21st October 1932

Car designer Ron Hickman is born

Jersey-based designer Ronald Price Hickman designed three of the most lusted after cars of all time: the Lotus Elan, Elan +2 and Europa. Born in South Africa, he moved to London in the 1950s and worked at Ford before being lured to Lotus. The Elan was an important car for the company, coming after the Elite which, although admired, was difficult to build. The Elan, on the other hand, used parts that were widely available, which helped to keep down the price, while retaining its appeal. It was driven by Emma Peel in The Avengers, as played by Diana Rigg. 

By the late 1960s Hickman had moved to luxury ocean liner builder Cunard, which was then working on the QE2, and he contributed to the designs for its seats.

Black and Decker Workmate

However, his design that touched most lives was neither a car nor a seat on a cruise ship, but the Black and Decker Workmate. A portable bench that can be set to any height, the Workmate is a sawhorse and vice combined. With two work surfaces, one of which can be positioned using a pair of handles, it gave both professional craftspeople and hobbyists a practical workspace wherever they happened to be.

The idea came when he’d been making a wardrobe at home, had placed the piece of wood he was sawing on an expensive Swedish chair and sawn through the chair itself by mistake. An alternative needed to be found.

He developed the Workmake in his own time and sold the rights to Black and Decker in 1973 in return for a 3% royalty on each Workmate sold. The income was sufficient to fund a move to Jersey where he constructed his own home, Villa Devereux, in St Brelade. He maintained a design factory there and was a member of the Jersey Old Motor Club.

The Observer profiled his house in 2003 and Dominic Lutyens wrote, on 11 May, “Hickman’s inventions are everywhere. Carpeted stairs in the living room droop to form a ramp down which he can wheel a trolley carrying food to the patio for barbecues. An electric ‘information panel’ shows which doors or windows have been left open, and the temperature of rooms. Upstairs is a group of now ancient-looking Workmate prototypes. And, yes, even that swish Swedish chair, which Hickman butchered with his saw all those years ago.”

He died on 17 February 2011, by which point Black and Decker had sold more than 70 million Workmates.


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