H. J. Lawson - crook, or motoring pioneer?

Harry J. Lawson (christened Henry John Lawson) was a key figure in the beginnings of the British motor industry.

Born in London in 1852, after gaining an apprenticeship in engineering, Lawson's family moved to Brighton, Sussex. It was here that he began to develop his interest in cycles working with Mr. James Likeman and in 1874, he patented the first rear-chain-driven 'Safety' cycle.

By 1878 he moved to Coventry. His first position was for Haynes and Jefferis, makers of Smith & Starley's 'Ariel' bicycle, before he worked for George Woodcock's Rudge Cycle Company as Sales Manager. It was around this time that he introduced his 'Bicyclette' cycle.

Lawson began to engage more exclusively in the promotion of businesses during the 1880s, and this experience, coupled with the opportunities to make large commissions, saw that he would pursue such activities for the rest of his working life, except not without much controversy. In association with characters including E. T. Hooley and M. Rucker they began to float new companies, massively exaggerating their share prices.

In 1895 he established the British Motor Syndicate in order to attempt to completely monopolize the British motor industry. The next year saw the creation of the Great Horseless Carriage Company in Coventry, and soon after, the introduction of Lawson's most successful acquisition, that of the foundation of the Daimler Motor Company after buying the patent rights from F. R. Simms. Based at a large factory called The 'Motor Mills' Daimler became the first British mass manufacturer of motorcars, and soon, many more companies were established to make motorised transport in Coventry and elsewhere around the country.

He then came into contact with the American E. J. Pennington, full of fanciful designs for various modes of transport. Many of these designs were brought to life at the Motor Mills after Lawson paid Pennington an estimated £100,000 for the manufacturing rights. Ultimately they proved a disaster and Pennington fled back to his homeland.

The beginning of Lawson's end came about in 1904 when he and E. T. Hooley were charged with conspiracy to defraud. Hooley was acquitted but Lawson was sentenced to one year’s hard labour.

He seemingly disappeared from the public eye for many years until 1915 when he once again tried to float another venture, this time the Bleriot Manufacturing Aircraft Company. This too was wound up the following year.

Lawson died in 1925 at Harrow, London.

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