2. John Warrick & Co of Reading: History

John Warrick was born in Reading. His father, also John Warrick, lived on Kennet Side and was a fly boat bargeman, being the son of George Warrick and Zipporah Matthews who ran the Roebuck ferry at Tilehurst.


The Roebuck Inn is pictured above, around the turn of the century. Below, you can see the ferry boathouse.


Around 1861, John was apprenticed to gunsmith Richard Soper, at John Soper’s gunshop, 138 Friar Street. (address thanks to helenmwarwick on Reading Forum). The famous Soper rifle was presented for trials in 1868. Its fame was due to its rapid action – and the well-known ‘trick shot’ was none other than Sgt John Warrick.


“The Soper rifle is one of the most interesting and controversial British firearms of the 19th Century. Patented by William Soper of Reading (patent number 3,637). This is the second model Soper rifle (the first being an underlever dropping block action) of the design submitted for evaluation to the Special Committee on Breechloading Rifles in 1868. According to Soper, his rifle was rejected because it arrived one day late. The rifle is operated by a lever fixed to the right side of the action adjacent to the trigger so it can be thumb operated with minimal disturbance to the shooter’s position. When depressed the lever acts via a connecting rod to raise the breech block which is hinged to the right side of the body. The hammer is cocked by an internal tumbler rotated by the axis pin of the operating lever simultaneously with the opening of the breech. Further pressure on the operating lever actuates a sliding bar extractor. The breech is closed by lifting up the lever so dropping the block into a formed channel in the body. The breech block houses the firing pin and a transverse locking bar which enters a groove in the left body wall when fully closed. The hammer has a half-cock safety position, and when fully cocked can only be opened by first pressing a spring catch to the right of the trigger. It was with a rifle of this model that Sgt. John Warrick of the Berkshire Volunteers (and Soper’s assistant) achieved 60 shots in 60 seconds at the Basingstoke Exhibition of 1870.” [http://www.hbsa.fsnet.co.uk/index.htm]

A Soper rifle


John Warrick later became a gunsmith himself, with a first-class reputation. He had premises at The Butts in Reading. In 1877 he took on an agency for ‘The Monarch Carrier, a tradesman’s box tricycle made by T.W. Pitt at Caversham Rd, Reading. By 1910, he had given up the manufacture of guns, had moved into the Caversham Rd factory, and was turning out trade cycles at a fantastic rate. He was a first-class engineer and introduced many new features which became patented.

Having taken over the Monarch Works from T.W. Pitt, Warrick & Co had cornered the market in the supply of tradesman’s tricycles and bicycles, which he rented to companies on short-term or long-term contracts.

However, John Warrick saw a serious threat to his box-tricycle business…

A motorized box tricycle had appeared, the ‘Auto-Carrier’ produced in 1907 by Mr. Weller, an engineer, and financed by Mr. Portwine, a butcher, who foresaw the possibilities for tradesmen in these little vehicles. During the three years since their introduction the Auto-Carrier machines had become quite common on the roads.

John Warrick’s next move is not unknown today. He bought an Auto-Carrier and had it driven down to Reading. The following morning, Mr. Lambourne, chief engineer, was to be seen crawling amongst the dismantled pieces in Warrick’s workshops.

A few months later the first ‘Warrick Motor Carrier’ appeared and caused some consternation in the Auto-Carrier camp. At first sight a blatant copy, closer inspection revealed subtle changes. The engine was 95 x102mm as compared with Auto-Carriers’ 90 x 102mm and had a four-point mounting, the A.C. having three. The rear wheel, which incorporated a Roc based epicyclic gear and clutch, was much heavier in construction. You can compare the two vehicles above and below.

Several orders were booked from well-known firms such as Selfridges and this was used to advantage when a stand was taken at the 1911 Show. Warrick Motor Carriers were shown with well-known company logos prominently displayed on the sides of the boxes.

According to the Postal Heritage Trust, 1914 saw the Post Office’s first trials of motorized transport to replace carrier tricycles and bicycles. They put into service six Douglas, ten New Hudson and four Rover motorcycle combinations. A year later they added another Rover combo, plus two Autocarriers (AC) and two Warrick Motor Carriers. Below you can see one of the Royal Mail Warricks.


With orders now being placed for Motor Carriers, John Warrick followed up smartly with great improvements. Both Auto-Carriers and Warricks rolled tremendously on their single rear wheel, causing chain breakage and personal trepidation for the driver. Mr. Lambourne devised a transverse stablizer bar with radius rods, which completely cured this trouble and is an instant recognition feature on all but the very early models.

Another problem had been the failure of the ash frames and a broken-backed carrier depositing goods on the roadway was obviously not good publicity. A change to pressed-steel frames was a success and slaes roared higher.

Exports were satisfactory. The New Zealand agent was particularly keen and if he did not receive his weekly dispatch note he soon cabled to discover the reason. Chassis only went to New Zealand, the bodies being built there to local requirements, which included passenger bodies for the ‘Star’ newspaper.

The Warrick family had a passenger-bodied model as their personal transport and when they ran out of road on an outing, Mr. Lambourne devised front brakes and they became an optional extra about 1915, although A.C. had used them much earlier. A reverse gear had been an optional extra much earlier and was in use before the end of 1912. The front brakes were operated by a lever through Bowden cables; the reverse by push rod from a pedal.

At this time loads were being increased to such an extent that the driver had some difficulty in seeing the road ahead. When the Metropolitan Police objected, the chassis was lowered by means of blocks under the rear bearings and underslinging the rear springs. The design staff had the idea of dispensing with the reverse pedal and connecting by Bowden cable to the brake lever. Push forward for brakes, pull back foir reverse. However, stretched cables and pulled-off nipples, and finally Police objection to the absence of a ratchet, put the reverse back to pedal again. The lever was fitted with a ratchet, and the front brakes were converted to rod operation throughout.


Lord Cowdray, in a light-hearted moment, ordered two chassis fitted with passenger bodies and used them as station wagon auxiliaries for his servants. The Earl of Kilmorey, when visiting Cowdray Park, was so impressed that he too ordered a pair and they were shipped to Belfast for him. Among other unexpected users was New Scotland Yard, who had four with ‘Special Bodies’ whatever that may indicate.

Rivalry with A.C. was intense, and Warricks had a scheme wherby they sent out their carriers for a week’s trial, together with driver. If the customer was satisfied he kept the vehicle and, if he wished, the driver also. He could otherwise send his own man to the works for a week’s training. During the war, women drivers were employed.

The commercial manager, Mr. Spratling, started with the firm in 1897 and was at the 1911 show. So engrossed was he that he never missed another and when he retired in the summer of 1957 he was talking of meeting his old friends there later in the year. He remarked sadly that there were not many of the original group.

Production dropped to about eight monthly during the war but revived in 1919, as did A.C. However, A.C. soon dropped the box carrier and concentrated on their four-wheeled vehicle which they had introduced just prior to the war. Warrick carried on into the mid-twenties, ceasing production about 1924/5. A few vehicles were built from stock parts, the last recorded in April 1931. Maintenance continued at the works until 1937.

Dunlop hired them, with drivers, as late as 1936, the Albany Rd depot using them for tyre deliveries.

Total production was around 2000, many of which went abroad. The first production model was numbered 25 and sold to Wellsteed, the draper, of Reading. Chassis and engine numbers were similar to begin with, but became out of step as spare engines were sold.


1955: Legal case against John Warrick & Co

Ironically, law students probably know the name of John Warrick better than vintage vehicle enthusiasts. The case below – from 1955 – is one of several that law students learn about as precedents for exclusion clauses within a contract. The judge found against Warrick & Co.

I assume that if Warricks were now legally liable for any defect in the machines they were hiring, resulting in injury to the hirer, this would have had a major effect on their business.

White v John Warrick & Co

In 1955 there was a contract to hire a bicycle. The saddle broke while W was riding the bike. There was an exclusion clause in the contract: “We are not liable for any breach of contract.” This does not cover negligence, however; W sued and won. This is not a good example of a vague clause. Note that the clause may or may not have been incorporated, but did not apply.

A contract of hire of a carrier tricycle provided that: ‘Nothing in this agreement shall render the owners liable for any personal injuries to the riders of the machine hired.’ The machine was defective and the hirer was thrown off and was injured: Held the clause in the contract relieved the owners of the carrier tricycle only from liability under the contract, but not from liability in tort, and they would be liable for negligence if it were established.


John Warrick died in 1925 and the company continued, eventually becoming a light engineering firm. By the late fifties, the huge business in trade cycles had dwindled.

Bryan J, who contributes to the Reading Forum, worked at the Monarch works in Caversham Road, during the mid 1960’s “…by which time all bicycle production had stopped and the company where solely involved in stove enamelling, electroplating, and contract engineering; some of the parts for the prototype Concord aircraft were made there. The only manufacturing they did in those days was a collapsible golf trolley which they used to hire out to golf clubs.”

He also remarks that: “The Monarch works extended along Caversham road to the corner of Northfield road, between the main entrance and Northfield road were about three terrace houses which were owned by the company and rented out to some of the managerial staff. When Warricks finally closed down in the early 1970s, the site was bought by a property developer, the works were replaced with a small office block named Monarch House; this was taken over initially by either Customs and Excise or the Inland Revenue, not sure which. Is Monarch House still there?”

End of an Era

“What youth today will push one? The thousands of Walls and Eldorado ice-cream tricycles rot away in scrapyards without the Warrick maintenance scheme. Vestigal remnants of tricar days can be seen around the works. Curious ramp staircases with winches for lowering chassis; an old truck owing its origin to tricar components; a queer experimental motor tricycle of the twenties lurks in a disused store. Drawings of a four-wheeled envelope bodied ‘Landcrab,’ stillborn, lie in a forgotten drawer, and what has become of the 50 Burney motor cycles built in 1923/4 and exhibited at the 1923 Olympia Show?”

[Comments by L. Mathews, after visiting Monarch Works in 1959]


Monarch Cycles is the shop to the extreme left of the picture below, taken around 1935

St. Mary’s Butts, Reading, looking northwards from a high vantage point, c. 1935. West side: No. 34 (John Warrick and Company, cycle dealers); Nos. 31 and 30 (Picton’s Fish Cafe); No. 29 (L. Vidcosky, tailor); No. 28; No. 27; Nos. 25 and 23; No. 21; Nos. 20 and 19; Nos. 18 and 17; Nos. 16 and 15; No. 12 (The Salvation Army Citadel); Nos. 11, 10, 9, 8 and 7 (Holmes and Sons, house furnishers). East side: No. 55 (S. Goodall and Company, builders). In the middle of the Butts are the refreshment stall, telephone boxes, gas-lamps, entrances to the underground public conveniences, and bollards. There is a variety of motor traffic, and on the right, a wheeled platform used to maintain the overhead wires for the electric trams.


Many thanks to various contributors to the Reading Forum, and also to Reading Library, for information and photos used to create this website. I hope that all you vintage transport enthusiasts and local history buffs in Reading enjoy this site dedicated to one of your local heroes, John Warrick who, in my opinion, was a very innovative designer, engineer and businessman.

Why does his statue not stand in the centre of Reading with streets named after him?


To Contact Colin:

If anyone has further information, adverts or photos they’d like to add, please email me as below (email address within the photo).

Published on July 5, 2008 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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