Welcome to the web archive of the SA Historical & Philatelic Association.
We hope you will enjoy reading the articles and information on Salvation Army history and
heritage that will be published here over the coming months.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Famous Birmingham Salvationist by Fred Crowhurst

James Lansdowne Norton, founder of Norton Manufacturing Company, was born in Birmingham in 1869 at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign.  As a boy he became interested in all things mechanical and built a working scale model steam engine that was the wonder of the neighbourhood.

He produced his first motorcycle, the Energette in 1902 and took part in various competitive events to prove its worth. All the early machines had very primitive braking systems, but in any case they were of little use.  The roads to quote one observer were “smeared with a terrible green paste of pulverised horse dung, rainwater and the assorted filth of an imperfectly scavenged city.” No wonder the locals called it “the ‘oss road.” (oss meaning horse!)  Despite suffering a recurring heart problem, which prematurely aged him, he competed in 3 TT races in the Isle of Man.  At the 1911 TT race, one commentator noted- “Norton is a tough old sport and has the old age pension!”  He was actually 43.  His white beard combined with his fatherly nature earned him the title ‘Pa’ Norton.

James Lansdowne Norton
 He was a soldier at Sparkbrook Corps where he was the corps treasurer and highly respected for his deep Christian faith.  Some of the other men of the corps worked at his premises in Floodgate Street. Mention should be made of the first TT race which was run over 16 miles of various road surfaces.  Each rider had to do ten laps with a ten minute rest after the first five. Norton’s rider was Rem Fowler He had to stop on a dozen occasions to make roadside adjustments or change the spark plugs.  At one stage he had to ride through a wall of flame caused by competitors’ fallen machinery. To add to the enjoyment there was no suspension. In 1908 James Norton’s personal motor cycling experience combined with his integrity and engineering skills enabled him to produce a much more reliable and solid machine known as “The Big Four’ capable of a speed of 60 mph. Its ‘de luxe’ features were retained throughout the 46 years of production when it achieved much greater speeds.

‘Pa’ Norton was promoted to Glory in April 1925 at the age of 56. All the DHQ staff at the time were present at his funeral.  He left a wife and five children.  As a mark of respect in which he was held ‘The Motor Cycle’ magazine promoted a shilling subscription fund which raised £1203.00 for a memorial scholarship in motor cycle engineering at Birmingham University.

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