From a side profile this early Elswick Roadster almost looks like a normal diamond frame bicycle. But it’s main feature is double tubes from the crank bracket to the steering head. You can see these ‘twisted’ twin down tubes more clearly in these photos.
It was claimed that the direct strain from head to bracket was dealt with more thoroughly and strains from twisting were also combated, creating an infinitely more rigid frame. But, essentially, whether it improved the bicycle or not, there was a good case for creating unique features in bicycles so they stood out in the crowd and attracted extra attention from the cycling press. Elswick specialized in cross frames with ‘twisted’ down tubes, which they called cross truss frames; they differed from Raleigh’s crossframe patent, no doubt to avoid paying patent fees, though they claimed to have invented the idea separately. Many companies had been busy building crossframes, because frame strength was a key issue of the day: frames were getting lighter by the year, and cycle enthusiasts were keen to put new designs through their paces to find their stress points. As well as crossframes, many of the top manufacturers were adding extra tubes to their diamond frame bikes to add ‘psychological’ strength to the machine, ie to make it appeal to riders who felt they needed a stronger frame on their bike: large bikes had two top tubes, Royal Enfield was successful with their ‘Girder’ frames, and Premier used an extra tube in the opposite direction to the Girder. Elswick did also try out the American Iver Johnson patent design, described by them as a truss-tube, but also known as an ‘arch-frame.’
Until 1908, Elswick was based in Newcastle.
1900s The Gentleman’s Elswick Popular Truss Light Roadster
Fixed Wheel, Geared to 67.2″
Frame No 11471
This turn-of-the-century Elswick languished in a museum for many years. As used to be the habit, it was repainted, losing its original green enamel paint and gold double lining. At some point in its life, it has also had later handlebars, brakes, wheels and mudguards fitted. A garage subsequently bought it and my friend Ray purchased it from them in 1998. He set it up for riding, with a fixed wheel, doing many miles on it until I obtained it from him in 2012. Ray’s longest ride on this bike was 91 miles, and his fastest was ten miles in 33 minutes 31 seconds over a rural course.
Ray researched the Elswick marque, and found a relevant article in a 1901 edition of CTC Gazette magazine. In his Encyclopaedia he reports:
‘The CTC Gazette January 1901, page 41, refers to a lady’s No.11,231, and a gentleman’s No.12,256 placing them not later than 1900’ which confirms the age of this machine, with frame number 11471.
ELSWICK CYCLES & MANUFACTURING Co
Walker Gate, Newcastle-on-Tyne
The Elswick name is reasonably well-known today, even though the original company went bankrupt over a hundred years ago. The reason is that the remains of the business was purchased by F. Hopper & Co in 1910, the company then becoming Elswick Hopper. Bicycles were subsequently badged as Hopper, Elswick, and Elswick Hopper.
In the 1970s Coventry Eagle shared workspace with Elswick Hopper. Coventry Eagle changed its name to Falcon in 1970, and in 1978 Falcon was acquired by Elswick Hopper. So Elswick history is intertwined with several other well-known manufacturers.
Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia explains further details of the company’s early years:
The Elswick Cycle Co. had taken over Newton, William & Co.in 1891. Elswick is a suburb of Newcastle on Tyne, Northumber-land, the premises being at Elswick Court, off Northumber-land Street. On 4 October 1893 the company was registered as a limited company, with capital of £20,000 in £10 shares, but a month later the works were burned down. In June 1896 a prospectus was published for a new company, Elswick Cycles Co. Ltd (registered number 48,200). The 1895-97 trade mark had registered number 158,336. On 9 February 1901 the company was re-named Elswick Cycles & Manufacturing Co. Ltd (registered number 252,912).520 The company motto was “Fortiter Defendit Triumphans”. By 1908 the company was in financial difficulty and went into liquidation although it was still advertising from its Newcastle address in 1910 and appears in directories in 1911.
The crossed tubes of the truss frame, produced from c.1892, were claimed to give greater rigidity. The company made the Elswick Disc-Adjusting Hub. Showrooms were held at 8a and 9 Great Chapel Street, London in 1908.
Elswick-Hopper Cycle & Motor Co: Formed in May 1913 by an amalgamation of the original cycle business of Hopper, Fred and the patents, trademarks and goodwill purchased from the liquidator of the Elswick Cycles & Manufacturing Co. Ltd (see Elswick Cycle Co.). Appears to have been making a ‘Phoenix’ model in 1914 quite possibly for export.
Hopper, later Elswick Hopper, had a date code letter as follows: Z – 1908; Y – 1909; X – 1910; W – 1911; V – 1912; U – 1913; T – 1914; S – 1915; R – 1916; P – 1917; O – 1918.
You can see a potted history of F. Hopper Whitesmith & Machinist in the picture below, from the 1951 catalogue, showing 70 years of trading.