Posted: Saturday 06th June 2020
It is clear that although Hawkes were a well-established and important lightweight bicycle business, very little about them has percolated down to us in recent years and many people with a knowledge of the post war London lightweight scene are unfamiliar with the name.
However, regular small adverts from Cycling in the 1930s state ‘Hawkes, the pioneer of rigid lightweights in the East, (East London) builders since 1890’ and ‘the old-fashioned builders of lightweights, one of the few firms who specialise in built-to-order cycles and tandems’(1936). Hawkes and Sons Ltd had shops at 89 and 203 Leytonstone Road, Stratford, East London as well as a branch at 323 Barking Road, East Ham. Of the small number of their bikes I have come across, some down-tube transfers refer to L&A Hawkes, which one presumes were the ‘sons’, one of them being Lou Hawkes who I am told was associated with the Hainault Roads Club.
My interest started when I purchased a frame that the original owner told me was built in 1960. Similarly, another came my way built I was informed in 1948. Some years earlier I had seen at the Ripley jumble a Hawkes that had split swallowtail lugs of the type used by Bill Leach (Leach Marathon) in the 1940s? A very attractive pre war bike came the way of a friend in the VCC as well as a pre-war frame sold by Hilary Stone and now in the US.
It seems to me that although Hawkes may have built their own frames originally they probably out-sourced them in the post war period. This is confirmed by Chris Mills, VCC Marque Enthusiast for Stokes of London who discovered that the firm was responsible for building frames for Hawkes in the 1950s. My 1948 model shown here has unusually long fluted tops to the seat stays of the type used on occasion by Hobbs of Barbican and therefore we might look in that direction for the builder in this instance. The frame dating from 1960 could be a Wally Green.
I am sure there are those out there who can tell us more and this is a way of inviting them to get in touch with the website. Just recently, a photograph (below) taken inside one of their shops was sent to the website for identification. The people featured are ‘Dolly’, Sarah Chard’s great aunt Alice who worked in the shop with we presume the proprietor, Lou Hawkes? taken in the 1950s. Note the photos of racing cyclists that adorn the wall on the right.
In reply to Bryan’s request we received the following from Leigh Johnson, Grandson of A.A. Hawkes
A Brief History of Hawkes and Sons Cycles ltd. of East Ham London.
Just before world war one, keen cyclist and budding dealer Arthur Hawkes began supplementing his temporary factory job wages by repairing other employees’ cycles. He built and sold others with any parts he could get hold of.
In 1922 he seized a chance and bought his first cycle shop at 203 Leytonstone Road in Stratford East London, employing his youngest son Albert. Albert had already honed his metal working skills as a young engineer making aircraft parts during the war. Despite the economic gloom of the period, reputation flourished, doubtless due to the meticulous care put into the ‘made to measure ‘Flying Hawk’ and other lightweights, track bikes and tandems the club riders were ordering. Albert recalls “One of our customers was a lad who knew nothing about cycles and we had to strip a cycle down to something he could afford. His name was W B Temme. He joined a local club and beat all their records at all distances. In two years he was national record breaker. He did us a lot of good as an advertisement.” In 1934, 203 was closed down in order to open 323 and 331 Barking Road in East Ham.
After war service, Albert’s older brother Lewis had also trained in metal working and later joined the business to help run the two shops. It was said that if Albert was the craftsman behind Hawkes lightweights, then Lewis, a likeable and outgoing character worked wonders with customers at the counter. A good team. Of the many ‘shop boys’ employed, Horace Bates went on to establish his own successful cycle business.
Old man Arthur now left his sons on the tools, and used his considerable skills wheeling and dealing at London suppliers. To meet demands throughout the depression the brothers worked inhumanly long hours to support their young families. Albert, his wife Hilda and daughter Doreen lived above the shop at 323. No time was then wasted opening and closing the business, which included Sundays, after a 60 mile club run! Daughter Doreen grew up with cycles, could build wheels, out ride some of the young men, and was shown how to use the service revolver, kept to deter looters, all before she was 18. Doreen went on to win club trial medals in the 1950s, on her own hand built machine.
During world war two, the shops were bomb damaged but business went on at a pace. During and after the war, the brothers custom built cycles for serviceman who had lost use of their limbs. The ‘swinging crank’ proved particularly effective. Arthur Hawkes died in 1952, leaving a well-oiled and much respected concern.
Cyclist and workaholic Albert, saw business sense to remain fully involved with the local clubs and later became president of the Hainault Roads club, The Becontree wheelers, and vice president of Eastern counties cycling association. He was scrutineer at the post war Olympic trials. (See photo)
As a young boy in the 1960s I was often taken to see Grandpa Albert and Uncle Lew at work in the Barking Road work shops. The rooms were unchanged since the 1930s. I recall all kinds of bench machinery and bundles of 531 on ancient mahogany shelving. Later as a teenager I proudly time trialled early Hawkes, one with wood rimmed sprints!
The brothers retired and closed all business in 1966. Lew died in 1974. In 1984 a dozen senior members of the Hainault turned up on their cycles to attend Albert and Hilda’s 60th wedding anniversary. Albert died peacefully one year later. His own Hawkes lightweight mysteriously vanished soon after.
Hawkes used two types of down tube transfer, ‘L&A Hawkes’ in a small script and a very large ‘Hawkes’ script in various colours edged in black. Both versions are found on the pre-war frames (as above). The oval head and seat transfers remained consistent and show all their addresses. The 1960 frame, obviously refurbished, has replacement head and seat transfers that show only the Barking Road address, and one might speculate that this was the only shop remaining when they finally closed down. (late1960s?)
I came across your site and others by accident and have become addicted to becoming transported back to the 1940’s. I joined the Victoria Cycling Club in 1946 aged 21 when Lew (or Lou) Hawkes became a vice-president. Many members became friends and some congregated at the shop especially on Saturday mornings – not necessarily to buy anything! My wife and I had four frames from him altogether, two of which went recently to John Yates’s collection at Billericay. I photographed Lew’s daughter’s wedding and had cards from her until recently, her parents having died years ago. What has shattered me was to see a photo of Lew and his shop assistant Alice Covington displayed on the Hawkes computer entry in the list of makers, as I possess an almost identical picture. As you entered the shop there was a large board on which Lew fixed the pictures he had been given, including a couple of mine – the Victoria Hobo Run for example. Lew said Alice had a tragic life – her marriage broke up early and she died at only 47 – and she had been very helpful in the business, building wheels for instance. I see a great- niece is mentioned with the photograph.
I came across your website by chance and was amazed to find references to Hawkes of Stratford. When I was a lad about 14/15 years I had the bike craze (we all did because it was the only way to get out of east London into somewhere pleasant). Having saved up my money from a paper round I bought my first true lightweight (in place of my Viking Ian Steel) from Lew Hawkes at the Leytonstone road shop. This would have been about 1954. My father knew Lew Hawkes well as he was also a trader in the area. Lew and I were great pals and he and Alice were very kind to me as a youngster.
That first bike was the business – of Reynolds 531 and with special lugwork which Lew did for me specially. You can take it from me that Hawkes at that time made their own frames (or at least some of them) and I personally watched Lew at work in his little workshop from time to time making my frame and others too. If I remember rightly the frame cost me £20 and I completed the bike with thebest kit I could afford – it all ran out at about £55. Of course I wasn’t satisfied with just the one bike (I’ve always been greedy) and saved up for another. I liked to ride fixed gear sometimes and other times gears so it seemed the answer. I had a good look round at other builders first – there were plenty in the area – for example Rivetts Cycles, Rory O’Brien, Lapebie, EG Bates, Ephgrave, Hobbs of Barbican and Condor. Condor were popular in our neck of the woods but there was much teeth-sucking about the curly Hetchins machines and Paris bikes were routinely laughed at. I came close to getting an Ephgrave but in the end stuck to Hawkes.
It is certainly the case that Lew was very popular and the shop at Leytonstone road was often full of enthusiasts just gassing and no-one minded if nobody bought anything. I used to do a bit of time trialling and when I started I was pretty fed up with my performance – not being very good. Once again the kindness and encouragement became evident. They were nice people.
As a matter of fact I still have both my bikes (2015) and until now it has not occurred to me to sell them but I suppose at age 74 with rheumatoid arthritis it is daft not to do so.