Sunday, February 17, 2013

Captain Maurice Seddon

 
I hardly ever do this,  publish a bunch of stuff that is not my original work but I was wandering the Internet recently, leaping from subject to subject as one does and I came upon a reference to a Maurice Seddon, apparently a manic motorcyclist, on http://thebridgeclub2011.blogspot.com with this picture:  
 
 
Then I found a Yahoo group called feet forward about which I know nothing except I found this excellent descriptive narrative of a classic British eccentric. You may not love motorcycles as I do but this story of meeting a weird and wonderful dispatch  (despatch -  sic) rider must make you laugh, yes but also appreciate a world which makes  room for genius like this, because Seddon is not a figure of fun but  a remarkable man:
 
 
 
"I seem to remember an article from (I think) Bike magazine, in the 70's some
time, about some retired English chap who heated himself, not his house. He
wore a suit of some sort with an electric umbilical that gently heated him."

Well off the FF subject but...

His name was Captain Maurice Seddon: not just an electrically heated
man but a motorcyclist of distinction.

He was once a captain in the Royal Engineers and liked to use the
rank. I knew him when we were both despatch riders at Security
Despatch In Covent Garden in the late '70's; he must have been
heading towards 60 then, so I don't know if he is still with us. He
used to wear tight black one-piece leathers (full leathers were
pretty rare on the road at that time) and spoke in a piercing Patrick
Moore accent; he also used to lapse into German from time to time, as
he was proud of being half German.
 
 


He rode a fantastically filthy and oily BSA 500 single with a mass of
extra wiring. The dynamo was replaced by a big car alternator, driven
by an exposed belt that ran off an extra pulley fitted on the end of
the mainshaft, through a hole carved in the primary chaincase.

He tuned his own radio set; whenever he changed jobs (because the
money was better elsewhere, or he objected to some petty rule) he
wouldn't take the new firm's radio like the rest of us; he just asked
what frequency they were on, and then opened his top box and swapped
the crystals around.

Also in the top box, powered by the big alternator, there was a
pressure cooker with a 12volt element. He filled it up with cold
goulash before leaving home so that he would have a hot vegetarian
meal by lunchtime.

Other features of the bike included a 100watt headlamp and a prop
stand made of scaffolding pole that hinged from just under the seat -
he didn't trust ordinary feeble prop stands. Also a tow ball welded
to the carrier, which he used to tow other more expensive bikes back
from ralles when they broke down; the BSA never broke down.

He wore heated gloves, heated socks, heated long johns and a heated
waistcoat. He designed these things and had a team of ladies
assembling them; he sold them mail order, but this business was not
hugely profitable which is why he also went despatch riding.

His house was wired in 12volt throughout. There was a windmill on the
roof driving a dynamo, and lots of batteries in the basement; he also
stored sulphuric acid in the back garden, in containers that leaked
and did some damage to plant and animal life. The house was not
heated in the conventional sense; he wore a 12volt dressing gown with
a long flex and plugged himself in as he moved from room to room; he
also had a 12volt electric blanket.

Among other things he made his own telephone; it was less effective
than an ordinary phone because it was single channel; you pressed a
button to talk (like a single channel radio) and as a result you
couldn't listen and speak at the same time. My wife phoned him once
and thought he was deaf in some way, as you couldn't interrupt him
while he was talking, until he explained that he had his finger on
the transmit button the whole time.

PNB might have known him; Paul was a hot shot at Mercury Despatch at
about the same time that I was getting fired for crashing too often.
However Maurice would not have worked at Mercury: you had to clean
the bike.
 
As if that weren't enough the Thames Valley VW Owners Club in Britain also published this appreciation of the man and his car:




I first saw this car in a local supermarket car park, I almost stopped to see if the owner turned up, but was in a hurry, so missed my first opportunity. At first glance the car appeared as if is ready for the breakers, but first impressions can be deceptive, as I found out. Next the car appears in the local paper, and the small article just confirmed my initial suspicion that this is no ordinary car, and no ordinary Volkswagen owner. Before we get on to the beetle itself, here's a very brief outline of the history of the owner. I conducted a 4-hour interview with captain Maurice Seddon, and his life story and achievements are as fascinating, if not more interesting than his mode of transport. Indeed, it was only in the last half hour that I could hastily get some insight into the car behind the man. Read on.


Captain Maurice Seddon Born in 1926, Maurice Seddon was born into a privileged background. His mother, Margarete Gertrude had come over from Germany in 1911. She was a concert pianist, having studied in Hildesheim „ Germany, and caught the eye of Frank Seddon, younger son of Harry Seddon and heir to a salt and chemical magnate. Maurice Seddon is a careful driver, just look at the notice on the back of his car.
 
 
His disdain for speed was a direct result of his father's love of it. During childhood trips down to the family's summerhouse at St. Meryn, near Padstow „ Cornwall. Frank would take the family at speeds up to 100 mph in his Mercedes KompressorWagen „ often causing the young Maurice to be travel sick.
 
 
 
Maurice got his name from Maurice Baring (part of the banking Barings), a friend of the family. However, his upper-class privileges were soon to end. In 1936 Frank Seddon's infatuation with his mistress resulted in a divorce in 1937. Despite being the wronged party, Maurice's family were totally cut off from the Seddon fortune and thereafter lived in rented accommodation in the 1930s. Now well and truly poor, Maurice was lucky enough to come into contact with Kurt Hahn, who became a close friend to his mother, Margarete Gertrude, and a father figure to Maurice.
 
Kurt Hahn 
 
Being a music lover, Kurt was aware of Margarete's previous fame as a concert pianist, as well as being a fellow German. Kurt Hahn is most famous for being a leading thinker and leader in progressive education. Having set up a school in Schloss Salem, by Lake Constance, „ Germany, his institute attracted some of the cream of the European classes, including the future Prince Philip. His progressive ideas, coupled with the fact that he was a Jew resulted in his imprisoned by the Nazis in 1934 and that could have been the end of his story. However, his British friends (he was also educated at Oxford) soon discovered his circumstances and used their influence to get the government of the time, (the Ramsey McDonald Lib-Lab government) to secure his release and transfer to Britain. Here, he set up the Gordonstoun School in Scotland and was the founder of in the International Outward Bound movement and instrumental in creating the Duke of Edinburgh scheme here in the UK. Kurt Hahn saw Maurice's potential and invited him to join his school in Wales around 1940. The school had moved from Scotland during the war and because of the preponderance of German teaching staff and boys, this caused too many allegations of Nazi sympathies with the local populace. Maurice attended the school in Llandinam where he founded the wireless club and joined Engineering Guild and the Motor Guild in the school. While in Wales, a Doktor Richter (the Biology master) was arrested for allegedly signalling to the Luftwaffe using a torch (he was actually looking for moths). It seems however, that Kurt Hahn spend part of his war years helping British intelligence monitoring German radio traffic, so was able swiftly to secure the masters release. While at the school Maurice made several radios for himself and the masters.
 
 
The Motor Guild also had extensive garage facilities nearby, halfway up a long drive up the local hillside. Maurice bought his first car, a 1916 Ford model T chassis for £1 and restored it with the help of his fellows. Its gravity-fed fuel system meant it would be starved of petrol half way up the Welsh hills. The solution, turn the vehicle around and drive up the rest of the way backwards. With the war still on and Maurice now at an age for military service, Kurt Hahn was anxious that he should volunteer and secure a post best suited to his skills. In 1944 he attended examinations at Cambridge for the Royal Corps of Signals, where he soon became known as the «mad boffin' and «wireless king'. His officer training was shared with notable individual, Geoffrey Howe „ later foreign secretary in the 1980s. Maurice rose to the rank of captain during his career in the army, and eventually retired in 1957, and in 1958 moved to his present house in Berkshire. The Inventor Maurice Seddon is most well known internationally as the inventor of low voltage powered heated clothing.
 
 
This is a direct result of his own suffering from Raynaud's syndrome, a constriction of the blood vessels in the extremities (usually hands and feet) that can cause pain and cold. He has pioneered this invention since 1951, his first client being his Classics master, and held many interviews in, among others, Germany, the UK and USA. Jonathan Ross, Jonny Carson and David Letterman to name just three, have interviewed him. His invention has given him little financial profit however; he has always failed to patent his ideas; while often, others have stepped in to copy his inventions. He is well aware that most would label him as the classic boffin and eccentric, and despite his poverty, he leads a full life and has travelled widely, had many experiences and known many famous people. He is so busy that it took me a week of last minute cancellations to arrange to meet him. At 77, he certainly has a full diary.
 
 
He is still active in producing bespoke heated clothing, maintains an historic wireless restoration business and also runs a private wireless museum. The Cars Why all the history? You cannot really talk about the cars without talking about the man behind them. Captain Maurice Seddon has run his cars on gas since the early 1960s and has run a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom, and three Volkswagen Beetles „ as well as converting cars for friends, including a Mercedes 220S. His sister had moved to Rome with her friend and daughter of Gioia Marconi's first wife. Maurice Seddon often travelled there annually from the 1950s and in 1961 bought a 1946-7 split window beetle. At this time as much as 50% of cars in northern Italy were converted to run on gas and Maurice had his beetle converted in Italy, by the firm of Renzo Landi in Reggio. The car served him faithfully on his many trips to the continent and was often serviced by a German Volkswagen dealership, Dost Automobile GmbH, in Hildesheim. In 1987 the Beetle came to the attention of an Australian enthusiast, Graham Lees, who saw the car while Maurice Seddon was being interviewed on Australian Channel 7 TV. After tracking down the car he would not cease from pestering Maurice to sell, and so the car moved to Sydney „ where it still resides.
 
 
In 1974 he also bought his present car, a 67 Beetle, which was also converted to gas. This car may look scruffy from the outside, but I had a good look and it was solid, mainly due to the regular application of anti-rust treatments to the body and underside. Maurice also owns what appears to be a 64 Beetle with a 65 1200cc petrol engine. Both have got the somewhat do-it-yourself white painted covering ? the same effect that Graham Lees tells us adorns his original 46 model. The unique gas powered beetle, and notice the dual electric system The gas supply in his 67 is via a tank on the roof, above the engine compartment. The gas power gives only a slight reduction in speed and acceleration, but had meant that the car still runs perfectly on the original engine, with only occasional servicing and oil top-ups. The clean nature of the fuel puts less strain on the engine with a less violent combustion. Maurice's unhurried driving style must also contribute to its long life, note the sign displayed at the rear of the vehicle. He tells me that many modern gas conversions use an initial petrol supply to start the engine, his relies solely gas so takes 3-4 turns of the starter when cold to bring the car to life. A careful driver Many of you will notice that there is both a 6-volt dynamo and a 12-volt alternator double pulley system. So what's all that about? The car itself runs on the 6-volt system, which causes Maurice Seddon to try and avoid night driving. The 12-volt system attaches to his interior heated clothing system, including the most important components „ heated gloves and insoles, and his camping refrigeration. How many beetle owners out there could also benefit from such an ingenious set-up, especially in the winter months. Oh, and by the way, he has recently added two 12v fog lights to the car to aid night visibility, For his travels the car only has a driver's seat, the rest of the interior includes a flat bed and the refrigerator, to cut down on hotel bills. The fact that this car is so solid and runs so well is due to a combination of its unique fuel supply, the care taken by Maurice over its maintenance, his driving and (as he stresses himself) the over-engineered nature of the Beetle itself. If you ever see him on the road, give him a little wave, but if you end up behind him, be prepared for a sedate drive, and overtake carefully and politely. A fascinating man and an intriguing example of the continuing reliability and adaptability of the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle. May they both live long and prosper.
 
Finally I tracked down this brief article from the Windsor and Eton Express from Arpil 12th 2012 by Francis Batt. I have to confess I was quite surprised to learn he hadn't died years ago and I haven't found any mention of an obituary and I  think the inventor of heated clothing would get a prominent mention when he dies....so he must still be alive. I guess!
 
A dog lover whose eccentric lifestyle caused conflict with neighbours and the local authority has given up the fight to stay in his home.
Captain Maurice Seddon, 86, lived in his Datchet home for more than 50 years. But the numerous barking dogs he kept in his back garden led the Royal Borough to get a court order against him.
Captain Seddon always claimed he needed the dogs for protection against intruders who harassed him.

One of the dogs in Captain Seddon's garden. As the years passed neighbours complained of noise and nuisance
One of the dogs in Captain Seddon's garden. As the years passed neighbours complained of noise and nuisance.
The showdown lasted years, only ending when Captain Seddon was taken ill at home. After treatment at Wexham Park and Upton Hospitals in Slough he is now living in a care home.

This week his friend and supporter Datchet parish councillor Ewan Larcombe - who has criticised the Royal Borough in the past for getting the court order - praised the authority's handling of the situation since the captain became ill.
The borough sent men to help friends and supporters of Captain Seddon as they worked for 15 months clearing his house of decades of debris.
The captain's vintage 1932 Rolls Royce Phantom is due to go under the hammer at Bourne End auctioneers at Station Approach, Bourne End on May 2 and the money will go towards meeting his needs at the care home.
Councillor Larcombe said that many of the captain's dogs had now died but that three were still living at the house to guard against trespassers. He said they were being looked after by wellwishers.
He said the captain had adapted well to life in the care home, adding: "He seems very bright. His friends are visiting him regularly."
Councillor Larcombe who has lived in the village all his life said: "Captain Seddon has had an amazing life. Many will remember him fitting top quality televisions and audio systems in their homes, travelling round the village in his gas fuelled Rolls with a working television in the back.
"He pioneered electrically heated clothes used by everyone from hillwalkers to spacemen and travelled the world promoting the idea.
"He is an electronics genius, a tremendous guy, a one-off."
 
So there it is. I have no idea why I was smitten by this story but I was and I wanted to add a (lengthy) page to my online diary to remind myself of him. I hope you enjoyed the pieces pulled together here. Cheers.

5 comments:

Enie Dub said...

How interesting......he sounds like my Dad!

Richard Holt said...

Security Despatch?

Conchscooter said...

Enie - I can't imagine what that was like.
Security despatch like Mercury was a large operation that carried papers and documents around London in the 70s. I thought about getting work there but I was never a hard core urban maniac.I'd have died. It was big businessbefore reliable faxes and internet. Nowadays peiople accept facsimile documents much more easily than in those days.

Unknown said...

I worked for Security Despatch when Maurice worked for us. He would typically come in for some evening work and finish up going to a vegetarian restaurant for some dinner. He came to our wedding dressed in a fine cut suit with an outlet plug hanging out of his waste band. Great character and gentleman!

Ewan Larcombe said...

Sadly I must report that Maurice Seddon died 5th March 2014.