Posted: Saturday 06th June 2020
From their lavish advertisement in a 1948 copy of ‘Cycling’ showing their shop front, and advert from 1949, we discover that Holmes were established in 1922. They were situated just off the main thoroughfare at Welling Corner at the junction of Wickham Lane. Welling is on what was the old Roman Road of Watling Street between Shooters Hill and Bexleyheath and until the late 1920s was the main road from London to Rochester (A2).
During the period up to WWII the area was to be transformed from small village with a string of 19th century shops into a modern suburb on the outskirts of South East London. Shooters Hill was a formidable climb for both cyclists and motor traffic alike and a dual carriageway bypass was built which anticipated the increase in motor traffic. It was well established by 1936 and featured on contour cycling maps at that date.
It is clear that although Holmes were agents for large manufacturers such as BSA and Raleigh they started to cater for the lightweight fraternity and were an agent for Camimargent before WWII. By the 1940s they began manufacturing road and track frames under their
own name, which were built on the premises, and an energetic advertising campaign began in ‘Cycling’.
The top model was the ‘Feather Superbe’, notable for having scroll pattern fancy lugs. The ‘Elite’ model offered a continental style frame with ‘Ekla’ lugs and the ‘Club’ model model with ‘Brampton’ lugs (shown here). By 1953 they had on offer a budget model called the ‘Avanti’ Their lightweight credentials were reaffirmed in an advert in the first monthly addition of the ‘Coureur- Sporting Cyclist’ in May 1957, calling themselves ‘manufacturers of high-class lightweight frames and cycles’ and that there were ‘no sidelines’.
It was quite common for cycle shops to branch out at that time to cover the slack periods. Frank Lipscombe in the same issue advertised ‘no motors, no television, no toys’.
It is believed that they closed their doors in mid-1963 after forty-one years when there was clearly a slump in the market and retirement beckoned Sandy Holmes Holmes and his long time manager Stan Kessler. Perhaps not a true rival, Sydney B Harlow at 111 central Avenue also closed at this time, the premises was to became car shop.. However, there was always an alternative bike shop not far away. A F Mills (Welling) Ltd at 108 High Street, a long time rival, also sold bicycles under their own name and advertised as agents for Claud Butler, Falcon and Viking in 1965. They were particularly renowned for their tandems.
In the other direction, along Bellegrove Road, Clive Stuart opened a lightweight shop that was run by the frame builder Alec Bird. With his brother Ken, they ran a small cycle team that sponsored local cycling ace, John Clarey, in 1968. This was to become Welling Cycles, a branch of Holdsworth and then bought by one of their employees Fred Elliott when that organisation went into liquidation in the early 1980s.
Although perhaps not one of the all time great marques, Holmes frames were carefully crafted and had their following locally in the 1950s and 60s, especially with members of the Mercury CC that had its HQ close by. One of their frame builders, Keith Hardwick, went on to work for Holdsworth then as a partner in Tonard Brazing who initially made frames for the trade from 1965 for the likes of Hobbs of Barbican. Keith went on to form Elsimar Distribution with his Italian wife Odilla reputed to have been Tullio Campagnolo’s PA.
It is clear from conversations with a few Mercury CC members that Holmes frames were only made in small numbers. However, they have an easily identifiable numbering system. In the early years frames had a four figure number, the first two representing the year of build.
By around 1954 they converted to a six digit number representing the year of build followed by the month followed by the total build that month. These can be found under the BB in line and close to the adjustable cup or on the lug section where the BB meets the down tube: i.e. 571007 = 1957 October number 7.
Thanks go to Dave Collins, Tony James and Griff King-Spooner