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Company with a bit on the side is thriving in Cotswolds
8:00am Monday 23rd September 2013 in News
IT MAY have recently celebrated its centenary, but a Cotswold motorcycle and sidecar company is showing no signs of slowing down.
Steeped in history, Watsonian Squire, which is based in the Northwick Business Centre in Blockley, has survived two world wars, economic boom and bust and a major factory fire in 1930.
Gleaming motorcycles and sidecars fill the newlyextended showroom which was enlarged to just over double its original size in May.
This year the firm decided to go back to what it does best – focusing on its core business of sidecar and trailer manufacture – after distributing Royal Enfield motorcycles in the UK for the last 14 years and successfully re-establishing the brand.
Now in its 101st year, the company is also exploring a new venture by importing electric children’s motorcycles from the Czech Republic.
They are a favourite with parents as there are no hot components and no petrol or oil, they are economic to run and will not disturb the neighbours.
The firm is even branching out into producing its own bespoke line of caravans for those who want a more chic and compact camping experience.
Lifelong bike enthusiast Ben Matthews, of Evesham, who became a co-director of the company with Mike Williams seven years ago, said the changes were a way of keeping the business fresh.
“One of the biggest changes this year is going from being a manufacturer and distributor to a retail outlet by extending the showroom,” he said.
“We were never really open to the general public.
“We were a manufacturer of sidecars, selling them through distributors across the world or to customers through a number of dealers.
“We’ve put quite a lot of work into it. As a motorcycle dealer it’s not that important to have a nice high street location. Motorcyclists like a destination to ride to.
“You can come and test drive the bike in the Cotswolds on a nice day.
“We’ve just got to evolve a bit and change things around.
You’ve got to have the ability to change. We’ve made a conscious decision to invest more time and money in products and the sidecar side of the business.
“There are a lot of people who bring their existing bikes to us to have sidecars fitted – that ranges from scooters, Harleys to big Triumphs.
We also manufacture luggage trailers to tow behind bikes.”
The company dates back to 1912 when TF Watson, a builder with a penchant for inventions, established the Watsonian Folding Sidecar Co. at Balsall Heath in Birmingham after designing a folding sidecar to enable access through the side passages of terraced houses.
It continued to produce great British sidecars and enjoyed a boom period between 1946 to 1959 when production reached 200 units per week at the company’s huge factory in Greet, Birmingham.
But in the early 1960s the arrival of affordable small cars – like the Mini – marked the beginning of the end for sidecars as cheap family transport and by 1965 the majority of Watsonian’s work turned to glass fibre bodywork for the automotive industry.
Meanwhile, in 1973 Squire sidecars appeared, producing sports models for the new generation of high performance multi-cylinder Japanese superbikes appealing to a new customer base of leisure riders.
Watsonian relocated to Blockley in 1984 and four years later merged with the young Squire sidecar company.
Now employing 12 members of staff, the company is a compact enterprise and is looking forward to exhibiting at Motorcycle Live, at the NEC in Birmingham in November where they will launch two new models.
It was put on the map four years ago when its pale blue Royal Enfield motorcyle and Watsonian sidecar featured in the seventh Harry Potter movie – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
Since then one of its Royal Enfield motorcycles and sidecars has also featured in drama series Death in Paradise and The One Show on the BBC. The firm has even had enquiries from radio DJ and presenter Chris Evans who is interested in using the Harry Potter replica for Children in Need.
But the team was hit a devastating blow in April last year when their shop manager, Mike Ellis, was killed in the business park after a lorry in front of him reversed as he was test-riding a motorbike.
In memory of Mr Ellis, who was at the company for 10 years, more than 70 motorcyclists turned out last year for the inaugural Mike Ellis Memorial Run which follows a circular route around the north Cotswolds to the Malvern Hills.
About £1,000 was raised, which paid for a defibrillator which will be installed in the nearby Chipping Campden Supplies.
This year, it is hoped that 100 riders will turn out for the event which departs from the Watsonian sidecar factory on Sunday at 10am.
A donation of £5 per bike is welcome with all proceeds going to the Mike Ellis Memorial fund, which is raising money for life-saving emergency equipment in rural locations with any surplus donated to Midlands Air Ambulance.
“It was tough,” said Mr Matthews. “We are a small company and we all socialise together. His wife Barbara is very strong and is doing a lot to campaign to get reversing cameras on lorries.
“We are never going to get over it. It’s nice to be able to acknowledge it and do something in his memory.”
For more information on the campaign visit rearview.org.uk.
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