The Early Years

Sydney was born on 31st October, 1884 in Wolverhampton. His parents were Isaiah Guy, born at Sedgley in 1861, and Emmerline, born at Gloucester in 1859. Isaiah and Emmerline lived at 51 Beech Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham.

Sydney’s grandfather, Thomas, born in 1821, was a coal miner at Parkfield Colliery, Sedgley. The family lived at 30 Parkfield Colliery. His wife Sarah was born in 1820 in Shrewsbury. They had three sons, Oscar, born in 1860, Isaiah, born in 1861, and Jabez, born in 1863.

Sydney Slater Guy.

Isaiah worked as a commercial traveller selling hardware for Meynell and Sons, of Wolverhampton, later called Meynell Valves. He worked at Meynells for forty years, but lost his job after an incident in Cardiff.

He arrived at a customer’s office for an 11 am. appointment, but found another commercial traveller waiting in front of him. He told the commercial traveller that he had an appointment at 11 am. and that he had better disappear. He refused to go, and so Isaiah took the man's bowler hat off his head, threw it down the stairs, and pushed him after it. The man shouted out as he fell, startling the customer, who came out of his office and said to Isaiah "Who are you?"  Isaiah was known as Ewart, and so he replied "Ewart Guy from Meynell & Sons Limited. I have an appointment at 11 o'clock". The angry customer then said “Well, after this episode I never want to see you again, and I am closing the account with your company”.

The customer phoned Meynells and spoke to Herbert Meynell who ran the company, telling him what had happened, and that his account was closed. On his return to Wolverhampton, Isaiah was summoned to Herbert Meynell’s office and instantly dismissed. Ironically Herbert Meynell had a gold presentation watch on his desk which he had intended to present to Isaiah for forty years service, but instead of receiving the watch, he got the sack.

Isaiah’s family is listed in the 1901 census as living at 34 Cambridge Road, Kings Norton, Birmingham. At the time Sydney was 16 years old. He had three brothers: William Ewart, aged 7, Frank Morris, aged 4, and Frederick James aged 2.

By 1911 William Ewart, like his father, known as Ewart, was an engineer’s fitter, working on steam engines. He later became Sales Director at Guy Motors, and married Nancy. Their son, Anthony Ewart Guy became an engineer. Ewart and Nancy lived at Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton. Ewart died on 2nd May, 1954. Nancy may have died in 1961 or 1962. She is listed in the 1961 Kelly’s Wolverhampton Directory, but not in the later editions.

Frank Guy died in action in Flanders on 20th September, 1917 whilst serving as a private in the 9th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.

Fred died in 1938 aged 39.

Sydney’s parents had nine children, five of whom died young. He was educated privately, then attended Birmingham Technical School from 1899 until 1902, where he studied chemistry, physics, electricity and magnetism, mechanics, trigonometry, algebra, English, and mechanical engineering.

Working Life

From 1902 until 1905 he served his apprenticeship at Belliss and Morcom, in Birmingham, manufacturers of steam engines and electrical generator sets. He then became senior draughtsman in the drawing office at the General Electric Company, Witton, from 1905 until 1906, and for next three years worked as Service Manager in charge of the repair department at the Humber Motor Works, Coventry.

Sydney Guy greeting an overseas buyer. Courtesy of David Townsend.

In June 1909, at the age of 24, he joined the Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited, in Wolverhampton, as Works Manager. In June 1912 he became an associate member of the Institution of Automobile Engineers, claiming to be thirty years of age on the application form, when actually only twenty eight.

At Sunbeam he received an annual salary of £250 and the use of a company car. In 1913 he asked the directors for a rise, which was refused, so he began planning his own manufacturing business. In late 1913 he secretly opened a small drawing office, somewhere in Wolverhampton, where a 30 cwt. lorry was designed, and plans were made for the Guy Motors factory.

On 14th May, 1914 he informed the Sunbeam directors of his desire to leave the company, and later that day received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Guy,

We confirm our conversation this morning to the effect that having regard to the existing circumstances, it is mutually agreed that you terminate your connection with this company on Saturday May 30th.

The company will pay you the sum of £100 as arranged. In regard to your own car, it is understood between us that you will dispose of this, or pay for it by the end of August.

Wishing you every success in your new undertaking.

Guy motors was registered on the same day, Saturday May 30th, 1914, with a capital of £50,000 divided into 45,000 ordinary shares at £1 each, and 5,000 deferred ordinary shares, also at £1 each.

Sydney and his Family

By 1918 Sydney Guy lived at ‘Woodview’ in Finchfield, Wolverhampton, and soon moved to ‘Westacre’ on Finchfield Hill.

In 1923 Sydney married Leila Brooks, from Bucklow in Cheshire, who was born on 23rd August, 1895 in Manchester. They had three children:

Elizabeth Hazel Guy, born in 1927, and married in 1950.
Trevor Morris Brooks Guy, born in 1929. He married Shirley D. Bowden in December 1956 at Westminster, and became a company director at Guy Motors. Trevor died in 1996.
Robin Slater Guy, born on 6th February, 1924. He married Delfina Inness at Westminster in June 1954. Robin joined Guy Motors in the autumn of 1941 after leaving school. He started in the drawing office where he worked on the wartime ‘Utility’ bus. He joined the navy, and afterwards trained at Gardner Engines in Manchester. He later returned to Guy Motors, where he became a company director. Robin died in 2000.

Robin Guy is in the centre, surrounded by members of the Guy Motors senior management. Courtesy of David Townsend.

In the late 1920s, the Guy family lived at ‘Delamere’, Newbridge Avenue, Wolverhampton, and by May1932 lived at Sauchieleigh, Albrighton, Wolverhampton.

Both Sydney and his wife had Guy cars. He had an open tourer, she had a coupé.

Sydney Guy was a first-class engineer who came-up with innovative solutions to many problems. He patented over eighty designs, both in the UK and abroad, all to do with improvements to motor vehicles, electrically-powered vehicles, or manufacturing techniques.

He was liked by his staff, but had a fierce temper, and autocratic tendencies. He always had the final say at the works.

Sydney used to go to the Victoria Hotel in Wolverhampton for lunch, where a table was always kept for him. He would meet-up with other local businessmen including Hugh Meynell who ran Meynell Valves where his father had worked. They would leave the hotel at around 2.15 and then return to work.

After the Second World War, Sydney spent some time in South Africa while recovering from pneumonia. He greatly enjoyed his time there and fell in love with the country. This resulted in Guy Motors opening subsidiaries in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, which eventually led to the downfall of the company.

After a long and successful career, Sydney retired in 1957. He died on 21st September, 1971 at the age of 86, and his wife Leila died on 21st May, 1977 at the age of 81.

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