A Brief History of Electromobile (Leeds) Ltd
Not to be confused with The Electromobile Company Ltd. of Mayfair in London which had been established in 1902. They built and supplied electric taxicabs and ambulances, for use in the capital, using chassis from Greenwood & Batley and bodywork from the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon works amongst others. More details of this can be found in our Brief History of Car Making in Leeds
Electromobile (Leeds) Ltd was registered in July 1914 with a capital of £40,000 in one pound shares. In February 1916 their address was 30 Bath Road off Water Lane in Leeds and a year later they were occupying premises in Neville Street. Initially they were in the business of supplying battery powered road vehicles, both of their own manufacture, using chassis from Greenwood and Batley Ltd., and imports from America, and it wasn't until the mid 1920s that they started to produce battery railway locomotives.
Much of the information regarding its products and customers comes from the online archive of Commercial Motor magazine. On the 10th February 1916 it carried the following report;
Readers of this journal may be interested to know that Electromobile (Leeds), Ltd. is in a position to quote for electric vehicles to suit loads varying from 10 cwt. to 3 1/2 tons. Particulars will he supplied on application to Mr. F. E. Popplewell, the director of the company that is giving particular attention to the development of this branch of trade. The makers of the chassis are Greenwood and Batley; Ltd., a company with a good reputation in electrical engineering.
With this report a week later;
Electromobile (Leeds) Ltd. notifies us that in addition to the 15cwt. electric vehicle built on the Greenwood and Batley chassis, which it is handling, it also has acquired exclusive rights in the British Isles for the "Urban" electric in sizes varying from 10 cwt. to 3 1/2 tons. These can be equipped with the Edison or Iron-clad-Exide batteries, at additional cost.
It appears also that this company is shortly to handle two petrol lorries of American origin, of load capacities of 1250 lb. and 30 cwt. respectively.
By January of 1917 Electromobile had been granted the sole agency to supply the products of another American concern, the Commercial Truck Company, or C. T. as they were known.
The chassis and drive components were imported unassembled and put together at their Neville street works along with whatever body the customer requested. Trucks were available in five sizes; 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 tons capacity, along with an electric fire engine. The 1 and 2 ton chassis were powered by two electric motors - one on each rear wheel - with the larger vehicles having a motor on each of the four wheels. The 1917 edition of the 'Motor, Marine and Aircraft Red Book' reported that Electromobile were also importing smaller 'Buda' warehouse trucks and platform vehicles from America. Whether these were complete vehicles or just the chassis and drive components isn't clear.
In May of 1919 Commercial Motor magazine reported that Electromobile would be moving to premises in Otley to continue production of electric lorries, although by the end of the year they were still based in Neville Street. The same report mentioned that currently output was not great due to a strike by Moulders'. The move to Prospect Works on Leeds Road in Otley took place sometime between January 1920 and September 1921. This location was beneficial at a later date as it backed on to the NER railway line just east of Otley Station. Shortly after this they were marketing the 'Otley Electric Tractor', a small 4-wheeled, cabbed truck capable of hauling a 6 ton trailer, as an economic form of transport for short distance work, such as between a Works and Railway Station. It was also claimed to be of use in yards where single railway waggons had to be moved from time to time, or for use in drawing mains cables through ducting.
Above - The Otley Electric Tractor (Photo Otley Museum Archive)
The price of the Otley Tractor as quoted to Messrs. British Gas Co. Ltd. of Hull in 1925 was £575 with the weekly running costs broken down as follows (assuming it did around 20 miles per day):
|Current. Six charges||13s 0d|
|Lubrication and renewals||5s 0d|
|Allowance for battery renewal||£1 4s 0d|
|Allowance for tyre renewal||6s 0d|
|TOTAL||£2 8s 0d|
Unfortunately in this instance their quote was unsuccessful in gaining the order.
The same brochure also advertised a variety of small battery powered side or end tipping trucks with capacities of 7 to 50 hundredweight.
In 1926 Electromobile developed a small mobile cantilever electric crane. There were two models, one capable of lifting one ton in any position of the jib, and the other capable of dealing with loads of twice this weight. One was demonstrated loading railway waggons at Otley Station in 1927.
Above - Cantilever electric crane at Otley Station in 1927 (Photo Ian Conradi)
The first report of a potential customer was in May of 1915, when Edinburgh City Council quoted a night-charging rate of 1 penny per unit of electricity to a Princes Street firm which proposed to use Electromobiles for its delivery work. However, most of the sales mentioned in Commercial Motor are from 1920 and onward; they show quite a variety of end uses but with most customers being municipal authorities:
Manchester Corporation Electricity Committee - 15cwt van.
Bradford Corporation Electricity Committee - side tipping lorry.
Bootle Corporation - two 3 1/2ton and two 5 ton wagons.
Blackpool Corporation - six 2 ton refuse wagons.
Messrs. Derbyshire, bakers and confectioners of Blackpool - fleet of delivery vans.
Tate & Lyle - 5 ton wagon for use at Liverpool Docks.
Emido Co Ltd, flour millers - wagon for use at Liverpool Docks.
Glasgow Coproration - a special vehicle for dealing with offal from the slaughter-house. The machine was to carry approximately four tons of wet material in the passages below the slaughter-house.
LMS Railway - a number of 10 - 15 cwt parcel delivery vans for St Pancras Station.
Worthing Corporation - an electric vehicle costing £867.
Birmingham Corporation refuse department- two dust wagons.
GPO in Leeds - three 30 cwt vans.
GPO in London - a number of vans similar to those in use in Leeds.
Below - Fire tender version of Electromobile's 2 Ton Electric truck (Photo Ian Conradi)
Mr Charles Guthrie Conradi, born in Edinburgh in 1878, who had become Managing Director of Electromobile by 1924 wrote a number of letters to the magazine extolling the virtues and benefits of electric vehicles. To quote from one of them, dated 15th February 1925, which apart from the reference to horses, could almost have been written today:
Sir, Your timely remarks on the elimination of the horse from congested areas opens up a subject of very great national importance and one which should be thoroughly thrashed out as soon as possible.
From a health point of view alone, the condition of the atmosphere in the streets of London, especially in warm weather, is becoming appalling, and would appear to be equally due to the presence of the horse and the petrol haze of the motors. If the congestion were removed by the elimination of the horse, and movement accelerated, no doubt the petrol haze would be also much reduced.
We all value our time at some figure, and if the hundreds of thousands travelling through the centre of London per day only lose half an hour each at say, 2shillings per hour, through traffic delays, the resultant loss per annum runs into millions of pounds. Slow delivery of goods means a direct loss on the same, and the extra capital required on account of this and also additional transport vehicles must amount to a considerable sum. Is it too much to say that, in London alone, ten millions of pounds are lost through the congestion and slow movement of the street traffic every year? And be it noted that, because of the increase in motor licence fees this year, more horses are already being put back on to this work.
The only means of relief is to employ more electric vehicles for city work, for which they are eminently suited. Indeed, its inherent characteristics make the electric vehicle the only type of road transport for consideration under the conditions prevailing. It takes up less space than any other vehicle on the road and has an economical speed at least twice that of the horse; there is no smell, it is easy to handle and fit for the oldest men to drive; its reliability is proverbial, it is cheap to run and it uses home-produced fuel, viz., electricity, which is not liable to fluctuations.
Its disadvantage in the past has been high first cost. This does not now obtain to the same extent, and increasing numbers will quickly bring the cost down still further. Batteries are now guaranteed for at least three years, and long-period maintenance contracts can now be arranged.
From the point of view of national efficiency the electric vehicle must be given greater attention. Why should there be thousands in use in Germany and America for the hundreds in this country, where electricity is cheap and becoming increasing plentiful? Yours faithfully, C. G. CONRADI, Managing Director, Otley, Yorks. Electromobile, Ltd, 
Prior to taking employment with Electromobile, Charles Conradi had been on the staff of the Midland Railway Company in Derby. He had joined as an apprentice Electrical Engineer in 1901 progressing to become chief draughtsman and assistant to the Electrical Engineer. Amongst other projects, he worked on the experimental 6.6kV AC overhead electrification of the Lancaster to Morecambe and Heysham line. He was elected a Full Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1916.
If Electromobile were already considering branching out into the railway sector, it may well have been Conradi's knowledge and experience gained in Derby which made him a suitable candidate for employment. What ever the reasons, he moved with his family to Otley in the early 1920s, and it was around this time that Electromobile supplied their first recorded battery locomotive.
Whilst not necessarily complete, and no works list has been found, the following probably represents a major proportion of Electromobile's rail locomotive output. Details have been found of two standard gauge shunting locomotives, one standard gauge rail car and 4 narrow gauge locomotives, with some information on around a dozen more.
The Locomotive magazine for 15th March 1927 carried an article on a recently completed Electromobile standard gauge battery rail car, more of which later, but it also gave details on a previously constructed battery shunting locomotive. The accompanying photograph showed it on test at the station at Pool-in-Wharfedale with a train of four wagons. It was a four-wheel loco with a centre 'steeple' cab, weighing in at 9 tons, with a haulage capacity of 60 tons and was reported to have been constructed to Railway Clearing House standards. Whilst not conclusive, the locomotive is an exact match for an Electromobile, numbered W172 and carrying the name NINA, supplied new in 1925 to Harrison & Son (Hanley) Ltd, Victoria Mill, Stanley, near Endon in Staffordshire. This firm which burned and ground flint for the pottery industry, was situated near the Caldon Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal, just south of Endon Basin, and was connected to the North Staffordshire Railway's Leek Branch by a private siding around 1/4 mile in length. This line itself is of interest as it crossed the canal via a small swing bridge which pivoted in the middle of the canal; the remains of which still exist on a small island in the centre of the waterway.
Above - Looking towards Otley; battery shunting locomotive W172 on test at Pool-in-Wharfedale station in 1925 prior to delivery to Harrison & Sons at Endon in Staffordshire. - Bob Darvill collection
Below - W172 now called NINA at Harrison & Sons works in the 1950s - Allan Baker collection.
W172 was used at Endon until rail traffic to the mill ceased in 1961. Afterwards it was purchased by Brookfield Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd. who occupied the former Kerr, Stuart California Works in Stoke-on-Trent. It probably saw very little further use and was scrapped there in August 1975.
The Locomotive article also included reference to another larger shunting locomotive, of similar type that was currently in production. This was almost certainly Electromobile number W247 which was delivered new to the War Office at Shoeburyness Artillery Range in Essex with a Ledger number of L3668. It was powered by 118 batteries, weighed 40 tons and could pull a load of 300 tons. There is no record of it's duties at the range until 1941 when it was used to haul a rail mounted, armoured anti-aircraft battery by the name of TERROR. It must have been rather incongruous to see an armoured wagon being pulled by a wooden bodied locomotive. It was transferred to the Disposals File in June 1948 and possibly moved to MoD Eaglescliffe near Stockton-on-Tees.
The next reference to W247 is as works shunter at the Bowesfield Works of the joint venture company between Metropolitan-Vickers and Beyer, Peacock also in Stockton-on-Tees. After the closure of these works it moved to the engineering works of Richard Garrett at Leiston in Suffolk, again as works shunter, where it replaced the Aveling & Porter loco SIRAPITE again as works shunter. It was finally scrapped on site when rail traffic ceased at Leiston in 1968.
Below - W247 at Richard Garrett Engineering Works Ltd, Leiston, Suffolk on the 23 Oct. 1965 - Peter Excel
As mentioned earlier The Locomotive magazine carried a piece on a recently completed Electromobile Ltd. battery rail car, that in itself was largely a repeat of an earlier article in the Wharfedale Observer for 4th February 1927. The 16 seater rail car had been ordered by the War Office again for use at Shoeburyness, this time for conveying artillerymen out to the gun ranges. However it is clear that Electromobile were really aiming it at a wider market. Major Anson Arnold-Forster, one of the directors, pointed out that owing to motor omnibus competition railway companies were having to give serious consideration to the problem of retaining and winning back branch line traffic;
"The cost of running a frequent service of trains of the usual type on branch lines is prohibitive, as except at certain times of the day, the trains carry very few passengers. What is required is a vehicle with the seating accommodation of one or two buses with low running costs, and which can work with ordinary rolling stock if necessary. It is to meet these conditions that the 'Otley' rail car has been built."
The rail car's first test had been on a Sunday morning when it was put onto the LNER line at the rear of Electromobile's Prospect Works, and following a few preliminary runs, it carried representatives from railway companies to Pool, where they gave it a thorough inspection.
Below - The 'Otley' railcar on the day of its demonstration run from Otley to Pool for railway company representatives, January 1927. - Ian Conradi
The Locomotive gives further information:
20ft 6in in length, wheelbase of 9ft, width of 8ft 2in and 10ft 7 1/2 in height
Maximum weight of 10 tons and a haulage capacity of 6 tons
Two electric motors mounted beneath the frames, with batteries under the seats
Average of 200 volts from the 108 cells
A screw brake acting on all 4 wheels. Sanding gear fitted.
Speed of 17 mph
A range of approximately 40 miles on one charge, costing around 4 shillings (20p)
A driving position at each end, with seating for 16 people, on tramcar type seats, with the option for further passengers to be carried in a trailer coach
For the War Office, the rail car was only fitted with (unbreakable) glass screens front and rear and roll-down canvas curtains along the sides, but for regular use a closed body similar to a bus would be fitted. Whilst at Shoeburyness the railcar carried the Ledger number L3671. Perhaps it wasn't wholly a success as in 1935 the batteries were removed and replaced by a 4 cylinder internal combustion engine coupled to a generator; so making it a petrol electric railcar. It was involved in a collision with a Wickham rail gang trolley on 31st October 1944 and eventually put on the disposal list on 24th April 1948. No further information has come to light.
It would appear that Electromobile were more prolific in building narrow gauge battery locomotives than they were of standard gauge ones, with at least four being sent abroad.
In 1905 the firm of Clayburn Brickworks & Clay Mining Company started operating near Abbotsford in British Columbia, Canada. Around 1920 this firm purchased a small 3 ton 2ft 6in gauge battery locomotive from of all places Electromobile in Otley. Just how and why is a mystery as the previous four locomotives in their fleet all came from American builders, although it was possibly acquired through an agent in Vancouver. The loco continued in use until closure of the works in 1976. Then after 16 years in storage it was donated to the local Clayburn Village Museum where it still resides. Hence it is not only the earliest recorded Electromobile locomotive to be built but also the only one known to still be extant.
Its design is typical for this type of machine; a frame 9ft 1in long by 3ft 7in wide and 16 in deep supporting two removable battery boxes each containing 21 cells; with a driving position at one end. It is powered through triple drive chains from a centrally located motor via an intermediate shaft out to each of the axles. The remains of the paint show that it was once a greenish-yellow colour but now much of it is covered in rust and dried clay.
Above - The 2ft 6in gauge Electromobile locomotive preserved at Clayburn, Canada. It is stored on wooden blocks in a lean-to shed at the museum, July 1995. - Bob Darvill collection
The Royal Australian Navy operated a mine storage depot on Swan Island near Melbourne; from 1885 it was connected to the mainland by a horse-worked 3ft gauge railway running over timber bridges. In 1924 the Navy ordered the first of three Electromobile battery locos. It was a Type 2-M, rated at 4hp, could pull 18 tons at 6mph and was ordered through Tombs & Howcroft Pty Ltd, an agent in Melbourne, costing £415. In 1926 a further one was ordered, this time directly from Otley and cost £534 and 16 shillings. This was an improved version fitted with a cab, spring buffers, sand boxes and an additional brake, and rated at 8hp. These locos were clearly a success as a third one was ordered the following year.
A 1948 report stated, "A 3 ft. gauge railway service to all Explosive sheds and main non-explosive stores is maintained by the Department of Works and Housing. Electromobiles, chain driven by a motor supplied by 2 banks of 15 cells at 60 volts are the medium of power for haulage of double bogie trucks. This equipment is safe, sure but extremely slow." The Electromobiles remained in use until the railway ceased operation in 1958.
Above - Royal Australian Navy's Swan Island mines depot showing locomotives numbers 1 and 3. Note that number 1 has a longer wheelbase than 3. Also clearly visible are mines stacked up in the background. c.1953 - Robert Curran collection
Further battery locomotives supplied by Electromobile include;
Late 1921 - South Essex Waterworks Co. No. 1 size loco (single motor) for tunnelling purposes.
1922 - Glasgow Corporation (possibly gasworks) No.3 type (two motors) capable of 6mph on the level and a range of 20 -25 miles.
1926 - A large order for electric trucks for Spanish Railways (it is not clear whether these are road or rail vehicles).
1926 - Tower wagons for municipal tramways.
1926 - Two NG locos to the Admiralty for use at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Circa 1926 - One 2ft 6in gauge loco to the Royal Navy Cordite Factory at Holton Heath in Dorset. This site had approximately 14 miles of narrow gauge track, as well as the Electromobile, they also ordered nine 4 hp battery locos from Greenwood & Batley between 1928 and 1944.
A report in Electrical Review in 1926 said that "Amongst recent orders secured by Electromobile Ltd of Otley are two for storage battery locos - two for a large gasworks and two for The Admiralty. Similar locos have been supplied to large steelworks, chemical factories and waterworks for shunting purposes"
1927 - It was reported that four Electromobile locos were used by Foundation Co Ltd whilst working on a contract for the Morden extension of the London Underground. These were advertised for sale in May 1930.
Early 1930s - A number were in use on the Grampian Hydroelectric project in Perthshire with contractor Balfour Beatty. These could of course have been the same ones as mentioned for sale above.
After Mr Conradi's death in 1928 from Tuberculosis, the Great Depression of 1929-32 spelt the end for Electromobile, with the business being taken over in 1933 by Electricars, Ltd. of Lawley Street in Birmingham. Their Prospect Works factory was then occupied by Harry Lund Ltd. as a mechanics' workshop and petrol station. The premises were badly damaged by fire on 3rd September 1938.
'Electromobile Ltd', R. D. Darvill article in Industrial Railway Record, issue 155
Follow up letters in Industrial Railway Record issues 156, 159, 180, 207
The Locomotive magazine for 15th March 1927
Internal Website Links
We have a three page leaflet about Electromobile's electric trucks in our More Reading section. The original copy of this can be found in the Otley Museum Archive.
External Website Links
Online Archive of Commercial Motor Magazine
The 1913 - 1917 Motor, Marine and Aircraft Red Book: Electric Vehicles available on the Graces Guide website
This article was writen by Stewart Liles.
With extra information supplied by Mervyn Lister, Nigel Attwood and John Browning.
Page last modified: 23 February 2021
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