Eccles Caravans – Stirchley, Birmingham – A personal history
by Mary Groves, Bream, Gloucestershire
My brother and I were both born at the Eccles factory as my dad, was foreman carpenter and caretaker and our house was within the factory grounds
It was in 1913 that Mr. W.A.J. Riley, father of W.J. Riley that I knew as a child as the Managing Director of Eccles built a caravan-like body on the chassis of a Talbot car. The result was one of the very first motor caravans ever to be built. It was not unlike a baker’s van in appearance, but although it made history, it was found, under running conditions on the road, to suffer from certain faults.
However, it clearly demonstrated that the principal had possibilities. In 1914 it was accorded the honour of a descriptive article to itself in The Autocar, and the outcome of this was that a coachbuilder in Birmingham offered to buy the patent rights from Mr Riley. These were not sold, but permission was given for the design to be developed.
Soon afterwards, the outbreak of the World War I brought further work on the caravan to a full stop. Owing to Government orders, the coachbuilder was obliged to abandon the caravan project. The years 1914-1918 dragged on, and during them, Mr Riley Jnr. saw active service with the Royal Flying Corps, later to become the RAF.
On demob, he sought a suitable opening in civilian life. In company with his father, he followed up an attractive looking advertisement in a Birmingham paper, which called for capital to expend a haulage business. This proved to be owned by a certain Mr Eccles of Eccles Transport Co. A deal was closed and a new concern, Eccles Motor Transport Ltd was registered on March 21st 1919.
The total authorised capital of the new company was £6,000 and all the cash was introduced by the Rileys’ out of their savings. What it acquired however was not of a very substantial nature. It consisted in fact of a tumble down corner house at Gosta Green , Birmingham, along with some derelict cottages, about 3,000 sq feet of premises in all.
Nor was the ‘fleet’ of transport vehicles much more re-assuring, for it comprised of three old front-wheel-drive tractors which had seen their best days. They had been employed on a Ministry of Munitions haulage contract and were now very definitely past their prime. To cap all this, the Ministry contacts had been finished and the goodwill of the business was, in effect, nil.
Eventually the company started failing and at this point, the faith in Mr Riley Snr and his caravan idea was revived. He announced his intention of building another like the original one, but his son had different ideas. The use of trailer ambulances during the War convinced W.J that trailers offered attractive possibilities for civilian motorists.
Although Riley Jnr. failed to persuade his father that the trailer caravan was the thing of the future, he was allowed to go ahead and build one, while Riley Snr. concentrated on another pattern that he preferred. The back kitchen of the old house at Gosta Green was scheduled as the caravan shop, and here the two vans were eventually completed.
It was decided that both types should be exhibited at the Motor Show of 1919, but the necessary space could not be secured. As an alternative, a nearby garage was hired for the period of the show, and here the two Eccles caravans were displayed. They certainly aroused a lot of interest from the public but unfortunately, they didn’t buy. In fact only one firm order was taken and this was for a trailer type. It was placed by a lady after she had made a very thorough inspection and in response to Mr Riley’s inquiry for her name, she merely gave “Sybil”. May I have your surname please? asked Mr Riley to which the lady replied, “you put down what I tell you”. And so the order book’s first entry read “Sybil, Dowager Viscountess Rhondda”.
On the strength of the many enquiries received, it was decided to go into production with 50 trailer caravans, a courageous decision for those early and uncertain days. A contract was made with a firm of wheelwrights in the Black Country to build the shells, while Eccles ‘factory’ at Gosta Green would fit the axles and attend to interior furnishings.
A booklet was printed entitled “The Holiday Problem Solved” on the delights of motor caravanning and describing the features of the Eccles product, which was priced at £300 originally but had subsequently to be increased to the same amount of guineas. Then came the problem of selling the firm’s product. W.J was provided with a 1910 Rover and sent forth to bring in the orders.
Retailing outlets were appointed and garages were visited all over the country, but while much interest was shown, hard business proved disappointing. One by-product of these sales tours was however well worthy of a place on the credit side of the ledger, for undoubtedly, it went far towards making Eccles Caravans the success they were later to become. This was that, in the interest of economy, W.J lived more or less all of the time in the caravans, he found out where improvements were called for, both regarding the towing and the furnishings and invaluable experience was acquired.
In 1922, Eccles were successful in entering the Motor Show at White City. It was hard going though selling caravans to an unconverted public in 1922. While costs of production were showing an ever increasing tendency, sales held back alarmingly. Agents who contracted for vans “on spec” proved, in many cases, unwilling or unable to take delivery when the time came. Things once again looked bad. Gradually the corner was turned, the transport side of the business was sold off and the entire caravan was made in the works at Gosta Green which were now in better shape than when the Rileys had entered the Eccles firm. The ‘factory’ boasted a gas engine, a blacksmith’s hearth, a circular saw, a band saw and a small drilling machine. None the less, sales were few and far between and financially, the company was having a struggle to make ends meet. The bank balance stayed in the red, and W.J had a regular session with the bank manager, endeavouring to convince him that all was well.
Things proceeded in the same way until 1924 when something occurred in the nature of a windfall and it seemed to bring on better times. The firm had built a very special, large caravan body on a 4 ton commercial vehicle chassis. The price agreed was £500, but the completed job having been delivered was without payment being obtained, there was certain reluctance on the purchaser’s part to keep his share of the bargain. Eventually, when hope had been well abandoned, a cheque came unexpectedly.
Within a year of this, the bank overdraft had been cleared off. A contributory factor had been that, about this time, some of the more enterprising agents began trying out the possibilities of hiring out caravans. The P&P Motor Company was one of the originators of the scheme, which proved a great success. For many years up to the outbreak of the World War II, hiring was a lucrative side of the caravan trade.
By 1927, the financial position of Eccles had improved greatly and the decision was taken to purchase a new and better factory premises. Four acres of land were bought in Hazelwell Lane in Stirchley, Birmingham and a modern single- story building was erected. It had an area of 15,000 sq. feet, 12.000 more than at Gosta Green which was now sold off, new and better plant was installed including several woodworking machines with individual electric motors to drive them. Eccles could now manufacture under reasonably modern conditions.
A programme was adopted which was a continuation of the lines that had proved themselves acceptable to the buying public. What were termed “listed model” trailer caravans were built in series, as well as “modified models” to order. In additions, caravan bodies were made for fitting on to commercial vehicle chassis, but when taxation was revised so that unladen weight became the basis factor, the sale of these was killed.
One further Eccles activity at this time was the building of gypsy caravans. These had to be of the very finest construction in every way. Most ornate in decoration, they followed in a general design and plan all of their own. Also, for the firm’s fairground clientele, caravans (sometimes thought to be the same as those for the gypsies, but actually quite different), were built.
The brakes on trailer caravans had always been rather a complication. In the very early days it had seemed simple to introduce a motor cycle type of brake provided with a cable control so that the driver could operate them. However, the law stipulated that, if the brakes of a car were so arranged that their operation brought into simultaneous action the brakes of the caravan, matters were in order. It seemed that an “over-run” type of brake on the caravan complied with legal requirements, and the Eccles models were thus equipped.
Police and magistrates appeared to hold a contrary opinion, and it was evident that a test case was in the offing. Sure enough, during 1927, the Honiton police summonsed several users of Eccles caravans for having no brake other than the “over-run” pattern. On October 6th of that year, W.J found himself in the West Country town with the task on his hands of supervising his customers’ interests.
He learned that the Solicitors instructed on behalf of the defendants were already convinced that their clients were in the wrong, and were proposing to plead a “sob story”. Fortunately, W.J was successful in discovering a local solicitor who was not content to pre-judge the cases, and he persuaded him that the Eccles braking arrangement was not at all illegal. This solicitor, Mr C.N. Tweed, very ably presented his view of the matter to the Bench, and, after a lengthy hearing (coupled with a trial run on a caravan thoughtfully brought to court by W.J), all the cases were dismissed.
Thus did Eccles, to all intents and purposes, legalize the over-run brakes? At any rate, there were no further arguments with police and magistrates, and this type of braking was finally given definite legal approval on March 14th 1937.(For a trailer of unladen weight not exceeding one ton.)
The following year, 1928, found the business of Eccles greatly increasing, so extensions to the new factory were called for. A 50 ft run was added, bring the area to 22,500 sq ft.
Under the Road Traffic Act of 1930, users of trailer caravans found that they had been overlooked when the speed limit was abolished so far as private cars in unrestricted areas were concerned. For caravans, the legal limit remained at 20.m.p.h. This anomaly was removed, it seems fair to state, largely through the efforts of W.J. The old 20 m.p.h. limit had long been a dead letter to motorists, but when the whole matter of speed was brought into topicality, it was a serious affair that the caravanner should remain subject to possibly intensified police and public notice.
Now the Minister of Transport had been given power to authorize revision under the Act, and on March 17th 1931, a meeting was arranged between the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and Ministry officials with a view to a plea being put forward that the law as it applied to the caravan user should be amended. W.J attended on behalf of Eccles, but before the meeting began, he was somewhat perturbed to discover that the general opinion of the motor manufacturers’ deputation was that no concession need be anticipated.
“Listen”, W.J told them at the preliminary gathering. “ I have bought with me more than a hundred letters from responsible people, people who drive large cars for towing caravans, directors of well-known firms, titled people and the like, all who write to say that a 20 m.p.h. speed limit is ridiculous. They consider 30 m.p.h. reasonable. Let us therefore, when we go in to see the Ministry officials, go in knowing what we want, and make a determined effort to get it”.
This seemed to impress the deputation, and it was agreed. However, when the meeting actually began, there was a certain amount of deviation from the expected line of discussion, but luckily W.J happened to know that one of the principal officials present was himself an ardent caravanner. At a favourable opportunity, he handed the letters he had brought to this official, intimating that they were from persons of responsibility, and they all asked for 30 m.p.h to be allowed. This action turned the scales, and the meeting terminated with the assurance that sympathetic consideration would be given. In due course, the limit was raised to 30 m.p.h.
In 1932 (the year that my father joined the company) the Eccles caravan made history by being the only trailer caravan ever to go through the famous Monte Carlo Rally behind a competing car. This same year, W.A.J passed away after a long illness and W.J now became Chairman and Managing Director and his brother, H.A Riley, a chartered accountant joined the board.
The new Chairman’s first action was to make a tour of the Eccles distributors, and discuss matters with them, for, in his opinion, mutual arrangement had not proceeded satisfactory for either part for some time previously. He arrived at the conclusion that certain aspects of the firm’s production methods must be improved, and on his return instituted a progress inquiry every morning at 8 o’clock. Attending this personally, he found that it was possible to iron out a number of petty difficulties which tended to hamper production, and the fact that sales doubled over a period of 18 months proved that his policy was justified.
Competition in the caravan market was, however, growing fast in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of war. Fortunately, Eccles had achieved an outstanding reputation for excellence of construction and workmanship, and this stood them in good stead. Many special and luxurious caravans were being turned out along with the series models, but it was the launch of the ‘Eccles National’, this first organised attempt to bring caravanning to the man in the street that was responsible for increasing sales by 20% in 1939.
The time was approaching, however, when every form of productive capacity in the country would have to be turned over to grimmer uses. The World War II had been casting ever-deepening shadows before it and W.J had approached the War Office as far back as 1936 to acquaint them of the potentials of the Eccles factory in the event of hostilities. During the ensuring three years Eccles did in fact, execute orders for trailer bodies, also for radio vans on six-wheeled chassis and for machinery and workshop bodies.
As an example of “intelligent anticipation” it may be mentioned that in 1937 the firm submitted to the authorities as their original idea, a trailer caravan designed to provide sleeping and office accommodation for staff officers, a mobile headquarters for service in the field. Although the matter was given official consideration, no order was placed by the War Office, and ultimately the prototype which had been produced was disposed of to an oil firm for use in Burma.
Early in 1939, a further 50 ft. extension had been decided on at Stirchley, and, when War broke out, the steelwork and roof were erected. Immediately, the order was given for yet another 50 ft extension to be added, and this was quickly brought into being.
Shortly after the factory had been completed, an order for 50 dental clinic vans was received and eventually, an order to build 200 searchlight bodies came in. Unfortunately, after about a quarter of these had been completed, the supply of chassis ran out, so bodies then coming through had to be stored. The blitzing of Birmingham and neighbourhood which followed caused a threat that a section of the works might be commandeered for storage purposes. As this would have spoiled the factory productive processes, W.J very naturally protested, and the proposal was abandoned.
This was just as well, for, as the tempo of the war quickened, orders begun to flow in; orders concerned not only with wood construction, but also steelwork as well. Luckily before the war started, the firm had bought machinery and tool room plant with the intention of making their own steel frames for caravans. The Chairman now called his men together and told them they must learn to work with steel. The response was excellent, and W.J’s personal experience from boyhood apprenticeship days, proved extremely valuable in this direction.
The early days of the war brought much talk of evacuation, but as W.J pointed out (the quotation is from “The Caravan” of October,1939): “We are not going to win a war against a highly industrious and organised nation like the Germans by evacuating. Somebody will have to stay and do the fighting, the transport, the A.R.P services and produce the work”.
And “produce the work” was the keynote at the Eccles factory. Here is a list of the major items it turned out during the war.
27 X-ray van bodies.
212 Searchlight van bodies.
200 Machinery bodies.
162 Dental Clinics
190 Post Office vans
440 Post Office lorries.
3 Odd trailer chassis
420 Bodies converted to offices with fitted superstructure and extension.
31 Machinery bodies.
29 Engineers’ test bodies (Post Office)
427 General Service bodies
1 Special body developed for engine test for the jet-propelled areoplane
250 N.F.S. towing vehicles
2 End tipping wagons
3 Travelling inspection vans
40 Caravans on 4-wheel-drive chassis for H.Q. Command
290 Fire tenders
6 Dental laboratories
25 Dental Surgeries
Also many light trailers of various types and many thousands of steel trucks and stillages
Many of the bodies were very technical in their specification, and consequently slow to go through the factory. Nevertheless, the production at the Eccles works throughout the war averaged two bodies per day, while, on some contracts, output was no fewer than 30 bodies per week.
Incidentally, the order for 40 caravans for H.Q Command reveals that the War Office did eventually have to come to Eccles for the mobile headquarters which the firm had suggested to them as far back as 1937!
The end of the War found the Eccles Company a highly organised and efficiently managed concern, with productive capacity of very considerable dimensions. Sales had, in fact, increased to three times what their value had been before the war, but, with the termination of Government contracts, profitable employment had got to be found in the civilian field for that enhanced productive capacity. The caravan business was, of course, one obvious activity, but it would take some time before an output could be attained which would fully absorb all the available facilities of the enlarged factory.
The department of the factory now dealing with steel fabrication had become an important section of the works while the production of the bodywork for the War Office was in progress, but now sometimes a contract called for all timber framing and then the steel department had to find other work for itself. It had built up a good reputation for making steel trucks and stillages for factory use and it was accordingly decided that this side of the business should be developed as a separate division.
So far as the caravan trade was concerned, authorisation was obtained from the Ministry of Supply for the manufacture of a considerable number- some 300 vans- which would be to a design considered well suited to post-war conditions. One model only was to be made, to expedite production, as it was felt that quick delivery would be of some help in the national housing emergency.
With this double handed policy in view, permits had been obtained, after some considerable difficulty, for the acquisition of new and additional machinery in each department. The factory was then extensively re-arranged to allow the best possible flow of material and it was not long before things began to hum in the Eccles works.
First of all, in order to establish the steel trucks and stillages fairly and squarely in their market, an exhibition of them was staged in the factory club room, and a substantial number of Midland firms were invited to send representatives to inspect the show. It was held for one week only commencing September 17th 1945, and was followed by another in Manchester in 1946 and one in London in 1947. These were private exhibitions and proved to be a great success, as to them were attributed around 270 new customers.
On the caravan side of the business, the one model upon which it was decided to concentrate was named the “Enterprise”. A prototype was built, and into the design of it was put all the long experience of Eccles in the matter of strength of construction, comfort and convenience for the user, but frills and luxuries were necessarily taboo.
To produce the “enterprise” with efficiency and economy, all parts were jigged and numbered, assembly tracks were laid out especially, and every production problem was tackled in a businesslike manner.
As a point of interest, it was ascertained that 75% of the buyers of the Enterprise were people who wanted to use them as actual homes.
My actual facts about Eccles finish in 1947 when the firm’s turnover had reached £200,000 and it’s worth pointing out that since its original £6000 capital was put in 25 years earlier that company always financed itself out of its own earnings.
From 1947 onwards are my personal memories.
The business thrived and in the late 1940’s John Riley, son of W.J. joined the company. H.A Riley didn’t have children. W.J also had a daughter, Mary, but she had no interest in the company at all and went into an entirely different profession. I still have contact with Mary today.
John was the perfect gentleman and was married to Rosemary and had one little boy, Mark. John always took an interest in both my brother and myself, always enquiring about our schoolwork and then my brother’s first job. After working late in the office, if we opened the works gate for him to drive out, he would toss us the odd two bob piece!
In 1957, the Lord Baden-Powell caravan was brought back to the factory for my father to do some restoration work on it’ interior ready for the 50th Anniversary Jubilee to be held in Sutton Park in August 1957 which was to be attended by scouts from around 85 different countries.
The caravan was stored in what was known just as ‘the barn’ which was in fact the area of the factory grounds where all of the timber and axles was stored and it was just at the end of our back garden.
Being a ‘Brownie’ myself at the time, it was quite exciting that my dad was actually working on the caravan. He hadn’t worked on it originally as he didn’t work at Eccles until 1932, three years after the caravan was built.
From what I remember there was no major work to be done, just a tidy up of the wooden interior and re-varnish and the same with the exterior. Needless to say, my dad had to have a photo of me with the newly restored caravan – in Brownie uniform of course.
I have happy childhood memories of living at the factory in what seems now as a privileged position for a child living in Birmingham. My brother John and myself had 4 acres of grounds to play and ride bikes in, and in John’s case as he was older than I, to learn to drive. We could play in caravans when the weather was bad and we could spend time with dad, even when he was at work. We had the works canteen and social club to go to and listen to a local group practice there (real instruments, trumpet, sax, drums and piano!) and occasionally we persuaded dad to take us down there for a game of snooker when it was closed.
In 1953 there was the street party for the Coronation. The heavens opened, so dad moved the vehicles out of the works garage and all the tables were set up amongst the work benches, trolley jacks and piles of tyres. The lads at the party had a whale of a time.
Eccles also made caravans for fairground folk and I remember as a child that when the vans were collected, the purchasers came with bags of cash in the form of pound and ten shilling notes, half crowns and two shilling pieces to pay. On occasions, my mother and myself were called into the office to help count the cash before the caravans could leave.
We didn’t have our own car until 1960, the same year that Dad died when John passed his test, but we always had the use of any of the Eccles vehicles ranging from a Humber Snipe, W.J’s Bentley Continental or my own favourite, one of the collection of Landrovers. (LOG 246 was the usual one)
Eccles always had a stand at the Motor Show at Earls Court (there was no separate caravan show back then) and dad always went down to London, towing one of the vans for the show and stayed there as he was in charge of building the stand.
In around 1957/ 1958 the steel section of the factory moved to new premises in Redditch but when John Riley tragically died in 1958 aged 32 years it was quickly realized that there was no-one to take over the family business.
The firm was sold out to ‘Sprite’ in 1960 but as my dad died fairly suddenly in the same year, we had left the factory before the actual take-over. The factory in Stirchley closed and sold to GPO and so the ‘real’ Eccles caravans had gone forever.
For many years I had fancied a vintage Eccles as Dave and I had vintage cars which at the time were a 1911 White and a 1931 Ford Model A,. These days as they are quite expensive, and for all the use it would get, we couldn’t justify the cost.
Then in October 2004, our Club Chairman came to a committee meeting with details of a sale to be held just outside Monmouth, and along with all the VW engines and Land Rovers, was listed a 1950’s Eccles caravan. We didn’t do anything about it as really we would have liked a 30’s van to go with the Ford. Another friend went to the sale and then called round to see us for a loan of our trailer to collect his purchase. The caravan hadn’t been sold so we made contact with the owner. We were told that it needed restoration, but we were welcome to go and have a look. Arrangements were made and off we set with an open mind. This was far more modern than my idea of a ‘Vintage’ but it was worth a look. The van was down a very long unmade road in sloping woodland belonging to the property and to say that the van was ‘Moss Green’ was an understatement! We went inside to investigate and it all seemed incredibly dry considering that it had stood there for 12 years untouched. Memories started flooding back. It was a 1956, which meant that my dad definitely had an input towards its manufacture and I was definitely living at the factory when it went out of the gates for the first time. “Could we do something with it ?” I asked Dave. The answer was yes, but now we had to sort out the price as it would need money spent on it. I went out to the owner and asked what he wanted for it. “Make me an offer, I haven’t a clue what they are worth” was the reply. I didn’t know either but as we were now talking about a classic and not a vintage assumed that the value was greatly reduced. Dave had already told him about my connection with the factory and after a few moments he said, “well it has to go, so just take it and give it a good home”!
Arrangements were made to fetch it on the back of another friends Ford Cargo flat bed and so on a Sunday morning in late October, after considerable rain during the previous week the entertainment started. The tyres had perished but Dave put a little air in them to make it easier to move. The lorry was reversed down to the caravan, and then, guess what! It got stuck. A local farmer was called with a dumper truck to first of all pull the lorry out and then the caravan. At the top of the slope, they started to winch the caravan onto the lorry. Suddenly the winch slipped and the caravan hurtled back down the slope for the length of the cable before coming to rest against a tree, but thankfully it only twisted the guttering and put one small dent in the van.
Eventually it was on the lorry and on its way to a new home in Bream. It was unloaded in a nearby field and then brought down the lane on the back of a tractor as I was standing by with the camera. “Oh! Look at that tyre” I said and with camera poised I took a photo of the biggest black carbuncle protruding from the tyre. I took the picture and then there was the most almighty bang as the tyre burst.
I remembered certain model names but not enough to confirm what this was, but investigation on the internet and speaking to a contact that I had in the Period and Classic Caravan Club told us that it was a 1956 four berth Eccles Bounty.
We went inside again for closer inspection. My first thought was “Will the walls hold up when the cobwebs are removed?”
Further inspection showed that the van was in far better condition than we could have hoped. All the oak furniture was in excellent condition, the white enamel grill and burners were immaculate, the original lino (we had the same pattern in our house in Stirchley) had no wear on it apart from by the door where the rain had got in, and it even had the original loo which although excellent condition I decided had to go! Part of the upholstery was missing and so we replaced it all, although when I took it apart to investigate, the black springs were as good as the day they were made.
First job for Dave was to get it on the ramp to investigate the underneath and this was even more of a surprise. The ‘U’ channel and angle iron chassis which was similar in construction to a car of it’s day, just needed a good wire brushing and painting, and as for the floor boards, they were like brand new. They looked more like 50 months old rather than 50 years!
When we came to order new tyres, we hit our first hurdle and so new 14” wheels were purchased and appropriate tyres.
Work started inside with all of the furniture being sanded and re-varnished. Although we wanted to keep it as original as possible, we didn’t intend ‘showing’ it. It was to be used just for our own pleasure and so certain modifications and upgrading was needed to make it comfortable by today’s standards. The sink unit was brought out from the wall about 40mm so that it could accommodate an oven and the side panels were replaced with new plywood. The cupboard where the oven now sits had been factory lined in aluminium, but no oven ever installed. The stable door interior panels were renewed, and a small portion of the wooded frame over the wheel arch by the door needed replacing. The loo compartment was modified slightly to take a modern loo, discrete electric 12v lighting was installed and also mains electric. There was one gas light fitting missing and shade
but for some unknown reason, a friend who has never owned a caravan of any kind had just the thing! The inside was painted and shelves fitted in the wardrobe (I don’t take dresses on holiday now like in the ‘50’s) to accommodate not only clothes but also a cool-box.
The windows were taken out for new rubber seals to be fitted and then the outside was re-sprayed by my nephew, making him the third generation of the family working on the van. My dad in 1956, myself on it’s restoration and now Paul.
Having the van has made me look through old photos and I have come up with pictures of the factory and the workforce, the caravans and vehicles along with my brother and myself as children at the factory.
My brother sadly died two months after we got the van, but we had it just in time to be able to tell him about it and with him being five years older than me, he remembered things about the factory and the manufacture of the vans that I didn’t know.
I phoned Mary Riley, W.J’s daughter to tell her about our new acquisition and she was absolutely thrilled. Since then I update her every Christmas about the years activities with it.
I wouldn’t say that the van has a lot of use but four or five time a year, we go off for about 5 days and thoroughly enjoy it. It’s like getting a bit of my dad back.
Although I would have liked an older one, I can now see that this is far more practical and when the van was completed, we bought the perfect towing vehicle, a 1953 Austin A70 Hereford. Made for each other just 3 miles apart!
With thanks to Anselm Ahern