Yeovil People

Benjamin Joseph Jacobs

Engineer, designer and draughtsman


Benjamin Joseph Jacobs, known as Ben, was born in the spring of 1859 at Stoke St Mary, Somerset. He was the son of miller and farmer of 140 acres Joseph Jacobs (1818-1893) and Sarah née Sibley (1819-1882). Joseph and Sarah had three children; Annie Maria Matilda (1858-1904), Ben and Sarah Ann Goode (1862-1937).

The 1861 census listed the family at Broughton Farm, Stoke St Mary. Ben was listed as being one year old. By the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to Bickenhall Mills, Bickenhall, Somerset, where Joseph was the miller, as well as being a farmer of 70 acres. 11-year-old Ben was listed as a scholar.

The 1881 census recorded 21-year-old Ben living with his uncle William Sibley and his family at Parret Works Cottages, Martock. William Sibley was an engineer and iron & brass founder employing 14 men and 3 boys. Ben gave his occupation as an engine fitter.

On 25 September 1882, at Martock parish church, Ben married his cousin Sarah Sibley (1855-1911), the daughter of his uncle William Sibley. They were to have three children: John Hannibal (1885-1911), Mary Ann (1886-1894) and Jessie (b1888). The family initially lived at Whitehall, South Petherton, later moving to North Street Martock.

Ben accepted an appointment as general foreman of the old Yeovil Foundry and General Engineering Works, owned by James Bazeley Petter. In the 1891 census, while living at Martock, 31-year-old Ben gave his occupation as an engine fitter and turner.

Ben Jacobs became the first chief designer of Petters Limited. In 1895 he collaborated with James Petter's twin sons Percy and Ernest Petter in the designing and building of the first Petter oil engine. This engine was one of the horizontal type developing 3 BHP and designed specifically to propel a 'horseless carriage'. In 1896 it was fitted to an old four wheeled Hill and Boll phaeton and was exhibited at the Lord Mayor's Show of that year as the 'Petter Horseless Carriage' - the first motor car with an internal combustion engine to be made in the United Kingdom.

The vehicle, one some dozen different models, was constructed at the Park Road carriage works of Hill and Boll. It weighed 9cwt (457kg), including the 120lb (54kg) of the Petter engine with its flywheel and side bars, and had a top speed of 12 miles per hour.

In 1897 the Petters formed the Yeovil Motor Carriage Company, making small two-person motor carriages at their foundry in Huish / Clarence Street and in conjunction with carriage makers Hill & Boll of Park Road. This same year the company was one of four that offered automobiles for trials at Chelsea and was exhibited at the 1897 Motor Car Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, both events being organised by 'The Engineer' magazine.

Ben and his family were still living in Martock in 1901, and Ben gave his occupation as a mechanical engineer in that year's census. The family moved to 204 Sherborne Road, Yeovil, but at the beginning of 1911 Ben's wife Sarah died. In the census he was described as a 51-year-old widower, living with his daughter 23-year-old Jessie, who acted as his housekeeper. Ben gave his occupation as a mechanical engineer's draughtsman.

On 26 April 1937, Ben Jacobs died. His obituary in the May 1937 issue of Petter's Monthly News stated; "Mr Jacobs, who was 77, was the first chief designer of Petters Limited... Mr Jacobs was one of the old brigade of engineers, able to do practically everything for himself, such as prepare drawings, make patterns, turning, boring, fitting, testing, experimenting, and it was largely due to his genius that the Petter Engine developed so successfully in its early days. He was also a man of inventive mind and constructed some of the earliest dynamos made in this country. The high personal character of Mr Jacobs earned the respect of all who knew him.  At his own wish he remained at his work until two days before the end, demonstrating that youth and vigour are not always a matter of years. The funeral took place at Yeovil Cemetery on April 29th, and was attended by Mr PW Petter, on behalf of Petters Limited, and a large gathering which included many of the firm's employees."




Benjamin Joseph Jacobs


The record of Ben and Sarah's marriage at Martock on 25 September 1882.


Courtesy of Dave Shorey

Ben Jacobs (seated), with Percy and Ernest Petter - the three designers and builders of the first motor car with an internal combustion engine to be made in the United Kingdom. Photographed in 1936, the year before Ben's death.


James Bazeley Petter (steering) sitting next to Herbert Southcombe, with twin sons Percy (left) and Ernest (right) in the rear seat, on one of their automobiles designed and built by Ben Jacobs and the Petter twins, in a photograph of 1896 with coachwork by Hill & Boll. This photograph appeared in the 3 April 1896 edition of 'The Engineer' magazine, captioned "Petter and Hill and Boll's Oil-Motor Carriage"