1868 Velocipede: Maker Joseph Cox of King’s Lynn

 PREV  ITEM 19 / 103  NEXT 


For price and purchase, please click here


“It is often asserted that Frederick Savage was not an innovator, rather that he successfully exploited ideas presenting to him. There is little doubt, however, that his manually-propelled Velocipede roundabout, produced in the early 1860s, was a highly original invention, but one which he unfortunately neglected to patent. The earliest American example, exhibited incidentally in France, dates from 1869…

– ‘Savage of King’s Lynn: Inventor of machines & merry-go-rounds’ by David Braithwaite

One of the first British velocipedes was built by Joseph Cox of King’s Lynn around 1868.

King’s Lynn was one of England’s most important ports from as early as the 12th century, and it is believed that French velocipedes had arrived here in the 1860s, before Coventry Machinists Co started building them in 1869. As David Braithwaite states in his book: “The sport of velocipeding was well-established in Norfolk by the 1860s.”

Joseph Cox was also inspired by the new fairground roundabouts featuring velocipedes.

Norfolk was a bustling agricultural centre in the 1860s, and Frederick Savage of King’s Lynn was a leading builder of agricultural machinery, which he adapted to build fairground roundabouts. The Lynn Mart was one of Britain’s leading fairgounds, and the magazine ‘Lynn News’ reported a steam powered roundabout being displayed at the Mart in 1866. “It is generally accepted that this was a Velocipede machine built by Frederick Savage.” There is also a record of one of Savage’s machines being sold to local fairground operator Uriah Cheesman, who displayed it in King’s Lynn around the same time.

“Frederick Savage’s celebration of the velocipede – for most roundabouts celebrate some idea or another – consisted of a single row of 18 wheels, running in a grooved track, and propelled by the riders. Although attached to each other, a free-wheel mechanism compensated for differing energies, and each velocipede was tied to a centre cheese where the brakeman could, though not without some effort, control the length of the ride. Within a short time, 16-, 20- and 24-wheel ‘Circular Velocipedes’ were produced at the St Nicholas Ironworks.”

1866-68 Joseph Cox Velocipede

J Cox & Sons, Railway Rd, King’s Lynn

36″ Front wheel

30″ Rear wheel

No 1 (The first built. No others are known).

Joseph Cox lived in Terrington St John, and soon started working at Sandringham Estate, helping with its reconstruction. He travelled the 14 miles to work using the first velocipede he built …which is the one featured here.

The Prince of Wales (subsequently King Edward VII) bought Sandringham in 1862, and its renovation continued until 1900. The Prince of Wales observed Joseph Cox on the velocipede and took a liking to it. It had been painted yellow and red, but in honour of the Prince, Joseph repainted it in royal blue. (Under its more recent royal blue repaint there are traces of yellow on the wheels and hubs). Subsequent Cox machines were also refinished in royal blue.

In the 1960s the Cox family gifted this velocipede to Norfolk Museum. It was not displayed, but remained in their storage with a number of other bicycles requiring restoration. Some years later, those bicycles were taken by a member of a local cycle club so they could be restored.

Some years after that, a member of another local club was in conversation with someone at Norfolk Museum who enquired how the renovation of those bicycles was proceeding. As a result it was discovered that they had been sold, and restitution was paid to the museum.

Ten years ago this Cox velocipede was purchased by my friend Ian, who sympathetically restored it. The rear wheel was replaced. The original wheel is still present, in bits: see photos at the bottom of the page. Research on this machine has been carried out with the help of Sheffield Museum, who had a copy of the contemporary magazine ‘Lynn News’, and also Norfolk Museum. It’s ready to ride.





















The ‘Diableries’ are a contemporary series of stereoview cards using plasticine to create devilish scenes. You can imagine Victorians in their parlours in the 1860s viewing such images on their stereoscopes in the same way we’d watch TV today.

With Halloween in a week’s time, I was inspired to take a few extra photos of our friendly skeleton riding the Cox Velocipede.

Two of the Diableries feature velocipedes. The first is ‘Course de Vélocipèdes’

The other is ‘Les Pompiers de l’Enfer’ (The Firemen from Hell), below.




























1. Brighton Bandstand (dating from 1884), seen in the background of the old photo below.

2. Outside The King’s Hotel, on the opposite side of the road. It was originally furnished lodgings, owned by T H King, until it became [Mrs] King’s private hotel in 1874. It was renamed The King’s Hotel in 1895.

INFORMATION with thanks to Ian Hall