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Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Builders 
 

Duke 20th Century Cycles

Christine Watts 

Duke RB 4 headbadgeA DUKE lady's cycle (see image below) of 1948/49 era (number stamped on bottom bracket "772HP 048") was made to order for Frances Morris from design of a machine seen in France. Double chain ring 46 / 30.  Rear sprockets 16, 18 and 20, giving a low gear of 39".  Cyclo front changer, Simplex rear mech.   Dixon Morris, (the purchaser of the cycle) was at that time an assessor for Zurich Insurance and on the death of his wife Frances gave the machine to Christine Watts in July, 1999 with the following information.

Right: Duke headbadge showing Olympic torch and Olympic rings.The Olympics were held in London in 1948

 “Around 1948 Duke and his son had started frame building at 6 Boot Street, Shoreditch, London N1  They were not in business long when they were closed down as Duke Senior was found to be an undischarged bankrupt and he is thought to have retired from frame building as a result.  His son went on to work for the Referee Company in Holborn.”

DUKE of Boot Street appears in the Postal Directory of 1949 only.  This implies he was not at that premises when 1948 Directory went to print and was shut down during 1949.  The advertisements found in "Cycling" for that period tie in with this. 

Duke Builders 1 Christine Watts
Duke cycle from 1948, note Swiss badge on mudguard and Lucifer dynamo on left fork blade
This machine was used by the origal owner for touring in France and Switzerland

In March 2000, during discussion with John Bornhoft, Kingston Wheelers, John said a number of the Middlesex Clarion rode Duke's machines in the mid 1940's.  Duke's business was then situated at or close to the Target roundabout on Western Avenue.  Christine Watts has been unable to establish the exact address but it is presumably where Duke was declared bankrupt.  (Bornhoft died shortly after so I was unable to follow up this line.) 

Advertisement in "Cycling" from November 10th 1948:

DUKE'S 20TH CENTURY
CYCLES & FRAMES
Not exhibiting at Earls Court Exhibition but we are doing so during this
period at 19 Kenway Road, Earls Court Road.
Traders, clubmen, etc. cordially invited where entirely new
designs can be seen.
Works: 6 Boot Street, London N.1

Exhibiting at Earls Court would have been very expensive and above the means of a small firm such as Duke.  Many small builders held their own shows to coincide with the annual Cycle Show.  It seems probable that Duke held his display in a friendly cycle shop with whom they may have done business, being near to Earls Court they would expect to attract some show visitors.

Advertisement in "Cycling" December 15th 1948:

DUKES CYCLES
for genuine handbuilt frames to your own specification.
  Any type of finish given.  Continental a speciality.  Frames in 531 or Kromo from £7.10 onwards.


The following advertisement appeared weekly in "Cycling" from December 22nd 1948, to the end of February 1949:

DUKE
Atomic Age of Cycle Construction
20th Century Frames
are genuinely hand-built; no jigs used as 90% are manufactured in this way.
Every tube guaranteed mitred to a degree.
Prices from £7.15.0.
Note: We are enamelling and chrome plating specialists.  Your frame
enamelled with three coats, including sand blasting 25s.,
extra box lining 4s.6d., double two colour 6s.6d.,
full continental panels and linings 15s.
DUKE
Cycle Builders since 1910
Works 6 Boot Street, Near Old Street,
LONDON N.1
Cle 1590

 Duke's Advertisement from March 2nd was for a New Grand Prix model at 13 guineas.  He continued advertising in "Cycling" magazine until August 3rd 1949. 

Duke Builders 2 - SWB
A sporty short-wheelbase Duke owned by Bob Drake, featured in Readers' Bikes

If you own a Duke or if you have more information on the company please contact the webmaster - email address on home page

Antony Hart adds: As you know Duke cycles were in Boot Street N.1,  they were also at  44 Whitehall  Park. N19  .Whitehall park is off Archway on the right going towards the bridge. I used to go to school in the area as a lad . I also have a Duke frame . it has very nice lugs and Percy Stallard drop outs,  the tubing is  A.P with matching forks. Here are some images,  the transfer  has  20th century on the bottom of it. Frame number appears to be J U 9 which is on  borrom bracket shell and fork column (could be a painters identifying mark though).  Believed to be late 1940s.

duke-builders-1 duke-builders-2
Two examples of fancy lugwork on this frame

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Duke transfer (20th C in lower panel)

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Bottom bracket shell and lugs