
Mike is very knowledgeable about site No.3 having had the run of it for decades. He being an ex apprentice and all, he tells me there was no motorcycle in shed 4 because they weren't even marked up like that. Sure, there were Green doors but that was Holman's company colours and so all doors were green.
We talk of the Freeman Sanders workers who left and moved to Camborne, D.H. Harris & Clarence Blewett and my thoughts that they brought the diesel Norton with them. Mike (rightly I think) suggests that Blewett was more likely to have been a draughtsman and that he thought he recalled him going to work in America in Detroit perhaps? He tells me that Clarence had children but that they are probably Stateside.
He speculates too that perhaps the bike could have ended up at Holman's in Penzance because that was another part of the company (recently sold off it seems). Obviously this goes against what I have heard from David's friend 'Scottish Billy' who's said to have seen the bike at site No.3 a year or two prior to the sites development.
Mike tells me he oversaw the collection and sell off of the Holman's machinery from this site (of which I have the catalog) and there was no motorcycle on it.
Mike promises to ask about for information anyhow and I thank him for his time and trouble.
Maybe the bike ended up in Penzance after all but all other talk points to Camborne still.
Where the hell did it go?!
I arrived in Camborne this year just in time for the Carnhell Green Steam & vintage vehicle rally and lost no time in getting down there and talking to the local bikers. I drew a few blanks at first but eventually got talking to a guy who knew something of the Arthur Freeman Sanders story.
This chap later tells me that Freeman Sanders accidentally killed a woman in a vehicle accident as he drove from his workshop one time. Apparently he pulled out in front of a lorry hitting it and causing it to roll over. The poor woman had caught a lift from the lorry driver moments earlier I'm told.
"You won't find that in any history book," he tells me.
Some of the many motorcycles on show at the Carnhell Green Steam Rally.
And so it was that a slightly shocked me was then told the man I should be talking to is a much respected local mechanic standing but 10 yards away, just up the line of displayed vintage motorcycles.
I approach Lloyd Watson and tell him of my quest to locate the diesel Norton and he tells me that he's actually seen it back in the day. I press him and he says he'd seen it many years ago in possession of a Mr Lister (no know connection with Lister diesel), a rather reclusive motorcycle collector (amongst other things) who lived in Connor Downs.
My hunch that the bike had come to the Camborne is confirmed with this second sighting. He didn't know where it had gone from there so I continued asking about the rally until some old boy from St Austell selling auto jumble parts from the back of his white van told me that Mr Lister's entire collection went to his good friend Ron Orchard. Mr Lister would be 125 if he was still around today. Incidentally, Mr Lister deserves a book all of his own judging by his reputation! But I'm getting ahead of myself!
When Ron died a few years ago everything went up for auction at Bonhams. So that's where the trail runs cold again. Both these guys lived in or about the Connor Downs area which is where I'm camping so I'll continue to play detective for a few days.
Ronnies picture of Arthur Freeman Sanders, two engineers and the Diesel Norton.
A few days later I stop off at Connor Down garage and ask after the bike. The guys there don't know of it directly but they do put me onto Ronnie Durstow who lives just up the road.
I thank them for their time and go calling at Ronnies place where I meet his other half Sue. She kindly phones Ronnie and he asks her to furnish me with a picture he had of the bike that they have right there. I take a quick photo of it before I'm invited to go to Ronnies lockup and see his rare Freeman Sanders diesel Alvis. Later Sue scans and sends me a better copy of the picture which shows two engineers standing either side of Arthur Freeman Sanders.
I jump at the chance to see Ronnie's car and jump onto my bike before zooming into Hayle for the rendezvous. Before long we hook up and head into hills before coming to a stop at an old barn.
We exchange handshakes and I am ushered into the gloom of the large workshop where there, buried beneath rolls of what looks like insulation foam, is the diesel Alvis.
Never shown before and always dry stored, the diesel Alvis is in good condition. Love that badge!
Straight away I see the 'Freeman Sander's Diesel' logo high on the front of the vehicle and we clear some of the rolls away to get a better look at the car.
Ronnie opens the bonnet to show me the 3 litre inline six Diesel engine and then reaches into the cab to turn the key. See it running here:
Close up shot of the Freeman Sanders diesel Alvis engine. 3 litre inline 6.
The car springs into life with the characteristic clatter one would expect of a cold diesel. He lets the engine idle for a short while before revving her a little. I fire up the video camera on the phone & film it briefly. She sounds sweet! I'm informed that although the engine is good Ronnie isn't a big fan of driving the old car. Nice though it is, he prefers more modern motors.
A side shot of the Alvis.
Ronnie then explains that the car is fitted with engine No.2 while engine No.1 is under the bench to the side complete with camshaft but missing it's head. We're told that a Dr Bob Dyke has the wooden mould still for this head and that it would be possible to make a replacement should one need to. Incidentally, this is the Bob Dyke connected with rebuilding the famous Whistling Billy Steam car. See here for more information: http://www.steamcar.net/billy.html
After some more pictures are taken I'm shown Ron's BMW project car and we walk next door to have a chat with the Lithuanian guys who work there about their quad bike racing.
Diesel Engine No. 1 complete with camshaft. A head could be mad from the mould Dr Robert Dyke has stored away.
During this meeting with Ronnie I discover that he is more than familiar with Mr Lister, the character that Lloyd Watson mentioned had the bike at one time. Lister was a frequent visitor to Rons place and Ron had fixed up the front of an old Ford Zephyr for him many moons ago. Problem was old Lister had delayed payment for so long it became clear Ron was never going to get paid and so it was that payment of another sort was arranged. This was how Ron got his Alvis as Lister there and then, wrote it into his will that Ronnie should have the diesel car upon his death.
So there's me thinking if he had the Freeman Sanders car then it's quite likely he had the bike too but Ron was familiar whit his vehicle collection and tells me it wasn't there past 1968. This is a disappointment after what Lloyd Watson said. Ronnie goes on to say that he thnks he had a Scott twin 2 stroke, 2 Henderson inline 4's and an Indian inline 4.
Seeing as this is the second mention of the colourful Mr Lister, I will detail a little of the man as was told me.
Apparently he was directly related to Lord Mountbatten and was kicked out from the family for being , shall we say, eccentric in his ways. I understand there was a long line of madness in that family and this chap, who I guess was Baron Lister in a past life, inherited it. Back in the 1930's he spent time in Central Europe and Germany getting to know that side of the family. Friends with Hitler, a fellow vegetarian, he was eventually sent to prison by the Nazis before being expelled from the country. If you'd have entered his hallway back in the day you'd have seen an original Nazi flag hanging inside the doorway. Apparently he stole this from the front of Goebbels train!
Back in England he lived the life of a hermit & hoarder, occasionally being seen screaming about on one or another of his motorcycles. The brakes were virtually nonexistent on those old machines demonstrated by the fact that Lister nearly always had his legs right out trying to stop himself!
I'm told this man was fiercely intelligent and could hold a conversation on any topic under the sun. I was also told that he was a very difficult character and didn't get on with the vast majority of people he met.
Evidence of his ruthlessness was demonstrated by his attitude to the vermin that infested his house. His meals consisted almost solely of pressure cooked cabbages that were the constant target of the mice therein. Lister, annoyed at this unwanted attention, drew a chalk line round his stockpile of vegetables and ruthlessly killed any mouse that dared cross it. In later years, the few visitors that he did have were astonished to see not one on these furry creatures cross the line. They had learnt well!
Incidentally, Lister was able to overcook the cabbages to any degree because of the large cannonball he placed on top of the apparatus. If he was out for a full day he'd feast upon a whole cabbage and half a days labour equalled half a cabbage.
He ended his days attacking nurses sent help him and the police were eventually called in when he was seen loading his WW2 Luger. Under the bed they found a crate of explosive dangerously weeping gelignite.
In due course I thank Ron for his time, stories and help and we arrange to view another collection of vehicles later in the week, knowing beforehand that the bike I seek is not amongst them.
This viewing does happen and I'm grateful too to Brian Webb for showing me his old cars and bikes too.
After this tour round Brian's lock ups, Ronnie brings out a book by Peter Tutthill detailing the Cornish Motor Industry and we are pleasantly surprised to see four pictures of the diesel Norton within.
Very interesting to be shown some of Brian's collection. Good of him to let me take a few pictures too.
One of the bikes in Brian's collection.
We do a quick internet search and locate a local shop that sells the book and early the next morning I ride over to collect a copy. The shop located within an old chapel is closed so I need to phone the owner to come over and open up for me.
There is not much written text on the bike but I've just phoned and written the author who is will to supply me with more pictures and information.
In this particular bookstore I am also offered a book detailing 100 years of Motorcycling in Cornwall. It mentions several people I've already met and briefly mentions the bike again saying that Arthur Freeman Sanders often rode the bike to Camborne College to give his lectures.
With my time on Cornwall sadly coming to an end, I return to my campsite at Lavender Fields, pack up and head for home.
A page from Peter Tutthills book. Well worth getting a copy!
Front cover of Peter's book. Peter tells me the first car Freeman Sanders converted was a Studebaker!
28th August 2016
This evening I followed up on a lead David Prowse had given me. It was about 8pm when I phoned up Graham Martin, son of J.N.Martin who had previously worked for Freeman Sanders.
Graham was most helpful but couldn't recall too much from what he knew of the Freeman Sanders company.
He did tell me that the river running by the premises was a handy source of water for his Dad you needed it for the constant cooling of the engines under test.
He also thought that the government had bought up all the patents relating to the Dieselbike because it was too efficient! He was laughing when he said that by the way.
Graham had visited the Trembath site as a youngster and remembered seeing Freeman Sanders about the place. He was a very clever man I was told and very passionate about his Diesel engine development work.
Next I called Roger White from Madran, someone I'd been told was also at the recent Carnhell Green Vintage rally. Rogers Dad Arnold was instrumental behind the setting up and running of the Trengwainton Hill Climb that ran from 1938 untill 1976 or so Peter Tutthill tells me. They used the back entrance to the estate and raced up the Zig Zag hill.
Roger tells me straight away that the Cotswold Oil Engine & Preservation Society had recently covered the topic of Mr Freeman Sanders & his Norton in two articles and so I have lost no time in following up that particular lead. He goes on to tell me some old stories concerning the Richard's Brothers company from Drift, located about 3/4 mile from Trembath. They always knew when Freeman Sanders was coming down the Lands End road because they could hear the Norton diesel engine!
Roger, who incidentally is 80 years old, then went on to tell me about a chap called Leslie Daniels who had a diesel T20 Tractor fixed by Freeman Sanders. Apparently this thing had motored on for ages & when it finally gave up Freeman Sanders was only too glad to come over and fix it for free because he wanted to take away the broken parts to determine the cause of the failure.
As regards the diesel Norton itself, Roger told me that it was an ES2 model which had started life as a 500cc machine before Arthur Freeman Sanders had made it up to a 600. Apparently he'd reversed the barrel to help with the design and intake.
And so there we have it for 2016. Some intersting information starting to come up but still no real time line as to who owned the bike after Freeman Sanders.
Drop me a line if you've any information or stories about the Cornish Freeman Sanders Diesel Norton. Stuart: 07763 305967.
Note 1: With the help of a genuine American detective I managed to track down both the son and daughter of Clarence Blewett but I had no response back.
Note 2: A motorcycle magazine once printed Arthur Freeman Sanders name wrongly spelling it as 'Saunders'. This has caused a certain amount of confusion!