"Electrophants" at Goldhanger

In the 1960s electrically driven full size and half size robotic elephants was developed at Follyfaunts at Goldhanger. . .

extracts from a USA magazine

 

 

 

 

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The main people involved in the enterprise appear to have been:

Frank Stuart - the designer

Maurice Radburn - employee of Frank Stuart, he later lived and worked at St Osyth, Essex.

Karl Nelles - employee of Frank Stuart and driver who was an ex German P.O.W.

Colin Chapman - it not know if this is the same person who founded of Lotus Cars, but the timing seems right. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Chapman. . .

"Colin Chapman joined the RAF in 1948, being offered a permanent commission but turning it down in favour of a swift return to civilian life and After a couple of false starts Chapman joined the British Aluminium company".

Lord Hillingdon - Director of Electrophants company. He was probably Charles Hedworth Mills 4th baron 1922-1978. An inscription in St. Martin's Cemetery, Feering, Essex, reads "Charles Hedworth Mills, 4th Baron Hillingdon, 1978"

Frank Stuart was the engineering expert behind the work and appears to have been involved in two phases of development of the robotic elephant, the purpose of which was to offer seaside and fairground style rides to children. The original developments took place at Thaxted in the late 1940s and early 50s which produced a Ford petrol engine driven version of which up to 25 full size and half size models were produced using several engineering companies in the Thaxted area. This version suffered from the drawback of the exhaust fumes emitted from the elephants trunk causing the children to choke.

The second version developed and marketed from Follyfaunts was electrically driven using conventional car batteries as the only source of power. Only a few models of this version seem to have produced before the company went bankrupt, probably resulting of an incident in the USA when the elephant fell over. It was most likely that it toppled due to the weight of the batteries held within the body combined with the weight of the children being carried. The electrical version had the advantage that it could be operated indoors and photographs available show it being used for children's rides in a departmental store. To overcome the problem of a large turning circle, a turntable system can be seen in some of the photos which was use to rotate the machine is a confined space. There were both full and half size versions of the electric model.

Both the large and small size elephants were to be seen in many holiday resorts in the summer months in the 1950s and 60s, including at Maldon which is just 3 miles from Goldhanger. "Jessica" appeared on her first "Blue Peter" show in 1967 and mechanical elephants appears again on "Blue Peter" in December 1975 and in April, 1976. One was also featured on the ITV London programme 'The Way We Were', in May 2006 and in the BBC Top Gear programme in 2008. A mechanical elephant was also auctioned on the Channel 4 programme "4-Rooms" in 2011. The ones seen indoors tend to be the battery driven variety. The machines were sold and shipped around the world and cyberneticzoo records many examples of destinations such as the USA, Australia, Sweden, etc. Today some reside in museums and, as the more recent videos listed below indicate, some even occasionally take to the roads for special events. It is difficult to track particular models as most seem to be named Nellie or Jessie and many have been re-built.

 

mech-elephant-margate-2    Elephant_getty

 

Potsy drawing    Electrophants 1967.jpg

 

Jessica.JPG Electrophant-65.jpg

 

There is much more information about these mechanical elephants and Electrophants at. . .cyberneticzoo.com/great-britain

and there are now many video clips available on the web showing these mechanical elephants on the move...

 

1949    www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5Z4YApl06Y     small 2-stroke petrol versions at Humberside

1950    www.britishpathe.com/thaxted-news              Frank Stewart at Thaxted

1967    www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/954                    Jessica with Lord Hillingdon at Stratford St Mary, Suffolk

1975    www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKyY34D-O98   from BBC Blue Peter, large electric version (poor quality video)

1980    www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlDq6nIl9Ag      Jessica (formerly Nellie?) +comments about its poor centre of gravity

2008    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4HMzpbTS68   BBC Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson with a large petrol version

2011    www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLAmeCblFTk    Nellie in a Christmas Pageant, Adelaide Australia, large petrol version

2011    www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdV1oNlBoL8     Jumbo at Michigan, USA with a large electric version

2011 www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2hFrchgE_k Larry Gavette and Eric go for a ride down in the USA

2013    www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbtK1AD614Q  Off Bros USA, large electric version

2014    www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqWwxI_qpCI    Wendall in Auburn, Indiana, USA with a large electric version

2015 www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-XPIzBkCYQ in the USA same one as Off Bros?

 

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