Seeing that the cycle season of 1892 had commenced, I thought I could not do better than call and have a chat with its pioneer in Liverpool, Mr. W Slade.
“When did you commence the cycle business, Mr. Slade?”
“In the year 1870, at a small place in Elizabeth St, where i made what is termed the ‘bone shaker’ and I later on made the ‘Spider’ otherwise known as the ‘Peerless’ bicycle …In 1876 I first obtained the agency for the Singer Cycles, which is still held by my firm. My present agencies are:- J.K Starley & Co; Hillman, Herbert & Cooper; The St. George’s Engineering Co; Coventry Machinists Co; E.J West; Warman & Hazlewood; Ellis & Co, etc.”
“I believe in addition to being the pioneer of the trade, you are also the oldest agent in Liverpool?’
“Yes, you are quite correct, and at the present time I hold the largest stock of cycles in the North of England, whilst every known requisite attached to cycling is always kept in stock.”
Mr. Slade then kindly offered to take me over the premises, and starting at the basement we made a complete tour, and I must own that in spite of his assurance that he held the largest stock of cycles in the North of England, I was both astonished and bewildered by the vast array of machines he had in stock from the tiny tricycle to suit a child of four or five years to the large ‘Geared Ordinary’ that looks as if it could carry a ‘twenty stunner’ with the greatest of ease.
“Now, Mr. Slade, do you think that the ‘ordinary bicycle’ will ever again take the lead in cycling?”
“Well, to be frank with you, I do not. It is a subject that gives rise to a great amount of discussion, many believe it will, but I think the majority agree that for all practical purposes it is doomed.”
– The Liverpool Sentinel Newspaper, 1892
With the advent of the ‘safety bicycle’ of 1886, riders no longer required athletic ability to ride a bike. The ‘ordinary’ (now more commonly known as a ‘penny farthing’) was no longer the only form of independent wheeled transportation. By 1892 manufacture of the ordinary had just about stopped and engineering workshops everywhere were buying frames and components and selling their own brand of safety bicycle. Despite the occasional verdict from religious traditionalists that this new invention was ‘the devil’s own transport’ everyone with sufficient funds wanted one of these new-fangled machines.
The introduction of pneumatic tyres, first patented (but not invented) by Dunlop, revolutionised bicycle riding in the late 1880s. It helped the cycle industry become the world’s first major consumer business throughout the 1890s – led by Great Britain – and paved the way for the automobile which followed in the next decade.
E.J West of Coventry, who went on to manufacture automobiles, was one of hundreds of small manufacturers around the country. He produced the Progress safety bicycle as either a Pneumatic Tyre Light Roadster or a Cushion Tyre Strong Roadster. The difference in price for pneumatic rather than solid tyres was £3, a sizeable sum at the time. Pneumatics were still an expensive option, and would not become the industry standard until several years later.
William Slade had a large cycle agency that supplied the north of England from his depot in Liverpool. As well as E.J West’s ‘Progress’ cycles, he sold machines built by Humber, Singer, Starley (Rover), CMC and others. Many of the smaller manufacturers of the day followed the pattern used by the better-known companies such as Humber.
1893 E.J West ‘Progress’ Pneumatic Light Roadster
32″ Stand-over Height (From crossbar to ground)
The distinctive ‘upsloper’ frame style of this machine is typical of its age, current between 1891 and 1895 when the diamond frame made it obsolete. A lightweight roadster such as this was a popular option because, with fixed wheel drive (freewheels were not invented until 1897), it was necessary to push these bicycles up steep hills. Metal mudguards and a front brake would add quite a bit to a bicycle’s weight, so were usually removed, making the bike into a ‘Road Racer’ style.
As hundreds of small manufacturers made their bikes from parts supplied by other companies, using frames bought wholesale from the larger manufacturers, it is impossible for any historian to positively identify a bicycle such as this. A small manufacturer such as E.J West would purposely make his bike identical to a more expensive model made, for example, by Humber, in order to supply a cheaper version of the better-known brand. The ‘Progress’ is the result of many hours of research and my best estimate, and provides fascinating insight into the cycle trade in its infancy.
The front tyre is 28″ x 1 1/2 (ERTO 40-635) and the rear is 28″ x 1 5/8 x 1 3/8 (ERTO 47-622). This is because the wheels are similar but a different size. The handlebars with original bone grips are superb. The frame is true, it is cosmetically original and unrestored, and has been recently serviced. The original saddle has a broken leather top, but a reproduction one is supplied. So, apart from the need to make a decision over its saddle (outlined further down the page: ie repro saddle fitted so you can ride it regularly; or original fitted as per the photos to use the bike for display), this rare 119-year-old bicycle is ready to ride.
1893 E.J West ‘Progress’ Pneumatic Light Roadster
E.J WEST & Co
Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry
Enoch John West (b.1864) was introduced to mechanical engineering as an apprentice at Singer & Co. After leaving Singer he became a partner in Calcott Brothers & West, but left in 1891 to start his own company, with a factory in Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry.
In 1892 and 1893 he exhibited at the cycle shows under the company name E J West. His leading bicycle was The Progress. However, following patronage from Queen Victoria, he changed its name to the Royal Progress and, in 1894, his trading name was changed to Royal Progress Cycles, E J West,
In order to raise the finance for new works, a new company was incorporated on 26 November 1896. Named E. J. West Ltd (Reg.50290). It was registered with £30,000 nominal capital in £1 shares. There were ten founding shareholders. The chairman was William Newton.
The Progress Cycle Co. Ltd was registered on 23 April 1897 (Reg.52241) with nominal capital of £50,000 to acquire E. J. West Ltd for £45,000 with the latter being wound up voluntarily two months later. John Burton was the secretary, E. J. West the Managing Director and William Newton the Chairman. The works manager was J. George Moore.
By 1901 the ‘Popular Progress’ was offered at £10 10s. and the ‘Royal Progress’ at £15 15s.
In 1904 or 1905, he set up West Ltd, making cars, including the West Light Car and others. The Academy was an English dual-control car built by E. J. West and Co of Coventry between 1906 and 1908. The car had a 14 hp 4-cylinder engine by White & Poppe. Although it was also available to the general public, it was mainly sold to the Motor Academy in London, an early driving school who were probably the first to offer dual control.
In 1906 The company exhibited at the 1906 Olympia Show; their cars were built with British chassis and French engines: capacities were 10-12 h.p and 12-14 h.p; (both twin-cylinder); 15 h.p (four-cylinder; 15 h.p (six-cylinder); and 20-22 h.p (four-cylinder) models.
ORIGINAL SAFETY SADDLE v REPRO SAFETY SADDLE
As is common with saddles from the early 1890s, the original leather top has not stood the test of time as well as the rest of the bicycle. Nevertheless, the original saddle frame – the important part – is intact, and it’s an easy job to fit a replacement leather top.
Original 120-year-old saddles are a big problem on these safety bikes – if the leather tops have survived, they are too delicate to sit on. (I have already broken several by riding them over the past few years). So it’s necessary to keep a spare repro saddle for riding. This is exactly what I’ve done here – a repro saddle can be fitted in place of the original, using the original saddle slip; alternatively, the repro leather top can be fitted onto the original frame as a permanent replacement. You can see from the photos below that it will be a good fit for the saddle frame.
Compare the E.J West ‘Progress’ above, with similar Humber models below.