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Douglas Motorcycles






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Douglas Motorcycles Showroom
Bristol showroom
During the First World War, Douglas Motorcycles of Hanham Road, Kingswood, won an army contract and produced 25,000 machines for the use of dispatch riders in the worst terrain of the Front.

In 1920, William Wilson Douglas, son of the founder of the famous motorcycle firm took over the company. He had taken part in the 1911 Isle of Man T.T. Races and after the Great War was in the U.S.A and Canada promoting the firm. In 1923, at the age of 43, William Douglas tragically died and his family moved away from the area.

In the 1950’s, Ashlands at Warmley the former home of the Douglas family, was divided up into a number of self-contained flats. Since the new owner moved here in 1985, a great deal of work has taken place. A massive boundary wall has been erected and the stables block has made way for a twelve car garage. In the former paddock, a lake has been dug and a helicopter pad installed.


For almost three years, the Dirt Track Douglas was the supreme dirt track machine selling around 1200 in 1929 alone. In the 1920s Douglas built the first disc brakes, and had a Royal Warrant for the supply of motorcycles to the Princes, Albert and Henry.

Motorcycle production continued into WWII and was extended to generators. In 1948, not long after the war, Douglas was in difficulty again and reduced its output to the 350 cc flat twin models. The 1955 350 cc Douglas Dragonfly was the last model produced. Westinghouse Brake and Signal bought Douglas out and production of Douglas Motorcycles ended in 1957. Douglas continued to import Vespa scooters into the UK and later imported and assembled Gilera motorcycles.

The Westinghouse take-over did not lead to the hoped-for infusion of capital. In fact, there was no money to retool for the new 152L2 model so this, and the subsequent Sportique, were merely assembled at Kingswood with local content being limited to details.

However, there are some things to be said on behalf of Douglas. Firstly places such as Australia may be “immense” in the physical sense but they are sparsely populated compared to Europe with consequent limitations on sales potential. Furthermore, a scooter is not necessarily the ideal vehicle for covering large distances in these countries.

Also the specification of the machines built by Douglas – at least until 1955 – was years behind those built by Piaggio or any of its other licencees. This put them at quite a disadvantage since the Lambretta importers in the U.K. were always able to bring in the latest models from Italy. At the end of the day you can’t blame Douglas for using every trick to keep their factories busy. After all they were making scooters in this country-not just importing them- and there were a lot of people in Kingswood depending on Douglas for employment.

Significantly, all the money being directed towards manufacturing meant that there wasn’t much left over for marketing. When you add in the fact that the British-built Vespas were usually several years out of date anyway then it’s not surprising that Lambretta got a toehold in this country that they generally failed to achieve elsewhere.

It seems that Piaggio came to accept the realities of the situation – i.e. that the British market had been irretrievably compromised by their decision to go with Douglas rather than export directly to the UK and good relations became the order of the day until the demise of Douglas in 1982.


The company also made several other products including airplane engines, tractors, Vespa scooters, trucks and cars. In 1935 they were in financial trouble and were taken over by BAC. They continued to make motorcycles, and in WW2 made generators and bikes. In 1948, Douglas was again in economic distress and forced to rationalize its line to a series based on a 350cc flat twin.

The last model made was the advanced and novel 350cc Dragonfly, in 1955. Distinctive looks and good handling couldn't hide the low top speed (75 mph, although a sports model claimed 84mph) and poor low-rev performance. A 500cc prototype was shown in 1951, but never made. The company was purchased by Westinghouse Brake & Signal, but new owners were more interested in making Vespa scooters, and motorcycle production ceased in 1957, although they continued to import and assemble Vespas and later Gilera motorcycles.


By the thirties, the motorcycle golden days were over. Douglas tried designing a car but, for some reason, only six were ever made and the idea was dropped. In 1936, production of motorcycles was stopped and the company turned to make the Sprite Mark II, various trucks and even aero-engines.

The Second World War saw the company turning out parts for fighter planes and portable generators. Then, in 1946, the Douglas motorcycle reappeared, together with a new range of electric vans. In 1949, the company imported its first Italian Vespa scooter which it began to make under licence.


They applied for and were granted a number of patents. John Douglas, residing at Woodstock, Kingswood, was co-applicant with the factory on patents. Where did he fit in?


The Douglas factory ceased production in 1957.


Prince Albert owned and rode a 1922 Douglas Motorcycle.


May 2008:
Developers want to build hundreds of homes on the former Douglas motorcycle factory site in Kingswood. The 12-acre plot, which once housed the biggest motorcycle factory in the world, would be bulldozed to make way for between 300 and 350 homes, some of which will be affordable homes for first-time buyers. Production of the famous Douglas motorcycles in Kingswood ended in 1957 and the buildings where 3,000 people once worked are now used by a number of small businesses.

Douglas Homes (South West) Ltd is preparing to submit a planning application as early as September to South Gloucestershire Council. Tony Doyle, spokesman for developers LPC (Trull), said Douglas House, which is locally but not nationally listed, would be retained as part of the massive housing development. The land has already been earmarked for housing by the local authority in its Local Plan so it is only the detail and design of the homes within the planning application that is likely to cause any controversy. The council has already agreed that the land could stand a building capacity of about 75 homes per hectare (2.4 acres).

Douglas House, once used for offices, would be restored as part of the housing scheme.


A Douglas 600cc Dirt-Track Racing Motorcycle c.1929 sold at auction in 2008 for £6300.


  • In 1882, William Douglas and his brother Edward Douglas founded the Douglas Engineering Company, first as a blacksmith's shop, but soon expanded to become an iron founders making quality castings, and later supplied parts to Joseph Barter, of Light Motors, for his Fairy engine. After the turn of the century and the advent of the motor vehicle they soon became involved in the development of engines.
  • 1885 Company founded - presumably William Douglas (Bristol) Ltd.
  • 1907 The first model was introduced at the Stanley Show. Mounted high in the frame, it had a 2.75hp flat-twin engine with braced forks and direct-belt drive. They also exhibited a compact V4 engine, but only two or three of these were made as the design was too advanced for the times.
  • 1909-1912 New frame design brought changes. A two-speed gearbox became available and a ladies' model was produced. Douglas began supplying Williamson with 8hp flat-twin engines for their machines. They also had their first success at the TT, with a win in the Junior class.
  • 1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of cars see the 1917 Red Book
  • 1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of motorcycles see the 1917 Red Book
    World War I. Several models were used by the forces and approximately 25,000 of these reliable machines went for service use. After the end of the war surplus bikes flooded the civilian market until around 1920.
  • 1920 The W20 model, with its 2 cylinder, 348cc sv engine, was equipped with clutch, kick starter and three-speed gear. It has a quite a few accessories, such as handlebar mounted watch, speedometer, full Lucas acetylene lighting, leather knee pads, protective shield under crankcase, holder for spare spark plugs and round leather case for spare tube or belt.
  • 1920s During the decade, Douglas had a Royal Warrant for supplying motorcycles to Prince Albert (late King George VI) and Prince Henry. Even King George V acquired a Douglas machine in this period.
  • 1921 The 3.5hp model was dropped and pivot-forked rear suspension made a brief appearance. This was followed by the introduction of two models with ohv engines.
  • 1923-1925 The firm did well in the TT and proved that their motorcycles were good performers in many classes. During this period Cyril Pullin became Chief Designer for Douglas.
  • 1926 An 'all-new model' was launched as the EW - designed to appeal to those who demanded performance without a high price tag.
  • 1927 By now there were five versions of the EW, and although a serious fire damaged the works, Douglas saw success in Australian dirt-track racing as the low-slung design was well suited to the terrain.
  • 1928 Cyril Pullin left the firm, to be replaced by Freddie Dixon, who produced a racing TT model. It was later joined by a dirt-track model designed specifically for speedway.
  • 1931 The firm had become a public company and was sold by the family.
  • 1932 New models were added, but the firm was soon in financial difficulty.
  • 1932 The light air-cooled engine had been adapted for use in light aircraft by British Aircraft Co.
  • 1934 They produced a 494cc shaft-drive model called the Endeavour. William Douglas, by now quite elderly, bought back the faltering business and produced a smaller range until the end of the decade.
  • 1935 Herr Kronfeld made a record flight from Croydon to Paris in an aircraft powered by a Douglas engine[1].
  • 1935 The company was in financial trouble and was voluntarily liquidated. The factory was purchased by the British Pacific Trust[2]. It had been used for making motorcycles and light aero engines. The new owners would use it for making aero engines and accessories. A new public company Aero Engines Ltd was launched which planned to halt production of motorcycles, concentrating instead on engines for aircraft.
    WWII During the war, Aero Engines made a range of products, more than half of which carried the Douglas name.
  • 1946 Aero Engines changed its name to Douglas (Kingswood) Ltd[3]. Issue of shares to raise capital.
  • 1947-1950 Douglas launched various new models.
  • 1948, Douglas was again in economic distress and forced to rationalize its line to a series based on a 350cc flat twin.
  • 1951 A 500cc prototype was shown but never made. An agreement was made for the company to build the Italian Vespa scooter under licence.
  • 1955 The last model made was the advanced and novel 350cc Dragonfly. Distinctive looks and good handling could not hide the low top speed (75mph, although a sports model claimed 84mph) and poor low-rev performance.
  • 1956 The firm was taken over by Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co.
  • 1957 The Vespa was still imported, but the end of the Douglas model was close.
  • 1961 Light engineers and metal founders, specialising in the manufacture of Vespa Motor Scooters, Road Brakes and Signal and Colliery Equipment. 2,000 employees.
  • Note: For many years afterwards, still trading under the Douglas name, the company imported Gilera mopeds and lightweight motorcycles.

The Family



Jack Douglas Rosina Douglas width= Willie Douglas William Douglas
Jack Douglas,
Grandson of the founder
Rosina Douglas,
a daughter, 1935
Willie Douglas,
William Douglas
Elizabeth Douglas Plants: image 3 0f 4 thumb The Douglas brothers Douglas Motorcycles advertisement
William's wife, Elizabeth Bill Douglas, 2007 The Douglas brothers Douglas Motorcycles
Mary Ethel Douglas John Douglas death notice Sale notice Sale notice
Mary Ethel Douglas John Douglas
death notice, 1937
Sale notice, Ashlands
Sale notice, Ashlands
Funeral mourners Funeral mourners
William's funeral
Percy's funeral



Little is known about the early life of the Douglas brothers, William and Edward, apart from the fact that the family lived in Greenock and 'were of the Douglas Hamilton clan', which accounts for the Scotsman badge and the tartan tank bordering used on some of their motor cycles manufactured during later years. William originally came to Kingswood on the eastern outskirts of Bristol, to repair bootmaking machinery, had started the company, as an engineering concern, in 1882.


Ethel Douglas was born in Melbourne Australia and was the niece of William Douglas and daughter of his brother John Percy Douglas (1862-1930) who emigrated to Australia from Bristol around 1880.

After John Douglas's wife, Jeannie, died in 1897 he sent his older children (thought to be Vera, Roderick, Arthur, and Alan) back to Bristol to live with his brothers who ran what would become Douglas Motorcycles.

Mary Ethel Douglas married William Bertie Cox on 13th April 1913 and the reception was at "The Woodlands", (2) the home of William & Elizabeth Douglas in Court Rd, Kingswood. The house was located close to the junction with Hanham Rd and is now the car park for a care home and parish rooms.


William, brother to Edward, had a son, William Wilson Douglas. William Wilson Douglas had two nephews, Jim and Jack. There were also two girls, who may have been daughters or nieces, Rosie/Rosina and Renee/Irene. A Douglas daughter (of whom?) reportedly married a Williamson, of Rex Bikes, and another reportedly married Willy Messerschmidt (1).


William and Edward were cousins (by marriage, maybe?) to William Williamson, of Rex Bikes, who. after 1911, founded the Williamson Motor Company (which used Douglas engines in its cars). William Williamson had a brother, Harold.


An early Messerschmidt airplane used a Douglas motorcycle engine.


Segelflugzeugbau Harth-Messerschmitt Designs - 1922-25

S 15 - 1923 motor glider, 1 x 10 hp Victoria (repl. by 14 hp Douglas)
-- considered a powered development of the S 14, wheels repl. skids
S 16 - Bubi, 1924 2-seat (tandem) light aircraft, 1 x 24 hp Douglas Sprite
- S 16b: second a/c. Sim. to S 15 but with higher pedestal for wing
-- first design entirely by Messerschmitt, Harth leaves firm in 1923


The Douglas engine taken from the S 16b. Took part in the Zugspitzflug in Jan. 1925 (Competion number 3)

Messerschmitt Flugzeugbau - Messerschmitt Flugzeugbau GmbH - 1925-27

M 17 - Ello, 1925 2-seat (tandem) light aircraft, 1 x 32 hp Bristol Cherub III
-- reduced-scale S 16, options: 24 hp Douglas Sprite or ABC Scorpion, 8 built


douglas m/c   Geoff Brazendale and his 100 year-old Douglas motorcycle with the Duke of Buccleuch at Drumlanrig, July 2014
mascot   Cast bronze replica of the famous Douglas mascot called "Wee Jamie", depicting the Douglas Scotsman holding an engine 1919/20.
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1.  I have been searching for evidence of this marriage, but it appears Willy Messerschmidt met in the 1920s 'Lilly Stromeyer, nee Baroness von Michel Raulino and daughter of the financier Michel Raulino know from Bamberg tobacco dynasty, which was widely known as "The Baroness". They even helped him several times later, with millions of dollars in guarantees from financial emergencies. After the Second World War, they legalized their relationship and married.'

2.  Photograph of the wedding group

3. In 1864 a William Douglas was living in Bell Hill, St George and was described as an engineer. He took out a mortgage on a property in Two Mile Hill occupied by John Douglas.

4. I am grateful to Paul Townsend whose research has contributed to the family history.


See also:

•  Notes on the Douglas family and the Kingswood motor cycle factory. (1.23mb pdf)

  • Bill Douglas, the founder's grandson
  • Bristol businesses

  • The Douglas milk float
  • Douglas airport tug
  • Douglas car
  • Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024