A personal view on the events that led to James Drewry leaving Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd
By Malcolm Easton (Grandson of James Drewry)
Having recently discovered a box file of documents left by my Grandfather, I believe it is important to put on record a fuller story behind the reasons that James Drewry left Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd (S&D) in 1935.
I have tried to present a balanced picture based on the facts in the Board Minutes, internal memos, accounts and other business documents, personal papers together with my own recollections of him, reminiscing with his wife (May), my mother (Barbara Drewry) and his other daughter (Christine Drewry), and his nephew Bill Knight.
The 'Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke and Drewry' (Nick Baldwin & William Negus - 1980) refers to "friction" and "a feud" between Harry Shelvoke (HS) and James Drewry (JSD) in 1932. This was believed to have been in connection with the Power Broom that was being developed at that time, and that this led indirectly to JSD's departure from S&D.
While this is partially correct it implies that this was a major dispute over product design and this was the main reason for his leaving the company whereas in truth it was a minor event that sparked a row which was then blown up out of all proportion from which there was no turning back. It bought to a head differences in the way they worked and for HS's desire to run the Company himself and was a reflection of their different personalities and JSD's pent up feelings over many years.
I believe it is important to firstly look back to the formation of the Company.
A service agreement was drawn up on 3/11/1922 for both directors for 14 years ending on 10/10/1936. It included a clause (the importance of which will become obvious later) which stated that in the event of a dispute arising between JSD and HS the matter shall be settled by the General Board of Directors.
The Company was formed to manufacture the SD Freighter which had been invented by JSD. HS and JSD were to be Joint Managing Directors for the whole of that period.
JSD was particularly responsible for the design, manufacture and technical side of the business while HS looked after the Sales, Finance and general administration functions.
A further director, and large shareholder, G. Rackam (GR) was appointed in 1925.
As Kaleidoscope comments, HS was an autocratic entrepreneur, with a dominant personality and intolerant attitude. He was, in JSD's words, very capable and extraordinarily clever at debate. I know from letters he wrote to my Mother in the early years that he also had a charming warm side to his personality with a great (rather quirky) sense of humour.
JSD, in complete contrast, was a brilliant engineer and inventor with great attention to detail. Obituaries and tributes written on his death referred to him as having a quiet, unassuming demeanor with a good sense of humour, a modest and retiring manner which hid a kindly heart. I can certainly endorse that opinion from my early memories of him.
These completely different characters obviously worked well in the early years when they were together at Lacre. However, my Grandfather reflects in his correspondence that after a year or so of S&D being formed HS, ignoring the fact that they were joint MDs, was continually taking authority in areas which were in his domain, often completely ignoring his opinions. If JSD took exception to this HS would argue the point for hours until he got his way.
Therefore, to avoid continual conflict which would have harmed the business, JSD continually gave way and did everything he could to support HS so the general relation was friendly.
Gradually, by this means, HS assumed more and more of the running of the business and JSD was left with reduced areas of responsibilities. Even so, JSD was very motivated to continue to improve the Company's products witnessed by a detailed submission to the Board in Jan 1931 of a completely new type of chassis to replace the original freighter.
However, relationships between the two were still not good, and at a Board Meeting in Nov 1931 HS passed (in JSD's opinion) 'unwarranted and insulting criticism' on JSD's work. (It is not documented what this argument was about) These comments were too much for JSD and for once he dug his heels in. As HS did not get his way this time, he presented the Board with an undated letter of resignation that he would implement unless he was given sole control.
GR implored JSD to give way as HS's resignation would have very serious implications for the company. JSD did do so in the interest of the business and the Board agreed that dual control was unworkable and reallocated duties and responsibilities which left JSD in charge of only the drawing office and with little or no authority. JSD once again acceded to this and in fact voted for the resolution. GR subsequently wrote a letter a letter of appreciation to JSD in giving way again and acknowledged the difficulties under which JSD was having to work. From this point in time HS and JSD rarely met except at Board Meetings and all communication was by means of memos.
In June, 1932, G. Shelbourn (GS), who worked for HS as Sales/service Manager was appointed as Director. This appointment, incidentally, led to the resignation of the disgruntled Company Secretary, F. Bale, who had worked for the Company since its inception and felt he should have been made the Director as promised by HS.
This appointment put HS in a very strong position and at the next meeting, on 4th July, 1932, in a very cynical ploy, he felt safe to offer his resignation from the Company with an alternative proposal that JSD be appointed Chairman and sole Managing Director with himself being only a normal Director. He knew that none of these resolutions would be accepted by the Directors which of course they were not as he now had a majority supporting his every move.
It was then proposed that HS be appointed Chairman and sole Managing Director with JSD as Director only. This of course was carried.
Matters from then on went from bad to worse and in a hostile letter from HS (and countersigned by the other directors) to JSD dated 8th Aug, 1932. JSD was accused, amongst other things, of being obstructive and deliberately delaying the development of the Power Broom and the Gulley Emptier. Although JSD strongly denied this he was by then completely de-motivated and had been put into a very difficult situation and there could have been some element of truth in the matter.
All this conflict between the Directors had a disastrous effect on the profitability of the Company and there was a loss of over £8,500 in 1933. The bank overdraft at time had increased to £23,000.
In early 1934 the Company commissioned an investigation into the affairs of the Company by a firm of Chartered Accountants. Amongst many recommendations was that an independent chairman should be appointed and as a result Major-General Sir Philip Nash (PN) was appointed. (This re-organisation seemed to stabilize the Company and later in the year the Company turned in a profit of over £7000.)
In Feb 1935 the responsibilities of JSD had been further reduced to that of design and development of new products only with no authority over any members of staff. This put him in an untenable position.
There followed many long detailed critical letters/memos to PN and his fellow directors of how the company was now being run and there is little doubt that he had become a thorn in their side and late in 1935 he decided to sell his shares and then leave the company.
The last letter in his file is to Sir Philip Nash with a copy of the Presidential Address of the Institution of Automobile Engineers in Nov 1935. He highlighted a section which was an obscure reference to the situation at S&D and which I have loosely paraphrased. In JSD's opinion this was the key to the whole unfortunate position that he was in.
"It is a delicate task in a company to balance the needs of the sales, business and manufacturing departments with the design/experimental areas. Each much have the freedom to exploit their own capacities and enjoy their own satisfactions in their respective ways".
There is little doubt in my mind that If JSD had not had a pliable nature the partnership would have foundered in the early years of the Company and also that he was eventually forced out of the Company by HS. This is supported by a letter found recently, dated 1987, from Bill Knight (who worked in the drawing office of S&D), to JSD's daughter Christine Drewry, which includes the following extract:
"…Jungle Jim was the entire brains behind the S.D Freighter and was responsible for all the design work. Shelvoke merely joined in as Sales and Admin, and although acknowledged to be a first- class salesman and a moderately good administrator, he would be nothing without J.J. The firm ought to be called 'Drewry and Shelvoke' but you knew how easy going your father was in these matters. The book (Kaleidoscope) is very misleading on the relative roles of Drewry and Shelvoke"
It should be acknowledged therefore that, although Harry Shelvoke was no doubt the driving force behind the business, without James Drewry the Freighter would not have been designed and S&D would not have existed.
Malcolm Easton Nov 2007, updated Jan 2020