Ephgrave - A pictorial history
Posted: Monday 08th June 2020
James Grundy was importing Ephgrave frames to the United States in the early 60’s even though he was only sixteen years of age. He visited Les in 1963 and 64 at his rather cramped premises in a dark little cubby behind Henley’s garage at 150 Upper Clapton Road. Les was struggling to keep his business going against the flow of cheaper imports; Ron Kitching for example was selling Cinelli frames for less than £8 wholesale price. James was amazed that such beautiful frames could be produced by Les in such depressing surroundings. Les was thin, greying, and somewhat frail looking and he gave these pictures to James showing the business as it was some years earlier when trade was much stronger and Les was in better health.
The pictures look like a set taken by a professional photographer, either at Ephgrave’s request to use as publicity, or possibly by a local newspaper or magazine to illustrate an article on a local business. It looks as if Les is holding his own ‘bike show’ at his Aveley Works premises. Smaller builders did this rather than pay the large costs of exhibiting at the Annual Cycle Show at Earls Court in November. These fees would take a great slice of a builder’s profits for the year and many of the larger exhibiters were the builders of mass-produced machines.
In November of 1950 a consortium of seventeen London builders each organised an ‘At Home’ exhibition at their own works and they achieved editorial coverage for the event in Cycling of November 9th of that year – the event to run until 18th. The seventeen consisted of Bates of London, E G Bates, Buckley Bros., F H Carpenter, Claud Butler, F W Evans, Excel Cycle Co., Gillott, Granby, F H Grubb, R O Harrison, Hetchin’s, Higgins, Hobbs of Barbican, W F Holdsworth, Macleans and Paris. This list contains the names of all the major lightweight builders in the area and it is surprising that Ephgrave was not on it. This makes me wonder if this exhibition was his answer to the promotion. It is possible that Les used the exhibition at Aveley Works as several of the builders showing in the London ‘At Home’ were advertising the attraction of being able to see the frames built on the premises as well as discussing their needs.
Roger Chamberlain has identified the worker with a moustache as Fred Greaves who worked for Ephgrave from 1949-55. Roger lived opposite the Ephgrave works for many years and was a great friend of Les Ephgrave and his family as well as being a customer. During the period when his output was at its peak Les employed three workers at Aveley Works so these images show all of them except for Les himself. As Fred Greaves is in the pictures the event must have been between during the years he worked at Ephgrave. The ‘A’ badge on some of the machines was known to have been used in 1949. I had wondered whether, if the seventeen other London builders were organising a show that year, this would date the images to 1950 as well; however Roger points out that Les had a shop in Tottenham at this time.
In his later years when James met him Les was also making badge bars for the E-type Jaguar – I guess the customers were not as demanding!
(A friend on mine who worked for Macleans in the early 50’s told me he spent his entire time there in a small room upstairs filing lugs.)