Posted: Tuesday 02nd June 2020
It is generally recognised that in 1912 Bastide introduced to the British cycling scene the concept of an all brazed frame with seat and chainstays going directly from the rear dropout to the seat cluster. This was the start of lightweight building as we know it. But who was the first British builder to follow this method of construction? This is where I stick my head above the parapet with the suggestion that Granby was the first of the British lightweight builders. By 1915 Bill Ewings, an active, racing member of The Catford CC. was advertising in the club gazette thus :-
- When requiring a new racing cycle call at the Granby Cycle Works, 324 New Cross Road, S.E. and inspect our new Path and Road Racing Cycles.
- No Bolted joints, perfect rigidity with lightness, straight back stays tapering to the fork end. Our own special quick release fork end with which the wheel can be removed and replaced in 15 seconds.
- Prices from £6 15s.
- Other Racing Cycles from £5.
- All classes of repair undertaken.
324 New Cross Road is next door to a public house, The Marquis of Granby, a well-known South London landmark. The position here gave rise to the name of the marque. The quick release referred to in the advertisement was the first of a number of innovations that emanated from the Granby Cycle Works.
The frame is built with single-speed fixed gearing, South of France bars, GB brakes and Williams 5-pin chainset. Note obligatory bell and flint catchers on sprints.
Ewings fought in and survived WW1 as did Percy Dean, another active Catford member, who shortly after the war became Ewings business partner. The two having raced as a tandem pair at 50 miles and 12 hours before the war. By 1921 the marque was one of the most respected by racing men both on the track and in time trials. In June of that year they took a full double page advertisement in Cycling listing the events won on, and riders of, Granby machines.
In 1925 they made a patent application for their Taper Tube method of construction. This design was in pursuit of a “stiff” frame, the goal of many of the lightweight builders over the years. In 1926, the patent being granted, production then started of the Marque’s most famous product. – The Taper Tube and Taperlite models, these being favourites with many clubmen in the 1920’s & 30’s. Selbach produced, more or less simultaneously, a taper tube model although he did not hold the patent. It is thought that he had shared with Ewings & Dean the undoubtedly high cost of tooling up for the initial run of taper tube stock. Granby was also supplying taper tube sets to any builders who requested them.
The Marque continued to be popular with many club and racing men. In late 1936 or early 1937 Bill Ewings died and the business moved a few doors along the road to number 337. This move provided larger premises. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities the shop closed and did not reopen at the end of the war.
Post war the ownership of the name passed to Ron Argent, another successful Catford racing man. Argent was somewhat of an entrepreneur having a range of business interests ranging from engineering manufacture to his chain of bicycle shops in North West Kent. He later became the landlord of The Star public house in Lingfield.
For a time immediately post war Percy Dean remained within the business on the frame building side. Although ridden by a number of class riders, including Peter Beardsmore, a BAR holder, the Marque never regained its pre-war reputation and status as one of the leading lightweight names. Some nice frames were built during the 1950’s but as with many lightweight builders the Marque struggled on during the Cycling & Mopeds era but by the mid 1960’s the name finally left the lightweight scene.
The cover of the 1954 Granby Catalogue was illustrated with what I consider the most evocative cycling picture of the golden days of lightweight club riding and racing. The picture also exists as a watercolour painting and is shown above.
As the Marque Enthusiast I am always please to deal with any queries people have about Granby machines and try to keep a record of matters relating to the Marque. A CD with lots of information, photographs and copies of catalogues is available on loan to anyone who sends me three second class stamps. David Hinds address as V-CC Yearbook