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Competitor Profile: Hugh Mason

TT Career Summary
Position157DNF
No of times1113

Biography

b. 1878 Tattershall, Lincolnshire

d. 1928 Newcastle Upon Tyne

Although associated with Newcastle, Mason was in fact born in Lincolnshire in 1878. His father was a solicitor, and the family seem to have been reasonably well off. Hugh was at least partly educated at Elizabeth College in Guernsey, before moving north to the great ship building town of Wallsend on the banks of the Tyne in north east England. Here he was apprenticed as a turner at the North East Marine Engineering Co Ltd, which built marine engines. It was also here that he married in 1899.

Here it was that he met John Hall (known as Jack), a "cycle maker"* who had premises on Wallsend High street. Hugh was already a keen and successful pedal cyclist but now was taking an interest in motorised machines. Together they began building motorcycles combining Jack’s expertise in cycle production with Hugh’s knowledge of the internal combustion engine. This usually meant a Minerva/Precision/De Dion/MMC or other proprietary engine adapted to fit into a purpose built frame.

These Wallsend built machines of the early 1900s, carrying Hugh’s personal monogram of HM were the direct forerunners of the NUT marque.

Around the beginning of 1912 Sir William Angus, Sanderson & Co Ltd began producing, from their St Thomas St., Newcastle premises, the first motorcycles designated NUT (which stood for Newcastle Upon Tyne) employing the twin expertise of, I believe, Jack Hall, and certainly that of Hugh Mason. Mason acted as manager, designer, test rider and racer. Although Mason had ridden before in the IOM TT (in 1911 [Senior retired] and 1912 [Senior 7th] both for Matchless), and had a formidable reputation in trials and speed events, it was 1913 which was to be his and NUT’s annus mirabilis.

In that year, Mason and his works NUT machines, amongst other achievements, captured the Brooklands Junior TT, The Isle Of Man Junior TT, The Scottish Lightweight Championship, The Brooklands Six Hour Race, and the Brooklands Solo Ten Mile Scratch Race, as well as establishing ten long distance records in the 350cc class.

Neither Mason nor NUT was ever again to repeat such success. In the following year, 1914, Mason was forced to retire in the junior TT and came 7th in the senior. War soon intervened, and the larger works at South Benwell to which NUT production had removed due to their success and swelling order book, was given over to munitions manufacture.

After the war Mason wanted to resume development of sports machines, but was overruled by the board of Sir William Angus, Sanderson Ltd who favoured a more luxurious touring machine. Worse, in 1920 the company diverted its investment away from motorcycle production altogether to concentrate on car manufacture, and the motorcycling arm of the company went into liquidation.

This was not the end though, and the company was reorganised and reconstituted, and resumed production of machines from the opposite bank of the Tyne near Swalwell under the name Hugh Mason & Co Ltd, NUT Works, Derwenthaugh. However, by the end of 1923 Mason had severed his connection with NUT forever, and set up his own dealership in Newcastle as a representative for Matchless. He had had a longstanding relationship with Matchless both before his NUT adventure, and now afterwards, and had been good friends with the Collier brothers for years.

Riding a Matchless, Mason had a last bash at the TT in 1923 at the age of 45, fully 10 years after his great success. It was to be an anti-climax and Mason was forced to retire from the Senior TT with mechanical trouble.

Appropriately, Mason died astride his machine near his home at Stamfordham near Newcastle. He was not racing, nor even competing, but had merely set out from his home for a run on his motorcycle prior to taking part in a speed event at a gymkhana that was to take place next day. No one else was involved and the coroner recorded the death as accidental. He had simply been thrown from his machine for reasons unknown and had fractured the base of his skull. He was aged 50 and the year was 1928.

The 1913 Junior TT

Mason was a small tenacious rider possessed of a quiet confidence, and the manner in which he won the 1913 TT was quite remarkable.

While on a practice lap in fog on the Monday preceding the race, Mason came off his machine badly and lay by the road unconscious for some time. He was discovered by the Collier brothers, and was eventually taken to Douglas Hospital, where he more or less slept continuously till the start of the race on Wednesday.

He was by no means fully recovered and, amazingly, having started the race, he promptly fell off again, this time at Quarter Bridge, "….and this seemed to waken him up…."**! This seems to have been quite true and he was spurred on so that by the time he reached the mountains he had overtaken the eleven men ahead of him. However he was suffering greatly with headaches as a result of the earlier accident and began to feel ill again and this caused him to vomit as he rode. However he survived the first day, and it was a great relief to him when it was over.

He went back to hospital and slept again, this time through to Friday and the start of the second day’s racing. He was still troubled with headaches and vomiting but managed to keep going. On reaching Ramsey for the third circuit he was told that another rider was over _ minute ahead of him. Mason complained that he had not been told earlier, but came the reply that they feared for his safety and did not want to urge him to go any faster in his condition. Needless to say, he did go faster, made up the deficit, and eventually won in the time of 5 hrs 8 mins 34 sec. His friend and NUT colleague Robert Ellis came in 8th riding a similar machine.

"You see, I knew I had the fastest machine, and without trouble I knew I could win. I was determined to win, but it was very hard to keep awake, and once I was off the machine I wanted to go to sleep"**

As a post script it is interesting to note that had things been slightly different, I believe Mason would also have won the 1912 junior TT. Consider the following, which appeared in the Newcastle Illustrated Chronicle on Sat 7th June 1913 following Mason’s victory: -

"In last year's Tourist Trophy Race, Mr. Mason was unfortunate in meeting with an accident a day or so before the actual race, and in consequence he was unable to take part in the competition. However, Mr. Robert Ellis, a well-known motor enthusiast of this town (Newcastle), riding a similar machine, achieved third place, for which he received a special prize, being the leading amateur rider in the competition."

It appears that 1913 was not the only year in which Mason had an accident immediately prior to the TT race…



©Terry Gay 2002

Please click on my email link: Terry Gay if you wish to contact me for any reason regarding this article.

Picture credits: -

1. Mason studio photo: Many thanks and copyright to Peter Sparkes.

2. Mason posing with 1913 winning machine: National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

3. NUT 678cc SV V-Twin in profile: from the 1922 NUT catalogue.

* Ward's Trades Directory 1911

** Motor Cycling 17-6-1913

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