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Carlton Cycles

Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood (with help from Jerry Mortimore)

Although Carlton Cycles mass-produced most of their machines they also built to order so they fulfil our definition of ‘Classic Frame Builder’. In the 1946 programme for the Champions’ Concert at the Albert Hall, the Carlton advert states: Carlton Cycles Ltd, Worksop – Manufacturers of Racing Cycles and Frames to your own specification.  All racing cycles are built with complete sets of Reynolds 531 butted tubing, forks and stays. (Not plain tubes only).  Angles available – Head 74, 73, 72, 71, 70.  Seat 73, 72, 71, 70. Finished in enamel, lustres or flamboyant – colours to order.  Sizes:  Gents 19in. to 24½in.  Ladies 18in. to 24½. Frames made in ¼in. sizes.  Write to us for details.

In the Cycling show report of 1949 they state that: “the ‘Carlton Flyer’  has an ‘elastic specification’ which can be supplied (within certain limits) to suit all riders needs”.  The Flyer, which was their top model that year, was available as the ‘Grand Prix Model Flyer’ for the trackman and the ‘Road Track Model’  for the track/road rider. For the ‘In-line’ rider they produced the ‘Massed Start’ and the ‘Continental Professional’.

In 1963 their advertisment states: “Carlton make nothing but hand-made bicycles.  They make them to order, to individual specification………..” Carlton were one of the few makers of mass-production cycles which were accepted by the serious competitive cyclist. Their advertising stated that “being ‘hand-made’ they feel different to a mass-produced machine”.

This Carlton Jewel was built in 1954 by Bob Keeling and he says that he didn't make many of this model. In 1954 the
This Carlton Jewel was built in 1954 by Bob Keeling and he says that he didn't make many of this model. In 1954 the "Jewel" was more expensive than a Hetchins Magnum Opus - so one would have had to be a very dedicated Carlton fan to justify the price!

Carlton Cycles were formed in 1898 in the village of Carlton-in-Lindrick in Nottinghamshire UK by Fred Hanstock.   For a while the company concentrated mainly on car and motor-cycle repairs which were more profitable.  In 1934 the company moved to nearby Worksop and gradually started to manufacture more cycles.  In 1936 they were producing a range of machines including:  ‘The Flyer’; ‘Massed Start’; ‘Massed Start Special’; ‘Super Python’; ‘Continental’ and ‘Silver Clubman’ which they started to sell through a network of dealers around the UK.   In 1939 the company was taken over by the O’Donovan family just before the outbreak of WWII.   Sales would have dropped at this time but Carlton Cycles were able to work at servicing existing cycles and no doubt had to diversify into war-work, as did all the other cycle builders in the UK.

When the war finished in 1945 there was a great boom in the sale of lightweight machines as thousands of military personel returned to ‘civvie street’ and eagerly took up the sport again – this trend carried on into the early 50s.   In 1958 Gerald O’Donovan left the RAF and joined the company where he became an influential figure but by then the boom was receding and in 1960 the company was taken over by Raleigh Cycles – the largest mass-produced manufacturer of cycles in the UK, who wanted to be able to offer high quality hand-made machines to their more discerning customers.  Soon after this they transferred the manufacture of their Sun Cycles to the Worksop site.

The Jewel (1954) – an example of the high-quality work produced by Carlton for their top-of-the-range machines:

Thanks to Peter Lowry for these images

In 1974 Gerald O’Donovan set up the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit for Raleigh at Ilkeston, Derbyshire.  From 1967 onwards there were several racing teams sponsored under various names by both Carlton and Raleigh and Gerald O’Donovan was at the forefront of the design and manufacture of the cycles they used.  The last Carlton Cycles were produced at Worksop in 1981 when the factory finally closed its doors.

The same lugs seen from the front
Superb 'Jewel' head lugs seen from the side

Below are images of a 1958 Carlton Catalina – frame number E6898. In the image on the right can be seen the Decal, ‘Oscar Egg Super Champion Lugs’ with which the frame is built- thanks to Jerry Mortimore for the images and details

Bottom bracket of the Oscar Egg Super Champion lug set
Bottom bracket of the Oscar Egg Super Champion lug set

It has been pointed out that the lugs on this machine are identical to the Prugnat 62A lugs. The original paintwork includes an Oscar Egg transfer (shown above). It is well known that in the early 50’s there were acute shortages of materials, often resulting in a change of published specification. If this is the case here, it would seem that the management in the frame-building department didn’t bother to inform the finishing section of the changes.

For further information on Carlton Cycles see Hilary Stone’s Classic Designs > Carlton International and the Carlton website maintained by Jerry Mortimore

Thanks for reading

Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood (with help from Jerry Mortimore)

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