1:09pm Thursday 25th March 2010
By Elizabeth Pears
AN inventor whose engineering company created thousands of jobs in Northumberland Park was remembered at a special ceremony last Friday.
John Alfred Prestwich (1874 – 1952) was a brilliant designer and the driving force behind J A Prestwich (JAP) Industries famed for the precision of the engines they produced used in motorcycles, Speedway racing cars and even early aeroplanes.
Aged 21, Prestwich opened his first factory in 1985 at 1a, Lansdowne Road, where a plaque was erected in honour of the man a Lea Valley historian claimed kickstarted the Birmingham motorcycle industry.
It is estimated that in its heyday, the company created more than 3,500 jobs for local people and was also responsible for producing early cinematographic equipment.
JAP cameras were used to film Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897 and later Scott's Antarctic expedition in 1905.
Historian Doctor Jim Lewis, who unveiled the plaque, said: "John Alfred Prestwich was one a great designer. His engines were so precise and so reliable, and that's what made them popular.
"He initially produced his own motorcycles, but did not want to be in competition with those he supplied, and instead focused on his engines. You can definitely say that is was JAP engineers that kickstarted the motorcycle industry."
Prestwich was born in Kensington, before moving to Warmington House, in High Road, Tottenham, with his family.
The entrepreneur was educated at the City and Guilds School and the City of London School. Aged sixteen, he started work with S Z de Ferranti, who made electrical apparatus and scientific instruments.
During the Second World War, his factories manufactured arms for the allied forces. At the end of the war, production was taken over by Villiers Ltd and the factories closed completely in 1963.
Attending the ceremony was former JAP apprentice, Bill Medcalf, of Enfield, who started work aged just 14 without any previous education.
The training scheme allowed him to go to achieve City and Guild qualifications, and enjoy a successful career.
He said: "I was nothing but a guttersnipe.
"But thanks to JAP I was able to be trained up, go on to further education and over the years I haven't done too badly for myself. The men in the factory were very kind and gave us every help to learn the ropes.
"Northumberland Park at the time was very different back then. It might be a considered a poor place now, but no one is starving, everyone can eat. When I was growing up, I saw real poverty."
But despite working in the factory, Mr Medcalf admitted he did not drive a JAP motorcycle.
"I couldn't afford it, so I went for a cheaper option", he said.
"They really were marvellous engines. I feel very sorry that Prestwich does not get the recognition he deserves."
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