Manager of Daimler’s London Depot and Partner in First Dealership
Undecimus Stratton was the manager of Daimler’s London depot from 1903 to 1920 and then in 1921 with Ernest Instone and Joseph Mackle, he took over the management of the depot under the name Stratton-Instone.
Stratton was born in 1868 to Undecimus and Margaret Stratton, of Compton Grange, near Wolverhampton. His father, a solicitor, was named “Undecimus” after his own father, neither of whom was an eleventh child.
Stratton originally intended to follow his father’s profession and read for a law degree but did not complete his studies. Instead, he bought land with money he had saved and built a brewery on the property.
He married Lily O’Hara Thompson, a society beauty, in February 1898 and later that year he bought his first car, a Daimler. In his early thirties he retired to his estate.
Stratton took part in a number of early motor racing events and speed trials including those at Bexhill-on-Sea.
In 1902, as part of a campaign to promote Bexhill-on-Sea as a fashionable new resort, the Earl De La Warr, who was chairman of the tyre company, Dunlop, encouraged the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (the precursor to the RAC) to organise the Great Whitsuntide Motor Races.
To accommodate the races, the Earl transformed his Bicycle Boulevard into a one-kilometre motor racing track with a flying start from the top of Galley Hill.
The existing Cycle Chalet was taken over and used for timekeeping. As the races were being held on the Earl’s private land, it was exempt from the national speed limit — 12 mph at the time! Racing continued at Bexhill until 1906.
In 1903 a close friend of Stratton’s and another early motorist, The Honourable Sir Charles Rolls, offered him a partnership in a new motor sales dealership he was planning. Stratton declined and Rolls went on to start C. S. Rolls & Co in 1903 based in Lille Hall, Fulham, London. A year later Rolls found a new partner and in December 1904 agreed to sell all the cars made by Henry Royce, then in 1906 the two formed Rolls-Royce Limited.
Manager of Daimler’s London Depot
While neither needing nor looking for work, a fortunate incident led to Stratton being appointed Manager of Daimler’s London Depot in Pall Mall. While driving his own Daimler he came across another motorist whose Daimler had broken down and stopped to help. The stranded motorist was Sir Edward G. Jenkinson, the chairman of Daimler. At the time, Jenkinson was looking to replace the head of Daimler’s London depot as the encumbent, Percy Richardson, had resigned in December 1903 to take a position as General Manager of Brotherhood-Crocker Motors Ltd (which later became Sheffield-Simplex). Jenkinson was so impressed by Stratton and his motoring knowledge he offered him the job. This was a particularly sensitive and important position as the Pall Mall depot serviced the Royal Household, King Edward VII having bought his first Daimler in 1900 and another in 1902, and awarded the Daimler Company a Royal Warrant.
The Depot also provided chauffeurs and mechanics for the Royal Household and one of Stratton’s earliest tasks was to improve the quality of these people.
Stratton quickly became an occasional motoring companion to the King and by 1908, through his Royal connections, Daimler was awarded a “Royal Appointment as suppliers of motor cars to the Court of Spain” by King Alfonso XIII and a Royal Warrant as “Motor Car Manufacturer to the Court of Prussia” by Kaiser Wilhelm II. By 1912 Prince Henry of Prussia owned some 19 motorcars, most of them Daimlers. Stratton also sold Daimlers to the Sultan of the Malaysian State of Johor. The King of Spain knighted Stratton into the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic.
The King (George V from 1910) even sought Stratton’s advice on which car to purchase for use around the town, just the usual kind of tailored service you would expect as standard from a modern dealership. Stratton’s service to the royals extended further than just vehicle acquisition; and in 1911 he was asked to teach the 17 year old Edward Albert, Prince of Wales, known to his family as David, (later King Edward VIII) how to drive, spending a few weekends with him at the Royal estate at Sandringham.
The Prince of Wales went on two driving tours round Germany in 1913, sometimes driving, sometimes being chauffeured. In a letter to his father, King George V, from Germany in July 1913 the Prince of Wales explained the benefits of driving, “I am very fond of driving a motor & it is a real pleasure to me & is one of the few forms of so called sport that I can get here. It makes such a difference when I go for some motor expedition from Strelitz whether I am driving or sitting behind. I also think that apart from anything personal, driving a motor is good for one’s nerve and makes one resourceful, & as I shall probably have a good deal of motoring to do in my life it does relieve the monotony of a long journey if one drives oneself. And one can only drive well, by driving constantly & getting experience.”
From its inception in 1896 Daimler had always sold cars direct including through their London depot in Pall Mall, but in 1921 the Company decided to re-structure and sell their cars through dealers.
In the autumn of 1921 Stratton together with Daimler General Manager, Ernest Instone and head of engineering Joseph Mackle, formed Stratton-Instone to take over the depot at 27 Pall Mall with Mackle becoming chairman. The dealership also handled BSA cars in London (BSA being Daimler’s parent company since 1910) and later added Lanchester when that company was absorbed into the BSA Group.
Due to the importance of the London depot and not least the business with the Royal Household, the Daimler Company retained part ownership.
Each morning at eleven a butler in morning suit brought oysters and champagne to the directors’ rooms.
Stratton-Instone went on to be responsible for Daimler sales in the whole of England and Wales.
One of Stratton’s last services for King George V was to convert one of His Majesty’s large Daimlers into an ambulance to carry him to Bognor, Sussex, to recover from a feverish cold in early 1929.
Stratton died on 12 July of 1929 after a short illness. King George V and Queen Mary, upon Stratton’s death, expressed their “deepest and most heartfelt sympathy” and stated “it is a source of the greatest regret… that they will never be able to avail themselves again of the invaluable advice and assistance [he] has given them for so many years.”
The following summer, the future King Edward VIII rented Stratton’s house at Sunningdale from his widow Muriel (Stratton’s second wife; his first, Lily, having died in 1916).
Stratton-Instone becomes Stratstone
In 1930, Joseph Mackle, the only survivor of the three founders, bought out Daimler’s interest and took control of the company renaming the business Stratstone Limited.
Stratstone was acquired by the Thomas Tilling Group in 1938. Following its acquisition and with war becoming likely, the leases on the Pall Mall and Euston Road Premises were not renewed and the head office was relocated to Berkeley Street. Stratstone faced a change of venue during the war when the Berkeley Street showroom was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force.
Stratstone expanded in 1971 taking over a London service depot at Willesden, providing a specialist service north of the river. A fleet sales department was set up in 1973 to supply limousines to top companies, embassies and foreign governments together with the special requests of the funeral profession. 1988 saw the largest and most advanced service centre in Britain open at Grays Inn Road, London WCI with 24 work bays covering an area of 279 square metres and occupying two floors, with a retail and trade counter. Stratstone commenced work to completely refurbish the Berkeley Street showroom. In 1992 Stratstone grew through acquisition to become the largest luxury retailer in the UK.
Authors: Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (unless stated)
Sources and Further Reading:
Montague, Lord & Burgess-Wise, David, Daimler Century (Patrick Stephens Ltd – Haynes Publishing, 1995)
Smith, Brian E, Daimler Days – Volumes 1 & 2 (Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, 1996)
Nixon St. John C., Daimler 1896-1946 (FOULIS, 1946)