Windham Detachable Motor Body Co.

The fuselage and wings for the Oakington Monoplane were built at the Windham Detachable Motor Body Co. 22 St. John's Hill, Clapham Junction, London SW. The company was owned by Captain Walter George Windham later Sir.

Walter Windham was born late in 1868, he was descended on his father’s side from the Wyndhams and the Smijths and on his mother’s side form the Russells, Dukes of Bedford. In fact as a child he spent much of his time at Woburn Abbey. His surname should have been Smijth-Windham, but he did not much care for double barrelled surnames.

Windham’s first motor vehicle was a De Dion tricycle in 1896. He advertised for someone to teach him to ride it and was contacted by a Mr Perry who gave him lessons in Battersea Park, much to the amusement on many onlookers. The Mr Perry in question later became Lord Perry and headed the Ford Works at Dagenham. Later that year Windham took part in the ‘emancipation run’ to celebrate the end of the regulation which required a man with a red flag to walk in front of the motor-cars on the public highway, on 14th November from London to Brighton. Around 1898 he started to drive his first car.

An illustration of how the Windham Detachable Body worked.

He later became a manufacturer of motor-cars when he set up The Windham Detachable Motor Body Company. The factory was based at 22 St John's Hill, Clapham Junction, London, SW. Windham states that he built hundreds of cars fitted with his patent ‘Windham detachable body’, of which he exported all over the world. The system allowed the rear part of the body behind the driver’s seat to be removed and replaced with a body of a different style. One such vehicle fitted with a Daimler engine was built in 1911 for His Highness the Maharajah of Sirohi. It had three detachable bodies, one closed, one a shooting brake and the third was a tourer. The vehicle was seen in 1922 in Delhi following a procession behind the Prince of Wales. In addition to India Windham exported to Europe, America and Russia.

One of Windham’s friends was C.S.Rolls of Rolls Royce fame. It was Rolls who invited Windham to join the firm. He was able to help establish sales & the works, but the relationship did not last long as Windham preferred to be ‘on his own’. However some Rolls Royces did incorporate Windham’s patent detachable rear section.

In 1908 Windham formed the Aeroplane Club, which at first only had a membership of about a dozen, but it was not long before the numbers topped a thousand. The purpose of the club was:- “To advise, help, and give practical information to all English inventors who are interested, directly or indirectly, in the ‘heavier-than-air’ flying machine, and to provide them with a congenial meeting place for the discussion of their ideas’.

Later that year Windham arranged for a number of groups of students from the Regent Street Polytechnic to travel to Paris. The excursion started from Victoria Station in a reserved train. While there the students were able to visit the various manufacturers of planes and aero engines. It was not long before others who were involved with aviation wanted to join the trips. Windham did in fact give a lecture on flight "illustrated by cinematograph and other lantern illustrations" at the Regent Street Polytechnic on Tuesday 25th May 1909. This was annouced in Flight Magazine on the 22nd of that month and the chair was to be taken by Major Baden-Powell.

At one stage there was a proposal that the Aeroplane Club should amalgamate with the Aero Club (which later became the Royal Aero Club). However this merger did not materialize. By January 1909 the Aeroplane Club had around 1,300 members and had their first aeroplane dinner at the Savoy. During this meeting the difficultly of finances and the fact that they had no premises was discussed. Consequently it was decided to combine with the Motor Union, which gave the club a sound financial base. Shortly after Mr Rees Jeffery who had run the Motor Union left for a post on the Road Board and the new combined club’s members and funds were handed over to the Automobile Association. By May 1909 Windham had also joined the 'Aero Club to the United Kingdom' and was part of the 'Ground Committee' with his friend Charles Rolls.

Early in 1909 Windham comissioned de Pischoff & Koechlin of France, to produce him a biplane. He would later exhibit this machine at the first aero show to be held in Britain, at Olympia. The show was organised by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and was supported by the Aero Club. It opened on Friday 19th March 1909 and ran until Saturday 27th March.

The following is an extract from Flight Magazine 27th March 1909:-

AERO SHOW AT OLYMPIA. – Captain Windham’s Pischoff flyer seen from in front. One of the righting planes, which are mounted midway up the outside stays, is clearly visible. The rudder, which should be between the planes of the rear tail, is not shown.

Pischoff (Capt. Windham).

Capt. Windham, who has entered the commercial side of aviation, shows a biplane, which was constructed for him by Messrs. Pischoff, in France, embodying ideas of his own. Capt. Windham has now arranged to build similar machines in England for sale to the public for the price of £650.00 complete. One of the most characteristic features of the machine is that derived from the appearance of the outrigger framework which carries the biplane elevator in front and the ridged biplane tale behind. The first impression is that this framework is one complete elliptical unit, but closer inspection show the lack of continuity in the upper girder members which stop short under the main planes. The machine is mainly constructed of wood, but has a certain amount of tubular steelwork in connection with the chassis and the brackets for the support of the two chain-driven propellers which hare situated immediately behind the main planes and therefore a little aft of the centre of the machine as a whole. The planes themselves are doubled surfaced, but the appearance of the end webs does not give evidence of any close attention to special curvature. The decks are separated by vertical wood struts, with usual system of diagonal wiring. The struts are bolted to strip iron angle plates, which in turn are either bolted or screwed to the main bars, but although this detail in the construction in evidently not intended to be flexible, the rough fitting certainly belies rigidity; in fact, there is a distinct lack of refined workmanship in many parts of the machine.

An original feature of the control is pivoting the back of the pilots seat so that by swaying his body he can operate the movements of a pair of small righting planes which are pivoted midway between the main planes at each extremity. The elevator and rudder, the latter being in the middle of the tail, are controlled by a single lever operated by the driver’s right hand. The engine with which the machine is at present equipped is a 2-cyl. Dutheil-Chalmers, but the machines which Captain Windham will construct in the country will have 4-cyl. Engines of the same make.

The Windham Pischoff Biplane.

The biplane had a span of 35ft, wing area of 495ft and weighed 390 lbs. Despite the makers guarantee that the plane would fly 300-400 metres, there are no reports that it ever produced a successful flight. Proposals to build further examples in Britain did not materialise.

The Windham Glider in the final stages of assembly at The Windham Works, Clapham.

The Windham glider was built was built in the early part of 1909 by apprentices at Windham's motor body works. Messrs. A.M. Grose, T. de Geurin, H. Cutter, H. Turrell and N.A. Feary were those invloved with the construction and testing, which took place at Wembley Park in the Summer, when a few flights were made before damage occurred and the tests were finally terminated.

The Windham Glider under test at Wembly Park in the Summer of 1909.

The glider was of the Chanute type with biplane wings and boxkite tail, carried by booms tapering in elevation. The operator supported himself in the cutaway centre section of the bottom wing, relying on weight shift for control. The materials used for construction were mainly poplar with some deal and bamboo. The Span was 18ft 6in, Chord 5ft 6in, wing area 180 sq. ft and weight 60 lbs.

The Windham Tandem Monoplane.

This unusual looking machine appeared at Wembly Park in August 1909, being first reported as under construction in June, thus succeeding the de Pischoff machine, which may already have been abandonded. Although the deisgn was described at the time as 'ingenious' the machine was not capable of flight. The aircraft consisted of a single top and bottom longerons of bamboo, spaced by vertical struts and braced by wires. Extending from the top longerons were single spars of bamboo for the front and rear wings, which were set at a pronounced dihedral angle. The wings were merely diamond shaped panels of fabric, laced to wire leading and trailing edges. Set below the wings, were long triangular shaped panels provided as fins. A small square elevator and a rudder were fitted at the extremere rear. The undercarriage consisted of two pairs of wheels, mounted separately, below each wing spar.

The Windham Tandem Monoplane.

The engine which was a 35/45hp 4-cyl water-cooled, horizontally opposed, Dutheil-Chalmers, was mounted at the front, driving a tractor propellor and was cooled by a circular radiator, as used on the earlier biplane, but mounted end-on to the airflow, above the front wings spar. The pilot apparently sat on the lower longeron. Span: 24ft, Length: 50 ft, Weight less engine: 125lbs.

The Windham Monoplane.

Windham's second monoplane appeared at the Doncaster Meeting on the first day, Friday 15th October 1909. It caused a sensation when a light gust of wind caught the machine, while Windham was seated in it on the ground during a line up for photos of the competing aircraft. The back of the fuselarge broke depositing Windham on the floor. The machine was repaired, but was invloved in a collision with a car on the third day, after which it was no longer in evidence and it was abandonded.

The Windham Monoplane.

The Aero described the machine as being 'on distinctly Bleriot lines, and reproduces that machine with more or lessaccuracy exept in a few details'. The important detail was the fuselage girder, which was of light construction with weak longerons at the top. A biplane type tail, with two elevators, was fitted. The engine was of vee type, reported to be either JAP or a 25hp Advance, however the vee angle is to large to be an Advance so the JAP is the more likely power source. Span: 30ft, Chord 6ft, Length: 25ft.

Windham went on in 1911 to set the first two official air mail services. In February he started a temporary service in India from Allahabad to the other side of the Ganges, using Humber biplanes. In September he began an air mail service between Hendon and Winsor, in which special stamps and envelopes were issued.

In 1914 a winding up order was given for the Detachable Body Co. , spelling the end of the company . It is not known if any of Windham’s bodies still exist, or how many were produced, but certainly they seemed to be an innovative company, who tried their hand at a variety of products. With regard to the man himself, Sir Walter Windham died on 5th July 1942.

Oakington Plane