Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020
With the exception of Claud Butler, there cannot be many people who were so well known in the cycle trade that their face featured in advertisements in ‘Cycling’ and the ‘Sporting Cyclist’. However, the proprietor of a small North London lightweight shop did just that. His name was George Brooks. A small portly man with a round beaming face he was clearly well known and well liked.
His shop, which he ran jointly with his wife Peggy, was at 7 Wordsworth Parade just off Green Lanes near Turnpike Lane tube station in Harringay, North London. It was within walking distance of the old established lightweight dealer, George V Chapman at 410 West Green Road, Tottenham and one of the branches of Claud Butler further down Green Lanes near Harringay Stadium. Several reports suggest that George started out in the cycle trade as a salesman and manager for GA Cycles, Gt. Cambridge Road, Tottenham who were an important manufacturer of lightweight bikes before WWII but never regained the same kind of kudos in the post war boom. It is also said that he went on to work for Claud Butler and this may explain why he acted as an agent when the local branch was so close. He was also agent for other English lightweight frame and bike builders, such as Les Ephgrave, Percy Stallard, Pat Skeates, Hobbs, Rotrax, and Viking, as well as continental imports like Frejus, Olmo and Urago. Bespoke frames could also be made to customers’ requirements under the George Brooks name.
Terry Starr-Marshall and his school friends were regulars at the shop in the mid 1950s. Money was tight and he could not afford to buy an Ephgrave, so a George Brooks frame was the next best thing at £12 10s. Terry was a member of the Norian Road Club whose headquarters were not far away in a church near Wightman Road. A number of his friends also bought George Brooks framesets, which seem to have been a simple choice between a road or track model and probably all made at that time with the ubiquitous Nervex Pro lugs (no others with different lugs have so far come to light for the Harringay models) and therefore they are difficult to identify without corroborating evidence. A choice of brazings was clearly available to customers’ specification as well as chrome. It is thought that the shop opened around c1951 until 1957 when it was sold to Dave Davey who had been the manager of the local Claud Butler branch since the 1940s (see Dave Davey web page) The old CB shop was taken over by W.Hinds (Sports & Cycles) Ltd who also acquired the Lewisham branch.
George re-emerged as the proprietor of a new much larger shop at Downend near Bristol in April1958 where he apparently proved popular with members of the Bristol South CC and who also bought his frames.
This was certainly the case with one of their ace time-triallists, Chris Holloway who was runner up in the 1965 BAR. (see photo below). However, it is thought that this shop closed down sometime in the late1960s. In the early 1980s Terry remembers talking about George with Terry Cronin who at that time ran the cycle shop Birds of Colindale and apparently George could still be seen at trade gatherings.
Speculation remains about who was responsible for building George Brooks frames and Les Ephgrave is a name mentioned regularly. This is borne out by Neil Palmer via Stan Broome who apparently worked there. However, Roger Chamberlain whose family lived opposite Aveley Works and was a close friend to Les is adamant that he made frames only
for Rory O’Brien and carried out repairs for him and Dave Davey. Bill Hurlow when asked suggested Vic Edwards and there is a likeness and build quality of a Rory O’Brien that I own from the same period that may have been built by Vic. The wrap over on frame number 1034 has something of Wally Green about it.
It is also interesting that George was an agent for the equally talented Pat Skeates whose frame-building career appeared to be relatively short lived.
Examination of frames with numbers 742 and 1034, one from around 1954 and the other from around 1957, show consistencies suggesting that the same builder was employed for both, although the lugs on 742 are better filed. It is very similar to the one pictured being ridden by Terry, which shares the same fork crown and top class forged Agrati ends. It would seem that the gear hanger was cut off before chroming in the case of 742 but Terry who had a penchant for Simplex gears was happy to retain his. He first rode with Simplex Tour de France gears and then
progressed to Simplex Juy 51: moving from 4-speed 1/8” to 10-speed 3/32” later in 1955 after a shunt necessitated a replacement top tube. His frame in keeping with the other frames also had pump pegs under the top tube originally. 1034 has Campag ends, wrap-over tops to the seat stays (image left) and a Campag double gear lever clip actually brazed onto the down tube rather than bolted as was the norm (see image right), suggesting that braze-on bosses were not widely available at that time. (The levers that came with the frame were the cherished open ‘C’ type). Both 742 and 1034 have attractive reinforced arched rear brake bridges in common with ones found on Ephgrave, Lipscombe and Rory O’Brien frames of the same period and the flanges have been removed from the Nervex Pro head lugs. Chris Holloway’s bike and frame No. 1034 both have Olympic rings as transfers on seat tubes but it is not known why.
The frame numbers are stamped on the left side rear dropout (see image right from frame 742) and on the fork column. The numbers seem sequential but difficult to estimate what the first number might have been, bearing in mind that a small business probably never sold a huge quantity.
Frame numbers known to the author: (See additional information at bottom of page)
I have rebuilt frame 742 as close to Terry’s bike as I can, as a kind of homage to him as the person who got me interested in the lightweight road bikes in the first place.
|753||January 1955 owned by Terry Starr-Marshall and sold in the 1960s|
|880||track or road/track owned by VCC member Mike Kitchen – 1956?|
I wish to thank Roger Chamberlain, John Holder (image of shop), Mike Kitchen, Terry Starr–Marshall, Neil Palmer and Peter Underwood. Some information was taken from correspondence in VCC ‘News and Views’ 2005. Special thanks go to Steve Griffiths who provided me with a set of special nuts and bolts and a chain ring for the double Williams C.45 chainset seen on the replica of Terry’s bike.
After first writing about George Brooks frames I have known about seven or eight examples in total and acquired five. Of those three remain in my possession at the time of writing some of which can be assigned a year of build if not an actual date. Further discussions over the ensuing years have revealed that Terry was not aware of any George Brooks frames before 1954. He had ordered his in late 1954 and took delivery of frame number 753 in January 1955.
I acquired two frames a few years ago from the original owner which were purchased in 1956 and had frame numbers 855 and 896.
More recently I acquired frame number 1027 in poor but original condition which could be dated to 1958 from the Williams chainset. It was built with a version of Nervex Legere lugs and was a departure from the previous models which had all been made with the fishtail version of Nervex Pro lugs. What is more it carried transfers with the Harringay address when the new shop in Downend Bristol was well established by that time.
From this small sampling I can only hypothesize the following with regard to dating:
Frames with three digit numbers beginning with 7 were made in 1955 ie my 742 and 753. Frames with three digit numbers beginning with 8 were made in1956 ie 855, 896 and 880. There were probably no frames made in 1957 because of the move to Bristol but had any been made they would have three digit numbers beginning with 9. Frames with four digit numbers beginning with 10 were made in 1958 ie 1027 and 1034.
Some years ago I contacted a person in the same profession who been a lifelong member of the Bristol South CC and who had bought a George Brooks frame and when I last spoke still had it. I asked him who he thought had built them. He replied that it was thought they were made by Rory O’Brien not knowing of course that Rory sourced frames from a variety of builders but it gives credence to notion that they were all made by Vic Edwards as suggested by Bill Hurlow years earlier.
However, a recent chance meeting with Stan Broome, now 87, at an Essex cycle jumble ( 9th December 2017)has changed this view radically. Stan who was a peripatetic lug cutter and filer for Ephgrave, Hetchins and Bill Hurlow at Condor. He remembers regularly leaving Ephgrave with a few GB frames slung over his shoulder as he cycled off to deliver them to the shop on his way to Condor at Balls Pond Road. This may be the closest one gets to the oracle in this matter. This situation probably changed after George left to set up shop in Bristol. There are subtle differences in quality to the frames made before 1958 with the earlier ones being marginally superior. There are still some out there from the early to mid 1960s which have yet to surface.
In the intervening years I have also found an advert in ‘Cycling’ for Claud Butler from 1947 which clearly shows George along with Dave Davey as managers of CB branches at that time.