Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020
Geoffrey Butler Cycles – South London’s oldest surviving lightweight bike shop.
In March 2016 Geoffrey Butler Cycles vacated their premises at 15 South End, Croydon where they had been located since 1979.The move took them further away from the centre of town along the Brighton Road where they had a second shop. However, what is probably less well known is that the firm was established next door at 9 South End as far back as October 1956.
Geoffrey Butler was the brother of Claud Butler and the location was thought have been an outpost of Claud’s ‘Empire’ and was a way of salvaging something for the family when his firm went into liquidation. Geoffrey Butler (Cycles) Ltd were incorporated in November 1956 with John Pratt as a minor shareholder and in all probability the shop manager. He had previously assisted Harry Perry at Excel Cycles in Woolwich.
Unfortunately, Geoffrey died a year later so that the ownership passed to his wife with John Pratt continuing as shop manager before he took part ownership in 1970.
We know from the Tom Bogdanowicz history of Roberts Cycles (Boneshaker 2015) that John was a good friend of the frame builder Charlie Roberts and he was invited to build frames at the back of the premises in 1966 after leaving Holdsworth. But how long he and his son Chas worked there is not known before they found a better location for their workshop in East Dulwich. Having recently purchased a 3B road model GB frame similar to their team issue and made in 1968? (frame number 2268) I was expecting to find an example of Charlie Roberts work. But no, a signature punch mark of the type used by Bill Philbrook (and Ron Cooper) was found instead. An example of the team bicycle was sent for review at ‘Cycling and Sporting Cyclist’ which was specially made for Phil Liggett and the test report was published in the June 8 1968 edition.
It was described in a later advertisement as ‘a masterpiece of frame design’. The test bike cost a shade over £100 (specification illustrated). Note the introduction of the new Campagnolo Record groupset and the then new Cinelli alloy bars and stem. An unusual feature is the triangular tanges attached to the outside of the Cinelli fork crown. At that time in partnership with Elsmar they were able to support a four-man team that included Norman Hill and the Australian Bill Lawrie. They had previously prepared a bike for Six-day Australian track star Sid Patterson.
Geoffrey Butler seem to have had bikes made under their own name for many decades but I do not know at this time who built the early examples. However, given the relationship between John Pratt and Charlie Roberts it seems inconceivable that at least some frames were not made by Roberts.
In August 1972 the ownership passed to George Clare who has run the company ever since. (John Pratt having gone into partnership with Charlie Roberts as Phoenix Cycles at Forest Hill before retiring).
It seems that Cliff Shrubb was then invited to build their frames at the back of 9 South End for a peppercorn rent, operating as S&S Services until September 1982 when the lease was sold. He then set up a workshop at 81A Whitehorse Road at one of the old Allin shops.
Mario Vaz told me recently that by the mid1980s frames were being made by both Cliff and Chas Roberts before eventually being sourced from Italy. Geoffrey Butler continue to be agents for some of Italy’s most prestigious marques.
I am grateful to Griff King-Spooner for providing me with the fiscal information about the firm which came originally from George Clare and recent conversations with Paul Mepham of Harry Perry Cycles and Mario Vaz.
Further information would be gratefully received. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org