The name ‘W. TURNER’ stamped into the into the spring suggests manufacture by William Turner, who worked at Coventry Machinsts Co, the leading maker of velocipedes. Though Turner did not leave to establish his own company, many of his contemporaries were experimenting with velocipede manufacture while still employed at the firm. James Starley and William Hillman, for example, patented their experimental machine while still employed by the Coventry Machinists Co, leaving after (in 1870 and 1871 respectively) to start production. With so many other people building velocipedes at the time, and it only being in fashion for the years 1869 and 1870, presumably William Turner decided it was better to retain his employment rather than taking a chance with his own velocipede business. He remained at the company for 33 years.
William Turner appears to have been in much demand. In 1882, BSA got him in to help when they were falling behind with orders. My book, ‘Bad Teeth, No Bar: Military Bicycles in the Great War‘ reports:
“In June, 1882, it being found impossible to turn out a sufficient number of tricycles to meet the demand, the services were engaged of Mr William Turner of Coventry who then held the position of works manager to the Coventry Machinists Co. Ltd, but for some reason not generally known he did not come to the company.”
1869 W. Turner Velocipede
(Attributed to William Turner of Coventry Machinists’ Co)
35.5″ Front Wheel
30.5″ Rear Wheel
I purchased this velocipede as a pile of parts in an auction. As is usually the case, the auction description was very vague. The front forks were missing, so that was the first challenge for my local blacksmith. Being an early velocipede, it has a tapered head, and I didn’t have another one to give him for a pattern, which made his job more difficult. A big ‘merci’ to Andrew for helping with the handlebar and saddle.
A very pleasant surprise when we started fitting up the machine and removed the top layer of rust was that the name W TURNER was carved into the top spring.
Its original wheels have woodworm so are not good for riding, but retain their original paint with red lines on the rims. The frame is sound. Its rear step (below) is reminiscent of the step invented by James Starley and used by Coventry Machinists Co velocipedes.
W.B TURNER & Sons
National Works, 146 Spon St & 25 Paradise Rd, Coventry
William Baxter Turner (born 1842) originally hailed from Manchester, yet moved to Coventry in the mid-1860s along with his younger brother James. Finding work as an engine fitter at the Coventry Sewing Machine Co, Turner was one of many present when the Michaux-type velocipede was introduced at the factory in 1868. Once the Coventry Machinists commenced manufacture of their own bicycles, many left to establish their own firms, yet Turner remained, eventually becoming a foreman. By 1881 he was living with family at Upper Jenner St and working as a ‘foreman in a bicycle factory.’ At around the same time, Turner was also reported to have been responsible for the design and development of the Cheylesmore tricycle. Eventually working his way up to works manager, after some thirty-three years of service, Turner decided to leave the Coventry Machinists and set up his sons, James and William, in business. At Spon St, in premises once occupied by Harry Lawson’s National Bicycle Co, W.B Turner & Sons offered ‘Martello’ safety models until around 1905. William B Turner died three years later.
The W.B Turner ‘Martello’ bicycle illustrated below is from 1900. In common with many other small cycle builders of this era, it incorporates BSA fittings.
Harry Lawson, previous occupant of W.B Turner’s factory, was a racing cyclist, bicycle designer and entrepreneur. He claimed his ‘safety bicycle’ patent was the first chain-driven bicycle to go into production. He was also a motor industry pioneer, being the founder of the Daimler Motor Co Ltd in 1896, and organiser of the 1896 Emancipation Day Drive now commemorated annually by the London-Brighton Run on the same course. Lawson attempted to monopolise the British automobile industry through the acquisition of foreign patents. He acquired exclusive British rights to manufacture the De Dion Bouton and Bollee vehicles, bought Humber, and obtained British patent rights for US bicycle designs. However, many of Lawson’s patents were not as defining as he had hoped, and from 1901 a series of legal cases saw the value in his holdings drop. Lawson’s patent rights were subsequently eroded through successful lawsuits. In 1904 Lawson was tried in court for fraudulently obtaining money from his shareholders and, after representing himself in court, was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s hard labour.
After transforming lumps of molten metal into a velocipede body, its creator would often carve some celebratory notches with a hammer and chisel. You can see the front notches below.
You can see the rear step in greater detail in the photos above and below.
COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ CO
With so many velocipede manufacturers in the short time of their currency (1869-1870), and no database of every maker, it is not possible to conclusively prove that this machine was made by the same W. Turner as William Turner, the foreman of Coventry Machinists’ Co. The attribution of unknown bicycles to manufacturers by experts can only be on the basis of information available. Nevertheless, that company was the first to commercially build bicycles in England, and is an essential part of the history of the British cycle industry. You can read more about the firm below.
1887 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ CO ‘SWIFT’ SAFETY BICYCLE
CARVING & NOTCHING
As well as the notching at the head (above), it is also carved and notched on the backbone in front of the brake return spring (photos below).
W.B Turner & Sons info with thanks to – Coventry’s Bicycle Heritage, by Darrien Kimberley