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Together they formed Hewlett and Blondeau and built Farman, Caudron and Hanriot aircraft under licence, Caudron being the first in Britain. The factory was a disused ice-skating rink in Clapham, London, called the 'Omnia' where eventually they produced ten different types of aircraft.
In May 1914, Hewlett and Blondeau bought a field in Leagrave, Bedfordshire, specifically to build Farman aircraft and, in order to retain links with its roots in Clapham, kept the old telegraphic address 'Aeromnia'. When war was declared in August 1914, the factory was just ready for government orders for the war effort. The maximum number of employees was said to have been around 700 and a general clerk, who earned just 5/- (25p) per week from 1915 to 1919, said that the aircraft were crated on site and dispatched to Gosport.
During the First World War, the company manufactured more than 800 military aircraft and employed up to 700 people.
By 1919 however, and despite good orders, the firm encountered difficulties so the Air Ministry appointed a Mr Ashley Pope to oversee the factory because, at the time, one of the aircraft in production had a large 90hp engine which was vital to the war effort. Mr Pope found that Mrs Hewlett worked tirelessly nearly 24 hours per day, not stopping for meals at all. He managed to increase efficiency and hence productivity because, probably as a final attempt to increase their image and their sales.
After the war the business diversified into making farming equipment, but the factory had closed by the end of October 1920.
A reporter from Implement and Machinery Review was invited to look around the site in September 1919. He had this to say:-
"Having made a notable contribution to the war efforts of the nation by manufacturing large numbers of aeroplanes, Messrs. Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd., of The Omnia Works, Leagrave, Beds. have, for some time now, directed their attention to agricultural engineering. There are adequate reasons why their venture should be highly successful. In the first place, on the ten acres of freehold land which form the works site has been built a series of up-to-date substantial shops, fitted with the latest type of machinery and replete in every way with labour saving devices.
The whole of the 120,000 sq. ft of buildings is commodious, airy and thoroughly modern, for the works were of 'mushroom growth' so common during the war, albeit it cannot be too strongly emphasised that they are solidly and well constructed. "In addition to the usual offices, stores, etc., the works comprise machine, fitting, inspection, woodworking, erecting and smithing shops, a sheetmetal works, hardening & annealing rooms, an iron foundry and an acetylene welding department. Over three hundred 'hands' are today employed and the promising outlook makes the prospect of an increase in this number very probable."
Here follows a description of the first threshing machine, then there is a description of the engine..................
"We now turn to the manufacture of the 'Omnia' engine which is perhaps today a more seasonable topic. We found that Messrs Hewlett & Blondeau are preparing to put 5,000 farm power engines on to the market. Work upon them was going ahead as we passed through the different departments and we had an opportunity of noting the excellence of the material and the finished workmanship. To say that the engine is of a superior pattern is but to state the simple truth whilst to give the results of the practical running demonstration vouchsafed us would be to convince anyone that the engine is of a high standard of efficiency as well as of finish.
"Nominally a 2½hp engine, it has been found to generate 3.38hp and this moreover is not regarded as the maximum. We saw the 'Omnia' started on petrol and soon turned over onto paraffin whilst operating the sawbench. The start was speedily made and the transfer effected without harming or depreciating the power generated. The large circular saw was driven with sufficient power to cut very easily through a tough-looking collection of hardwood logs. A calculation made upon an actual trial was that the engine and saw would, in an hour and a half, do work usually occupying thirty men for a full working day. The engine, it should be noted, will provide efficient power for driving all classes of feed machinery, cream separators, etc., and in order to select the proper drive for the particular task in hand, various pulleys can be used. These pulleys are easily fitted and secured. "The engine is of the single-cylinder, four cycle pattern with British magneto ignition. It has a sensitive governor to ensure steady running whilst the use of two flywheels assure an even movement."
"Reciprocating parts are balanced by properly applied balance weights cast into the rim of each flywheel so that vibration is a negligible quantity. The petrol-paraffin toolbox tank is a happy combination, strongly made and well finished. Fuel passes through sieves into the different tanks whilst the tools and accessories with which each engine is supplied are placed in the bottom compartment by means of a small door. After the engine has started on petrol, the main paraffin supply is turned on by a cock provided on the tank and the flow can then be regulated by a needle valve on the vaporiser. Farmers, we were told, will find the 'Omnia' engine very simple to understand and run, and decidedly economical in the consumption of fuel. The engine can be had in the stationary pattern to be bolted to a permanent bed or with a well-built trolley, fitted with cast-iron wheels, draw-bar, swivelling fore-carriage and hooks. The engine is offered at £40 delivered at the farmer's nearest station or to the agent's stores as desired and the trolley at £4 extra..........."
It is interesting to note that only one size of engine was mentioned even though, earlier in 1919, Messrs Hewlett & Blondeau were advertising for agents world-wide to sell 'paraffin-oil engines from 2½ to 24hp'.
Advertisements for H & B engines and saw-benches appeared in the Luton News during late 1919 with the latest advertisement being on the 12th February 1920. A decision was made to close the works and Messrs Fuller, Horley and Son & Cassell of London arranged a six-day sale of the site and effects commencing on Tuesday October 19th 1920. The eight acre site with 110,000 sq. ft of buildings failed to reach the second asking bid of £50,000 and went for private treaty, eventually being incorporated into the new Electrolux factory where many of the original buildings remain to this day. The plant, machinery, stock and effects sold well to a large number of businesses including Vauxhall Motors and Messrs Hayward & Tyler.
Gustav Blondeau died on March 3rd 1965 at 176 Old Bedford Rd., Luton
In spite of the planned variety and volume of engine production, only four examples are known to exist still, all being the same model and size, 3hp. Taking each of those engines in turn:-
The first, owned by Martin Tucker and Ross Sims* of Swansea, South Wales, has what can only be assumed to be the original low tension ignition system as seen in contemporary advertisements. The magneto is made by C.T.*** - an obscure manufacturer, now unheard of, and the igniter actuator is attached in the normal way to the valve striker rod. The hopper carries a small brass nameplate bearing Ser. No. 103, 650 rpm and 3hp with H & B's address at Leagrave, Bedfordshire. Ross has repainted the engine, following as far as possible the colours of the traces of paint found under the dirt and oil when it was acquired. The main body of the engine is dark green with the flywheels and ancillary parts in black. The flywheels have a red stripe around the rims with the arrow showing rotational direction in white. The red is repeated on the flywheel of the logo cast into the water hopper. Both of the other engines have identical high tension ignition systems using Fellows magnetos with an ignition timing lever for finer adjustment to give good running under all conditions. A sparking plug is fitted into the igniter hole using a normal adapter plate just above the slot in the push-rod where the actuator was fitted previously. This conversion of each engine is identical so it could only have been a factory original, perhaps a panic measure when C.T. ceased trading (as their initials would imply.. !) - or more probably to follow the general trend at around that time as L.T. was becoming superseded by more efficient H.T. magnetos in general usage.
The engine which appeared in Stationary Engine, issue 25 of March 1976, once owned by Philip Gallimore*, has a much larger brass nameplate than that of Ross Sims. However, it does not have any mention of the maker's name or address but simply states Ser. No. 143, 650 revs and 3hp.
The third engine, which I have re-restored myself and rallied occasionally for a few years, has no serial number plate but just the rivet holes showing me that the plate should be as Philip's. Curiously, among the documentation passed to me with the engine is a letter from someone who discovered the engine at Canford Magna, Dorset, many years ago and in his description of his 'find' he states that the hp is 3½ at 640rpm. This means that over recent years, during a number of owners' attempts at restoration, the all important plate with serial number has gone missing.** Interestingly, the horsepower is quoted as more than Philip's but the rpm is less and it is an identical engine.
The fourth engine appeared as recently as 2004 at a sale. Not having the usual cast in logo on the hopper, it was passed over by many enthusiasts but has since appeared at a number of rallies with its new owner. This engine has not only been converted to HT ignition but the original conversion has been changed from the usual Fellows magneto to a rather less reliable BTH. More on this new arrival on the scene as details emerge.