By 1891, the bicycle was well-entrenched as the new medium of transport for the gentlefolk of Great Britain. First established during the 1880s in the industrial heartland around Birmingham, new factories and shops were soon opening everywhere around the country to cater to demand. The main companies operating from the Midlands and London realised that the north of England offered good sales potential, particularly if new factories were opened there. After Joseph Devey & Co’s Wolverhampton business was bought by Humber in 1887, Devey relocated to Northumberland, where he set up selling ‘Northern X’ cycles to exploit regional sales.
The Devey & Co bicycle featured here is particularly interesting because it uses Referee’s patent diamond frame design, illustrated below, with a few minor modifications. (Most notably, Referee used a left-size chainwheel while Devey’s is on the right, and the rear dropout chain adjuster is different.
Despite registering the design, George Morris of Referee probably had problems claiming patent duties for unlicensed copies because of the sheer volume of other cycle makers using it. Referee advertisements of the period constantly reminded everyone that theirs was the original diamond frame and that all others were ‘worthless imitations’. Nevertheless, he was a prolific patentee, so he would have needed an active litigation team. The Northern X Safety ‘No 3’ which used this Referee design was only advertised for one year, possibly dropped from production by Devey for the above reasons.
1891 Northern X Safety ‘No 3’
(Manufacturer: J. Devey & Co)
30″ Wheels with cushion tyres
This rare machine from Berwick-on Tweed is well-preserved survivor, in good condition, fully functional and ready to ride.
JOSEPH DEVEY & Co
Castlegate, Berwick-on-Tweed, Northumberland & 7 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne
Joseph Devey & Co was established in 1869. According to Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia:
‘Originally located at 33 Piper’s Row, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, and later at Tower (aka The Ashes) Works, Brick Kiln Street. With financial assistance from Mr Horton of Birmingham, the purchase of Joseph Devey & Co., and the Coventry Cycle Co. Ltd, were made and the three concerns brought together as Humber & Co. Ltd which was formed on 14 June 1887.’ The Devey works at The Ashes in Brick Kiln Street became Humber’s Wolverhampton factory.
Devey moved to Berwick-on-Tweed where he produced ‘Northern X’ and ‘Northern Express’ cycles but the old firm was still advertised in trade directories as late as 1898.’
1890 REFEREE CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
JOSEPH DEVEY COURT CASE
After selling his business to Joseph Horton (on behalf of Humber) in 1887 for £10,000, Joseph Devey bought a house for £1150 on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, but continued to live in the house next door to his old factory as he had agreed to assist Horton for a month.
However, when production of Humber cycles was underway it was noticed that some of the stock was regularly disappearing. As a result the works manager and a police constable spent a night in the factory to keep an eye on things. They caught Joseph Devey entering the premises from his adjoining house to steal some of the stock. He was arrested and charged with stealing.
At first Chief Constable Major Hay said that there was no reason to hold such a pillar of the community in custody. But further enquiries turned up property that Devey had hidden under the stage at the People’s Central Hall and also at his houses, totalling £300. The trial took place on 13-14 May at Stafford Assizes, he was found guity of larceny and given an eight month sentence in Stafford Gaol, plus trial costs.
Despite the damage to his reputation, he remained popular in Wolverhampton. When he was released from prison in January, 1888, there were extraordinary scenes at Stafford and Wolverhampton. He was mobbed outside the gaol, while thousands awaited his arrival at Wolverhampton, where a procession of vehicles and a band proceeded through the main streets to his residence.
Altough he could have retired, Devey had obviously decided while he was incarcerated to start up again in the cycle business. However, as part of the deal for the sale of the Wolverhampton business, he had had to sign an exclusion clause which forbade him from producing cycles within a 200 mile radius of Wolverhampton for a period of time. In a southerly direction, this exclusion zone stretched as far as Truro in Cornwall, but the north of England offered good potential. As a result, he moved to Berwick-on-Tweed, where he founded the Northern Cycle Manufacturing Company and produced ‘Northern ‘X’ Cycles.
The new concern, up and running by May, 1888, soon grew into one of the largest cycle businesses in Berwick. Around a dozen of his previous staff moved north with him. He also established agencies in Hawick (Robert Milligan of North Bridge), Edingburgh (William Leith of 2 Leith St Terrace) and in Pilgrim St, Newcastle. Bicycles were dispatched by passenger train to the agents, as well as to customers. A detailed account of the ‘well-arranged and spacious works’ appeared in The Cyclist magazine in March, 1892. There were at least 30 employees making 70-80 machines per week (3500-4000 per annum), of which a high proportion went to Scotland.
After a fire at the factory in 1896, Devey returned to Wolverhampton, and started up again in the cycle industry, suggesting that his 200 mile exclusion signed with Horton was for a 10 year period. Apart from a brief period in 1905 when he was declared bankrupt, he continued in business until his death, aged 77, in 1911.
THE WOLVERHAMPTON FACTORY SITE
(Humber left the site in 1900)
information about Joseph Devey with thanks to