f James Sidney Drewry 1882-1952
Charles Stewart Drewry Julia Fava Wood Maude Stewart Drewry Annie Isabel Drewry William C. F. Drewry Mabel May Hyde Vincent Harold Drewry Julia Theresa Drewry Alfred F. Vere Drewry Barbara Cecelia Drewry Christine Hilda May Drewry Mini tree diagram

James Sidney Drewry

Jim, 1910

19th Nov 1882 - 14th Dec 1952

Life History

19th Nov 1882

Born in London, Clapton

5th May 1883

Baptised in St John's, Walworth

9th Apr 1910

Married Mabel May Hyde in St. Albans, Teddington.

6th Nov 1911

Birth of daughter Barbara Cecelia Drewry in Yardley, West Midlands.

8th Jan 1913

Birth of daughter Christine Hilda May Drewry in Hitchin, Bedfordshire.

14th Dec 1952

Died in Letchworth.


Jim, 1908


Designer/inventor; Locomotive and equipment builder.

In January, 1889, enrollment in the Jessop Road (Lambeth. He had already attended a Private School.

January, 1894, James' Jessop Road (Lambeth) School record.

c. 1897, Apprenticeship with Drewry & Sons, Bicycle Manufacturers, Herne Hill.

1899 - 1900 Junior Engineer and 'Improver' at De Dion Bouton.

In the 1901 census, aged 18; occupation: Mechanical Engineer

James (Jim) was into modelling. In 1900 there are two adverts in The Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician: A Journal of Mechanics and Electricity for Amateurs and Students, Volume 3:

"To Model Engineers - Drawings and tracings of any description clearly and neatly executed; engines and boilers dedsigned to specifications. Write, stating full particulars to Mr. Drewry, 303, Milkwood Road, Herne Hill, London."

"For sale - Steam Model Torpedo Boat Destroyer; 3 ft. long, 5 in. in beam; as described in The Model Engineer lately; What offers? J. S. Drewry, 303, Milkwood Road, Herne Hill, London."

In his twenties, Jim made his name with petrol-driven railcars. His first 'cars' were influenced by his work at De Dion-Bouton and used De Dion engines.

De Dion-Bouton

From 1883, de Dion had been building steam-driven cars and bicycles.

In 1895, De Dion, Bouton et Compagnie (set up the year previously) created a pretty useless 137 cc one-cylinder combustion engine but within a year a much improved engine was fitted successfully to a tricycle and put on the market.

In 1898, the tricycle became a four wheeler and by 1900 "De Dion-Bouton had turned into the largest automobile designer on the planet, producing 400 cars and 3200 engines." [Carole Nash]

For a year, 1899-1900, Jim was employed with the de Dion company as a "Junior engineer and 'improver' " [Grace's Guide, - Who's Who, 1953] Jim was 17, and working for a highly prestigious company, a world leader in the new automobile industry. We know that he was talented enough to earn such a position, but also wonder whether family connections might have been helpful.

The First Petrol-Driven Railcar?

After returning from his year with the de Dion company, Jim incorporated a de Dion petrol engine into a railway inspection trolley.

Chris Jim's daughter, left genealogy notes that include:

"Charles Drewry, my granddad, formed Drewry Cycle Co, later the Car & Cycle Co. Invented Drewry Rail car. Tried it out on the Cape to Cairo railway with James Drewry who was 18 yrs".

Chris's statement appears to mis-name of one of the companies, and quite possibly wrongly attributes the invention to Charles rather than Jim.

On the back of a photo of Jim and his brother Alfred, Mary (Alf's daugher-in-law) has written:

"Jim & Alf in Rail Car invented by J. D. to measure Rail deflections over S. African railways - probably about 1912"

The '1912', is an incorrect attempt to date the photo. Alf (the furthest from the camera) said he was sixteen when the photo was taken, which would make the year 1904. The raicar is clearly a later development of the car that Jim took to Africa. It was probably built at Herne Hill, and precedes his second trip to Africa.

Personally, I believe Jim was 22 and Alf 16, and the photo was taken in 1904. The railcar is a car that Jim has made after his experience in Africa. He certainly looks pleased with himself. The railcar is probably one of a number that he is building to fulfill orders obtained in Africa (and possibly elsewhere).

[Note: Civil & Etherington, to whom I leant the photo, incorrectly suggest that Alf was 18 and date the photo to the start of manufacture at Teddington in 1906.]

The book 'Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry' says that Jim " founded the Drewry Rail Car Co., and claimed to be the originator of the petrol railcar, having run the line from Cairo to the Cape for a time, and having built his first machine at Teddington in 1902."

The statement in 'Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry', above, appears to be a conflation of two pieces of information:

1. that Jim took his first railcar to Africa in 1902; and
2. that Jim built machines in Teddington. [Drewry & Sons did not move to Teddington until 1906 when the Drewry Car Co (not Drewry Rail Car Co.) was offically registered by Charles and James Drewry .]

In 1888, a prototype railcar, powered by a Priestman petrol engine and built by Priestman Brothers, was used for a short period In 1894 on the Hull Docks. (Wikipedia, 2020.
In America and the UK others were exploring the idea of petrol (and electricity) driven rail transport. For example, in Hungary J. Weitzer was building 'railmotors', using de Dion engines. in 1903.

However, Jim devised the concept of the petrol driven trolley and built a prototype in 1900 or 1901.

In 1902 he has it running on the proposed Cape-to-Cairo railway. The trolley, soon to become railcar, is a commercial success and James has a fair claim to being the inventor of, and bringing into production, the first successful petrol driven railcar.

Trolley No. 1 and Africa

See J D's and Other Africa Photos

Jim built his first, protoype rail trolley at the Drewry Herne Hill works in 1901. On his return from Africa production of Drewry Rail Cars began and perhaps 20 more trollies and railcars were built there between 1903 and 1906.

"Drewry & Sons, originally it family cycle-repair business, became one of London’s earliest garages, by adding motor repairs to their repertoire somewhere around 1900. Their premises were in Herne Hill, and it was here that the first Drewry railcars were put together in 1903 -1905. So popular did these become – by 1906 they had been exported to South America, South Africa, India, Australia and even Hawaii – that a separate firm was set up to take over the business." [Rodney Weaver, 1977]

On the 20th April 1902 James embarked on a recently built ship, the SS Saxon, on a voyage to South Africa. [passenger list of the Saxon]

He was not yet 20. When he took ship, the second Anglo-Boer War was still being waged in South Africa.

He took with him an experimental railcar, new technology.

Graces Guide, (Who's Who, 1953), tells us that he went to Africa "for Daubney & Co.".
We have found no trace of Daubney & Co. and believe that this is a mis-transcription from hand-written notes of Pauling & Co. agents working for Rhodesia Railways.

Pauling & Co.

Between 1900 and 1918 Pauling & Co. built hundreds of miles of railway in Rhodesia, Angola and Nyasaland and they were a major contributor to the development of the railways of Southern and Central Africa, including the greater part of Cecil Rhodes' unfinished Cape to Cairo Railway scheme. [Wikipedia]

From 'The Beira Railway' (in Railways of Zimbabwe by Anthony H. Croxton (1982), ps. 34-35

"In May 1899 Duncan Bailey ... related his experience of the Beira Railway ...

"The train consisted of nine wagons, seven full of coal ...one with timber, and a covered wagon full of cases of whiskey. Behind were two carriages and a brake van. There was only one class (1st class) or riding in open wagons. The gauge was 2ft but it varied an inch or so in places."

[Hence a need to measure rail deflections.]

"...About every hour the train stopped for water at tanks, or for wood. ... At 12.30 noon there was a jolting and a stop. We got out and I heard from a driver that he and his mate ... [once] went back three-quarters of a mile to shoot some buck, and nearly all drivers carried a gun.

"...At this stop we found the front wagon off the line with three axle-boxes broken to bits."

In 1901, the Rhodesia Railways board and the chairman Cecil Rhodes brought in Paulings & Co. to construct a new section of the Rhodesia Railways: from Bulawayo through the Wankie district - initially to access the Wankie coal mine but ultimately to reach the Victoria Falls.

The first 161 miles to Mambanje were relatively easy going , but the route onward from Mambanje to Wankie and the Victoria Falls was not:

Pauling & Co. were given the contract for this section. Their surveying engineer " Edward Rosher recalls that the heavily graded section between Dett and Wankie was some of the toughest country he ever encountered for survey work and that it was reputed to be Livingstone's 'Valley of Death'. ... in a country abounding with lion, elephant and other game, apart from the malarial mosquito ... " ['The Link with the Cape' Croxton (1982),ps. 60-61]

Pauling & Co. managed to open the section to Wankie by 1 December 1903, reaching the Victoria Falls on 24 April 1904. [On to the Victoria Falls' Croxton (1982), p. 91]

Jim is working with Paulings and Rosher during this period.

Rosher's Trolley

The picture on the right is found in Croxton’s ‘Railways of Zimbabwe’ (1982) and captioned:

'Rosher’s inspection trolley, with De Dion Bouton car engine, on Gwanda branch, 1903.'

In the picture, Jim, in his flat cap is seated on the right. The man on the left is probably Edward Rosher, railway surveyor and district engineer overseeing construction work on the Rhodesia railway network, working for Pauling & Co. The Gwanda line, a branch line off the main Bulawayo to Salisbury line, was constructed in 1902/3 and opened for traffic in August 1903.

"For his inspection work, Rosher had one of the first motor-propelled trolleys on the Rhodesian Railways. As can be seen from the photograph, this was a very primitive affair with a driver’s seat in front and a seat for another passenger behind, with a canvas awning on a light metal frame. A petrol engine made by de Dion Bouton provided the power when it worked, but it was somewhat erratic and there were times when the occupants had to get off and push it home."(Croxton, 1982, p.62)

New technology! Probably required the attendance of the inventor to keep it running.

Trolley No. 1

The photo of 'No.1 Trolley', on the right, is from Jim's photo album.

In the album it is dated 1904. However Trolley no. 1 looks to be the same machine as Rosher's trolley. Perhaps it was repaired and given some attention when he returned to Africa in 1904 with a camera?

In Allen Civil & Roy Etherington's book 'The Railway Products of Baguley-Drewry Ltd.: and its predecessors, 2008', the image on the right has the following caption:

"The earliest known published image of a Drewry car appeared in The Engineer magazine dated 10th November 1905. Built at Herne Hill and of 6hp. it was destined for 'service in Africa' and may have been the first Drewry of all."

In the accompanying discussion they state:

"Our knowledge of the products of Herne Hill relies entirely on two features in the trade press. The first, which comes from The Engineer, dated 10th November 1905, illustrates and describes a ‘Permanent Way Inspector’s Car.’ This vehicle was 42in gauge for service in Africa (we are not told exactly whereabouts). ... The open body had four fixed seats with folding luggage racks at each end, and a flimsy awning. Controls were reversible. The top speed was 27mph and the designer seems to have been pre-occupied with stopping it. Normal braking was via the clutch pedal which, when depressed to disengage, also applied the brake. A second brake pedal was provided to operate ‘if the clutch gear entirely breaks down’ and there was a third independent brake (presumably hand operated). A novel feature was an allowance of 3⁄4 inch side play on the axles, controlled ‘by strong spiral springs’ to take side shocks when the car entered a curve. "

Civil & Etherington (C&E) missed the photo on the left which appeared in J. H. Knight's 'Recent Progress On The Cape-To-Cairo Railway' in The Engineering Magazine, Vol 30, October 1905. the caption reads:

"Six horse power Di Dion gasoline motor car on the Rhodesia Railways.
Pauling and Co.

This is a Drewry railcar, and an early one since it has a de Dion engine. It is owned by Pauling & Co. and it looks like Jim is the driver. Note that this railcar is already in Africa while the railcar put forward by C&E is still in England.

Clearly there is some difficulty in dating old photos with precision. However, it does seem clear that Jim made at least two trips to Africa, one in 1902 which may have lasted into 1903, and one from 1904 to 1906. Of course, it is quite possible that during the period 1902-1906, Jim may have visited Africa more than twice.

C&E, discussing a car sent to India in 1909 and reviewing Drewry Car Co. advertising say:

"An interesting note on the standard cars refers to their designer having spent some years running them on various railways."

Does this imply that Jim visited other countries than Africa?

Given that there is a photo of Jim in Bulawayo dated 1908 (1905 is overwritten with 1908), it looks like he may have made a third trip in 1908. The image on the right is thought to have been taken around that time. The photo shows jim with six railcars made to his designs. On the back of the photo Jim has written:

"From left to right: Buchan’s Alldays, ‘Little Drewry’ reconstructed Alldays on ‘Drewry’ plans, Buchans new Drewry, B.R new ‘Drewry.’ Foreground - me and rebuilt ‘Drewry.’"

Another possibility is that this photo depicts Jim towards the end of his second visit to Africa. On his first trip he got more orders for railcars than the Herne Hill works could cope with. Here Jim is standing with imported Drewry railcars that have been manufactured by a number of small companies to fulfill those orders.

The Drewry Car Co


More information about The Drewry Car Co. and images of early cars can be found in Charles Stewart Drewry's page.



The obituary of James S. Drewry (left, from a local Letchworth newspaper) has an unfortunate fold where the text from the reverse side shows through. The owner of the cutting believes that the text says: "In 1903, at the early age of 21 he designed and manufactured the Drewry railcar .. which he later sold to the B.S.A. Co. of Birmingham".

The obituary describes his work in South Africa as experimental.

From 'Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry' (by Nick Baldwin & William Negus, 1980)

"James met Harry Shelvoke when Chief Engineer of Lacre.

Earlier he had founded the Drewry Rail Car Co., and claimed to be the originator of the petrol railcar, having run the line from Cairo to the Cape for a time, and having built his first machine at Teddington in 1902. [see above]

Subsequent designs were built by BSA, where he worked until 1911. He was a partner in Baguley-Drewry."

"Drewry was described as having the air of a slightly 'absent minded professor' type. He was a greatly respected engineer".


At Lacre, in 1912, he designed and built their famous three wheeled sweeper. (While he and Harry Shelvoke were working there.)

A 1920 version of the Lacre Roadsweeper (right) is at the Museum of Transport at Stondon, near Henlow, Bedfordshire. The vehicle was in use in Scotland until 1952.

See 'The Lacre Motor Car Company' in Grace's Guide to British Industrial History.

(Left) A 1938 Lacre Road Sweeper in the East Anglia Transport Museum.




First World War

During the first World War James designed and produced pontoon equipment for the Belgian Army and was later decorated by the King of Belgium.

Lacre provided many vehicles to the Belgian and British armies, as did the Drewry Car Co (with James as consultant engineer) .

The Obituary, above left, observes that James designed "much special equipment for the British Army."

See Charles Stewart Drewry's Page for pictures of some of the cars and carriages (clearly designed by James) that the Drewry Car Co provided before and during the First World War.

For example: (left) an ambulance car destined for the French Government and Mesopotamia. Baguley workers are demonstrating the loading of stretchers.

SD.png Shelvoke & Drewry

In 1922 James Drewry and Harry Shelvoke left the Lacre Motor Car Co to set up Shelvoke and Drewry

At the heart of the new company, was the Freighter:


In The Motor Transport Magazine, May 1923 - A Remarkable Two-Tonner

freighter_brochure3sm.jpg freighter_brochure2sm.jpg freighter_brochure_1sm.jpg

A full description of the new design: Click on any of the three images on the right to enlarge it in a new browser window:


See also The Unofficial Shelvoke & Drewry Website for some great photos of restored Freighters and a list of all S&D vehicles still in existence.

"James Drewry would come to the assembly benches to mull over design and production problems with favoured workmen over a four ounce tin of his favourite Afrikander tobacco."

According to 'a Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry':
"The development of a power broom is thought to be the cause of friction between James Drewry and Harry Shelvoke."

However, Nick Baldwin and William Negus, the authors of Kaleidoscope, were essentially reporting 'hear-say'.

See Malcolm Easton's "A personal view on the events that led to James Drewry leaving Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd."


From UK Electoral Roll 2000 - Shelvoke:

"Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd of Letchworth - makers of refuse collection vehicles, heavy duty fork lift trucks, and other specialised commercial vehicles.

Harry Shelvoke (1878 - 1962) and James Drewry (1883 - 1952) were employed by the Lacre Company that moved to Letchworth Garden City in 1910. (Harry Shelvoke as General Manager, and James Drewry as Chief Engineer)

They set up Shelvoke & Drewry in October 1922. The company merged with W. P. Butterfield in 1966. In 1971 a merger with G. A. Harvey formed the Butterfield - Harvey Group of Companies. S & D was the largest subsidiary of the group."

And from Kaleidoscope of S & D: "The S & D company ceased trading in 1991, but the company is remembered with great affection".

See also the S & D entry in Wikipedia.

See also Some of the machines invented and built by James Drewry and Harry Shelvoke. A Web search (e.g. using 'Drewry' as criterion in an image search) will uncover a large number of Drewry machines and give an indication of the many countries in which those machines were operated.

click to go to site The Unofficial Shelvoke & Drewry Website.

"A website created to preserve the name and history of Shelvoke & Drewry Ltd., of Letchworth, Hertfordshire. U.K. who were manufacturers of municipal vehicles for almost 70 years."

The The Unofficial Shelvoke & Drewry Site is managed by Brian Carpenter, who sent me the above extract from 'Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry'. The site is informative with news items and details of 'S & D Remembered' gatherings in Letchworth.

Brian would particularly like to know the connection, if any, between James and later Drewry railcars.
Brian can be contacted via The Site.


"In the mid 1930's Drewry left for a senior position with Hands Trailers." (Kaleidoscope of Shelvoke & Drewry). The Hands factory was in the former green field opposite the SD factory.

"For a while in World War II, James Drewry crossed the road to act as technical consultant on the tank trailers S & D were producing.

James Drewry designed one-man counterbalanced loading ramps for these trailers."

The Welfreighter

I believe that some of the work James did during the second World War is secret.

Vince, James' brother, said that during the second World War James was involved in the design of a mini-submarine (called the ' Welfreighter').

A surviving worker from the Welfreighter project has denied Jim's involvement. However, given the secrecy surrounding the project, it is quite likely that a person working on the project might not be known to others. Furthermore,shop floor workers would not need to know who was involved in design and consultation.

It seems very likely likely that an inventive engineer of Jim's standing (and renown) would have been called in to help with the project, particularly as he had been the design-engineer partner in S&D and was already working as a consultant in he design of tank trailers at S&D. He had also designed special equipment for the army during the first World War.


Some 50 or so patents that James held or was a partner in can be found at espacenet.com. Clicking on the patent links provides descriptions and sometimes drawings of the patents.

The first patent is dated September 1913, and the last April 1949

Some inventions

A Sliderule

This sliderule was probably made by James

"A very unusual Shelvoke & Drewry triple slide rule with ivorine scales held by 35 brass screws to an aluminium base plate.

The rule shows the cost of manpower to load freighters and contains 8 non linear and 1 linear scale. The rule dates from late 1920's."

The Testometer

Baptism Record

I cannot find a birth record in FreeBMD. However, there is a Baptism record:

From freebBMD:

Marriage: Jun 1910, Drewry James Sydney, Kingston 2a 739

In 1910, James got married. Did James and May then move to Birmingham? James would almost certainly need to be in Birmingham to manage the production of Rail Cars at BSA.

In 1913, James' and May's second daughter was born in Bedfordshire - so the sojourn in Birmingham probably did not last long. One gets the impression that James moved on to new things quite quickly once he had completed a task successfully.

In the 1911 Census

James DrewryHead26MManager of Motor Manufactoryb. Hackney
May DrewryWife22Mmarried under one year b. Kingston, Surrey
Cecilia Pinckneycousin14b. Walthamstow

Cecilia Pinckney is the daughter of Ann Easton Wood, James' aunt, and Thomas W Pinckney.
Ann Easton Wood is sister to James' mother: Julia Fava Wood.

In the National Register of September 29th, 1939, James and family are shown living at 11, William Way, Letchworth.

There are four others in the house: Frederick Dainton, an ARP Warden aged 30; and three whose records are redacted.

James is described as: 'Designer Transport Machinery M.I.A.E Company General Manager'.




Jim died in Hitchin, aged 70, in 1952.
and 45 years before:

Death: Dec 1907, Drewry, James S. - 70 - Hitchin, 4b 104 (born abt. 1837)
and another James died in London that year:
Death: Dec 1907, Drewry, James - 67 - Camberwell 1d 517 (born abt. 1840)