Cycling in Victorian Forest Gate

Wednesday 26 March 2014

We have covered bike manufacturing in Forest Gate at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries in the last two blogs.  This week we look, briefly, at some of the use put to the massive output of bikes at this time of cycle mania, nationally as well as locally. And it was overwhelmingly for pleasure rather than business, or travel-to-work, that the use of the bikes was put.

Cycling was one of the first widespread hobbies to emerge in late Victorian Britain, as the prospering labouring and middle classes began to enjoy organised leisure pursuits on a wide scale for the first time. It was a healthy and (after the original purchase of the bike) cheap form of social engagement.

Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins
visit East London, in disguise, 1903 (photo Harry Gulliver)

Cycle shops

Red Rose Cycles sold bicycles for the popular sport of cycling . It was the trading name of J. Elston and Sons, who had their bicycle shop at 1, Sebert Road, Forest Gate, near the junction with Woodgrange Road.

 A 12-page catalogue, dating from 1899 (cover, below), contains details of nine bicycles ranging in price from £12.12s (£12.70p) to £22.10s (£22.50p); a list of accessories; gear tables for different wheel dimensions; and a table of lighting up times for each month of the year.

Selling local bikes in Sebert Road, in 1899
This item was printed by Ward , Whiteway & Co of Woodgrange Road, the company of C.H. Ward, which we will be featuring in future editions of the blog.

Below is a photograph of another cycle shop in Forest Gate, taken from The Old Photographs series of this district. Unfortunately neither a location nor date is given for the photo, but the editors say:

"Cycling was a popular pastime for both sexes in the early years of this (twentieth) century, as it was one of the few respectable pastimes men and women could do without a chaperon. These young ladies in their specially shortened cycling skits are probably making the popular ride from Forest Gate to Epping."

Undated and unlocated bike shop in Forest Gate,
 from The Old Photographs series

Cycling clubs proliferated at this time, and organised rides from cities and suburbs, into the countryside, as a regular feature of their programmes.

A bit of social intercourse, Woodford Meet in 1890s
"a respectable pastime" not requiring a chaperon
Perhaps the largest network of cycling clubs, nationally, were the Clarion Clubs, which combined the healthy exercise of the bike, with a socialist message. These clubs predominated in the north and Midlands of England, and we have been unable to trace any existence of one on the Forest Gate/West Essex area. Any information on one would be gratefully received.

The Woodford Meet

The biggest local event in the cycling calendar, however, was undoubtedly the Woodford Meet. And given its proximity, there is no doubt there would have been a sizable Forest Gate contingent there.

Inelegant graphic from Forest Gate Weekly
News, promoting the Woodford Meet, 1898
It was an annual cycling parade held to raise money for local hospitals - Sports Aid a century plus ago!. Started in 1882 by the Essex Cycling Club, it continued (with a short break) until 1914, after which it stopped because of the First World War. It was not held again until the year 2000 when a smaller commemorative event was held.

Woodford meet - Photo Harry Gulliver(1903)
The Meet started when members of cycling clubs and unattached riders would meet at the Castle Inn (see contemporary photo of on-lookers greeting the riders c 1906)  at Woodford Green and parade through Snaresbrook, Buckhurst Hill, and Chingford.

Castle Inn, Woodford, c.1906
-welcoming the Woodford Meet
Newspapers of the time reported that its popularity had grown to such an extent that on one day over 2000 cyclists from 48 cycling clubs took part.

Nothing new about dressing up in silly clothes,
 for charity - photo Harry Gulliver (1903)
It then was dropped for 5 years before being revived in 1898, this time with the addition of it also being a fancy-dress carnival. Prizes were awarded for the best dressed team and individuals.

Hospitals dependent of charitable events for support
 - Woodford Meet 1903 (Photo: Harry Gulliver)
Meanwhile, helpers armed with collecting boxes collected money from the watching crowds which numbered in their thousands. The money was donated to local hospitals.

A local photographer, Harry Gulliver, captured the scene well, in a series of photos dated 1903. We are most grateful to him and those who have preserved the images since, for their reproduction here.

Woodford Meet, 1907

Track cycling at the Memorial Ground

The Memorial Ground in Canning Town - close to West Ham station - was the first home of West Ham Football Club, from 1900 until 1904, and had hosted its predecessor club, Thames Ironworks, for three seasons previously.

The Memorial Grounds were opened on Jubilee day 1897, to coincide with Queen Victoria's sixtieth anniversary on the throne. As well as hosting a football pitch, the stadium hosted a cycle track a running track, tennis courts and one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in England.

Cycle meet at Memorial Recreation Ground,
 1897 - when the it also hosted West Ham FC
Below we feature a photograph of a track cycling event at the Memorial Stadium in 1897 - doubtless featuring some of the bicycles produced here in Forest Gate.

Bike building in Forest Gate

Thursday 20 March 2014

Last week we brought details of the seventeen cycle manufacturers based in Forest Gate at the end of the nineteenth century.  We follow it up with an unedited account of work in the largest of those workshops, taken from Forest Gate Weekly News of 8 January 1897.

The account of the area's largest bike workshop is a bit wordy in places and excruciatingly sexist in tone, but fascinating in detail - for bikers and others, alike.

The article describes how:
  •  more bikes were produced at the Dames Road workshop than in any other factory in London
  • bikes were manufactured, by hand
  • ladies could perhaps understand how all these complicated things work (!)
  • 2,400 bikes a year were built there
  • the company had recently expanded its production facilities to embrace some of the railway arches on the other side of Dames Road
  • a piece work system of payment was developed, to encourage high quality production
  • the company had a broad geographic customer base
Clark Brothers advert from
Forest Gate Weekly News, 1897
The road that bends a little out of Woodford Road, just by the Wanstead Park Railway Station and then pursues its course towards the westerly portion of the Flats is called Dames Road. So much every resident of Forest Gate knows already; and it may also be common knowledge that the thoroughfare takes its title from the Dames family who formerly owned the land thereabouts. 
But what is not generally known is that a little up Dames Road behind a familiar cycle shop on the right hand side, stand is a set of works from which more cycles are turned out than from any other factory in London.  They are good cycles, too, as the writer, after a careful tour through the place, and boasting some knowledge of mechanics in general and cycle mechanism and requirements in particular, is prepared to testify.
Mr. FC Clark, the managing director of Clark Brothers Cycle Co Ltd, who showed me round looks straight at you when he is talking and you feel you can rely on what he says.  That is something, by way of a start. You may add to that he has been a rider, designer and manufacturer of cycles for over twenty years, and then you are quite sure that he knows what he is talking about.
We went first into the room where the steel tubing for the frames was being cut into lengths, bent as required, rolled into a D shape for the back stays and so on.  It comes in 12 or 16 feet lengths (from Climax, or Perfecta Works, Birmingham - than which there are no better makers) and is sawn up like quick sticks.  It is only about as thick as a card, but it takes a strong man to bend it even when he wants to.
There was one of the framemakers bending a piece across a block to form the curved tube for a lady's cycle, and you should have seen how he pulled at it.  That is the beauty of a good tube. It is so thin as not to be worth talking about, and so tough that a solid bar could hardly be tougher. If it does crack under some enormous strain it cracks the way of a tube rather than across it, and you can see the long fibres of which it is composed.
Perhaps some of my lady readers who ride have not, as yet, examined their cycles with any amount of care, and do not so much know how the frames are built up. To these I may venture a little information. In the case of gentleman riders, I should not dare to be so bold. What could I possibly tell them that they do not already know? Have they not had "the thing" to pieces half a dozen times and are they not prepared to give a lecture of at least ten minutes duration with regard to every separate part of it.
Site of former Clark Brothers
cycle workshop, Dames Road
So to the ladies I now explain that the frame of a bicycle consists in the main of tubers and "lugs" (The last named term is not a pretty one, but I am not responsible for it.) Lugs are made of malleable iron and are employed at those portions of the frame where one length of tubing is joined to another. The lugs are bored out to the exact circumference of the tubes which are to be let into them, and are fixed at proper angles while being bored in what is called a "jig" (Again I regret the term and again I disclaim authorship.)
There were three amazing things to me about these lugs, as I watched the boring operations in company with Mr. Clark. The first was that they could have been cast so round and so even in thickness; the second that they should, when finished, be  strong enough for the work they had to accomplish.
This third point roused Mr. Clark, who was I had already found, particularly jealous of the strength of his "Winner" cycles was raised.  So he took a hammer, laid one of the finished lugs on an anvil, and began pounding it.  He bent it just a little, and that was all.  Then he called up a man with a sledge hammer and told him to do his worst.  The man - matter of fact and obedient - promptly flattened it. "now then" said I. "Precisely what I wanted to show you", said Mr. Clark. "These lugs, being made of malleable iron of the very finest quality, will bend, but they will not crack or break. And when the tube is inside them they cannot even bend."
I should have said that the group of lugs at the bottom of the frame, where the crank axle goes in, is called the bottom bracket. This is a sort of Willesden Junction and is a very useful, ingenious and important part of the machine.
When the frame is fixed together and jointed parts are brazed. Brazing is a species of glorified soldiering. The joint and the region round about are red-hot, by the liberal use of the blow-pipe, and the brass soldiers wound round on the outside of the tubes, brass filings are sometimes run down the inside of the joint, where they melt on their own account. The result is that tube and the lugs are now one and indivisible and are so destined to remain.
Upstairs there are many men at work at lathes, tuning axles, ball cups, and what not. These axles and ball cups must be turned very exact at the ball-race parts, as much of the smooth and easy running of the wheels depends upon this. Some lady readers and riders (who have not brothers) may not quite understand what these ball bearings exactly signify. If they were to be so misguided at any time as to take to pieces this particular portion of a machine they would be fully, but somewhat painfully, instructed.
They would find a lot of tiny steel balls, much smaller than peas, lying about the floor or lawn, which would give them plenty of employment and anxiety before they were safely got into their proper place again. The axles revolve amidst these encircling balls and the result is the minimum of friction and consequent resistance or wear. As a further contribution towards perfection at this part the axles are "case hardened", which makes the surface dead hard, while relieving the interior from all danger of brittleness. 
Locations of other cycle workshops
in Forest Gate in 1890s
Other parts of the cycle, such, for instance, as the cranks, must be extra strong; and the also the chain wheels of the "Winner" cycles are made of solid steel stampings. What think you of that, reader? The crank of your bicycle, if it is a good one, was made at one mighty blow out of a thick steel plate. Mr. Clark gets his steel (including rims, spokes, nipples etc) and also the Swedish iron for his axles, from Bunting's of Sheffield, and he does not think that better is to be obtained anywhere.
A very critical part of a cycle frame is the head, the tube for which Mr. Clark orders of extra weight and strength, and he is also very particular about the crown plates at the top of the front fork (which he makes of stamped steel) and the brazing at this part of the machine. A world of care is taken just here and with good reason. If you are going rapidly downhill, and some other part of the frame goes there may be a chance for you, but if it is the head that goes there may be a chance for you, but if it is the head that goes it will be on your own head and that the next moment will sustain violent collision with the roadway.
Messrs Clark Bros Ltd., made 2,400 machines last year, but if a single one of those had broken at the head they would not withstanding all their success be sad and sorrowful men today. While I was there a machine came in from some watering place where a young lady had ridden it sheer up against a stone wall. but the head was only bent a trifle and I was told that it would be put right in no time.
Of course I went into the room where the wheels were being built up and presently I wondered what Mr. Clark was going to do. For he got two boxes, pushed them apart, laid the opposite edges of a wheel slightly on each and stepped on to the middle. Now, Mr. Clark scales 12 stone and I heard a crack. It turned out that one of the spokes had stripped its thread at the rim. Otherwise the wheel was uninjured. 
But Mr. Clark looked quite disappointed. The spoke ought not to have gone. So he called for a "hollow rim" and when this was produced he stepped upon it - both feet and free of everything - as before. Yet not a quiver did that slender, thread-like wheel give. When Mr. Clark got down the man spun the wheel on its axle and it still ran as true as a hair.
"What is your idea of a good, reliable, bicycle, Mr. Clark?"
"Westwood hollow rims, Appleby chain, Dunlop or Palmer tyres."
We went into the enamelling room and I asked Mr. Clark what his enamel was made of, whereat he only smiled. There is a range of ovens adjoining the enamelling room, and into these the enamelled parts go once, twice, and thrice. They are twice pumice- stoned, and after the third enamelling and "baking" are deemed fit for the light of day. The frames and other enamelled parts are previously ground smooth and bright upon an emery wheel with a felt circumference. This revolves at a terrific rate. You are sure to put your finger on the part being ground to feel how smooth it is and you are equally sure to take it off again pretty quickly on ascertaining how warm it is.
Across Dames Road Mr. Clark has just annexed four railway arches and added these to his works this year. They make capital workshops and are full of men pegging away as if for dear life. As a matter of fact they are on piece work. Don't be alarmed and imagine that the piece work may not be good work. There are some smart foremen walking about and bad work pays the foremen the least of any. For they get nothing for it.

1899 advert for Forest Gate cycle
shop/workshop. Advert designed
by Ward and Co, also of Forest Gate

At least twenty of the men employed by Messrs Clark Bros Ltd ride machines of their own making and of the "Winner" type. The firm rather encourages this. Of course, a frame maker cannot do turning and a turner is not a frame maker. So, one helps the other and the firm charges cost price for the whole. The two months prior to the December shows are the best times for this sort of work, for those are the dead months of the year. But the cycle trade is becoming more and more a whole year trade.
"What is the proportion of ladies' machines to gentlemen's machines in your works?", I asked.
"Half and half last year. This year we expect to make has as many more ladies as gentlemen's. You would scarcely credit the trade we are doing with ladies in such places as Wanstead, Woodford, Snaresbrook and that direction.
Mr. Clark showed me several machines already made to order for the coming season - one for a Wiltshire MP, another geared to 104 (!) for a Glasgow record striver and another beautifully enamelled in gold and colours for another customer at a distance.
"Then your trade is not altogether a local one?"
"Quite the contrary. But this year we intend to cater more thoroughly than ever for Forest Gate and the surrounding district."
At which I expressed my gratitude and said that I would send our advertisement man round."
For details of the seventeen cycle workshops in Forest Gate at the turn of the twentieth century, see here.
So, cycle manufacture was a significant activity  in Forest Gate 110 years ago - what happened to the output?  For some local details, see next week's  blog, where we take you on a spin of the area.

Forest Gate: hub of Victorian bike manufacturers

Tuesday 11 March 2014

 What is now the almost exclusively residential suburb of Forest Gate was, a little over a century ago, a significant cycle manufacturing district, as a survey of local trade directories and newspapers at the turn of the last century demonstrates.

 Map showing locations of 17 Forest Gate cycle
manufacturers at turn of 20th century
In this, the first of three articles on the subject, we examine the locations of seventeen local bike manufacturers, show adverts promoting their wares and provide upto date news and photos on what has subsequently happened to the premises.

In next week's edition we will reproduce, verbatim, a lengthy and fascinating account of the operations of one of the workshops, from The Forest Gate Weekly News of 1897. Finally, we'll offer a little illustration of the bikes in action, 100 plus years ago.

There was a plethora of bike manufacturers, builders and repairers in Forest Gate at the turn of the 20th century, according to the Kelly's Directories of the time (1900 and 1902), whose descriptions we adopt, below.

One explanation for this may be that they were relatively cheap businesses to establish and that workers having learnt the ropes in one of the manufacturers left and set up in competition. We do not know who the first local maker was.

Interestingly, most were clustered within a couple of hundred yards radius of Wanstead Park railway station.

We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can shed further light on this fascinating piece of Forest Gate's industrial heritage.

The map, above, indicates the locations of each of the seventeen sets of premises we have been able to track down. The numbers on the map are in the sequence of the  alphabetical order of the streets in which they were located. The numbers relate to the emboldened numbers in the list below

Avenue Road

(1) 33 - Percival Tyler, a repairer.  The house still stands (see photo) and is next to some railway arches, which probably acted as the workshop.

Site of former cycle repairer,
Percival Tailor, Avenue Road
Brownlow Road

(2) 17 - Lewis Brothers, cycle makers - the building no longer exists, the site is now effectively part of Anna Neagle Close.
(3) 27 - George Smart, cycle maker- the building no longer exists, the site is now effectively part of Anna Neagle Close.

Dames Road

(4) 24 and 26 - Clark Brothers Cycle Company Limited. The buildings no longer exist and were probably at what is now the entrance to Vera Lynn Close.  See advert and photograph - the subject of the main report from Forest Gate Weekly News.

Advert in Forest Gate Weekly News, 
about the time of their article on 
the firm - see next week

Site of former Clark Brothers, cycle
manufacturers, Dames Road. See next
blog for full account of activities

Forest Lane

(5) 7b - Charles Absell and Co, cycle manufacturer - the building no longer exists it is now effectively at the end of the Forest Gate Community school playground.
(6) 107 - Neale and Co Cycle makers - the building no longer exists.
(7) 144 - Parfett Bros, cycle makers- building no longer exists.

Odessa Road

(8) 101 - Kingston and Co, cycle manufacturers - the building no longer exists and the site is now part of a post World War 2 housing development.

Ridley Road

(9)51 - Harry Owen Wise, cycle manufacturer - the building is now a house (see photo).

51 Ridley Road, location 
of Harry Owen, cycle 
manufacturer, at the 
turn of 20th century

Sebert Road

(10) 1 -Red Rose Cycles - J Elston and Sons, cycle makers The house still stands and the factory was probably in a workshop at the side of the house (see photo and advert).

1899 advert for J Elston cycles

Location of Red Rose Cycles -
J Elson and Sons, Sebert Road
Upton Lane

(11) 2/4/6/8/10 - Kerry and Morgan (see advert), now post World War 2 building and site of Swan housing company (see photo).

Forest Gate News' advert for
Kerry and Morgan, Upton Lane

Current buildings on site of Kerry and Morgan
cycle manufacturers, Upton Lane
Woodford Road

(12) 2 - Frank Creighton, cycle manufacturer  - the site is now fronted by an advertising hoarding (see photo).

Current site of Frank Creighton, 2 Woodford Road

(13) 10 - Matthew Brothers, cycle makers - now site of Kekeli hairdressers (see photo).

Location of Matthew Brothers,
cycle manufacturers, Woodford Road
(14) 24 - 28 Charlie Cripps, cycle maker - now site of Newman's MOT garage (see photo).

Buildings on site of former Charlie Cripps,
cycle manufacturer, Woodford Road
(15) 35 - AV Ransley, cycle maker, now part of the site of a modern housing development, opposite the Cripps, above (see photo).

Site of former cycle maker,
AV Ransley, Woodford Road

Woodgrange Road

(16) 7 - Hussey Cycle repairs and accessories, now the site of Sharon's clothes shop (see photo and advert).

Site of Hussey, cycle repairs and
accessories, 7 Woodgrange Road

Forest Gate Weekly News'
advert for Hussey's cycle repairs
(17) 149 - Frederick Clark and Co, cycle manufacturers.  This factory no longer exists, but was located underneath the railway arches on Woodgrange/Woodford Roads, just south of where the Forest Gate Youth Centre currently stands, and was an annexe of the Clark Brothers factory in Dames Road, above (see next week's article, for a fascinating detailed description of activities at the firm).

Formerly 149 Woodgrange Road,
location of Frederick Clark and Co


Essex comes to Forest Gate - The Upper Cut Club, February 1967

Friday 7 March 2014

February 1967 was a relatively quite month for the Upper Cut club, as we show in our monthly round-up of the Woodgrange Road venue's gig list, from 47 years ago.

Rockin' Berries (10th Feb)
In terms of "names", the month kicked off with an appearance of the Rockin' Berries ("The sensational TV and recording group") on the 10th. They were a Birmingham-based band who had formed in the late 1950's. They took their name from the fact that their early sets were built around covers of Chuck Berry numbers.

Rockin' Berries
Their biggest hit was a version of Goffin and King's He's in Town, in 1964.  From the late 60's onwards the group developed into a cabaret act, featuring some comedy routines, which have not stood the test of time too well.

The band, after many changes in line-up, continues performing to this day on the club, corporate and nostalgia circuits - 50 years on from their peak of popularity.

Rockin' Berries: He's in Town

The New Pirates (17th Feb)
A week later, the Upper Cut featured The New Pirates, the backing group of Willesden boy, Johnny Kidd, who had been killed four months previously in a car crash in Lancashire. The group were struggling to find an identity and future, bereft of their iconic former leader.

Honeycombs (18th Feb)
The following day, the Upper Cut hosted the Honeycombs, founded in 1963. This North London group, was best known for its singer drummer, Honey Lantree, who had been a hairdresser.  Hence the name - geddit??

Snipped off in their prime,
the Honeycombs: Have I the Right?
They had one million-selling hit - Have I the Right?, in 1964, after which they went into sharp decline.  The group disbanded soon after their Upper Cut performance - but revived, with a different line up 37 years later (!) - in 2004, to cash in on the nostalgia circuit.

Honeycombs: Have I the Right?

The band was originally managed by the controversial Joe Meek, who recorded their big hit in his Holloway Road flat.

David Essex (24th Feb)
The biggest local interest at the Upper Cut, that February 47 years ago, however, was the appearance of David Essex (born David Albert Cook), son of an East end docker and an Irish Traveller mother. Essex was born in Plaistow in 1947, but moved to Canning Town when he was two.  He attended Star Lane primary school, and signed on schoolboy terms with West Ham, as a youngster.

His football days, however, were diverted by the music business, and he cut his first record, And the Tears Came Tumbling Down, as a 16-year old in 1963.  He toured for a few years with his band Mood Indigo, who supported him on Woodgrange Road.

Local boy, David Essex, photo
from the time of his Upper Cut gig
Within three years of his Upper Cut gig he was beginning to make a name for himself in films, with appearances in Assault and All Coppers are ..., and hit the entertainment highlights in a big way with his starring stage performance in Godspell in 1971.

David Essex: Rock On, recorded six
years after his Woodgrange Road gig.

Two years later he starred in the film That'll be the Day and had a self penned hit single Rock On.  This was soon followed by Gonna Make You a Star, a number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

Essex had other big hits, including Hold Me Close, and appeared in Stardust.

His pop idol good looks gave him a strong female fan base, where he lasted for a decade as a teen idol, being voted Britain's number one male vocalist in 1974.
He went on to star in a number of West End musicals, including Tommy, and as Che in Evita.

A keen motorcyclist, David Essex donated some advertising fees due to him in the 1970's to support the Triumph Motorcycle Workers' Co-operative.

In the 1980's he co-wrote and starred in Mutiny, a musical based on the Mutiny on the Bounty, and little over a decade later was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

He has been a life-long supporter of Travellers' rights, because of his heritage, and wrote the musical score for a film, The Traveller, in 2013, which is now available on DVD.

For many, perhaps, his greatest claim to fame may be his four month appearance as Eddie Moon, in East Enders, in 2011.

Back catalogue

This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously. The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.

When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014