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George Noble con't

George suffered from a serious illness during 1935, but it did not stop him from building a new boat, which was to prove the longest lived and probably most successful, Bulrush VIII.

At the International Regatta at Victoria Park in July, ‘Bulrush VIII’ put in two good runs.

Following an overhaul, and a new coat of bronze-gold paint, Bulrush VIII was run at the Swindon Regatta in 1939, and achieved victory. Although the commentator was slightly tongue in cheek when he wrote ‘For once, this veteran enthusiast managed to beat the bad luck which persistently has pursued him and the long line of Bulrushes which date back to prehistoric-or, at any rate, pre-war days and put up an excellent run, achieving a speed of 30.17mph and thus winning first place. Mr Noble is the only remaining survivor of the pre-war (WWI) model speed boat pioneers.’

Bulrush VIII. George and Stan Clifford (above) were the last two holders of the outright speed record with flash steam powered boats. George with Bert Fort and one of his main rivals, Ken Williams' Faro.

George was 58 years old when World War Two broke out and racing came to a stop for the second time in his career, but the Bristol Model Powerboat Club continued to hold a weekly meeting in his workshop. Unfortunately the club did eventually fold and in 1950 merged back into what was now called the Bristol Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.

There is no doubt that George was an exceptionally fine engineer as the motor and complex ancillaries on Bulrush VIII will attest to. Having already succeeded with flash steam and a 4 stroke motor an article in ME during 1940 confirms that he was working on something even more complex. Ken Williams described in detail a 30cc sleeve valve engine that George had built to power a hydroplane.

There were very close links between the training centre where George was chief engineer and The Bristol Aircraft Company, just down the road, which was well known for its use of sleeve valves in their aircraft engines.

The motor was essentially a single cylinder version of the Bristol radial engine that powered so many aircraft and designed by George's colleague Mr Amor. If the quality of engineering for the reciprocating sleeve was not enough, the rear of the motor was a masterpiece with the addition of a raft of accessories.

The engine was installed in a hull which was similar in design to Bulrush VIII and might even have been the basis for a later Bulrush. No further details are known although there was a postscript some 40 years later. 

Post-war and no mention of George and Bulrush VIII until the MPBA International in 1947, which would appear to be its first run for eight years. A smaller Bulrush was built around 1950 to compete in C Class. At 24 inches long and weighing just over 4lbs with a 2 stroke engine it achieved a speed of 51.14mph and carried the name Bulrush Junior II.

When George resumed building the next in the Bulrush series is not certain, but in 1954, again at Bournville, a picture of George holding Bulrush IX appears but with no results recorded. Bulrush IX and its two-stroke motor was not on the scene for very long, as in 1955 at the Whit-Monday Regatta held at Bournville, this piece appeared in the ME.

‘Mr Noble ran number ten in the Bulrush series in the Class A race and this boat, although just failing to obtain a place, is an impressive job. It is powered by a vertical twin two stroke engine, having crankshaft induction sited in a central bearing. The engine has a lovely exhaust note!’ The following year, also at Bournville, George gained 1st place in A Class, winning the Coronation trophy at a speed of 39.49mph again with Bulrush X.

After the long reign of Bulrush VIII and its typical early 1930s single step 'kipper-box' style, numbers IX and X show that George was experimenting with much more modern hull configurations.

Right:
Bulrush X with other Bristol boats at the 1955 MPBA International at St. Albans

 

Although based on the simple shape, IX had a very complicated underside as well as two basic sponsons. Ten seen here has adopted a much narrower hull with the sponsons extended from the hull sides. This would appear not to be the end of the experiments as the photo of Bulrush X as a pickle-fork shows.  

George was at Bournville once again in 1957 competing for the trophy, but coming 2nd to John Benson with Orthon 2. Sadly, this was to be George’s last ever event, as he died later in the year at the age of 76, his obituary appearing in Model Engineer in Jan 1958. Samuel had died a few years earlier in 1951. This brought to a close a long and distinguished involvement in tethered hydroplane racing, but ensured a place in history for the name Bulrush and the Noble brothers.

Unfortunately, tethered hydroplane racing did not survive in the Bristol area for much longer either. The Bristol Club had managed to acquire a new water in 1957, at Bitterwell Lake, Coalpit Lane, near Bristol, but their tenure there was to be short lived. Following a couple of very successful regattas at the lake, local residents vigorously opposed the necessary planning permission and the site was lost, all boating then ceased for the Bristol Club.

The Noble Legacy

It is difficult to establish just how many boats and engines George built over the course of his career, yet even a quick count of available records show at least twenty named hydroplane hulls that can be credited to him.

Of his earlier boats and engines, nothing is known to survive and original photographs are also almost non-existent. More is known about some of his later projects and survive to the present day, although the location of some of them is a mystery at present.

In 1958 John Rose ran George Noble’s twin cylinder 15cc boat, which was subsequently sold to a C Lloyd of the Bristol Club. The last of George’s boats, Bulrush X, with its 30cc twin motor was sold to a Canadian. Sadly, nothing further is known about either of these two boats.

Jim Williams, who had been a member of the Bristol Powerboat Club since the 1940’s and a good friend of John Rose’s, refurbished a two-stroke single cylinder 30cc glow engine of Noble’s during 1988/89. This involved machining a completely new crankcase. He installed the completed motor in a replica Benson, Orthon hull and ran it on a few occasions, achieving over 55mph. It now resides with John Rose’s son, Mike.

Amongst items of interest at the 1990 Model Hydroplane Club AGM were two of George Noble’s engines from the late 1940s and early 1950s. One was of 15cc and the other a 10cc from Bulrush Junior. Cindy English was passing these on to Jim Williams for restoration. Also at the meeting was a 1950’s C Class hull built by Bill Morris, which John Whelan eventually fitted with the 10cc Noble engine. Run by Dave Whelan, this reached a very respectable 50.8mph during a regatta at South Cerney in 1990. Named ‘Mono’ this boat is also still in existence and remains with Dave Whelan.

An article by Vulcan in the Model Engineer talked about a single-sleeve engine of 30cc that was built for experimental purposes some years ago by Mr C Brinton, and was reported to be highly successful. He also mentioned that ‘Another was built in the same size for a speedboat by Mr G D Noble’, confirming the existence of the engine described earlier. Nothing further was known about this motor until 1989 when Jim Williams* reported in that it had resurfaced in France, and dated to around 1939.

David Colbeck with Bulrush Gerry and Stuart Robinson 30cc motor with clockwork 'auto advance'

Two of his hydroplanes including Bulrush VIII, probably the best known of his later boats, have survived to the present day. The late Gerry Colbeck obtained both, and then undertook a complete restoration of VIII to running condition. Gerry took the boat to several regattas including Rouen in 1986, where he and Stuart Robinson attempted to run it, but were thwarted by the conditions. Bulrush VIII had its last run in 1987. The boat was then donated to the National Powerboat Museum at Pitsea.

Bulrush IX with its 30cc, single cylinder, two-stroke motor was partially restored and then repainted, but did not appear to have any of its original running gear or ancillaries in place. These may well have been used by George on Bulrush X. In 1992, Bulrush IX was also donated to Pitsea. Following the closure of the museum in 2009, both boats were returned to the Colbeck family, where VIII remains. Bulrush IX was later passed on, and is currently undergoing a full restoration, including the replacement of all missing parts and a return to its original colour scheme.

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Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this article:- Peter Hill, Ken Lawton, Lionel Lawley, Dave Whelan, Stuart Robinson, Mike Rose, Jim Free, Geoffrey Sheppard and the Bristol Soc of Experimental Engineers, and the Fred Westmoreland archives. Thanks especially to Pam Martin for the recently added photos of the Noble family.

©copyrightOTW2012

Update May 2014

*Bruce Fleet recently contacted us to add a small snippet concerning the relationship between Jim Williams and George Noble.

'Jim Williams owed a lot to George re his interest in hydroplanes. Whenever I visited Jim, we would always end up in his workshop, which was literally an 8ft x 6ft garden shed which always had an all pervading smell of oil and glow-fuel. In the first few years that I knew Jim he did all his machining on an old looking lathe. This lathe turned out to be George Noble's, and what was more, built by George at the technical school where he had been an engineering tutor. This included the pattern making, casting and ultimately all the machining, no mean feat. The proof of this was the name of G Noble cast into the bed of the lathe. On one occasion Jim proudly demonstrated the actual fitting of a shaper which was tailor made to actually fit the lathe, again built by George. This took no longer than 5 minutes in total. The lathe got pretty well clapped out and Jim reluctantly decided to sell it on.

I feel really honoured to have know Jim, a true gentleman and a good mate. He taught me such a lot when I ventured down the road of the black-art of model engineering, some 40 odd years ago and as Jim often commented, George did the very same for him.'

Bruce also pointed out that Jim Williams can be seen behind George Noble in the heading photo 'A hardy veteran'

Thanks Bruce for sharing this memory with us.