1940s Runwell Despatch Carrier Bicycle
I bought this Runwell in 2009 and I still have it somewhere, lurking at the back of my storage unit.
RUNWELL CYCLE co (Birmingham) Ltd
Lawson St, Birmingham 4
Here are some pages from Runwell’s 1938 catalogue, and my Runwell to compare.
You can see that the pedal crank is different from the Despatch Carrier illustrated above. Tradesman’s bikes obviously had a working life, and parts such as pedal cranks would have been replaced according to convenience rather than originality. Nevertheless, the crank does appear to be the same as on other Runwell bikes in the catalogue.
Mine is similar, but not identical to, the 1938 model. It looks like a postwar one.
1937 Runwell Wholesale Catalogue
The front cover of the wholesale catalogue shows the location of the Runwell wholesale warehouses around the country.
I like the cycle mascots…
I was only able to copy a few pages from this Runwell catalogue. But it does give a brief glimpse of their product range.
I’ve not yet been able to find out any history of the Runwell Cycle Co. Ray Miller’s Veteran Cycles reference book shows only that the company was located at Vauxhall St, Birmingham, in 1911. And the madeinbirmingham website has nothing at all. When I find further history of Runwell, I’ll add to this page.
UPDATE 21st August 2009: Haven’t found out anything more about the company yet, but I did recently buy the Runwell spanner pictured below:
BRIEF HISTORY of RUNWELL CYCLE CO
The Runwell Cycle Co may well have sunk into a historical abyss were it not for a 21st century advocate in the USA. Thom is an avid blogger and his website http://oldbikeblog.blogspot.com is highly recommended. He has managed to piece together some history of the company, which I reproduce (with thanks to Thom) below:
The Runwell Cycle Company was founded by William Henry Jennings (born 1873 in Derby, England). When Jennings was twenty, he moved to Leeds, where he was listed as a “clothier’s traveler.” By 1904, he had moved to Birmingham, where he founded the Runwell Cycle Company on Lawson Street.
Jennings’s granddaughter remembers her grandfather as a kind, generous, and good-hearted man:
My earliest vivid memory of my grandfather is of my grandfather’s 60th birhday party in London before the war. Grandpa was a member of the Magic Circle and entertained all his small children (grown-ups, too!) with conjuring tricks, to their great delight. During the war, he stayed in London (14 Great Eastern Street) and I visited him there when the war ended.
In 1945 my father had settled in the country in Warwickshire and it was then that grandpa gave me and my brothers a Runwell cycle each, which gave us the much appreciated freedom of being able to roam the countryside during our teen years. Grandpa wrote to us, too, and also gave us very generous birthday presents. I always remember him as being kind and generous and I believe his staff thought this too.
The Runwell Cycle Company started small, but “through sheer hard work and business acumen,” Jennings expanded the business until he had depots and branches in most of Britain’s large towns, and an overseas depot in Java.
One of Jennings’s daughters recalls that:
Father knew all of his workforce by name and never employed anyone who belonged to a Union. There was always a happy atmosphere and we enjoyed going round the factory talking to the people and watching them tune the spokes in the wheels. He used to leave us on the a.m. train and came home twelve hours later and brought work to do on the weekends.
The Runwell company relied on the strength of its bicycle frames and the quality of their construction to sell bicycles, rather than their brand name alone. In their advertising, they advocated quality workmanship and affordability as virtues of a good bicycle. Runwell originally manufactured only bicycles, but by the late 1920s seems to have also begun manufacturing toys and sundries, and by the 1950s had also begun manufacturing parts and accessories for the auto industry. While still focused on building quality bicycles, their earlier advertising claim that, “we concentrate our energies on bicycles alone” fell by the wayside. By the 1960s, the firm was known primarily as a parts and accessories supplier, and no images or examples of advertising could be located after 1961.
(All quotations from original correspondence with Julia Jennings, 28 October 2008)