CHATER LEA MANUFACTURING CO
William Brighton Chater Lea (b.18/08/1859) acquired his engineering skills as an apprentice at Linley and Biggs, producer of the ‘Whippet’. He had ridden that machine with some success in winning the renowned Catford hill climb in 1888, 1889 and 1891.
He invented an easily adjustable ball head for the ordinary (1889/14847). In 1890 he patented an ingenious chain- protecting cover: this consisted of an endless rubber band, U-shaped, and reinforced by a canvas insertion. It enclosed the outer surface of the chain, and rotated with it, and necessitated the use of a dry lubricant which did not perish the rubber. About a year later he brought out a light mudguard that could be rolled up like a blind. Chater Lea manufactured fittings and component parts from 1891 at a small workshop in Richmond Street, Clerkenwell, London. It produced a double top tube frame from 1895 in sizes up to 28 in.
Orders for tandems were passed to F. H. Scott while the orders for bicycles were passed to the Raleigh Cycle Co. Ltd. As the business expanded new premises were acquired in 1895 at Great Sutton Street and in 1896 the business moved again to 114-120 Golden Lane, London EC1. In 1895 he patented a domed spring cap to fill up the open end of front fork blades which sold in great numbers until the adoption of the box crown (1895/17192). He was a great believer in large diameter ball bearings using 5/16 in. balls in the bottom bracket.
In 1912 a new factory was built at 74-84 Banner Street, London and two years later additional premises were obtained at nearby Garrett Street. The company supplied under licence from F Bowden of Raleigh Cycle Co a cross-frame actually made by the Raglan Cycle Co. Ltd. It appears that the hyphenated name was adopted in the early 1920s but only by the company, not the individual. W. Chater Lea died on 15 September 1927 and control passed to his two sons. In 1928 the company relocated to New Icknield Way East, Letchworth. The company stopped making complete machines from 1929. In 1987 the company was put into voluntary liquidation.*
1896 Chater Lea Fittings Machine
Cottered Pedal Cranks
Early Brooks ‘B18’ saddle with new leather top
This fittings machine has many early features, including straight seat stays (photo above) without a bridge to connect the two, cottered pedal cranks (see photo below) and open fork crown. The nickel handlebar is narrow and upright, which was the fashion around 1895-98. You can compare the chainwheel with those shown in the 1905 band 1910 Chater Lea catalogues; I don’t have a pre-1900 catalogue for this company. The fork crown has an insert at the top on both sides; one of them can be removed, to reveal the Chater Lea company name as the supplier of the components for this machine. It was most likely assembled from Chater Lea components by one of the hundreds of local bicycle shops around the country, to a customer’s order. Prior to 1898, when the freewheel was invented, bicycles were fixed wheel and brakes were optional. This is a rare machine, in good all-round riding condition.
1905 CHATER LEA CATALOGUE
1910 CHATER LEA CATALOGUE
* Chater Lea information with thanks to –
‘An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers – The Early Years up to 1918: 3rd Edition’ by Ray Miller