Charles Edwin Southey was born in April 1866 in Newport Monmouthshire, the son of Charles and Ann, nee Chaffey. He had an older sister Violet Constance. Charles Edwin’s father died when he was still quite young and the family moved to Bray in Berkshire where his sister and mother obtained work. By 1891 Charles was lodging at the Volunteer Inn in Bray and is Iisted as a cycle maker. The head of the household, as well as being a licensed victualler, was also a cycle maker, so it is probable that Charles worked for him. On 29th October 1891 Charles married, in Islington, Agnes Maria Pettit whose father Thomas was the licensed victualler of the Crown in Bray. For a while Agnes had been working as a dressmaker’s assistant. A daughter was born in Frimley, Surrey.
Sometime in the next two or three years Charles Edwin Southey and his young family moved to Berkhamsted and Charles set up in business in the High Street. An advertisement on the back of a catalogue of the Berkhamsted Mechanics’ Institute’s Sixth Exhibition of Arts and Industries, opened by the Marchioness of Salisbury 0n 13th May 1896, shows C.E. Southey & Co cycle makers of 242 High Street, Berkhamsted. From the accompanying drawings he had not yet branched into dealing with motorbikes. He appears in the 1899 Kelly’s Directory as follows: ‘Charles Edwin Southey & Co cycle makers at 241 High Street Berkhamsted’.
We do not know exactly when he moved to the larger premises at 165 High Street (now 195) and later built a workshop in what would have been the garden. He appears in the 1901 census as an employer so obviously had sufficient business to employ a small work force. Since the house was fairly large and probably also to supplement his income he took in lodgers – a widow and three daughters.
An advertisement issued about this time shows a man with good business acumen and also a sense of humour. ’THE SOUTHEY A TANDEM (2GENTS) OUR OWN MAKE FOR HIRE A MACHINE HAVING OUR TRANSFER ON IS ACTUALLY MADE BY US. Manufactured by C.E. Southey, Berkhamsted, Herts OUR GUARANTEE IS WORTH 25/- IN THE POUND’.
Why Southey chose to come to Berkhamsted we do not know, but here he built up a very successful business first dealing in bicycles then motorbikes and later cars. He claimed to be the oldest firm in the trade. He achieved national recognition largely because of his connection with four young men who were particularly interested in motorbike and aircraft engines, namely Geoffrey de Havilland, Cecil and Alick Burney, who lived in Northchurch and Major Blackburn. The Berkhamsted Review of April 1968 refers to a catalogue of the 1920s in which Southey states ‘Although we have advertised very little we have built and sold over 900 motorcycles. It is not generally known that we were the first to build motorcycles with what is now known as the Blackburn engine.’ It is thought this engine was built in the Elm Grove workshop.
Charles Edwin Southey died at the comparatively young age of 62. The Probate Calendar entry reads as follows: ‘Charles Edwin Southey of Whyteleaf, Cross Oak Road and of Kings Road and of Elm Grove all in Berkhamsted Hertfordshire died 9th March 1929 at Whyteleaf. Probate granted 25th June to Agnes Maria Southey , widow and Walter Pitkin, clerk’. The contribution of Charles Edwin Southey to the early development of motorcycling should not be forgotten. On a more personal note Southey was remembered for many years for the wonderful holidays he arranged for the youngsters of St. Peter’s church choir to North Wales.