Percy Dean, Scout Motors, Hall & Son and the Local Connection

It’s not often that our Salisbury Plain villages make waves in the bigger world, but in this tale, involving all four villages, we led the way.

Joseph Percy Dean was the son of Chitterne farmers, Joseph and Louisa Dean. In 1902 he provided most of the capital of £3800 for a new venture with William and Albert Burden, previously clockmakers of Salisbury, to make motor engines. A new company was founded called Dean and Burden Brothers, motor engineers. Their premises were the Excelsior Works in the Friary, Salisbury, where clock making continued as well as the manufacture of motorboat and motorcycle engines. Percy Dean became a director of the company and their chief test driver.

In 1904 the company name was changed to Scout Motors and the following year their marine engines began to win accolades. Percy Dean took first, second and third places in races at Cowes, Ryde and Southampton Water in a 12 hp boat.

Albert Burden’s passion was motor cars and their first car, a tonneau, was produced in 1905 and entered in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race with Percy Dean driving, but it went off the road at Wallop, on the way there, and was subsequently unplaced in the race. Despite this setback the firm was soon busy with orders and was notable as the only sizeable local industry. Polden and Feltham, wheelwrights and carpenters of Chitterne, owned a Scout vehicle.

In 1906 Percy Dean was awarded an Automobile Club of Great Britain medal for coming 9th out of 26 starters at the Isle of Man Tourist Race, but two years later he was not so lucky when the Scout car ran out of petrol less than a 100 metres from the finish. Meanwhile the factory in the Friary became too small and in 1907 the company moved to new premises built for them on the Bemerton Road at Churchfields. The first Scout commercial vehicle, a motor delivery van, was produced in 1909 and production of marine engines stopped. For two years the company's sales increased, then in 1911 Percy Dean left to go to British Columbia, with a prophetic warning in his leaving speech of the competition facing the company from foreign firms.

The following year, 1912, saw Scout reaching its peak, producing two vehicles a week and employing 150 workers. The company was featured in Commercial Motor magazine, and later produced a special catalogue of commercial motors, with photographs of 20 vehicles. They made two ambulances and one, at a public test, was praised by the Salisbury Journal for: “the smooth and silent way in which the car moved over the roads in spite of the fact that they were in a shocking condition owing to prolonged rain and also the fact that they were under repair”.

1912 also saw a revolution in the way of life on the Plain, with the starting up of privately run bus services connecting the Plain villages with the city of Salisbury. Hall and Son of Orcheston, who ran a service through Tilshead, Shrewton to Salisbury Market Square on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, pioneered this innovation, soon to be copied by other carriers around the area. The early Scout buses had carrier bodies and Hall’s first bus, a 3 tonner, could carry 20 people, had ball-bearing transmission and was driven by a chain enclosed in a large aluminium guard. There were windows at the sides and rear and a luggage grid on the roof that was useful for transporting goods home from the market. Soon there were eight services running into Salisbury from different directions and the Salisbury Journal ran a headline: “The Revolution in Rural Road Travel”, and printed a photograph of the row of buses lined up in the Market Place.

Meanwhile, William Morris produced his first car in 1912 at Cowley, and Ford, established in Britain the previous year, was producing the Model T and making inroads into the market for cheaper cars.

With the coming of the First World War, permits were needed to continue production, and Scout produced vehicles were being sent to London for use by the police and military. In 1915 the machinery was ripped out and shipped to France to enable vehicles to be made on the spot where they were needed. This, and being told to produce bombs and mechanisms for magnetic mines, embittered Albert Burden. One glimmer of hope during the war was the start-up of Wilts and Dorset Motor Services with their first vehicle being a Scout. In fact six of their first seven vehicles were built on Scout chassis.

It was eighteen months after the war before production could be restarted and Scout’s advantage in the commercial field was quickly overtaken by the arrival of Maxwell, Albert, Fiat and Ford. Everything conspired against the company fortunes: the lack of money and machinery, foreign competition, the shortage of material, the cost of labour, the list was long. The final blow was just coming: mass production. The company was compulsorily wound up in June 1921. At the sale Albert Burden had tears in his eyes for the loss of his loved cars. He returned to making clocks.