Albert Jackson (born 1838) of Stoke, Coventry, was a pawnbroker and master clothier by profession, yet from 1890 his Fleet Street premises also commenced the manufacture of ‘Fleet’ safety cycles. Evidently having little experience in the actual process of cycle making, it would appear likely that his models were either assembled from sourced parts or simply rebadged machines made by another local maker until 1893.
– Coventry’s Bicycle Heritage, by Damien Kimberley
Hundreds of firms built – or made components for – the ‘ordinary’ bicycle (penny farthing), and fortunes were made by many. Britain’s cycle industry received a further boost in 1886 with the introduction, by Hillman Herbert & Cooper, of the first practical cross frame safety bicycle. This new style of machine was simpler to make than the high-wheel ordinary bicycle and any company with engineering capacity was ready to give it a go. Businessmen, particularly those in Coventry and Birmingham, were drawn into the cycle industry to provide the capital.
As you can see in the map below of the Coventry cycle trade (copy it to your computer and print it out), most cycle makers were located in a comparatively small area of the city, with access to local railway stations. Sharing of premises by several firms was common, as was the pooling of resources. Damien Kimberley’s comment above, in the book Coventry’s Bicycle Heritage, is interesting: I’ll see if I can find out the source of his analysis.
The Coventry Evening Telegraph of 4 March 1891 advertised the Fleet Works premises for sale:
Middlemore, of Fleet Works, Coventry: the premises are for sale. ‘Lot I.— The extensive manufacturing premises occupied by Messrs. Middlemore, known as “The Fleet Works,” consisting of large turning and smiths’ shops, stores, engine and boiler houses, show room, offices, and large yard.’
I’m not sure if Albert Jackson acquired the Fleet Works from Middlemores, as per the above 1891 advertisement. But the machine featured here predates it, so presumably it was the first model he sold. Its style suggests manufacture in 1889, and it has a low frame number, 202A (numbering generally started from 100).
1889 A Jackson & Co ‘Fleet’ Diamond
Divided Diamond Frame, with ‘trough’ tubing
Front Wheel 30″
Rear Wheel 28″
While you can see from the advertisement below that the Fleet is a ‘divided diamond frame’ – the rear mudguard passes through the seat tube – what can’t be seen from the side profile is the nature of the design, which uses ‘channel’ or ‘trough’ tubing. I originally assumed this machine was a Premier because the Premier Model F is the best known proponent of this style of tubing. However, when I asked Roger Armstrong, the Premier marque enthusiast for the Veteran Cycle Club, he identified it as a Jackson ‘Fleet’. When I questioned him about the ‘trough’ tubing he explained that this was not a Premier patent, but a style of tubing that had already been commonly used on the rear forks of ordinaries, so was most likely without any patent.
The bicycle itself was found in a stable, by Julian, of Zeals in Wiltshire. His grandfather had worked at 14th century Zeals House, and had hidden the bicycle in the stable in 1904. Though the grandfather died when Julian was young, the hidden bicycle was was often mentioned by his Julian’s father and became part of their family folklore. Two years ago, Julian took up the same job as his grandfather, managing Zeals House. He was excited to find the bicycle in the stables, covered in sacking, where his grandfather had left it all those years ago.
It’s a rare find and a small but important part of the early history of British bicycles. We mostly focus nowadays on the individual cycle builders who started up – or worked for – companies that subsequently became well-known. But there were hundreds of small firms in the early cycle trade whose factories were swallowed up by other concerns (and themselves taken over by other businesses). Many have slipped through the cracks of recorded history. Cycle companies such as A Jackson only become known again on the rare occasion that one of their products is unearthed and identified.
UNDERNEATH THE JACKSON FLEET SAFETY:
NON- CHAIN SIDE
1890 PREMIER MODEL F
Premier’s Model F is the best-known bicycle to feature ‘channel’ or ‘trough’ tubing. The similarities are intriguing. After I’ve picked up the Fleet, I’ll photograph the two side by side for comparison.
It is an exceptionally strong and sound bicycle at a very moderate price. Its special feature is a diamond shaped framework of novel construction, formed of trough-shaped or semi-circular steel, fitted together in a way which gives it the appearance of a tubular frame, divided vertically, except for a few inches at the front part, and opened out about two inches at the centre. This formation gives great lateral stability – and important characteristic not possessed by many diamond framed safeties. Nearly 15,000 of this model have now been sold, and with the most satisfactory results, so that we are able to offer it with increased confidence to our clients.
– The Premier Cycle Company Ltd, Coventry