Harry Weslake


Harry Weslake born in Exeter, on 21st August 1897 son of Henry John Weslake, director of the firm Willey and Co, gas engineers working from premises in Exeter.


Exeter School found itself custodian of the young Harry and it was as a Public schoolboy he discovered that he preferred sport to academia; he also learned that being physically fit was an asset when at school. Having acquired a bicycle it was only a short while before he began hankering after a motorcycle and he wondered about attaching an engine to the cycle – although the problems seemed many and varied he devised an idea, the engine would be bolted to the offside of the rear chain stays. He started to draw up his design but it was not well received by his father who thought the whole idea laughable. A couple of years later the Wall Autowheel became available and to the credit of Harry’s father, Henry John, he admitted to his son that he had been wrong, apologised and promised never to be discouraging again.


Once he reached the age of 15 he was able to drive and decided this required celebrating, he hired a motorcycle and then required clothing, goggles and a waterproof from his saved pocket money and set off to enjoy the motorised travel which went without mishap until he saw a friend of his Mothers who rushed off to tell what had been seen, his mother in turn contacted a good friend, the Chief Constable which resulted in the 15 year old being stopped in the village of Kenford but a local policeman who said words to the effect “if you are young master Weslake, go home your mother wants you”.


On leaving school Harry was apprenticed to his fathers firm Willey and Co. where he was expected to progress from the shop floor, and he eventually acquired a motorcycle of his own becoming known as a skilful and speedy rider. At work he was still suffering from the you and us atmosphere until one day he accepted the challenge of another young man to fix some heavy equipment, Harry conquered  the challenge and then the young man who had made the suggestion that he was not capable, Harry was now considered one of the boys. With the onset of World War I there was a certain amount of disagreement between Harry, who wanted to join the Royal Flying Corps and Willey and Co. who wanted him to continue his apprenticeship. He joined the Royal Flying Corps,  although impressing with his mechanical skills and his understanding of the working engineering he was not really the sort of young man that takes to the ridged routine and rules required by the Royal Flying Corps, he was demobed in 1919.


In the meantime - at just 21 Harry took out his first patent in conjunction with his father, it was for a device to improve the performance of the carburation which in turn improved fuel consumption this was in 1918, this was to be followed by many more Harry inventions being patented during his life time it would seem the lesson of the childhood motorised cycle hit home.


Shortly after he returned home from the services his mother died followed shortly afterwards by his father, both from cancer. As Harry no longer had ties with the Willey company he left and started up his own small concern in Exeter working with 3 other people including Stan Glanfield who was later to be come known for riding his Rudge and sidecar around the world. It was decided to market Harry’s carburettor using the name Wex (combining Weslake and Exeter) so making use of the earlier acquired patent. During this time Harry became more and more interested in the racing of Motorcycles and began to spend much of his time at Brooklands where the rider Gordon Cobbold was having tremendous success riding equipment that was fitted with a Wex carburettor.


It was at Brooklands that he met J E Greenwood and discussed with him why identical engines performed differently and he took his mind back to what he had learned whilst working at Willey, he remembered watching gas meters being checked to ensure that the correct amount of gas was being passed and it came to him that reversed the system could be made to measure the flow of air passing through a cylinder head, now, it seemed, was the time to put this to the test. Hastily built test equipment was tried out at Brooklands and proved as Harry had expected the ability of a cylinder head could be checked on this equipment before it was fitted to the engine, the airflow meter was born.


Wex Carburettor Ltd. Had moved to London during this time but ceased trading in 1926 when one of their biggest companies defaulted on payment of already delivered goods. Following this he joined forces with Automotive Engineering and undertook work as a consultant on engine development for many firms and people including,  W O Bentley - Nuffield Group (Leonard Lord) - SS Cars (later Jaguar Cars)  - Lord Austin  & Citroen. Automotive Engineering was still retaining the services (and equipment) of Harry Weslake in 1935 but the relationship with the management, never stable, was becoming even more difficult at at the end of his agreement with them he quietly removed his tools and equipment and rented part of the Alta racing car factory on the Kingston bypass owned by Geoffrey Taylor and the new company Weslake and Taylor Limited was born.


Continuing his interest in engine development and efficiency but this time working for himself one of his first consignments was to  work on the cylinder head design for Armstong Siddeley who produced aircraft and car engines, he was also concerned in a minor way with his partners Alto racing cars and continued working with Jaguar and Austin he also did work for Rileys but although the improvements made to their engine were his they were not prepared to accept the contributions Harry had made and he had to instigate court action before they made an out of court settlement. However he also did work for Karrier Company of Manchester and at the suggestion of Zenith Carburettor Company Tilling Stevens called him in because they needed to improve the 70 HP of their engine in order to get a contract with the War Office, apparently Harry sorted the problem achieving 85HP in a few days but was embarrassed to say so because of the amount that had been offered him if he could solve the problem.


He did more work for Austin Motors, Lord Austin had retired and it was Leonard Lord at the helm and another for whom he had worked when with Automotive Engineering contacted him again for help, it was W O Bentley who now joined Lagonda and he was called upon to solve a problem with the Coventry Climax.  Harry had not lost his interest in motorcycles and still enjoyed riding and when giving the opportunity working on any engine problems he was asked about. 1939 and Harry Weslake found himself being consulted about the engines of war, aircraft, tanks, trucks (Scammells), Fire Engine pumps as well as sorting innumerable problems during the run of the war. Following the war matters returned to racing and domestic problems and Harry continued working from the factory close to London. In 1947 a chance remark by a fellow engineer set Harry thinking about making a move and he considered that Sussex would be ideal, as it happened he moved to Rye where he built and established a research laboratory changing the name of the company to Weslake and Co. Ltd.


Interest in most types of car racing was increasing by the mid 1950's and where there was an interest in efficient engines there was Harry Weslake, towards the early 1960's his interest was concentrated on high speed engines for both cars and boats in truth if it was an engine then the Weslake company was interested. Bike power units started to come to the for again with road racing, drag racing, long track and during the 1970's Weslake Speedway Machines became very popular and successful, Belle Vue Aces and England rider Peter Collins of  won the 1976 Speedway World Final on a Weslake machine and many will remember how well Bruce Penhall rode in the early 1980's again astride a Weslake.


Harry Weslake died in 1978 having just watched that years World Speedway Championship where the Weslake Speedway Machine took 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th place, he collapsed at the celebratory reception following the meeting.


If you would like to read more of Harry Weslake I recommend his Biography “Lucky all my Life” .

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