Eric Gordon England

(1891 - 1976)

Eric Cecil Gordon England was born on 5 April 1891 in San Antonio de Padua de la Concordia, Argentina, the son of George England and Amy England (née Atlee). His father was an Estanciero and through his mother he was a cousin of Clement Atlee. He was most commonly referred to as E C Gordon England, as though Gordon England were his surname, which it was not.

The family returned to England in 1901 and he was educated first at New College, Eastbourne, then from 1904 to 1906 at Framlingham College in Suffolk. This was followed by an engineering apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway works at Doncaster, where he trained as a mechanical engineer.

In 1908, Gordon England left the railways for his first job in aviation, working as an assistant for Noel Pemberton Billing who was trying to establish a flying ground at South Fambridge in Essex. While working for Pemberton Billing he met José Weiss, who designed and built tailless gliders, and Gordon England became an assistant to Weiss. On 27 June 1909, he flew a Weiss glider at Amberley Mount, Sussex on a height-gaining flight that reached 100 feet. Subsequently he carried out tests on a Weiss power-driven machine.

At the beginning of 1910 Gordon England taught himself to fly one morning at Brooklands in three hours on a Hanriot monoplane. On 25 April 1911 he gained his RAeC Aviator's Certificate, No. 68, flying a Bristol biplane. Later in 1911, he joined the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company as a staff pilot, but was soon recognized as a designer. One of his first design jobs was to convert a Bristol T-type biplane into a tractor design, which was then called the Bristol Challenger-England. This conversion was followed by three biplanes (the G.E.1, G.E.2 and G.E.3), all designed by England.

In 1912 Gordon England left the Bristol company, and, in association with James Radley produced the Radley-England waterplane series of aircraft. Radley and England also built and tested the Lee-Richards annular monoplane, which made its first flight in the hands of Gordon England on 23 November 1913. Between 1913 and 1916, he was a free-lance test pilot and consultant engineer, mainly engaged by Samuel White and Co, testing seaplanes to the design of Howard Wright. From 1916 until the end of the war he was General Manager of the Aviation Department of Frederick Sage & Co.

In 1919, Gordon England left Sage to become a consultant, and started an interest in motor racing. He raced successfully on track and road for several years, particularly on the famous Austin Seven. One year he succeeded in securing the title 'Champion of France', and has the unique record of having competed in six consecutive international 200 mile races, always winning an award, including three firsts.

In 1922 he returned to gliding, producing a single seat glider designed specifically for the first British gliding competition held at Itford Hill. It made some competition flights but was damaged on the last day. In 1930 he was elected Chairman of Council of the British Gliding Association.

Also in 1922, along with his father George, Gordon England became interested in building bodies for Austin Seven sports cars. This was not the first time Gordon England had designed a car body: in 1915 he had produced a 'Baby Peugot' featuring a sports body of his own design. Using his skills gained with aircraft, over a period of four years, he designed and patented a new lightweight body made from plywood box-girders and an ash framework covered with thin plywood panels and attached to the frame at three points. This way the body on its three separate mounting points was able to maintain its shape even over rough roads. In 1925, he entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans race using one of his own designs, but he failed to finish. However, this led him to make and sell a series of cars to the public based on his racers. He believed that car performance was being held back by the heavy coachwork being fitted to many models and set about designing bodies largely of plywood covered with fabric and fixed to the chassis with three rubber mountings. To make these George England (Motor Bodies) Ltd was incorporated in 1925.

The first model to be sold was the Brooklands Super-sports Austin 7 and although his racing version had been fabric covered the production version was aluminium paneled. Each one was supplied with a certificate stating that it would attain 80 mph. The "Cup" model followed and then a fabric saloon which came out before the official factory version. In 1927 almost 20,000 bodies were supplied for the Austin 7.

Work extended beyond Austin and in 1925 a Rolls-Royce was fitted followed by work on Bentleys, MG, Morris, Standard and Wolseley. The Putney premises were outgrown and in 1927 the company moved to Wembley and exhibited at the London Olympia Motor Show with an Invicta on the stand.

The company was reformed as Gordon England (1929) Ltd and claimed to be making 35 bodies a day. However, the fabric body started to lose out to all-metal types, the company's fortunes declined and in 1930 it closed.

Gordon England gave up the body-building business and became manager of the automotive lubricants department at the Vacuum Oil Company 1930-1935. He was also President, Motor Agents Association, 1937; Managing Director, General Aircraft Ltd, 1935-42; Deputy Chairman, Aero Engines Ltd., 1936-43; Member of Gorell Committee on Civil Aviation, 1932-33; Chairman, Engineering Industries Association, 1940-44; General manager, Eugene Ltd, 1945-50, Life member of Council British Automobile Racing Club; Founder member of Railway Conversion League and a Member of the Economic Research Council.

In 1945, Gordon England contested the Bury St Edmunds seat in the General Election, standing for the socialist Common Wealth party but failed to get elected.

Eric Cecil Gordon England, F.I.M.I., F.R.Ae.S., M.I.Prod.E. died in Sunninghill, Berkshire, in February 1976.

Production References
  1. Who’s Who, 1976
  2. http://www.oldframlinghamian.com/images/articles/ERICCECILGORDONENGLAND1904-06.pdf
  3. Bristol Aircraft Since 1910, C.H. Barnes (Putnam, 1964)
  4. The Sailplane & Glider, 1 April 1932.

V1.4.4 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated August 2020