Coventry is not only a city of spires – it is a city of surprises. In no other town in the kingdom is the juxtaposition of the old and the new so marked as in this corner of Shakespeare’s county. …A stone’s throw from a mediaeval hospice rises a cycle manufactory – in fact, the pioneer factory of the industry.
…As a manufacturing company, it came into existence as far back as 1830, when it started the making of sewing machines for the laudable purpose of giving employment to the large number of poverty-stricken creatures who were thrown out in consequence of the decline in the silk trade. In turn, the Machinists’ Company itself suffered from the fierce competition of the United States, supplemented by the opposition of rival firms in Scotland and England. Then it was that the company began to build velocipedes of the ‘bone-shaker’ pattern, soon to be replaced by the ‘spider wheel’ and the rubber tyre…
– ‘The Illustrated London News’, 15 August, 1896
The Coventry Machinists’ Co, started by Josiah Turner and James Starley in 1869, was the first British bicycle manufacturer, and the founders of many well-known cycle companies started their careers working there.
They were respected for the quality of their bicycles, which stood out as a result of various innovative features, such as the unique front foot-rest design. The company owned many cycle patents. This model is interesting because it retains a rear brake and rear step (via which the rider mounts the machine, see below), that would not be out of place on an 1869 velocipede. It also has plain bearings in the front axle, as would be found on ‘boneshakers’. With out-of-date features such as these, it could be considered a ‘transitional’ model. With this historic significance, it would make a good museum exhibit.
It was restored by a specialist cycle builder, who refabricated various parts to their original pattern. I’m impressed by his attention to detail. It’s unusual to find an early ordinary this large: according to Coventry Machinists’ 1876 catalogue, a 54″ wheel would be suitable for a rider whose inseam measures 36″, so he would probably be around 6′ 4″ tall. The Gentleman’s Roadster is ready to ride.
1876 Coventry Machinists’ Gentleman’s Roadster
54″ Front wheel
Frame no 7297
1876 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ Co CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
1877 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ Co CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
1877 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ Co ADVERTISEMENT
COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ Co: The First British Cycle Manufacturer