The Coventry Sewing Machine Co. was set up in King Street, Cheylesmore, Coventry, c1859 by James Starley and Josiah Turner to import and market sewing machines from America. Later they manufactured their own sewing machines and changed the name to The Coventry Machinists Co. In 1869 they started to manufacture velocipedes, bicycles, tricycles and quadricycles and became the second largest cycle maker in Great Britain under the name of the Swift Cycle Co. They produced a vast range of these machines, one model being named the “Swift” and another the “Club” as many cycle clubs were being set up at that time.
In 1898 they produced their first motor cycle and a motor tricycle. The first prototype car was made in 1900 which went into production in1901. It had a tubular chassis, a single cylinder de Dion engine and a two-speed back axle. The Swift Motor Co. was formed in 1902 and produced one, two, three and four-cylinder cars, first using proprietary engines up to about 1907 and then those designed by their Works Engineer, William Radford, which were made in their own factory. During the early 1900′s Swift entered their cars in reliability trials and won many gold medals. Up to 1915 several models were produced each year.
During the First World War the factory produced munitions, Renault and Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines, military bicycles and other war equipment. In 1919 the Company joined the ill-fated Harper-Bean organisation and changed its name to Swift of Coventry Ltd. Production was then concentrated on the four-cylinder 10hp and 12hp models which were renowned for their reliability. Although Swifts had their faithful followers, by the late 1920′s their hand-built cars could not compete with the mass-production methods of Morris, Austin, and Ford, whose similar cars sold for only half the price of Swifts. In spite of producing a cheaper 8hp model, the Cadet, with a Coventry Climax engine and a centre-change three-speed gear box in late 1930, this was insufficient to save the Company and the factory closed its doors for the last time in April 1931.
– The Swift Club – http://www.theswiftclub.co.uk/
With the company being founded by James Starley in 1859, Swift Cycle Co adverts often proclaimed: PIONEERS OF THE BRITISH CYCLE INDUSTRY. With such a distinguished place in cycling history, the Swift Cycle Co produced distinctive bicycles. The more expensive models sported duplex forks, generally considered the ‘preserve’ of top manufacturers such as Humber, Centaur and Ariel. After WW1, the company changed their name to Swift of Coventry and their bicycles featured a chainwheel spelling out the name ‘SWIFT’ as well as a unique ‘S’ lamp bracket. The chainwheel on earlier Swift Imperial machines was in the shape of a pentagram, and the cheaper Cheylesmore model had a bought-in chainwheel. This Cheylesmore retains Swift’s trademark patent ribbed fork, but does not feature the duplex chain stays of the more expensive models.
By the time this machine was produced, the company was focusing mainly on its motorised departments. In 1914 Swift, like other cycle manufacturers, turned its factory over to war work and scaled down its cycle production, except for machines supplied to the Government for military use. It’s possible that this 1914 Swift Cheylesmore was used either in the field or as a mount for an officer at home.
The promotional photo below shows Bert Hambling of the 26th Middlesex Cyclist (Rifle) Volunteers. The photo was taken around 1898-9, so presumably he is ready to go off to war in South Africa.
1914 Swift ‘Cheylesmore’ Road Racer
Tall 28″ Frame
Frame No E8380
Swift Patent Ribbed Fork
This Swift Cheylesmore has been fitted out as a road racer, in the style of the company’s more expensive ‘Imperial’ Road Racer. I’m not sure if this was its style when sold, or later in its lifetime. As the machine has a coaster brake, this style is easy to achieve with the removal of its mudguards and fitting of a sportier handlebar.
A 28″ frame machine would have been a special order from the company, and a customer could specify other criteria if they wished. Though these days enthusiasts only have catalogue illustrations to look at to consider the models a company offered, at the time a customer could order any permutation of components and catalogue models were considered just a suggestion of what was available.
This example is in good working order. Both pedals are large, though the rubbers do not match. The bolt retaining the handlebar to its stem is a modern one and should be replaced with an earlier style nut and bolt. Otherwise the machine looks good and is ready to ride.
Close inspection of the illustration of the ‘Cheylesmore’ (above) in Swift’s 1914 sales brochure reveals that they used a bought-in chainwheel for this cheaper model to distinguish it from the top-of-the-range ‘Imperial’ which was more heavily promoted. Compare the chainwheel with that on the bicycle featured here.
The Cheylesmore features Swift’s ‘patent ribbed fork’.
1914 SWIFT SALES BROCHURE
SWIFT CYCLE Co Ltd
LONDON SHOWROOMS & REPAIR WORKS
132-134 Long Acre, Covent garden, London
Although Swift Cycle Co adverts claim its formation, as the Coventry Machinists Co in 1859, written history of james Starley shows the date as 1861:
May 14th, 1861, Starley left Newton, Wilson & Co and, with Josiah Turner and Silas Covell Salisbury, an American, went to Coventry to embark in the sewing machine trade. Salisbury and Starley patented a sewing machine. They rented part of the premises of a Mr. John Newark, on the site later occupied by the Swift works but the business did not prosper.
Local interest in finding work for under-employed watchmakers and those from the ribbon trade led to the formation of the European Sewing machine Co to make sewing machines, which retained the services of Messrs. Turner and Starley. The works were initially in Little Park Street, later in King Street. Soon a larger factory was needed where the ‘European’, ‘Godiva,’ ‘Express’ and ‘Swiftsure’ sewing machines were made. The company became the Coventry Sewing Machine Co, then the Coventry Machinists Co and later Swift Cycle Co.
Like many cycle manufacturers based in the Midlands, Swift Cycle Co Ltd had a showroom in London. Theirs was in Long Acre, Covent Garden, a centre for businesses connected with the cycle industry and motor trade.
Long Acre’s most famous cycle manufacturer is Denis Johnson, who had a workshop at 69-75, Acre House. His Hobby Horse – he called it a pedestrian curricle – was an improved version of the German Draisene, invented by Karl Drais. This forerunner of the bicycle was also known as a Swift Walker. He made at least 320 machines in early 1819 and, in May of that year, introduced a dropped-frame version for ladies to accommodate their long skirts. He also opened riding schools in the Strand and Soho.
For about six months the machine had a high profile in London and elsewhere, its principal riders being the Regency dandies. About eighty prints were produced in London, depicting the ‘hobby-horse’ and its users, not always in a flattering light. Johnson’s son undertook a tour of England in the spring of 1819 to exhibit and publicise the item. Nevertheless, by the summer of the same year the craze was dying out, and a health warning against the continued use of the velocipede was issued by the London Surgeons.
In Johnson’s machine, like that of von Drais, propulsion was simply by ‘swift walking’, with the rider striking his (or her) feet on the ground alternately. However, it led directly (albeit after a long delay) to the invention of the bicycle in the 1860s, when rotary cranks and pedals were attached to the front-wheel hub of a machine based on Johnson’s.
The coachbuilding trade dominated Long Acre in the nineteenth century – in 1906 41 buildings in the street were occupied by firms associated with transport, a mixture of traditional coachbuilders and those connected with the motor trade. By 1916 the transition to motor cars and related trades was almost complete. The Mercedes showroom was at number 127 to 130, close to Daimler and Fiat. At number 132 in 1929, John Logie Baird made the first British television broadcast.
1915 SWIFT CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
Denis Johnson info – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Johnson_(inventor)
Long acre info – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Acre,_London
Bert Hambling of the 26th Middlesex Cyclist (Rifle) Volunteers ca. 1898-9 – http://www.25thlondon.com/bicycle.htm