Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders
A. S. Gillott
Mark Stevens, Marque Enthusiast for Gillott in the VCC
THE FINAL YEARS
Arthur Gillott died aged 73 in 1955. He had been an active cyclist for many years and served in the Army Cycle maintenance unit during World War I (1914-18). On demob in 1920 he set up shop in Camberwell, South london. He employed Harry in 1929, shortly after this they expanded into another shop at 34 Railton road, Brixton. Arthur ran a local cycling club called the 'Hampton' (from Sothampton Way). Indeed bought in frames were sold as 'Hamptons' in the 1930's. He was also a leading member of the National Association of Cycle Traders, and in 1941 he founded the 'IICTR' or Incorporated Institute of Cycle Traders and Repairers, later the 'Incorporated' was dropped. This organisation ran evening classes in frame building and cycle repair and trading. A lot of the students post-war were ex-servicemen and it ran until the 1960's. Arthur was awarded the Bidlake memorial Plaque for this endeavour. Gillotts were also members of the L.C.M.A. short for Lightweight Cycle Manufacturers Association. ( I wonder where the archives of these organisations are today?)
As work slowed down through the fifties staff moved on. Bill Philbrook had annoyed Harry by making 'homers' -Tools for frame building but not at Gillott's! In fact I have 2 of these 'homer' frames with Vaughans brackets and a lug cut not like any Gillott. The gentleman I bought them from had actually worked at Gillotts in the early 1950's. He had made the stems for these bikes which never had any badges or transfers on them. Harry had also caught Bill, torch in hand at Don Louis' cycle shop in Herne Hill. He also built on the sly for Bob Wakefield. Bill left to build Grandinis and Meridians. In my opinion he was one of the finest frame builders ever. With the departure of George Holt circa 1958 Ron Cooper was the only frame builder left. Some frame details changed, the universal curved and sleeved brake bridge (the sleeve stops the tube being crushed if the brake bolt is overtightened) was phased out and straight bridges appeared. The earliest I have seen is 1958. Taper tube bottom brackets ran out in 1955 so they had to be lugless down there. Tandem fittings were scarce so they were often lugless too.
Left: Gillott Spear headlugs plus the R J B twin plate fork crown on a 1948 taper-tube frame (Image Peter Brown)
The famous R.J.B. twin plate fork crowns were named after one armed Ron Brown. Often seen on 40's and early 50's bikes they had gone by 1958 along with the Spear lugwork. The last Spear on the records dates from 1958, Nervex Pro then being the most used with a few lugless and Fleur De Lys. Ron had been experimenting with fastbacks and claims he made the first in 1956. The seat stay tops were mitred to fit a sleeved seat tube. They had also experimented with ovalled taper tubes with the wide part of the oval across the bracket to aid stiffness. Harry had approached Reynolds to have batches of these tubes made. They told him that he would have to pay for the tooling but Reynolds would still have the right to sell to other customers. Harry then tried to patent the idea but was told he could then hold the furniture industry to ransom. He dropped it but at least 2 frames were built. 2 Gillotts were also built with Paris/Roubaix toothed dropouts. Harry had shut the Atlantic Road shop when Southern Railways dissolved into British Railways who promptly trebled the rent and doubled the rates. The Portsmouth shop, opened in 1950, also shut in 195. Harry had recently married and he had been run by down working 7 days a week trying to run 3 shops with 25 employees and he was also active in the Catford CC. Harry reckoned that the business could have survived if he had reduced the number of staff and concentrated on the top end of the market. The frame making side never made money, the business surviving on sales of equipment and accessories.
THE BUSINESS SOLD
So in February 1963 Harry sold the business to Edwardes of 221 Camberwell road. He had gained full control of the business after Arthur’s death. Ron continued to build in the Southampton Way shop and Harry stayed on as manager to support him. I believe that Edwardes invested in the business. New block transfers appeared, a range of Gillott badged accessories also existed, silk jackets and wool cycling tops as well as wheel covers and musettes with A.S.Gillott on them. Order books were full with many frames going to the USA. Ron was on permanent overtime.
The cracks started to show when some less than deserving frames came in for part-exchange and Harry saw them re-appear from the enamellers with Gillott badges and transfers on them. He also had issue with the glossy catalogue issued in 1964. If you look closely at the catalogue you will see wheels fitted badly, i.e, quick releases on the offside with their levers pointing forwards! He told me that he had 'lost control of his baby that he had spent years nurturing'. This catalogue shows 4 models. The Velo du Jour was favourably tested by Nimrod in Cycling and Mopeds, August 1964. Others were Le Monteur, Le Vainqueur (track, grass and TT models) and Tour de Bretagne (road racer - see images below). The French theme continued. All could be built with 4 different lugstyles. Fleur de Lis, Nervex Pro, Geminiani or Italo. The latter 2 were either Prugnat or Bocama lugs. The Italo had a sloping fork crown. Harry left in 1966 having had enough, he never returned to the cycle trade. He had seen the once fine reputation of Gillott marred by greed and it would get much worse.
Here are some images of a 21½" 1964 Tour de Bretagne with the 'Southampton Way' headbadge, script downtube transfers and Nervex Professional lugs; Frame No. 645704 (64 = 1964). The frame is in its original purple flam finish with silver bands. (Thanks to Bob Johnson for this information and the images).
Contrary to some opinions Harry did not destroy the builders records. A Gillott owner recently told me that he had taken a frame to Edwardes in 1983 and they produced the books to check the details. My enquiries in 1998 revealed that they had since gone in the skip.
Ron carried on building fine Gillott frames at Southampton Way, he left in 1967. In 1971 he set up Ron Cooper Cycles in Honor Oak. Ron had built some Gillotts in the intervening years but I dont know where, on his kitchen table perhaps? Ron? He was still asked for Gillotts occasionally but he used a different numbering system. So far 7100, 7304 and 7309 are known.
Meanwhile Edwardes had had a batch or batches of gas pipe Raleigh or Carlton frames badged up as Gillotts. These things are truly awful and NO WAY reflect the Gillott name. They also had a batch of Holdsworth Mistrals so badged in 1972. In 1985 Gary Edwardes of Bexley Spoke had Ron build frames using pantographed components. I have one with 'Gillott' milled into both sides of the fork crown, bracket and rear brake bridge. It is a Triathlon machine in fluorescent pearl pink with Shimano components. It is transferred as a Ron Cooper. Mark Joynt (now Reilly) of Omega Cycles then bought the right to use the Gillott name from the Edwardes concern. He has built a few including a Lo-Pro TT machine with 26'' front wheel. He attempted a Gillott relaunch at the Los Angeles Interbike show in 2001. The frame on show was built with investment cast Long Shen 302 lugs, it is beautifully made with no fewer than 26 Fleur de Lys emblems including on the dropout sockets.
So there we have a brief history of one of the world's finest cycle makers, and a chequered history at that. Many famous and not so famous road and track men and women swore by their Gillott's. Despite the poor reputation from the Edwardes era the name is still viewed with great respect. I have attempted to shew a true history but as Ron Cooper said to me at Herne Hill in 2000 ''You only have the managers' side of the story'' - Ron, we need you to redress the balance!
My involvement came about in 1998 when I bought a 1950 Gillott L'Atlantique. It was all original and Derek Athey, the VCC Marque Enthusiast at the time told me it was the only all original one that he knew of. I was employed at Camberwell College of Art at the time so the association was important. I also realised the importance of this original machine and decided to acquire as many original frames as I could, they are only original once!. And the rest, as they say, is history. My collection is like a library and has helped me to learn about the marque and offer advice to other owners.
Any queries gladly answered. Contact Mark Stevens 01349 832 992 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Membership of clubs not necessary.
I am keen to buy Gillotts in original paint. Any stories, anecdotes, personal recollections or information on bikes
Tom Plowman has sent details of the order form of this 1960 Gillott with images of the restored bike:
© 2006 Classic Lightweights