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Forum Home > Carriages of Convenience. > Black Country Bicycles.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

From the early days of the old " bone shakers ", enterprising Black Country folk rolled up their sleeves and set about making a bit of money. In the beginning, they concentrated on making the parts required, wheels, frames, cranks, and pedals, until a few decided to start building for themselves. Rudge, Sunbeam, Villiers, and many more, began this way. In the 1870s, there were 14 firms in Wolverhampton alone, producing their own bikes, or making parts for others. The market for parts and bicycles was strong, in both Birmingham, and Coventry, which fueled a never ending race, of improvements and additions. This is a brief history of the fortunes of one such enterprise. There are a few pictures to illustrate the story in the Gallery.


Henry Clarke, in the 1850s, saw an opening in the trade. He started a small factory in Temple Street, Wolverhampton, making wooden wheels for Daniel Rudge, and his " bone shakers ". Clarke's business expanded to other makers, and he invested money to keep up with the times. In 1868, taking his courage in both hands, he branched out into the field, oand started manufacturing his own bicycles. He called the company, which was based in Darlington Street, the Cogent Cycle Company. He was helped in this endevour by his son William, who, as a keen cyclist himself, was up to date on the new fangled gadgets and improvements. Henry Clarke sadly died in 1888, and William, who had ambitions of his own, opened up another factory, just down the road from his fathers old works. He began to build a reputation, with a range of bicyles he named Wearwell. So well in fact, that his machines were a market leader for the next 20 years. Always on the lookout for new things, William heard about the attempts to fit engines to bicycle frames, by the Stevens brothers in Wednesfield. By 1897, they had an arrangement, that Wearwell would supply a suitable frame, and they would fit an engine. The initial engine, an American Mitchell, was found to be underpowered, so the Stevens brother made some improvements. From now on, the powered cycles were sold under the trade name Wearwell-Stevens, and soon, nearly 500 machines a week, were being made at the works in Poutney Street. The new machines though, required a name, so in 1901, the "Wolf " appeared on the highways and byways of England. They were an instant success, and continued to sell well right up until 1909, when some dispute about the state of the company accounts, bought the partnership to an abrupt end. William Clarke's Wearwell company, lost a great deal of money, and he was forced to close the works down. The other half of the partnership however, simply moved into a factory in Retreat Street, and began trading under a name that would become world famous, A.J.S, the name of the oldest brother. In 1910 they produced their first machine, and by 1911, were taking part in the Isle of Man TT. The company would be a leader in the motor cycle field for the next 20 years, when it was sold to Singer, which later became Rootes Group. As for William Clarke and Wearwell, it never fully recovered, and was sold in 1925, after his death. Other companies making bicycles fared a little better, Sunbeam continued to make bikes into the 1950s, but mostly, the main trade had now moved to Coventy, Birmingham, and Nottingham. Some firms in Wolverhampton and surrounding districts still make bicycle parts, it's a form of transport that never seems to die out. The machines of today, are a long way from the old bone shakers, rattling their way over the cobbled streets of the Black Country. It's as well to remember the history though. That new, shiny, 18 gear mountain bike, has it root's very firmly planted in this region.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 2, 2011 at 4:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

During the 1960s, I used to work for a large Steel Stockholder in Smethwick. Deliveries were all over the region and beyond, but one place I went too, has always stuck in my mind. Tucked away, in a small workshop in Temple Bar, Willenhall, was the only place still producing metal Mud Guards in the Black Country. The banks of rollers and machinery were ancient, but still in good order, after 70 years of constant use. They were still making the mud guards for that veritable old timer, The Morris Minor, as well as for sports and Kit cars. The main business though was for Cycles, and their bigger brother, Motor Cycles. It was facinating, watching a flat steel sheet, put through a series of rollers until the finished product, complete with the welded stay pieces, were stacked up against the workshop wall. Sadly, the new designs of modern cars, had no use for all these, and even worse, the motor-cycle trade was rapidly being taken over by foreign imports. The new plastics also outdated the old metal ones on cycles, and in the early 1970s, the firm I believe, went out of business. Another company, in Doctors Piece, which as well as stamping out bits for Locks, also made parts for cycle bells. You will know the sort if you are old enough, the bells which had a side lever, and came with a variety of tones. Sadly missed today, when most cyclists don't seem to fit one at all. Oh happy days.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 8, 2012 at 11:54 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

I have been asked if I have a list of some of the Wolverhampton Cycle Manufacturers, and it just so happens that I have. In alphabetical order, they are;


Beau Ideal Cycle Company. Frederick St, Heath Town.

Beaumont Cycle Co. Cleveland Rd and Vane St.

Bamboo Cycle Co. Pitt St, off Pountney St.

Cogent Cycle Co, Darlington St.

Cunard Cycle Co. Eagle St

English Cycle Co. Talbot Works, Stewart St.

Highmoor Cycle Co. Church St

Horseley Cycle Co. Horseley Fields.

Midland Cycle Co. Temple and Bell Street.

Mount Cycle Co. Cleveland St.

Parkdale Cycle Co. Saint Johns Square.

Rudge Wedge Cycle Co. Pelham and Mander Street.

Star Cycle Co. Stewart St

Sunbeam Cycle Co. Paul Street.

Talbot Cycle Co. Fern Rd and Herrick St.

Wearwell Cycle Co. 46, Darlington St, Wolverhampton.


The Beau Ideal made a very friendly bike, it had a crossbar that could be lowered to allow the ladies to use it. How thoughtful is that ? Yes, they did make a frame from Bamboo, in total it wieghed in at just over 8lbs, but didn't sell well. Splinters would have been a problem if you had an accident. Most came with a range of fancy names, " Path racer ", Road racer ", and many more like that. Penny farthings, Tandems, three wheelers, sprung saddles, enamel wheels, the industry never stood still for long, always something new to catch the eye of the customer. The firms listed, were all in opperation between 1882, and 1899, some of them going on to produce another product from Wolverhampton, Motor Cycles.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 2, 2013 at 3:40 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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