Posted: Wednesday 03rd June 2020
According to Ernie Witcomb, Bill Leach was building frames from the early 1930’s and as far as I have been able to establish were hearth-brazed probably in a cellar under the shop. Ernie thinks the frames were built up until the late 1950s and that Bill was associated with the Ilford Road Club in the 1930s. (Bill Leach had adverts in Cycling 1960 stating that he had been established for 30 years) He still has the records of the Lightweight Manufacturer’s Association. (someone from the club get down there and get them copied for the library!) Tony Bush, V-CC marque enthusiast for Leach Marathon remembers the shop as being “off the taxi ramp slope at Stratford Railway Station”. Tony states that Bill Leach’s shop disappeared when the taxi-ramp was taken away in the remodelling of Stratford Railway Station by British Railways. Tony says Bill Leach’s shop was a magnet for cyclists and stocked everything, much like Frank Lipscomb’s premises of Markhouse Road, Walthamstow, but to his great regret only visited the shop once. A further appeal for information in the railway press led to contact with a retired railwayman Ron Youngman.
Ron remembers the shop in 1955 (Tony thought Bill Leach’s shop disappeared around 1953) and the shop was still located near the railway station. Of the shop Ron wrote “The name Leach Marathon refers to a small sports cycle manufacturer whose premises I, as a spotty teenager, remember well in the vicinity of Stratford station in East London, which I often visited while out riding my own bike (a Raleigh) during the 1950’s, and accordingly, offer a few of my memories of that time and place, although what I relate might not be quite what you have in mind”.
Ron in his letter does not believe that Bill Leach built his own frames. (Bill was a member of the Lightweight Cycle Manufacturer’s Association and Ernie Witcomb has confirmed that Bill most certainly did build his own frames). Ron continues “ What Leach Marathon did was to build bicycles from the very best components that money could buy, and sell them as top quality sports bicycles branded under their own name. From what I remember, they did not go in for roadster type bicycles and they only ever had drop handlebars and, for that time, unbelievably, usually had 10 speed gears! Believe me, L-M was the best make that one could buy – with prices to match.
I have a vague recollection that the cheapest model around 1955 was about £25 – this at a time when the average weekly wage was around £8, and in the area was probably less than that, bearing in mind that most of the employed people worked in lesser paid industries like the railways, docks, breweries etc….. I remember that I would have dearly loved one of those machines but it was obvious that it could never be, due to the price. I often looked in the windows of the shop/workshop with green eyes. Despite this the business seemed to survive and I have often wondered how. You seldom saw the bikes on the roads and seeing one was rather like seeing a Rolls Royce on the roads of East London. L-M bikes were a real status symbol in the grey streets of East London
“The location of L-M premises was peculiar in a number of ways. These were simply a double fronted shop with a workshop out of sight from the street and they were quite small really. Most peculiar was the fact that the building was plumb on the site of a World War II bomb site (and there were plenty of these around at the time), on one side of a block on which no other building has survived, so it stood out like a sore thumb. Presumably the rent was low. If you can find a map of the area from the 1950’s you can easily see where Leach Marathon was located.
The street opposite Stratford station entrance by which one directly reached Stratford Broadway was the one in which Leach marathon was located. I cannot remember the name of the street. Leach Marathon was sited about half way down on the right hand side as you walked down the Broadway. I have not been down there for years but the area from the station to the Broadway is unrecognisable from those days. Just as you reached the Broadway the road deviated in an S-bend on which the only other business was located – a shoe repairers”.
My frame is numbered 53322. It has been built with Nervex Professional lugs and Campagnolo forged ends. It is still in it’s original paint but has been over painted in places by what looks like a juvenile hand. I believe the frame was painted at an enamellers in Clerkenwell as I have original correct pattern transfers to put back on the frame and they came from that source when it closed. The address for Leach Marathon on my head badge is 53 – 55 Martin St, Stratford. The athletic male figure on the head badge is Greek and ties in with the name Marathon.
Beside the Martin Street address, the seat tube transfer also shows 187 Leytonstone Road (right). I wondered whether he realised the impending redevelopment plan and intended to carry on at that address although I can find no one who remembers it (this is now unlikely – see Derek Athey’s note at bottom of page). My family used to go shopping in Stratford Broadway as late as 1963 and the whole block was pulled down a year later I think. I never saw the shop so I don’t know whether it was pulled down before that date. In 1960 Bill Leach was advertising a new model, the Europa in Cycling.
My brother-in-law used to go past the shop on his way to school from where he lived in Crownfield Road. There are several VCC members who remember the shop, Terry Murton, Neil Palmer. I was always told that he built some frames himself but also employed others.
I was interested to read the piece about Leach Marathon on the web page. I remember the shop in Stratford. The frames were indeed built in or at the Stratford shop. That was where all of the good lightweight stuff was. He usually kept a bike in the window but there was never much display. The shop in Leytonstone Road was also there in the early 50’s, possibly late 40’s even. It was what I call a bread and butter shop, and sold all of the general cycling requirements and several brands. A good and useful shop, never too expensive and always well stocked. In a manner of speaking that shop had all of the competition because Reid’s and Rivett’s were opposite each other in the same street a couple of miles up the Road in Leyton. I have always been confused with the boundaries between Leyton and Leytonstone so it may have been Leytonstone.
The road outside the Stratford shop at the time was cobbled as was virtually the whole of the Mile End Road. This used to play havoc with poorly built frames. I never heard of an LM breaking. I cannot remember the lugs he used but most of the ones I saw had the standard plain lug of the day whose name /manufacturer I cannot recall but it was similar to what you would see on a Holdsworth. The standard of finish was always very high. I seriously contemplated owning one but alas sheckels, or lack of, interfered. Also we were spoiled for choice, with Ephgrave, Bates (of London), E G Bates, Hobbs, Hetchins, Paris and Rensch all within cycling distance.
“In 1946 my Mum and Dad. (Reg and Maude Jones) took up cycling again with the Ilford Road Club. Dad bought a new racing cycle, a Hobbs of Barbican (Black and chrome) which had an all welded frame. Quite new in those days. He raced with a fixed wheel. One of the club’s members was a Mr. Bill Leach who was a cycle manufacturer. He had a small factory in the East End of London 51-53 Martin Street Stratford (I think). He built a new bike for Mum called a ‘Leach Marathon’.
“I went to his workshop when we visited his home after we had gone with members of the club to one of the last of the Old Time Musicals. He showed me the jigs that held the tubes of the frame in place and boxes with choice of lugs. When her bike was finished it had chrome front forks, the ends of the rear forks were chromed and the paintwork was light metallic blue”.
Dad later also bought a second-hand tandem, a ‘Williams’. Williams were famous for making chain wheels. Dad fitted blocks to the rear pedals and lowered the rear seat as far as it would go so that I could reach the pedals. My cycle up to that time was a 20” wheel upright with rod brakes. I spent a lot of time on it. He later bought me a second-hand full-size BSA with 26″ wheels and a BSA 3-speed gear. I became a cyclist. We used to go out with the club each Sunday, Mum and Dad took up racing again (they had done it before the war). They used to do 25-mile time-trials very early in the morning and then we would join the others in the club for the rest of the day. There used to be a club night at Epping during the week. In 1950 Mum and Dad moved and worked abroad so that was the end of my riding with Ilford Road Club. I was 11 years old. I later took over the Marathon which I had until 1956 when it was stolen from an RAF camp.”
Postscript on Bill Leach
Bill Leach seems to have tried to re-launch himself with a series of advertisements in ‘Cycling and Mopeds’ during 1960 starting with one for a modern styled bicycle called the Europa. Further adverts describe three models, the Super Campag, the Europa and the cheaper Sports 5 speed. The final advert for that year confirms him as having started in 1930 but with the redevelopment of Stratford looming how long could he last out? This question was answered by Don Thompson who contacted the website to say that he purchased the very last cycle from Bill sometime between June and August 1974. Within a week of closing the shop, which had stood alone for over ten years, was demolished. Don thinks that the stock was moved to the Leytonstone Road shop but believes this closed too shortly after bringing an end to a cycle building business that started out as Marathon Engineering Works forty four years earlier.
Roy Callcut recalls, my paternal grandmother bought me a Leach Marathon for my thirteenth birthday in 1961. The total cost was £90.00 can you imagine how much that would be in today’s terms! A fortune. The bike was hand made for me by Bill Leach who was a lifetime good friend of my father’s since the 1930s when they were both members of the Grove Cycling Club in Hackney. My father, Bill Callcut, his brothers, and Bill Leach used to race and tour solo bikes and tandems. I have my father’s G.C.C. badge and a membership book that outlines some of their journeys and the fact that Bill Leach was the chairman of the Grove Cycling Club.
I can remember fantastic excitement when going to the shop in Stratford and being seated in an adjustable mock-up of a bike that was adjusted to give the perfect fit for the rider and the bike was then made to those measurements. I picked the lugs, colour, saddle type, brakes, tubing, wheels, and handlebars. The brakes were Weinmann 999 quick- release centre-pull type, the lugs were Nervex, the handlebars were alloy Reg Harris specials, the gears were Campagnolo (of course!), all sprayed sky Blue and Gold, the bike had basically all the latest and best gear.
I still have the bike and it still fits like a glove! Most of the running gear is as original except the wheels and the pedals. I am now 60 and reluctantly going to sell it as I really don’t do much in the way of cycling. Derek Athey has informed us that in Cycling of 25 March 1954 there was an advert from Leach announcing the sale of many frames etc on display at the Martins Street address following the closure of Leytonstone shop. This indicates that the Leytonstone shop was closed by this date.