Posted: Thursday 04th June 2020
My first encounter with the name Cyril Wren was when I first started to ride with my local CTC section, the SW London DA, in the mid-80’s where a fellow member Amy Robinson used to ride her mothers Cyril Wren.
The main incentive for writing this article was the purchase of a 25” Cyril Wren machine off eBay. Like buses things sometimes two come along together, and I was astonished to see a second 25” Cyril Wren machine came along on eBay three weeks later, and in the course of doing some research on the make I was able to make contact with John Wren, Cyril’s son, who subsequently successfully purchased this second machine and is currently restoring it (it is the magenta flamboyant machine pictured below).
I recently had the pleasure to spend the afternoon with John Wren, and have compiled this article based mainly on his memories of his fathers business.
Cyril Wren started out in the cycle trade in the cycle-department of a car dealer, Taylors of London Road Kingston in 1934. He was also a keen club cyclist at the time, a member of the Kingston Wheelers which was a touring club, and then later on from about 1936 the Kingston Road Club which was a splinter formed from the Wheelers, for those who wanted to race. His wife Florence, who is also the holder of many endurance cycling records was a member of the Rosslyn Ladies Club, then later forming Southern Ladies Road Club.
Cyril was also a member of the “Open Road” Masonic Lodge for Cylists, as were many famous cycling retailers, such as Jack Lauterwasser, HH England, Gerry Burgess, and Mal Rees. He left the car dealership to set-up his first shop, literally across the road in 90 London Road Kingston in 1936 with Les Brambleby, who was a colleague of his at Taylors. Les and Cyril went their separate ways in 1940, and Cyril bought a new shop in 78 Richmond Road. Originally the shop was called Clubmans Cycles, and catered more for the touring cyclists in the area in particular the CTC riders. The “fastmen” of the area tended to go to Carpenters down the road.
With the outbreak of the 2nd World War, Cyril was then conscripted into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in Norfolk, and Cyril’s wife Florence (or “Flossie” as she was affectionately known) ran the shop through the war.
Early frames were built “in house” by a framebuilder Fred Nunn from 1936 until the early 50’s. After this frames were built by a subcontractor and arrived at the shop in their raw state covered in brazing scale, and John as a young boy had the job of filing the lugs down and cleaning up the frames prior to them being sent for enamelling, and in fact says he is certain he filed the magenta frame he has just bought (shown below) as he was particular about filing down the tangs of the lugs to a chamfer.
Cyril would never tell John who built the frames, as he was afraid John would tell everyone – so does anyone know ?? Please email me or John ! I had initially thought it may be Holdsworth, as they weren’t a million miles away, but having shown my frame to the framebuilder Cliff Shrubb he was of the opinion that it is better made than a stock factory built Holdsworth.
Cyril’s original surname was Uren, and he changed the families name by deed-poll on 14th November 1955 to Wren. John said this was for commercial reasons – because cyclists were such a crude bunch they thought it sounded too much like Urine….. and he wanted to produce a frame with a recognisable brand name. Subsequent to the name change John’s mother Flossie became known as “Jennie” Wren.
Frames were essentially of two “levels” although these didn’t have any specific model name. The “standard” frame was of plain gauge tubing, and plain lugs, but was of a good handbuilt quality. The “better” quality frame was built with double butted tubing, Nervex Pro lugs and Campagnolo ends as standard, and with braze-ons to choice. John says for some reason Cyril was fond of Benelux equipment, and so the cheaper frame usually had braze-ons to suit these, and John remembers that the Benelux gears would bend really easily, even if the bike was just gently leant up against something.
John said Cyril didn’t sell a huge number of new frames, as they didn’t have any particular “unique selling point”, unlike Hetchins, Ephgrave or Bates or the other well known makes of the era. The shop did however have a big turnover of frames for renovation, as the advert (forwarded by Mick Butler) shows
Cyril had a good eye for detail and wouldn’t allow any frames back from the enamellers that weren’t of an exceptionally high standard, so they gained a reputation for high quality refinishes. John says the enamellers in Stoke Newington used to send a van for deliveries once a week, and that sometimes frames could be turned over in a week or a fortnight (this seems to contrast starkly with my experience of todays enamellers, DV !!) John told me of one day when he forgot to put a set of forks in the van, and that in order not to incur his father’s wrath and delay the frame by a week (as they would have to be sent by next weeks delivery) his and the mechanic’s Wednesday afternoon training run that week was up to Stoke Newington!!
John spent his youth working in the shop as a Saturday boy from the late 1950’s, but when he left school his father felt he should spend some time in industry, so John went to work in the GB factory in Ashford for 6 months. John says the GB Spearpoint stems were machined on site, but Hubs and other components imported. He worked bending handlebars. Pay rate was 2bob an hour for 100 bars, but if you could do 200 you would get double money, although it had be at least 200 – if you only managed 195 you would still be paid the 100/hour rate. John managed to work at treble rate (300/hour) if he trimmed his tea-breaks, but says he was soon warned off this by his working colleagues, who told him in no uncertain terms that if he continued doing this he would be eating hospital food for a while !
John even met his wife Ros while working in the shop. She used to visit on Monday afternoons when she knew Cyril was on his afternoon off, in order to “buy handlebar tape” as she apparently told her friends ! She is pictured modelling a Cyril Wren bonk bag.
Early frames, pre and just post-war have a serial number on the rear dropout which is 5-digit. Later Frames bear a serial number on the bottom bracket which is 4 digit. They just run in series, so don’t carry any kind of dating system.
To give a rough guide I have some serial numbers with approximate dates for the frames.
|20528||(probably) Just post-war black frame.|
|1031||Cyril Wrens own Machine champagne beige/black. Early 50’s Nervex Pro Lugs/Simplex Ends|
|1088||Cyril Wrens own Machine champagne beige/black. Early 50’s Nervex Pro Lugs/Simplex Ends|
|1151||late 1961/early 1962 Blue track frame owned from new by John Wren Cyril Wren only Transfers|
|1191||1964/5 Magenta Flamboyant Frame. Cyril Wren only transfers|
Early frames pre 1955 come with all “Clubmans Cycles” transfers, before the family name changed from Uren to Wren. (unless they have been resprayed at some point in which case they probably bear “Cyril Wren” transfers).
Frames just after this date (like the silver/black frame I bought) have a mix of Clubmans Cycles headbadges (see above) and Cyril Wren down-tube transfers as the old ones were used up and new ones came into use. Frames much after 1955 have all Cyril Wren headbadges and down-tube transfers.