Cosby Smallpeice
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Cosby Smallpeice

Mr. Cosby D. Smallpeice
Born 1890s.
Ancestors ancestors Descendants descendants
Father of [private daughter (1920s - unknown)]
Died 1970s.
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Profile last modified | Created 11 Nov 2017
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(From Philip Lucey's "CICELY, A Family History)

Cosby Donald Philipps Smallpeice, Doctor of Science, 1896-1977, was born at Queen Anne's Gate. He went to school at Wendlesham House in 1904, then to Twyford School in 1905 and to Felsted in 1909 as had his uncles before him. When he left school in 1914 he was offered entry to Cambridge University (the Smallpeice Trust says "as a classical scholar" which is surprising) but while waiting for this he took a job at Harland and Wolf in Belfast, a firm which had many connections with his uncle Owen Philipps. However he never got to university due to the outbreak of war on the 4th August that year.

Cosby, then aged 18, joined the Royal Army Service Corps, and on the 4th October, with the rank of Lieutenant, was sent to France. His wartime letters are now filed in the Imperial War Museum and I quote from some of these as a description of his life:

Corsair, Potter Higham (12th August 1914)

Dear Daddie, I wrote to the Recruiting Officer at Chelmsford to ask if I could be of any use as a motor cyclist in the army and he replied by this letter enclosed. I am very anxious to do something for the country. Please let me have your permission. I will fulfil this job or I will volunteer as a foot soldier. The driver has much the best pay.

With regard to work, one year in the world will not hurt before an office. Much love, your loving son, Cosby.

Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, Gosport (6th Sepetember 1914)

My Dear Smallpeice, We have got Cosby here. His instinct led him to wire yesterday asking if I would give his second dose of Typhoid anti-toxin and if we could put him and his man up for the night. He arrived at 11pm and got his dose after a well earned bath, so today has a smart reaction with temperature of 102.2 and a good deal of local tenderness. He will probably be all right again tomorrow but we are keeping him in bed and giving him the thorough rest that he needs. I have written to his C.O. explaining his detention. We are delighted to have him and so glad he did not have the injection in the camp. He is enjoying the comfort of a decent bed. He is quite enthusiastic about his work. I should imagine he is doing the work of three men and doing it well. It is wonderful what our boys can do when the spirit awakens... Yours always, A.S Wilding.

Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar, Gosport (8th September 1914)

My Dear Smallpeice, I hope by this time you have the looked for letter from Cosby, but in case the boy has not had the time to write I will try and give you some of his news second hand. He appears to have joined the camp without any definite or detailed instructions. He found a 'Mad Colonel' and a 'jolly decent Captain' and was told to look around and form a 'Company' from the material at hand. I may be wrong about numbers as 'Master Cosby' himself varied a few points of the compass, so I will try and strike a mean course. With the assistance of three or four of our boys as young as himself, our hero set about his job to select from 250 motor lorries some 92 for his 'Company' and to rope in 300 men. Out of all the lorries they found only 20 or fewer that were thoroughly efficient. Cosby and Co. personally ran each one for a mile test, or at least tried to do so as many would not start. Next was to vet the vans and find out what was wrong and what was necessary for repairs; also to requisition a few dozen new machines including an '800' motor car for 'Lord Cosby's' personal use! The men then had to be sorted out and rated. The camp management seems to be primitive or non-existent, for your boy has to drive to a neighboring town for all his meals, except afternoon tea which is served by the sergeant's wife! It is not surprising he has not had time to write more than a postcard. I understand his transport is for ammunition and that his duties will lead him to within one mile of the fighting line. It is amazing to see how the boys rise to the occasion; no giant's boots are too big for them. Wit English spirit and the confidence of youth they don't ask if the boots will fit; they put them on and straightaway walk seven leagues at a stride. Your lad in particular is not going to crawl in slippers. He is appallingly young for the job and one could wish for more mature assistance to stand the racket of a campaign, but at least he will not have to march on foot... Yours always, A.S. Wilding.

Bulford Camp (12th September 1914)

My dear Mother, ...On Friday I myself took 13 lorries to Avonmouth, 7 miles beyond Bristol and about 60 miles from here. The Lorries are going abroad as spares as the Germans have captured so many. I was up at 4am and we set off at 6.3am, a convoy of 13 lorries, 2 motor cyclists, myself and a driver in my Vulcan car. We arrived around 12.30pm and waited while 12 were shipped, starting back at 4pm with all the drivers in one lorry. On the way home I hit a cart with the 'Vulcan' which I was driving. Just as I was approaching two carts, and passing a girl cyclist 20 yards away, one cart tried to pass the other leaving no room for me to get through. I braked but I could not quite stop the car, or go on the grass owing to the cyclist, so I hit the back hub of the cart and bent the axle on the 'Vulcan'. No-one was hurt and nobody minds about the car as it is an old one, and my new 25 horse-power Daimler will be here soon. The son of the Vicar at Melksham brought me back in his car, and the 'Vulcan' came home in the lorry with the men. The Captain was very pleased that I got all the lorries through so quickly, and did not say a word about the smash. I now have under my charge 9 new 'Triumphs' but nearly all our lorries have been ordered away. I got cards off several gentlemen with evidence that it was not my fault as I had to stop in a hurry. Much love, your affectionate son, Cobsy

66th Mechanical Transport Coy, Army Service Corps, B.E.F (10th November 1914)

My dear Mother and Daddie, ...We have been very busy at times and then we have a slack day in which to get squared up. At present we are stationed in a small village half way between the guns and the railhead. When an order comes in for ammunition, our gunner officer details the lorries which have the right ammunition on board. He then gives a list of the lorries to the Captain who decides which Lieutenant is to take the onvoy. I then tell my Sergeant to get ready certain lorries to go to the refilling point, which is usually about 2 miles behind the guns although I have known it to be in front of them so that our own shells go over our heads. When all is ready I lead with my car and the Sergeant either rides a motor cycle or is in the last lorry. Having delivered to the gunners, I come back and report to the Captain and then go to the railhead to get filled up and return here again. The last two days I have made journeys to the gunners, and recently I went through a large city which was being shelled with 'Jack Johnsons'! It was burning furiously in a dozen places and the pavé streets blown into holes up to 8' by 8' by 6' deep, but one large enough to bury a lorry in. Many buildings were blown to atoms with bricks and stones covering the road, and only a dozen people there, all soldiers except for one. I was glad that the bridges were intact. There was a pause in the firing while I was there, but it was tremendous just after I had left. It seems so strange as I was buying chocolate there only a week ago. This does not mean a retreat, but the English papers showing the battle fronts seem to be fairly accurate. The 'Intelligence Papers' that we receive are worse than the 'Daily Mail'. I took a Major Gabbat and Capt. Forde, both Welsh Fusiliers, to the front in my car recently. They knew Uncle Ivor and Billy Best. The Major had been wounded and is now recovered. I hear we are moving from this village and I am so sorry as I am sleeping in a deserted house and very comfortable. I should like you to send 2 pairs of thick pants as mine are badly worn, also I always like GOOD chocolate such as 'Valona', also No 16 Abdullah cigarettes. None are obtainable here. I received 'The Felstedian' which interested me very much. I am glad the school is doing its best. Please send me all news possible. Much love to everyone from your ever loving son, Cosby.

7th Ammunition Park. B.E.F. (28th November 1914) '

My dear Mother and Daddie, I have received all the letters and parcels which I know have been sent off, including the piston rings; also a parcel from Aunt Nora and one which must have been sent by Aunt Polly with Cadbury's chocolate. I will thank them later. I have seen both Leonard Williams who is driving a 'Daimler' car for head-quarters, and Chapman who is driving a lorry at our headquarters.... We have not been quite so busy lately, but I have been out every day and yesterday went to an Infantry Brigade, where the officer that I went to see was living in an underground shell-proof house. I was quite close to the German trenches but there was not a shot fired all day. We are supplying two Divisions now, and the 7th and 8th, so our establishment is being increased. We have a new officer called Kennard (2nd Lieut.). I am not allowed to say much about our position but it is on the whole very satisfactory. We had about four days hard frost, but it is warm and fine again now. The roads are a good deal better here than they were where we were before, so cases of ditching are fewer. But the land shows signs of recent German occupation. One church the Germans filled with straw to sleep on and before leaving they saturated it with petrol and made one of the villagers set light to it. They also shot 14 of the inhabitants and held the priest hostage. Please keep writing even if my letters are few. Also please sent some GOOD chocolate; cheap or bad chocolate makes one feel ill if you eat too much of it, and there is no chocolate to be got here. Also a second pair of pants. Much love to you and everyone in Felsted including Joe and Miss Gepp. I will write to Dr.Gepp soon. Your loving son, Cosby. PS. You cannot send too much good chocolate.

29th February 1916

My dear Andrea, I am most frightfully disappointed at not being able to get home for the wedding, but worse still I very much doubt if I shall be able to get home for another month at least, unless I get ordered to bring out a new tractor which case I shall also get a fortnight leave. I expect I shall anyway leave this unit before the end of March as I am really super-establishment here. I am so sorry about your wedding present but I would rather choose it myself when I come home if you don't mind. I have just received a large portion of your wedding cake and we had a large tea party consisting of 4 majors, 2 captains and 3 lieutenants on the strength of it. One of our officers was wounded the other day; I think he will get the Military Cross and the man (a cook) who went to rescue him was also wounded and he has been recommended, I think, for the V.C. Love to you both, your loving brother, Cosby.

Daphne told me of a little ditty that Cosby had taught her, which I gather was made up by some of his troop and was intended to be played to the tune of "Chopsticks", and which went, as far as she could remember, something like this:

Our friend Captain Smallpeice Is in the great fight. He's got a 'piana' And electric light.

But now we discover And learn to our cost, That it's he who was gained While the rest of us lost!

He was later promoted to temporary Captain, when he was one of the youngest officers in the army of that rank. In March 1918 he was invalided home with septic poisoning. A note from the Smallpeice Trust says that he was badly gassed, but his own postcard home dated 3rd May 1918 refers only to tonsillitis and guinge (?). The official gazette says placed on retired list on account of ill health contracted on active service. In any event he spent some time in hospital, and while there he taught himself engineering drawing. On his discharge from hospital at the end of the war, he rented a shed in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire where on 23rd August 1919 he set up his engineering company employing one assistant, a boy of 14. Cosby later writes in a copy of the Smallpeice Trust News I was discharged from the army with a disability pension of £40 per annum and with this and my gratuity of about £300 I formed Smallpeice Ltd., initially general engineers but soon specialising on high production machine tools, being one of the first manufacturers in England of multi-tool production lathes. At first I not only designed for easy production, and even minor alterations could simplify production without adverse results. Naturally with my limited facilities and capital, my own machines were designed for production. I have also heard that Cosby's initial finance was augmented by loans from both of his sisters of £100 each, which he repaid many years later after Cicely's death. However during the 1970s Cosby did distribute from the profits of his company most generously to various members of the family.

In August 1923 Cosby married Josephine, fourth daughter of Dr and Mrs Collins of Sawbridgeworth. During the early part of the war she had been employed making munitions at Messrs. Featherby's at Bishops Stortford and she had later joined the Women's Legion, driving motor vehicles for the Army Service Corps. They set up home at 'The Dell' at Sawbridgeworth, and in 1924 came the birth of their only child Elizabeth Desirée.

In 1929 the company moved to Coventry, and expanded into larger premises by which time it had started to specialise in the manufacture of machine tools. The family moved, first to the village of Bubbenhall, just south of Coventry, and some years later to 'The Elms' at Long Itchington (familiarly known as Short Scratchington). Finding that he could not buy the appropriate lathe, Cosby designed and built one for himself,a nd this proved to be so advanced in comparison with others on the market that there was an immediate demand for it. So he made arrangements first of all with the Cromwell Engineering Company of Coventry to manufacture the 'Smallpeiece Lathe', which carried on quite successfully during the 1930s. But, during the Second World War, on the 14th of November 1940 the factory was destroyed by German bombs. However production of the lathe was continued through an association with Alfred Herbert Ltd. of Coventry, being marketed as the 'Herbert-Smallpeiece' Lathe. Cosby was responsible for the design improvements and Alfred Herbert, with their large production facilities, for manufacture and marketing. These were in fact a whole range of multi-tool production lathes and grinders made for different applications. They were also produced under license in Beverley, Massachusetts, USA.

At the end of the Second World War Cosby sold the machine tool business. He had already formed a new company based in the village of Marton, south of Coventry and conveniently close to their home. The new business was to specialize in the manufacture of pneumatic machinery in order to adapt existing machine tools to automatic or semi-atuomatic operation. The company was founded with a capital of £1,000 and was registered in the name of 'Martonair'. It moved first to Twickenham in 1946, and then to Farnham in 1951. The firm prospered and for 20 years, it is claimed, the prices of Martonair equipment were never increased in spite of continual inflation. Cosby said that this was due to the close co-ordination between the design and the manufacturing process. His motto was always 'Simplicity in design with economy in production. That is, designing a component or an assembly as economically as possible in manpower, materials and manufacturing time so that it works first time, pre-empts value analysis and maximises profits'Italic text. In 1965 the company was floated to the Stock Exchange. When Cosby retired the following year the Stock Market valuation of the company was £15 million. This was a remarkable increase on the £1,000 invested 21 years earlier.

In addition to his machine tool business Cosby developed as a side line the design and marketing of small motor boats manufactured by Mid-Land Cruisers of Vespian Road, Southampton. The sales brochure shows that these could have two or four berths and were intended to be carried on road trailers so that they could double as caravans 'en route' to the cruising area. They had a canvas awning over the forward part containing the engine and steering wheel, and a cabin at the rear and were priced at £135 or £160 plus £20 for the trailer.

In 1935 Cosby took over form Cicely the two houses on Swanwick Shore. He kept 'Flagstaff' for his own family and renovated 'Tudor Cottage' for his mother. At one time I remember he ran a large diameter black high level heating pipe between the two properties, which may have had technical qualities, but architecturally this was, I felt, a mistake. Earlier Cosby and Jo had rented a tiny cottage on Sarisbury Green, at the top of the hill behind Swanwick called 'The Cot', where I remember once going to stay. Most holidays were spent at Swanwick and Cosby, like his father, took to yachting, especially racing at which he was most successful. He had been exporting his machines to Sweden for some years and on his business trips there had been much impressed by their boat designs which he felt were far in advance of British work. So he brought back to England the Swedish designed canoe-stern 'Tumlare' (or 'Albatross'), first a small one of about 26 foot in length, and later the larger 36 foot ocean racer, both named after his wife 'Josephine'. These were narrow waisted deep keel boats having limited accomodation, but they were very elegant and fast. He wrote an article describing sailing with Swedish friends in the Stockholm Archipelago which is said to contain 20,000 islands within a 40 mile triangle. He also introduced to this country the Danish 'Folkboat', of which one of the first was built in the garden of 'Flagstaff' to plans that he had brought back, constructed by an ex-master-carpenter from Moody's boat yard. I once crewed for him when racing the Folkboat. He became great friends with the yachting author and journalist Adlard Coles and his family and he became a well known figure at Cowes Week. 'Josephine II' evidently had a long life as, during the early 1980s, I came across a photograph and article about her in the yachting press which I cut out and sent to aunt Jo.

After retirement Cosby's energies and fortune were channeled into a new crusade, to ensure that the British industry should benefit from the philosophy that had been so successful for him. Accordingly he founded the 'Smallpeice Trust' in 1968, which he endowed with a gift of £1,750,000, to spread the principles of his design and production methods by sponsoring training courses and university 'Readerships' at Bath and Loughborough Universities. The first independent college was set up at Carlton Lodge, Carlton Crescent, Southampton, and a second 'Design and Production Centre' was opened in 1972 at 17 Waterloo Place, Warwick Street, Lemmington Spa. There was a grand opening ceremony conducted by Sir Richard Young B.Sc, MIMechE, Chairman of Alfred Herbert Ltd., the company which had worked with Cosby on the original Smallpeice Lathe during the war. Cosby attended the opening himself and other guests included the Mayor and Mayoress, a representative of the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Education and Science, the Central Office of Information, the Engineering Industries Training Board and Warwickshire Education Authority. The residential courses usually last for five days, and now include computer aided design and manufacture. My brother Donald attended one of these courses on engineering design. The foundation also sponsors lectures and liaison with schools to inform and encourage children to take up engineering careers. A recent article in the Times refers to the 'Smallpeice Programme' for the trainingof science and technology teachers. This is run in conjunction with the City Technology Colleges which now host six, year long, Smallpeice courses around the country. They consist of about 15 post-graduate students to each course which is set up, co-ordinated and financed by the trust with much of the training consisting of actual teaching experience in local secondary schools. By 1976 the number of student/days per annum at all the colleges had reached 11,000 and by 1986 the 'Smallpeiece Trust' had been subsidized by a capital fund of £8 million.

The Trust also organises annual lectures at the Royal Society of LOndon. In 1985 the lecture was given by Sir George Porter FRS titled 'Popular and Unpopular Science' and in 1986 by Sir Peter Parker LVO, who had been Chairman of British Rail 1976-83, on the subject of 'Design for Learning'. On this occasion Hazel and I were invited to attend. In 1970 Cosby was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Bath.

I remember Jo as a kindly aunt when, as a small boy, I went to stay. She had a great sense of humour. Apparently I reported to my parents that when I went to stay with my aunt Jo, I had two sausages for supper. For some reason she thought this was hilariously funny and would repeat it whenever I saw her again, and then burst into peals of laughter. She was a very loyal wife, devoted to Cosby and in her eyes he could do no wrong. When they were too old for sailing in British waters, Cosby and Jo bought a holiday house in Bermuda where they kept a motor yacht. In 1970 they bought the 'Old Rectory' at Newton Tony, near Salisbury, to be near Elizabeth and her husband Humphrey Jowett who were farming from New Manor Farm in the village. This was a fine and substantial Georgian house. The first thing that Cosby did was to install a lift, as he was by then having difficulty climbing stairs. On one occasion when we visited them Jo invited us to look around the house. She pointed out that there was an attic floor with several bedrooms above, and then said to our surprise 'I have never been up there myself'. Cosby died there in October 1977 aged 81, and Josephine died in December 1983.

Humphrey and Elizabeth have recently sold the farmhouse at Newton Tony and moved into 'Tudor Cottage' at Swanwick Shore, which was purchased so long ago by Donald and Cicely Smallpeice. The cottage had previously been kept as a holiday house, although it was lent on one occasion as a base for the British 'America's Cup' challenge crew - which sadly was not successful. Much of my information for this chapter has come from my cousin Elizabeth, also from Mr P.S. Goward, General Manager of the 'Smallpeice Trust' and the Imperial War Museum to whom I am indebted. I have quoted from articles published by the Trust as well as newspaper cuttings saved by Cicely or Andrea, and of course my own recollections.

Philip Lucey


+ Family info passed down; Philip Lucey, Elizabeth May (Jowett) Walker, Elizabeth Desirée (Smallpeice) Jowett.

Mr P.S. Goward, General Manager of the 'Smallpeice Trust' and the Imperial War Museum

'CICELY, A Family History' (by Philip Lucey), 1995

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