1889 Harry S Roberts ‘Special No 2’ Gent’s Safety Bicycle
I bought this bike as an unidentified project comprising frame/forks/handlebars/bottom bracket assembly/chainwheel.
I liked it because of its centre steering, offset seat tube, distinctive rear drop-outs and left-hand chainwheel. For these photos, I installed 28″ wheels, saddle and lamp to see how it looks as a complete bike.
Imagine my joy when, browsing the adverts in the 1890 Irish Cyclist magazine review of that year’s Stanley Show to try and identify another bicycle, I spotted the advert below. As you can see, it’s clearly my bike!
Next week I hope to get some slotted cranks manufactured and I’ll also see if I can sort out a chain and rear sprocket. I’ll update this page as its restoration proceeds.
HARRY S. ROBERTS
Cycle Works, Deanshanger, Stony Stratford
Harry Roberts cycle repair shop was near the methodist chapel (above). It adopted the title ‘Royal Condor Motor & Cycle Works’ around 1902.
GEORGE GEARY’S 1889 H.S ROBERTS EXTRA SPECIAL SAFETY BICYCLE
The photograph of young George Geary was probably taken in a Newport Pagnell studio at the time his home town. Though born in Stagsden, Beds in 1868, it was not until 1892 that he moved permanently to Bedford. The HS Roberts Extra Special Safety bicycle was purchased new for £16 and its oil lamp for an additional sum of 17/- 6d. A trade-in, of presumably his Ordinary, for £4 accounted for the settlement of £12 17/- 6d agreed over the obligatory one penny stamp and signed by Harry S Roberts – May 1890.
– Bedford Museum Newsletter, 1995
The design of the safety bicycle evolved fast in its first few years. George Geary purchased this bicycle from Harry Roberts in 1889. It is now in Bedford Museum. (Credits for reproduction of these photos and information – please see bottom of page)
As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time poring over old bicycle adverts, magazines, catalogues, etc. Chaps with first-hand knowledge of machines from the late 1880s are obviously now long-departed. There are some enthusiasts (mostly in their eighties or nineties) with second-hand knowledge; they are obviously not the original riders, but are vintage bicycle collectors who might possibly offer some suggestions. But there were so many manufacturers, many working from small workshops, and in varied locations around the country, that it would have been difficult to know all the manufacturers even at the time. Other than painstaking research, there is no other way to identify unknown bicycle frames.
An odd thing when you compare these two machines (most likely the only survivors from this manufacturer) is that their chainwheels are on opposite sides. I assumed that manufacturers fixed their chainwheels either on one side or the other as, for example, Premier, who fitted a left-hand chainwheel until well past its ‘sell-by date’ – 1899. (All chainwheels reverted to the right side with the advent of the freewheel hub). As this comparison illustrates a manufacturer with chainwheels on both sides of the frame, I offer two suggestions:
1. That the chainwheel on the crossframe is reversible. (I will ask Bedford Museum if I may inspect their machine).
2. Harry Roberts bought in his frames from various suppliers – likely in the case of this crossframe and a diamond frame – and therefore the chainwheel location depended on the frame supplier.
THE ROYAL CONDOR MOTOR & CYCLE WORKS
1902 STANLEY SHOW REPORT: HARRY S. ROBERTS, of Deanshanger, shows the Royal Condor frame, with latest pattern 2 h.p. Minerva, fitted in the usual manner to the down diagonal. The frame is specially designed to take the extra weight and strains, the front forks being trussed up. It is fitted with a New Departure back-pedalling hub and brake on back wheel, with ordinary rim brake on front wheel. One lever controls all the operations. The new pattern Minerva engine has all valves mechanically-operated. The drive is by a twisted hide band on to a wheel secured to the spokes of the back wheel. The tyres are 2 in. motor Dunlops. Listed at 40 guineas, this machine should command a ready sale.
In the report on Roberts’ exhibition at the Stanley Show, you’ll observe that his motorcycle was fitted with a Minerva engine.
I asked the VMCC Minerva marque specialist about the Minerva engine that was fitted to Harry Roberts ‘Royal Condor’ motorcycle. He replied:
Although I’ve yet to find an illustration of the Royal Condor motorcycle, the pictures below illustrate some more Minerva-powered machines of the same year. Harry Roberts’ motorcycle would have been similar.
The Minerva was one of the best proprietary engines available at the time. In these early years of the motorcycle, many small companies bought in components from various suppliers and assembled them with their own badge. Larger companies would have supplied agents in different parts of the country in order to sell their machines, but a small company such as this would have built very few, and would have mostly made them to order, for local customers.
Borham Engineering Company
Chater Lea (sold by Brown Bros)
Quadrant and Trailer
These two photos illustrate the same Quadrant motorcycle (with Minerva engine) and trailer. In the picture above, Percy Pritchard is aged seven, standing next to his father’s motorcycle. Below, the Quadrant is now his machine, and he is aged 90!
By the way, if you look at Royal Condor’s stocklist, you’ll observe ‘The Royal Condor Trailer’ advertised for £8 10/-. These trailers, manufactured between 1899 and 1903, were the ancestor of the motorcycle sidecar. They were fitted to both bicycles and motorcycles. Most roads of the day were rutted tracks. When fitted to a motorcycle, in wet weather, the passenger behind would have received more than their fair share of mud. Hence, the development of the sidecar.
I’m currently restoring an early trailer, below: you can see more pictures on its relevant page:
1880s ‘THE SURREY’ CYCLE LAMP
Cycledom, Blackfriars, L0ndon
The cycle lamp fitted to the HS Roberts is ‘The Surrey’ sold by Cycledom of Blackfriars. It’s unlikely the lamp had anything to do with the Surrey Machinists Co, a leading cycle manufacturer of the time. Lamp-makers often used names of well-known brands to help sell their products.
Cycledom had a well-known bicycle-riding school at their West End branch, 124 Kings Road, Chelsea.
Since Roman times, Deanshanger has had excellent transport links. Situated 5 miles from the Roman north-south route known as Watling Way, the opening of the Buckingham branch of the Grand Union Canal brought heavy goods right through the village. As a result, the Roberts Iron Foundry of Deanshanger was expanded, from 1820, to become, in due course, a world-renowned company.
It was because of the same road, rail and waterway transport links that Milton Keynes was built nearby.
GEORGE GEARY’S H.S ROBERTS BICYCLE: Information and photos thanks to Ray Miller, Mike Knight, Bedford Museum, & News & Views Magazine (#348 April/May 2012, p 10, letter from Mike Knight)