Thurrock historical figures

Philip Conrad Vincent

Philip Conrad Vincent was the inventor of the legendary Vincent motorcycle.

Philip's parents owned a large cattle-farm some 300 miles from Buenos Aires in Argentina and it was customary in many circles at the time for an expectant mother to return 'home' to have her baby, to ensure British nationality for their offspring. So it was that Phillip Conrad Vincent was born in Fulham on 14th March 1908.

Educated first by his mother and at a British Prep-school in Argentina, he then came to live with his uncle John Vincent in High House, Horndon-on-the-Hill. John was a veterinary surgeon who, with his brother, an agricultural engineer, was involved in the local Orsett Agricultural Show, and these two gentleman are commemorated by name in 'Vincent Close' in Horndon.

An extension was built onto the back of High House, the ground floor of which became a schoolroom and Phillip, his two sisters, Marjorie and Gwendoline, cousin Mary Kirk, (and four local children considered 'suitable' companions) were all educated there together until Phillip went off to Harrow School, returning to Horndon for holidays. He said he found this time in his life very cold and damp after the warmth of Argentina.

It was whilst he was at Harrow that he first encountered motorcycles and was smitten. He started working on his mother to acquire one, but it was not until Christmas 1924 that she capitulated and a 350-cc. Side-valve BSA was purchased second-hand from Gamages in Holborn and delivered by train. The die was cast. Very soon he was experienced in all aspects of motorcycling - riding, falling off, pulling to pieces, fettling, modifying, polishing and all the stuff boys of all ages enjoy, aided and abetted by Mr. Barton, the family chauffeur. Soon, of course, he wanted bigger-
better-faster; he became convinced he could design more efficient frame and forks, and he is reputed to have made preliminary sketches for these in his bedroom at High House (top floor, right-hand side as you face the house) whilst still at Harrow.

By the time he went up to Cambridge in October 1936, to read Mechanical Sciences at King's College, he had completed several drawings and before long, he rented a workshop near his lodgings and was building a motorcycle to his own design - at age 18.

Rather unsurprisingly, Philip's heart was not in his studies, and after hours of serious conversations with Vincent Senior, it was finally agreed that Philip and King's should part company and that father would finance him for a trial period, to see if he could 'make a go of it'. The prototype 'Vincent Special' which he built seemed reliable and performed satisfactorily, and another serious conversation was called for. The result was the formation of a company with family friend Mr. Frank Walker (an engineer who happened to be a motorcycling enthusiast) as Managing Director to act as a steadying influence.

In 1928, HRD Motors, (a company headed by the famous racer Howard Raymond Davies) came onto the market, and very soon the assets were acquired and a new name appeared: The Vincent HRD Company was born. Suitable premises were found in Stevenage (including a barn said to date back to 1660), which were to remain 'home' to the marquee until closure in 1956, when the buildings were incorporated into a school campus.

In June of that year, production got underway, and between that date and the closure of the Works, some twelve-and-a-half thousand Vincent's (road going and sporting) passed through the gates, collecting on the way a very impressive array of National and World records in all aspects of sport. It was in about 1935 that Mr. Vincent's own engine design began to be incorporated.

During the 1939-1945 war, production was of course turned over to other lines, such as Vincent-engined target aircraft with particularly economical fuel consumption, lifeboats (designed in-house to be waterproof and dropped by parachute), half-a-million mines for the Royal Navy, three quarters of a million fuses for the rockets mounted on Spitfires, gear-changes for tanks (another in-house design), small parts for Mosquito aeroplanes etc.

Post-war, items other than 'pure' Vincent's were produced in an effort to diversify, including rotavators and mowers, industrial stationary engines, water-scooters, 'clip-on' engines for bicycles, lightweight motorcycles for other manufacturers etc, and these items , like the motorcycles themselves, have become much sought-after by collectors.

In 1948, the Vincent-H.R.D Owner's Club was formed - the first international one-make Club independent of a manufacturer - and in 1999 they held their Golden Jubilee International Rally in the Isle of Man, when a total of 234 Vincent motorcycles from a total of 17 different countries took to the famous circuit - how proud P.C.V would have been, but sadly he passed away in 1979. His ashes are interred in the family plot at St. Paul's Church, Horndon-on-the-Hill.

It is with much pride that members of the Vincent-HRD Owners Club associate themselves with Thurrock Council in the affixing of a Thurrock Heritage Plaque in his honour at High House on 21st July 2002 and we thank the current owner, Mr. Graham Thomas for his willing co-operation.

The unveiling is to be undertaken by Philip Vincent-Day, grandson of Philip Conrad Vincent.

Bibliography

  • Based on information obtained by the Vincent Owner's Club (Marie Webber) and Thurrock Museum