1877: JAMES STARLEY AT THE ROYAL PAVILION, BRIGHTON
After the advent of the large front wheel, bicycling in Britain recovered from its temporary slowdown and enjoyed steady growth in popularity for the next 30 years. Fewer than 10% of the velocipede makers remained in the bicycle trade, which now required the skills of a machinist or gunsmith rather than those of a carriage maker or an iron founder. Companies became more specialised. Many of the new factory owners were themselves bicyclists, so the step from testing prototypes to launching production could be short. The term ‘ordinary bicycle’ was used in the early era of the high bicycle to distinguish it from other types. By 1891, however, the word ‘ordinary’ was being used nostalgically …the popular nickname was ‘penny-farthing.’
– ‘Bicycle Design’ by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing, page 97
James Starley was one of the most innovative and successful builders of bicycles and tricycles, and is considered the father of the bicycle industry. His inventions include the differential gear and the perfection of the bicycle chain drive.
Starley was born in 1831 at Albourn, Sussex, the son of Daniel Starley, a farmer. He began working on the farm at nine, showing early talent as an inventor by making a rat trap from an umbrella tip and a willow branch. He ran away from home as a teenager and went to Lewisham, south London. Working as an under-gardener, in his spare time he mended watches and created devices such as a mechanism to allow a duck to get through a hole in a fence – it closed a door behind it to prevent a rat following.
His employer John Penn bought an expensive sewing machine, and Starley mended it when it broke down. He also improved the mechanism. Penn knew Josiah Turner, a partner of Newton, Wilson and Company, the makers of the machine and, in 1859 Starley joined its factory in Holborn, London. Turner and Starley subsequently started their own business, the Coventry Sewing Machine Co around 1861.
In November, 1868, chief engineer Josiah Turner’s nephew Rowley brought a new French velocipede to the Coventry Sewing Machine Co factory. As a result, the company resolved at a shareholders’ meeting in February, 1869, to embark on the production of velocipedes; they changed their name to the Coventry Machinists Co (and, in 1898, to the Swift Cycle Co).
James Starley and William Hillman left after to start their own bicycle business in St. John’s Street, Coventry. In the February 1882 issue of ‘The Wheel World’ it states: ‘Up to the end of 1870 the only manufacturers of bicycles in Coventry were the Coventry Machinists Co. Mr Starley senior left them on 26 November 1870, and Mr Hillman on 28 January 1871.’
When William Borthwick Smith joined the business (by 28 February, 1872), the company name became ‘Smith, Starley & Co,’ trading first at St. Agnes Lane and then at Ariel Works, Spon Street, Coventry. The partnership was dissolved when Hillman left in 1872.
Patent 2236 of 11th August, 1870, by James Starley and William Hillman (while they were still employed by CMC) – for ‘improvements to wheels and driving gear’ – led to the first successful all-metal bicycle with metal spoked wheels, which came onto the market in 1871 as the ‘Ariel.’ With the flurry of activity by inventors in the first few years of velocipede design, it can not be ascertained that the Ariel was actually the first ‘penny farthing’ or ‘ordinary’ bicycle to be built, but this was certainly the first successful model to be put on the market.
In 1874, Starley patented the tangent wheel, as seen on this machine; it was a revolutionary design – causing much consternation among Starley’s competitors. Under the terms of a licensing agreement, the tangent-spoked wheels were made by Smith & Starley and supplied to Starley’s employees Haynes & Jefferis, who marketed the complete machine as ‘The Tangent.’
‘The Tangent’ was made in nine different sizes: from 44″ (front wheel diameter) suitable for a rider height of 5′ 2″; to 60″ for a rider who was 6′ 2″ tall. Though Haynes & Jefferis assembled the complete machines, it’s possible that the very large example (84″ front wheel) now displayed at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu was made by Starley himself.
1877/1878 Haynes & Jefferis ‘The Tangent’
Made under license from James Starley
48″ Front Wheel with Tangent-Spoking
This historic machine is one of around six surviving examples of the tangent-spoked Ordinary that was designed by James Starley and built by his employees Haynes & Jefferis (Ariel) under license. Its original features are particularly interesting:
Solid forks with plain bearing, slotted cranks with the original pedals and rubbers, and wedge cotter pins.
22″ Straight handlebars, velocipede style with original wooden grips; the right grip twists to pull the brake cord which acts upon the rear wheel.
Foot supports on the front fork which retract can be folded upward when not in use.
Original saddle pan and sprung support (the leather saddle top is a replacement).
V section front wheel rim.
Starley patent tangent spoking (on the front wheel only: rear hubs were too small to accommodate the pins through the flanges).
This machine is in excellent original condition throughout. It has been repainted at some time in its life, and is ready to ride. In due course I’ll add wire for the brake linkage and update this report with illustrations of the brake operation.
1874 JAMES STARLEY PATENT TANGENT SPOKING
In 1874, Starley patented the tangent wheel, i.e one with tangent spokes (patent No. 3959), where the spokes crossed each other as against what was the ‘norm’ at the time, the familiar radial method of assembling a wheel. Rival cycle makers were totally against this invention and reluctant to adopt this new method of lacing the wheel, suggesting that it could not be possibly stronger than the radial spoke method; some were convinced that the cross spoke method would make the wheel rim buckle, thus causing accidents. Media at the time added to the controversy by publishing articles describing the different wheel building methods as the ‘Battle of the Wheel.’
Haynes and Jefferis were foremen at Smith & Starley who left to form their own company. In an agreement dated 1876, and signed by James Starley, Joseph Jefferis and the Haynes brothers, Starley agreed to license the patent to them exclusively and to make tangent wheels for five shillings a pair. He would receive ten shillings for every complete bicycle they made, payable monthly, and he would undertake not to make bicycles himself. He thus terminated his career as a bicycle manufacturer, though he continued to come up with new ideas and inventions.
When Haynes & Jefferis merged with Rudge in 1880, the tangent-wheeled bicycle was dropped, though its front wheel technology was incorporated into the Rudge Coventry tricycle.
Different ideas for spoking wheels throughout the 1870s provided manufacturers with novel features with which to promote their models. By 1880 most makers had settled on direct spokes screwed into the hub. The final arrangement appeared at the 1885 Stanley Show in the form of the New Rapid true tangent wheel, manufactured by the St George’s Engineering Co Ltd (C.A Palmer’s British patent 15,451 of 1885). But John Kemp Starley unveiled his first Rover Safety Bicycle at the same show, thus sealing the fate of the Ordinary, manufacture of which, by 1892 was no longer required.**
UNIQUE FRONT FORK FOLDING FOOTRESTS
1878 HAYNES & JEFFERIS CATALOGUE
JAMES STARLEY’S INVENTION: THE REAR STEP
When Rowley B. Turner brought a French velocipede to his uncle Josiah Turner at Cheylesmore Works, James Starley was one of the few who saw Turner demonstrate the method of mounting and riding the novel contraption. In an article ‘Father of the Cycle Trade’ which appeared in ‘Bicycling and Motor Review’ of 20th January, 1926, H.W Bartleet commented:
“I often heard Turner tell the story and, in addition, I had it from another who was present. Starley was a heavy man and, realising that he would be unable to vault into the saddle as Turner (who was a gymnast) did, he evolved the idea of fitting a step to the rear of the machine before he could even ride it. Here we have evidence of his wonderful foresight, but he omitted to patent his fitting; had he done so he would have made a fortune in royalties, as every roadster ordinary made carried a step similar to the one he invented.”
Starley’s rear step was actually patented by Rowley Turner in France in 1869 (who was by that time the Coventry Machinist Co Paris agent).
1875 HAYNES & JEFFERIS ‘ARIEL’ BROCHURE
This ‘Tangent’ is not an Ariel, but documentation is scarce for the precise model (I’ve found only one reference to it, in the 1878 Haynes & Jefferis catalogue). The Ariel was likewise patented by James Starley and William Hillman, built by them at the same time as the Tangent, and both were subsequently licensed to Haynes & Jefferis for manufacture by James Starley. With its references to Smith & Starley and written description, this 1875 Ariel brochure is an interesting historic document to accompany the machine.
HAYNES & JEFFERIS
In 1877 the largest cycle manufacturers were Coventry Machinists Co Ltd and Singer & Co respectively. Haynes & Jefferis was third largest. (Bayliss Thomas & Co Ltd was fourth).
Haynes & Jefferis produced the ‘Emperor’, ‘Mechanic’s’, ‘Swiftsure’, ‘Swiftsure No.2’ (both with rear roller brakes) and ‘Tangent’ high-wheelers. There is evidence that the firm exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition which opened on 10 May 1876.
The Haynes & Jefferis firm collapsed in 1878, with the assets being bought by George Woodcock, a Coventry solicitor, and in November 1879 he amalgamated the business with the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co under the management of Messrs Coppen and Lawson who were supplying the ‘Coventry’ tricycle from £18 and £23 for a 50 in. and £22 or £27 for a 60 in. Woodcock had also purchased the assets of D. Rudge & Co and he relocated the combined business to Ariel Works, Trafalgar Street, Coventry in 1880 to form the Rudge Cycle Co. ***
The business relationships between James Starley, his sons, and his employees Haynes & Jefferis, who established their own company, is complicated. But essentially, from evidence of the license agreement discovered by Nick Clayton in 2001 at Coventry Record Office (extract below), it would appear that Smith & Starley made the tangent wheels and supplied them to Haynes & Jefferis who assembled the complete machines and marketed them.
Nick explains: Starley was to make wheels for H&J, from material supplied by them for 5/- per pair and also to receive a royalty of 10/- per machine for every velocipede made and sold. The agreement precluded Starley from making complete Tangent bicycles.
H&J went bust in 1878 and Woodcock took over the assets as well as Smith and Starley’s.
James Starley started Starley Bros in 1878 making Salvo tricycles and I imagine continued to supply Tangent wheels, not to H&J but to the Tangent & Coventry Tricycle Co and then from Nov 1880 to D. Rudge & Co.
James Starley’s son John Kemp Starley worked with his father from 1872 onwards; he left Starley Bros to form his own firm Starley & Sutton in November 1878 and, by 1883, their machines were being branded as ‘Rover.’ Their first Rover Safety Bicycle was introduced in 1885.
13 May 1876: LICENSE BETWEEN JAMES STARLEY and HAYNES & JEFFERIS
Original pedals and rubbers, above. V section front wheel rim, below.
Observe the guides for the brake linkage wire, above, under the saddle support; and, below, on the backbone.
With no strain brought to bear upon it, the rear wheel of a Tangent did not require tangent spoking.
1874-1878 SMITH & STARLEY ‘QUEEN OF HEARTS’ SEWING MACHINE
The Smith & Starley company manufactured both bicycles and sewing machines. William Borthwick Smith and James Starley filed patent no 3090 (above), on 20th September 1873, for a new sewing machine design. It was sealed on 17th March 1874. This design formed the basis of their famous ‘Queen of Hearts’ machine.
This example is in ‘oily rag’ condition: the transfer is faded, but luckily it’s still visible. The picture on the sewing machine is believed to be that of Princess Alexandra. I’ll take some better photos soon.
SOURCES OF JAMES STARLEY INFO:
‘Cycling History Myths & Queries’ by Derek Roberts
** ‘Bicycle Design’ by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing
Haynes & Jefferis catalogues with thanks to the VCC archive
***Haynes & Jefferis info with thanks to Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia, from information provided by Nick Clayton
Many thanks to Nick Clayton for helping me understand the timeline of James Starley’s involvement with CMC, Starley & Co, Smith & Starley, Haynes & Jefferis, Starley Bros