The first seagulls were built by the Sunbeam Motor Company
and John Marston Ltd and were sold as the Marston Seagull starting in
1931.They were designed as a marine engine not as an engine converted for
marine use. This engine was remarkably similar to later seagulls although
there were several refinements such as reverse gears, water-cooled
exhausts and even twin cylinders.
Entrepreneur John Way-Hope and Engineer
Bill Pinniger purchased the patents and set up the Bristol Motor Company
in Poole Dorset. In 1938 the name BRITISH SEAGULL was chosen and "Marston"
was dropped. They produced just one engine a 3 1/2-4 hp with fixed or
clutch drive. This engine was built in large quantities (over 10,000
engines) in WW2 for the British Admiralty and that enabled the company to
establish it's manufacturing capacity. The model 102 engine was produced
basically unchanged for nearly 35 years. There was a huge emphasis on
simplicity and quality of materials even while other manufactures were
producing increasingly more complicated motors out of pot metal and
plastic. The model 102 had a one piece rounded cylinder and new models
were introduced in the late 1940's and 50's with a square cylinder and
separate aluminum head.
By the mid 1960's Seagull was going full bore at the
Fleets Bridge site in Poole, Dorset with over 200 employees. Nearly all work was done on site other
than the carbs and gears.
And then several factors occurred which worked against
British Seagull. John Way-Hope died in the early 1970's. The Late 1970's
saw the market being flooded with cheap Japanese outboards. Seagull
introduced new models including the ill fated 7hp model 170 -the first
seagull with an engine cowl. Bypassing its dealers, the company attempted
to sell directly to the public. By 1982 staff were being cut, the company
moved to an industrial park and by 1984 the company was in receivership.
At the risk of toilet jokes it was purchased by Blakes the makers of
...marine toilets. There followed a revival of sorts and the launch of the
QB seagull a radical new design from Professor Blair and his team at
Queens University in Belfast in 1987. Ownership of the company was
taken on by Chillington Marine but by 1996 engine production had stopped.
The well established dealership organization dependent on new motor
sales was shut down. British Seagull Dealers around the world had
provided face to face legendary customer service and a local parts and
engine source. If the 1960's represented the zenith for British Seagull
this now represented the bottom as good times were replaced by not so
good ( ie bad) times!.
But British Seagull was not finished. Not quite. There were
so many of these well built engines in the world and such a well
established base of loyal owners that it was financially possible to
maintain a continuing spares service. Ownership of the company was then transferred to Sheridan Marine
a small family owned UK business in
1999 where an extensive spare parts inventory including newly manufactured
items continues to this day. Its somewhat ironic that British Seagull
can continue to provide spares to owners for engines built decades
previously while other outboard manufacturers still in production are
unable to do the same! Owners may purchase
spares from British Seagull UK or from a very few British Seagull Stockists -
independent business's which maintain an inventory of seagull parts. In
addition there are seagull enthusiasts around the world that maintain
interesting and informative websites that help to support seagull owners
The company in its various forms has left a huge footprint
on our marine history specifically in the area of outboard motors for
small vessels. "Everlasting simplicity" lives on!
British Seagull has provided excellent
products to hundreds of thousands of mariners. And thanks to Sheridan
Marine the present owners of British Seagull you can still find parts for
them! All around the world there are British Seagull fans and loyal
owners and owning a British Seagull is your ticket to this very friendly
community!. There are excellent websites supporting the motor including my
favorite by John Williams - Saving Old Seagulls. There is now an
excellent book on repairing and maintaining these engines written by
Canadian author and blue water sailor Don Meyer called The
Classic British Seagull. I suspect
that these dependable little work horses will be with us for many many
years in the future!