Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020
A few years ago I was riding amongst 100 riders or so in the annual Reading Ride for Clasic Lightweights organised by Terry Pearce. At one time I ended up pedallng alongside a rider, Ken Cooper from Birmingham who was on a track frame and using fixed-wheel. It was one of those bikes which just look perfect in every detail and he explained that it was a 1953 Bill Gameson and that as a Birmingham builder he was very popular amongst his own customers and he also built frames for a lot of the other cycle dealers in the city. Ken wonders where all the Gamesons have gone as they were one of the most popular frames amongst riders post WWII. Ken’s bike has been at the back of my mind since the Reading Ride and I have decided to create a Gameson page hoping this may attract more information from owners and cyclists from the Midlands area who knew about the firm.
Ken told me that Tom Jennings who worked for Poyners Cycles in nearby Wolverhampton had told him that Gameson was so popular amongst the local cyclists that a vast majority of riders in local time trials would be riding them in the early 1950’s. Ken had also been told that Bill built Armstrong’s track and special lightweight frames. This could refer to when he was working there pre-war or possibly he carried on producing these specials for Armstrong when he set up on his own. Ken also owns some Armstrongs as well as his Gameson.
In our page on Wilsons of Birmingham it is mentioned that Gameson used to build their frames until he retired at which point Major Nichols took over.
I have now managed to acquire a Gameson Cycles Ltd programme for the 1951/52 season. The leaflet gives details of the following machines:
|Gameson RWB||International Massed Start Model|
|Gameson GDP||Dual Purpose Road Track Model|
|Gameson GCA||Amateur Suitable for Junior Clubmen|
|Gameson GCT||Track Model|
The brochure is reproduced in the Catalogues section of the Website
Billy Gameson, died in 1963. I never met him but, was I gather, a bit of a character in many ways. His sons and daughters have been trying to find out more about his work for the last couple of years via the web without much luck! Initially Bill worked as a frame builder at Armstrong Cycles pre WWII. At times he had his own workshops in various places in Birmingham such as Stoney Lane, Lister Street, Great Brook Street and Golden Hillock Road where B.S.A.had their own, rather larger, premises, his frames were painted by Dennis Neale also in Birmingham.
Alan Richards who owned Tower Cycles of Erdington, Birmingham after his father ran it for several years, had a frame (No. 211) built by Billy in 1962. This frame had Nervex lugs and Campag ends. The finish was silver lustre with a white head tube and red, white and blue colour bands on the seat tube. No head transfer but the letters OG on the seat tube.
In the early 1950`s Billy built a special touring road frame for Tommy Godwin with 3″ long spearpoint lugs and Campag ends which Tommy rode for many years with great pleasure. Tommy has given me this frame and I am refurbishing it. Tommy had attempted to buy Joe Cooke’s Imperial Petrel shop when Joe decided to retire in the early 1950’s but was beaten to it by Alf Curnock who owned a cycle shop on the Moseley Road and was seeking to expand. Curnock duly took over Joe Cooke’s Stratford Road premises and continued to make Imperial Petrel frames.
Some time later Billy Gameson was in one of the downs in his up and down career and sold his name and title to a Mr A Schuck who, I am told, was his brother-in-law. Frames under the name of Gameson and called “Gamemasters” were then built by Schuck somewhere in Aston. Eventually Billy was on an “up” again and started building frames once more but was, of course, unable to badge them as Gameson as Schuck now held the rights to that name.
The original Gameson head transfer was an ornate affair with a letter G in a star with scrolls above and below, laurel leaves etc. The down tube had Gameson in block letters. For his new range of frames Billy went for “Bill Gameson” in script on the downtube with, on the headtube the same script across the large letters G and O overlaid, with,in very small letters,the words “genuine original”. The GO could also be taken as Gameson Original.
More on Bill is to be found in “It wasn’t easy – the Tommy Godwin story” – written by Tommy Godwin and published by the V-CC John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund – but now sadly out of print (Now reprinted 2012 and available from the V-CC). Tommy has given us kind permission to quote him. He explains that in 1938, his father told him that they were going to buy him a new track bike and they were choosing between a Bill Gameson and a Joe Cooke. The Joe Cook was quite costly so they settled for the Gameson. Tommy goes on:-
“We were introduced to Bill Gameson by a gentleman who had suggested to my Dad that he was the man to build me a bike. After a lot of talking, measuring me sitting on a bike already built it was decided that I should have a 22½” frame with 73/71 degrees head and seat angles (these were the popular angles then), fitted with a Toni Merkens stem, Anglo-Italian handlebars, very wide and deep, a Brooks Sprinter saddle, Williams C34 cranks with three-pin fixing, 1″ by 1/8″ transmission, Webb pedals with toe clips and straps, maple wood sprints and No. 7 Dunlop tubulars. These were a tandem tyre with a very large section, very heavy with a heavy file tread. The total cost was £10 19s 6d. Dad had to pay a £2 deposit and 10/- a month. A promise of delivery was made for about four weeks, so that meant April 1938.
When the letter came telling me the bike was ready and that Saturday was a suitable day to call for it I was absolutely thrilled. However, in those days few families had any means of transport, and we certainly didn’t have a car. I told Dad that I would go straight from work. Finishing time was 1pm. A pal of mine said that he would like to come with me. We were both on bikes and the idea was that I would ride my bike and push the new along by my side, whilst my pal would ride behind to keep off any traffic. In those days cars came along only occasionally, not bumper to bumper, so it seemed it would not be difficult trailling one bike while riding another.
Left: Another image of Tommy Godwin on his Gameson
Here being ‘pushed-off’ by his father at a grass-track event
All went well for about two miles of the journey, but on nearing the Saltley Gas Works, a landmark in Birmingham in those days, I had to ride up a little rise and drop down the other side. But this was over a cobbled section of road, much of the city still had long stretches of cobbles. I got over the top of the rise all right but on the downside the new bike, being quite light and with the tubulars well inflated started to bounce. I was holding it by the handlebars and stem. It got out of control so I picked the front wheel up off the ground then the whole bike just as I got to a junction where I had to make a right turn. Fortunately, my pal, seeing me in trouble slowed down, put his right hand out and slowed any vehicles down. On getting around the turn, I managed to stop, still protecting my bike from damage. After I had stopped I sat there trembling thinking of what could have happened to the new machine and me had I lost control.
My new toy was from now safely cosseted. The home we were living in at the time was a large flat over business premises in Lozells Road. In fact there were two attic rooms which my father and I had. One room was a bedroom and the other was for my use as a home-made gym, now to house my new silver and chrome Gameson track bike.”
Tommy was been made an Ambassador for the 2012 London Olympic Games as he was one of the few medal winners alive from the 1948 Olympic Games in London where he won two Bronze medals.
A few years ago I managed to acquire a virtually unmarked Gameson Frame, but I had to buy a complete bike to get it! For many many years I had sought a Gameson frame but they seemed to have all disappeared. Back in the 1950’s and early 60’s a Gameson was the choice of frame for many of the Midlands leading riders (noteably the Concorde RCC). However I was very satisfied with my Major Nichols Frames (I still have them, one from 1954 and one from 1961) but the name Gameson remained as a top quality but elusive frame to acquire for my collection so when one became available I simply had to buy it – see image below:
I have been lucky because despite having been built into a very mundane general purpose bike it is in remakably good condition with scarcely a mark on the paint which is light blue with darker blue fade at the head lugs, the bottom bracket bug, the seat lug, the front fork crown, and the front and rear fork ends. It is only here, on the fork ends that there is any paint chipping. The main frame tubes are almost perfect. The down tubes have the name W.H.Gameson in gold script on both sides. The seat tube has a single gold capital “G” half way down from the top. The head tube has a decorative decal (see image above right) on the centre front made up from a central white 5 Star with a gold edged red “G” at the centre. This ‘Star’ is underlaid a laurel leaf ring. The tips of the Star just overlap the laurel ring. Across the top tip of the star is a gold scroll carrying the words “Cycles” spaced by the star point “Limited”. Across the top of this lettering there is gold band carrying the word “GAMESON” in red block letters. Across the bottom two star points and below the laurel wreath there is a gold scroll carrying the words in black capital letters “15-23 COWPER St B’HAM”. Head and seat lugs appear rather like Nervex but not quite as fine. Lug edges are outlined in a faint gold line. Fork crown appears to be a convential solid casting with short spear points down the blades. Between the top of the crown and the spear point there is a narrow slot on the out side, outlined in a gold line.
The right hand fork blade has the convential common lamp-bracket brazed on. Head set is LYTALOY. The top tube has a couple of brake cable eyes brazed on, slightly offset to the right hand side. Pump Eyes are brazed on at the usual spacing on the rear side of the seat tube. A gear cable guide is brazed on the top right hand side of the Bottom Bracket. There are mud-guard eyes brazed on at the bottom ends of the fork blades and about a couple of inches above the rear fork ends. There is a gear cable eye on the RH side chain stay and a chain hook on the inside side face The bottom bracket shell is not what I have seen before. It is a fairly heavy casting to judge by the quite large raised cast letters, CHATER-LEA across the bottom face.
Beneath there are some pressed in numbers which are not very distinct but appear to be 1563. Additionally there are numbers punched into the bottom faces of the Chain Stay bosses. On the left (chainwheel) side these are 19643. On the right these are 404, these numbers are fairly heavily indented but fade out as they approach the main body of the shell . Also there is some filling due to paint build up.
Seat tube: Centre to centre – 22½”
Top tube: Centre to centre – 23¾”
Head tube, edge to edge of lugs: 6¾”
Chain stays, BB-centre to centre rear fork ends: 18″
I had a Gameson in the early 60’s, I bought the frame from a cycle shop on Stratford Road, Hall Green in Birmingham near to the Technical College. I can’t remember the name now. The frame cost me £18 and as a schoolboy on 5s a week pocket money it was a fortune.
The lugs you mention were the same as mine and I always understood them to be Prugnat lugs. If you type “Prugnat lugs” into Google and view images you get a clear idea of what they were. There were various versions of the Prugnat lug. Mine were the “long” version with extended points down the tube offering a simpler, and in my view, more elegant version of a lug. The machine I butchered to get all the bits for my new Gameson was a gold Holdsworth with a broken frame.
The angles on my frame were very vertical and upright, so much so I stripped it every week to race on the track at Salford Park in Birmingham. I won many races at a Crescent Wheelers event. I was racing on pressures but one of the older cyclists took pity on me and gave me some sprint wheels – Weinman wood-lined with Airlite hubs. Bliss for a poverty stricken kid whose parents had no interest in what I did – never saw me race and never bought anything for the bike. Though my mother, an excellent seamstress, did convert a pair of trousers to a pair of plus 2’s with a reinforced seat for hacking around.
I loved that bike but sold it when aged seventeen years to get a scooter (idiot)’ I only saw it once afterwards, I wish I had it now. My bike was silver grey with Prugnat lugs and Campag ends with chrome tips to the front forks and stays. I had come a long way from my first bike, a Hercules Jeep bought by my granddad, who worked at the Hercules factory.
I have a Bill Gameson Path frame probably dating from the 1950s. The particularly interesting features of this frame are the decals, specifically the downtube ones. I have never seen this Gameson decal before and neither had Nick at Hlloyd decals.