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British Industrial History

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Cosby Donald Philipps Smallpeice

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Cosby Donald Philipps Smallpeice, D.Sc, 1896-1977, was born at Queen Anne's Gate.

In 1914 he was offered a place at Cambridge University, but while waiting he took a job at Harland and Wolff 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.

Aged 18, he joined the Royal Army Service Corps, and with the rank of Lieutenant, was sent to France.

On his discharge from hospital at the end of the war, he rented a shed in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire where in August 1919 he set up his engineering company employing one assistant, a boy of 14. He had been discharged from the army with a disability pension of £40 per annum and with this and his gratuity of about £300 he formed Smallpeice Ltd., initially general engineers but soon specialising on high production machine tools.

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. He also designed a high productivity lathe, and made arrangements initially with the Cromwell Engineering Co 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 was also a range of multi-tool production lathes and grinders made for different applications. They were also produced under licence 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, to specialise in the manufacture of pneumatic machinery. It was registered in the name of Martonair. It moved first to Twickenham in 1946, and then to Farnham in 1951. The firm prospered a and in 1965 it was floated on the Stock Exchange.

After retirement he applied his energies and fortune into a new crusade, to ensure that the British industry should benefit from the philosophy that had been so successful for him. 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 above information is condensed from here[1]


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Sources of Information

  1. .[1] Wikitree - Mr. Cosby D. Smallpeice