Classic Lightweights UK
George Stratton - 1969 (Bill Gray build)
Submitted by Peter Kohler
ABOUT THE BUILDER - BILL GRAY
Joining the firm in 1932, Bill Gray was among the remarkable “stable” of fine framemakers who began with Claud Butler including Les Ephgrave, Fred Dean, Bill Hurlow, George Stratton and Bill Philbrook. During the war, Gray served in the RAF as an airframe fitter and towards the end of the conflict, was with de Havilland in Canada making strengthened rear fuselage members on Mosquitos to fit arrestor hooks so they could be used on 'carriers' although this eventually proved impractical.
Returning to Butlers in 1947, Gray rose to Chief Foreman Framebuilder and worked with them until the firm went into receivership in 1958. In the early 1960s Gray started his own framebuilding business with a workshop (previously belonging to Saxon) directly behind the well-established (1927) Wandsworth, London cycle shop of George W. Stratton (still trading and family-owned). The shop had originally been a Claud Butler's and Stratton came from the company as well. Like many of the better London shops, it offered its own range of custom made racing cycles and Gray built most if not all of them over some 20 years.
Gray made bespoke frames for many London area cycle shops in addition to Strattons including Dave Russell (Slough), Dave Davey (North London), Fred Dean (Wandsworth), Clive Stuart (Catford) and H.E.”Doc” Green (South London). Most of these bear his unique serial no. sequences which help identify them as Gray-built.
In addition to road racing frames, including for the Clive Stuart racing team, Gray built track frames and even novelty bikes for stage and circus performers. He was the first British framebuilder to use welded aluminium. His frame making output was reduced for a time when he fell into a lucrative side job working on contract to the garage next door to his shop welding new floor pans to replace rusted out ones on 1960s Minis!
Giving up framebuilding in the early 1980s, he went on to work for British Oxygen and finally part time at the boatyard in Colliers Wood, South London, although he continued to do frame repairs and kept a stock of Claud Butler frames and bits for sale. Aged 85, Bill Gray passed away in August 2002 after a short illness; one of Britain’s top framebuilders of the classic era and whose work whilst less well known than others who built under their own name is no less well regarded.
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