I consider the machine featured here to be the bicycle equivalent of an architectural folly, i.e. a structure built to test the practicality of a new building technique or product. In the case of the bicycle, it features a unique ‘S’ style of frame which pivots at the bottom bracket. When I bought it, it also had a shock absorber style of front fork that was more commonly found on later motorcycles.
In my opinion, this machine was made in Germany in the early 1930s to test the idea of an open spring frame, a feature that could potentially be used in lightweight motorcycles. It has chrome fittings, which came into use in the cycle industry worldwide between 1928 and 1932.
In 1931, the German company Fichtel & Sachs introduced 98cc two stroke engines to the country’s motorcycle manufacturers, who made lightweight frames to house them. Villiers did the same thing in Britain, with the British machines becoming known as ‘autocycles.’ And similar 98cc lightweights were likewise produced in France. In each of these countries, these lightweight motorcycles – with pedals for starting rather than a kickstart, and also a limited top speed – enjoyed a tax-exempt status that made them cheaper to buy and operate. The rider was not required to have a motorcycle license, which encouraged more cyclists to buy motorcycles. For example, my German 1935 Triumph TS100 (seen below) looks like a full size 1920s flat tank machine, but is actually a scaled-down lightweight with 98cc Fichtel & Sachs two-speed engine and pedal-start.
1930 ‘S Frame’ Suspension (Springframe) Bicycle
I’ve owned this unique machine for many years. Unfortunately, the aluminium front forks were cracked and, rather than repair them and have weak forks, we decided it would be better to replace them. I used a set of late 1920s German sprung forks and I’m pleased with the result, from both a practical and aesthetic point of view. It’s great fun to ride.
As with any suspension bike, it takes a few minutes to get used to the springing when riding it. I find it a strange experience to have a bicycle flexing where a normal bicycle would not, but you soon get into the swing of things…
SUSPENSION ON THE ‘S FRAME’
Tower Rd, Queens Park, Brighton
The Pepper Pot is a ten-sided, cylindrical structure, 60 feet (18m) tall and standing on an octagonal base. It is topped by a cupola and a green metal urn. It was designed and built in 1830 by architect Charles Barry in the grounds of a villa built for the owner of Queen’s Park. The Arcana of Science and Art (published in 1836), suggested that the tower stood above a well and housed a steam engine which drew the water out. Its name was given in the Arcana as Belvedere Tower.
During its restoration in 2011 it was discovered that the core of the Pepper Pot is made of a new type of concrete invented by William Ranger, a builder from the nearby village of Ringmer, and known as Ranger’s Artificial Stone or Ranger’s Lime Concrete. It is one of the earliest buildings in England to use this material.
The oddest thing about Victorian follies is that they are not generally acknowledged as important architecture. Fortunately, the Pepper Pot is well-maintained. I suppose if it had been built in the centre of the city rather than in a suburban street it would receive more attention. I’ve been using it at least once a year as a backdrop for my vintage bicycle photoshoots. I took a bicycle there a few years ago to photograph it for my book (below) without realising that it had become a rendezvous for drug dealers! Normally it’s a quiet spot, but on that occasion young people kept turning up and leaving. I didn’t think much about it, and ignored them and continued with my photoshoot. Then two chaps took an interest in the bicycle and asked if they could borrow it to ‘pop round to the post office’ – as you can see, it was a World War One bicycle with a rifle fitted, hence the humorous question. They were polite enough, and seemed as bemused about the situation as I was. I looked around and saw someone in a car watching them (and me). When they had all left, he drove up to me and told me that it had recently become a dodgy area. I assume he was from the drug squad. I’ve been back since, and am pleased to report that it seems to have returned to normal, ie generally ignored by everyone.
Horton, near Wimborne, Dorset
Horton Tower (Sturt’s Folly) is a seven story folly, built by Humphrey Sturt in 1726. At the time it was the tallest non-religious structure in Britain. It was built as a viewing platform from which to watch the local hunt, when Sturt was too old to ride. The tower is made of red brick, is 140 feet tall and has seven stories. Inside it is hexagonal all the way to the top, with rooms leading off to three sides. It originally had a round wooden dome as its roof.
I grew up in this area and used to visit this tower in my formative years. This is the place started a casual interest in follies. It’s not easy to find as, in order to discourage visitors to this peaceful village, there are no signposts to indicate its existence and nowhere to park a car nearby. Nevertheless, GPS satnav navigation does bring you to the correct unmarked entrance on the main road; after parking your car nearby you can access it via a track leading to its field.