The Manchester Cycle Industry

While my main focus is Manchester’s motor industry I am also interested in the City’s cycle industry. Both industries are linked and several early motorcycle and car manufacturers in Manchester also produced bicycles.

In 1900 about 90% of Britain’s cycle firms were based in the Midlands. Despite this concentration Manchester had a small but thriving community of cycle makers and agents which increased rapidly during the cycling boom in the 1890s. The chart below shows the number of companies listed in local trade directories as “Bicycle Manufacturers, Dealers and Agents” (data missing for 1898), there were over 160 firms by1899. They were largely based in the City Centre, Hulme, Arwick, Salford, and to a lesser extent, Chorlton-on-Medlock and Moss Side.

Cycle firm data

Formed in 1896 the Manchester and District Cycle Traders’ Association (MDCTA) organised the annual Manchester Cycle Show, which became the Manchester Cycle and Motor Show in 1898. The show had several venues over the years including the Drill Hall on Stretford Road, the Botanical Gardens in Old Trafford and St. James Hall in the City Centre.

A catalogue from the 1899 Show survives at the Central Library. It offers a great insight into the kind of bicycles and early motor cycles that were being made locally. The colours of green or black with gold trim seemed particularly popular, and many of the bicycles had weird names like “Tam o’ Shanter”, the “Go-a-Head” or the “Schladitz”.

An "Irwell" cycle made by the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company, one of 3 that survives.
An “Irwell” cycle made by the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company, one of 3 that survives.

7 out of the 8 firms listed in the catalogue that displayed motorised vehicles also showed bicycles, evidence of a period where cycle makers were starting to experiment in motorising their products.

An example of an early tinkerer was Frank Bullock, one of the exhibitors. He was the owner of the Strangeways Cycle Works, also a committee member of the MDCTA. He showed a very early interest in entering the motor industry, advertising several times in The Autocar:

“All kinds of light autocar and moto work undertaken – F. Bullock, Strangeways Cycle Works” The Autocar 21/11/1896

“Advertiser with workshops situated in Manchester is open to undertake experimental autocar and motor work, or would manufacturer any specialty under contract” The Autocar 30/10/1897

Bullock was also involved in a contract with the infamous automobile inventor and swindler E. J. Pennington around the time of the Manchester show in 1899. He was one of a small but important community headed by the MDCTA which later became the Manchester and District Motor Traders’ Association who organised the Manchester Motor Show.



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