Runwell Cycle Co was one of Britain’s major manufacturers in the 1930s. They published a wholesale catalogue, and a large proportion of their business was in the export trade, establishing agencies in many parts of the world. Their application to register the Runwell name in Kenya in 1934, above, is a typical example of their expansion within the British Commonwealth countries.
Runwell’s 1930s registered frame design was distinctive in both gents’ and ladies’ versions. They described it as a ‘Super Braced Low Top Tube Frame’. 1930s lightweight cycle designers were developing all sorts of distinctive frame styles, and it’s interesting to see how a contemporary cycle manufacturer applied similar innovations to roadster frames.
1937 Runwell Super Sports
with Runwell’s Registered Design Safety Frame
3-speed Cyclo Gear
Possibly because of the high volume of the company’s export trade, there are not many surviving Runwell machines in Britain nowadays featuring their patent Super Braced Low Top Tube design. This is a well-built bicycle, with steel rims, chrome brakes, and brazed on Cycle gear, and it rides well.
1938 RUNWELL CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
BRIEF HISTORY of RUNWELL CYCLE CO
The Runwell Cycle Co may well have sunk into a historical abyss were it not for a 21st century advocate in the USA. Thom was an avid blogger when he bought his own Runwell bicycle: his website is http://oldbikeblog.blogspot.com. He managed to piece together some history of the company, which I reproduce (with thanks to Thom) below:
The Runwell Cycle Company was founded by William Henry Jennings (born 1873 in Derby, England). When Jennings was twenty, he moved to Leeds, where he was listed as a ‘clothier’s traveler.’ By 1904, he had moved to Birmingham, where he founded the Runwell Cycle Company on Lawson Street.
Jennings’s granddaughter remembers her grandfather as a kind, generous, and good-hearted man:
My earliest vivid memory of my grandfather is of my grandfather’s 60th birhday party in London before the war. Grandpa was a member of the Magic Circle and entertained all his small children (grown-ups, too!) with conjuring tricks, to their great delight. During the war, he stayed in London (14 Great Eastern Street) and I visited him there when the war ended.
In 1945 my father had settled in the country in Warwickshire and it was then that grandpa gave me and my brothers a Runwell cycle each, which gave us the much appreciated freedom of being able to roam the countryside during our teen years. Grandpa wrote to us, too, and also gave us very generous birthday presents. I always remember him as being kind and generous and I believe his staff thought this too.
The Runwell Cycle Company started small, but “through sheer hard work and business acumen,” Jennings expanded the business until he had depots and branches in most of Britain’s large towns, and an overseas depot in Java.
One of Jennings’s daughters recalls that:
Father knew all of his workforce by name and never employed anyone who belonged to a Union. There was always a happy atmosphere and we enjoyed going round the factory talking to the people and watching them tune the spokes in the wheels. He used to leave us on the a.m. train and came home twelve hours later and brought work to do on the weekends.
The Runwell company relied on the strength of its bicycle frames and the quality of their construction to sell bicycles, rather than their brand name alone. In their advertising, they advocated quality workmanship and affordability as virtues of a good bicycle. Runwell originally manufactured only bicycles, but by the late 1920s seems to have also begun manufacturing toys and sundries, and by the 1950s had also begun manufacturing parts and accessories for the auto industry. While still focused on building quality bicycles, their earlier advertising claim that, “we concentrate our energies on bicycles alone” fell by the wayside. By the 1960s, the firm was known primarily as a parts and accessories supplier, and no images or examples of advertising could be located after 1961.
(All quotations from original correspondence with Julia Jennings, 28 October 2008)
Compare the Runwell, above, with Brown Bros’ 1935 Vindec Safety Sports below. Its Super Braced Low Top Tube appears to be designed from the same patent, so Runwell may have supplied Brown Bros with the frame.
1940s RUNWELL DESPATCH CARRIER BICYCLE