Chambers, Robert Martin (1865–1949), John Henry (‘Jack’) (1867–1937), and Charles Edward (‘Charlie’) (1873–1931), motor manufacturers, were second, third, and fifth sons of John and Ellen Chambers of Tullynaskeagh, Downpatrick, Co. Down, and second, third, and sixth of a family comprising seven sons and one daughter. John Chambers was a farmer whose family had been on the same land since 1596. Ellen Chambers was the daughter of Robert Martin, farmer, of Ballywoolen, Rademon, Co. Down, and a first cousin of Sir Samuel Davidson (qv), founder of the Sirocco Works, Belfast.
The Chambers brothers were the principals of Chambers Motors Ltd, Belfast, the first manufacturer of motor vehicles in Ireland. In 1897 Robert and Charlie founded Chambers & Co. in Cuba St., Belfast, to manufacture a bottle-wiring machine. In 1904 they started manufacturing a twin-cylinder, horizontal-engined car. Between 1904 and 1929 they made a range of private and commercial vehicles which incorporated their patented epicyclic gearbox. These vehicles gained a reputation for high-quality workmanship and longevity. Robert and Charlie were joined by Jack in 1907 and the business became a limited-liability company, styled ‘Chambers Motors Ltd’. They prided themselves on the fact that they designed and made all the components themselves. From 1898 they took out a total of nineteen patents: four relating to wiring, corking, or filling bottles, six relating to vehicle gearing or transmission, and nine for improvements in car fittings and other mechanisms. In 1909 they introduced a four-cylinder model and in 1913 moved to larger premises in University St., Belfast. During the first world war, the company manufactured 18-lb shell cases and hand-grenade primers in large quantities, as well as a few ambulances which served with the Ulster Division in France. After the war, in the face of increasing competition from mass producers, they bought in some of their older cars and remanufactured them as commercial vehicles. They also produced a few models of a more up-to-date design using proprietary components such as engines and gearboxes. Chambers Motors Ltd went into voluntary liquidation in 1929.
Robert Martin Chambers was born 15 November 1865, educated at Ballee school, and undertook an apprenticeship with the Belfast shipbuilders McIlwaine & Lewis. He gained membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers through study at the Municipal Technical Institute. He moved to Davidson & Co., Sirocco Works, and became a departmental manager before leaving to found Chambers & Co. with his brother Charlie in 1897. He married (1894) Florence, daughter of the Rev. Benjamin Walker of Manchester; they had one son and three daughters. Florence, the eldest, married Professor George Emeléus (qv) of QUB. From 1911 Robert resided in Malone Avenue, Belfast. After the closure of Chambers Motors, he designed, developed, and patented a range of bakery machinery. He died 29 September 1949.
John Henry Chambers was born 29 May 1867, educated at Ballee school, and undertook an apprenticeship with Davidson & Co., Sirocco Works. He went to India as the technical representative for that firm, whose primary business was the manufacture of tea-drying machinery. Returning to England in 1896 because of ill health, he became receiver and manager of James Wilson & Co., Vauxhall iron works, London. This firm, which made internal combustion engines for river launches, needed to diversify and chose to manufacture motor cars. Jack was a co-designer of the first Vauxhall car in 1903. He left the firm in 1906 when it moved to Luton, and joined his brothers in Chambers Motors Ltd in 1907. He married (1897) May Cranbrook of London (d. 1906); they had four daughters. He later married (1910) Margaret Benett but had no further family. He and his brother Charlie drove Chambers cars in Irish and Scottish reliability trials in 1906, 1907, and 1908, gaining several class wins. He was president of the Belfast Association of Engineers in 1918–19. He resided in Sandown Road, Belfast, and died 29 May 1937.
Charles Edward Chambers was born 21 June 1873 and educated at Ballee school and the RBAI. He undertook an apprenticeship and then gained employment as a draughtsman with the firm of Harland & Wolff. He left to found Chambers & Co. with Robert in 1897. Charlie married (1903) Elsie Holland and had one son and one daughter. He lived in Kings Road, Knock, Belfast. He was responsible for the finances of Chambers Motors Ltd, and the stress of liquidation is reported to have caused his early death (6 September 1931). After the closure of Chambers Motors, he established Chambers & McWatters, a general garage and engineering works in Agincourt Avenue, Belfast.