1889 Harry S Roberts ‘Special No 2’ Safety Bicycle
I bought this bike in 2011 as an unidentified project comprising frame, forks, handlebars, bottom bracket and chainwheel. I liked it because of its centre steering, offset seat tube and left-side chainwheel. I fitted 28″ wheels at first, and recently got it out of storage to add the missing parts and substitute 30″ wheels.
Soon after getting the bike, I was browsing the 1890 ‘Irish Cyclist’ magazine review of that year’s Stanley Show to try and identify another bicycle, and I spotted the advert below for Harry S Roberts. It certainly looks like the same machine, built in Deanshanger, near Milton Keynes. After contacting the Deanshanger Village Heritage society to find out the history of the company, I arranged for the bicycle to be exhibited at the Deanshanger village show in 2012.
HARRY S. ROBERTS
Cycle Works, Deanshanger, Stony Stratford
Harry Roberts cycle repair shop was near the methodist chapel (above). It adopted the title ‘Royal Condor Motor & Cycle Works’ around 1902.
GEORGE GEARY’S 1889 H.S ROBERTS EXTRA SPECIAL SAFETY BICYCLE
AT BEDFORD MUSEUM
The photograph of young George Geary was probably taken in a Newport Pagnell studio at the time his home town. Though born in Stagsden, Beds in 1868, it was not until 1892 that he moved permanently to Bedford. The HS Roberts Extra Special Safety bicycle was purchased new for £16 and its oil lamp for an additional sum of 17/- 6d. A trade-in, of presumably his Ordinary, for £4 accounted for the settlement of £12 17/- 6d agreed over the obligatory one penny stamp and signed by Harry S Roberts – May 1890.
– Bedford Museum Newsletter, 1995
The design of the safety bicycle evolved fast in its first few years. George Geary purchased this bicycle from Harry Roberts in 1889. It is now in Bedford Museum. (Credits for reproduction of these photos and information – please see bottom of page)
THE ROYAL CONDOR MOTOR & CYCLE WORKS
1902 STANLEY SHOW REPORT: HARRY S. ROBERTS, of Deanshanger, shows the Royal Condor frame, with latest pattern 2 h.p. Minerva, fitted in the usual manner to the down diagonal. The frame is specially designed to take the extra weight and strains, the front forks being trussed up. It is fitted with a New Departure back-pedalling hub and brake on back wheel, with ordinary rim brake on front wheel. One lever controls all the operations. The new pattern Minerva engine has all valves mechanically-operated. The drive is by a twisted hide band on to a wheel secured to the spokes of the back wheel. The tyres are 2 in. motor Dunlops. Listed at 40 guineas, this machine should command a ready sale.
In the report on Roberts’ exhibition at the Stanley Show, you’ll observe that his motorcycle was fitted with a Minerva engine.
I asked the VMCC Minerva marque specialist about the Minerva engine that was fitted to Harry Roberts ‘Royal Condor’ motorcycle. He replied:
Although I’ve yet to find an illustration of the Royal Condor motorcycle, the pictures below illustrate some more Minerva-powered machines of the same year. Harry Roberts’ motorcycle would have been similar.
The Minerva was one of the best proprietary engines available at the time. In these early years of the motorcycle, many small companies bought in components from various suppliers and assembled them with their own badge. Larger companies would have supplied agents in different parts of the country in order to sell their machines, but a small company such as this would have built very few, and would have mostly made them to order, for local customers.
Borham Engineering Company
Chater Lea (sold by Brown Bros)
Quadrant and Trailer
These two photos illustrate the same Quadrant motorcycle (with Minerva engine) and trailer. In the picture above, Percy Pritchard is aged seven, standing next to his father’s motorcycle. Below, the Quadrant is now his machine, and he is aged 90!
1889 HARRY S ROBERTS SAFETY
This is the photo sent to me by the seller to ask if I wanted to buy it.
Bottom bracket detail..
And here it’s roughly fitted up to go to the Deanshanger village show in 2012.
Since Roman times, Deanshanger has had excellent transport links. Situated 5 miles from the Roman north-south route known as Watling Way, the opening of the Buckingham branch of the Grand Union Canal brought heavy goods right through the village. As a result, the Roberts Iron Foundry of Deanshanger was expanded, from 1820, to become, in due course, a world-renowned company. It was because of the same road, rail and waterway transport links that Milton Keynes was built nearby.
GEORGE GEARY’S H.S ROBERTS BICYCLE: Information and photos thanks to Ray Miller, Mike Knight, Bedford Museum, & News & Views Magazine (#348 April/May 2012, p 10, letter from Mike Knight)