1888 Ormonde Safety No 2



From Saturday, 28th January, 1888, for one week, the Stanley Cycle Exhibition was held at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster, and the West London Cycle Stores was one of the major exhibitors. Among other top cycle companies with stands were Rudge Cycle Co; Marriott & Cooper; Bayliss, Thomas & Co (made the Excelsior); St. George’s Engineering Co (made the New Rapid); Singer; Humber; Coventry Machinists; Lamplugh & Brown (the top saddle manufacturers); Salisbury & Co (cycle lamps); Ivel Cycle Co; Linley & Biggs; William Bown; Woodhead, Angois & Ellis (made the Raleigh); Hillman, Herbert & Cooper (made the Premier).

What is particularly interesting about the show is the variety of innovations on display, some that we might justifiably assume were much later inventions. For example, there are several spring frames, Raleigh introduced their detachable chainwheel, Brooks showed off a concealed plunger brake, Morris & Wilson’s Referee Racer was surprisingly lightweight at 19lbs. The Hall & Phillips Lightning tandem illustrated above has linked steering of a style that was not generally adopted until 1895. (This may have been an Ivel patent, as it also featured on the patented 1888 convertible Ivel tandem).

West London Cycle Stores was one of the largest cycle dealers in London. In 1887, Dan Albone appointed them as the sole London agent for Ivel & Co. They sold both new and secondhand machines, as well as their own ‘Ormonde’ machines, including a lever-drive safety.
An interesting feature of the history of this company is that, after becoming the Ormonde Cycle Co and then Ormonde Motor Co to make motorcycles, the company was bought out in 1904 by Taylor Gue Ltd who supplied their frames, and the company then used the Ormonde facilites to manufacture their Velocette motorcycle.
oldbike museum




1888 West London Cycle Stores ‘Ormonde’ Safety, No 2

30″ Equal Wheels

























79 Wells St, Oxford St, London


According to Ray Miller’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers’ the company started in 1885 as an agency and repairer of bicycles. As well as their London locations, they had a factory at The Tower, Princip St, Birmingham (in 1896). The directors were Ernest J Willis, Robert Willis and Elena Canepa.

One of the top London cycle shops, the West London Cycle Stores also had branches at 25 Castle St East and 22 Holborn Viaduct. (The Viaduct, completed in 1869, took six years to build, and this area became a centre for bicycle shops: Gamages based their business there, which obviously brought in a lot of business).

According to the notice (below) in the London Gazette of February, 1891, the West London Cycle Stores was wound up in December, 1889. The business subsequently became the Ormonde Cycle Co.

west london cycle stores

Robert Willis was the general manager of the London company. In 1891 the company exported machines to the USA, with Ernest J Willis as their US agent. His company was described as the Ernest J Willis Co of 23 Park Row, New York; also Park Row Cycle Co of 23 Park Row, New York; and Herald Cycle Co of 114 Nassau St, New York.

The New York Times reported a fire in the Willis establishments in 1898, and the suicide of Ernest’s brother William in 1901.

ernest willis cycle co fire 1898



williamm willis suicide 1901




Freeman St, Adelaide, Australia

1893 ormonde australia

Ormonde also features in Australian history. The Ormonde Bicycle Depot, at 31 Freeman St, Adelaide, Australia was where Vivian Lewis started his business, initially as a cycle importer and reseller and then making his own cycles, motorcycles, and a few cars: he was one of the founders of the Australian cycle and motor industry. Events in May 1898 were to change the course of the Lewis Cycle Works. Visiting with her Gladiator motor tricycle, French racing cyclist Mlle Serpolette made her Adelaide base at the Lewis Cycle Works. This was the first motorised vehicle to be brought to Australia.

When the motor tricycle wouldn’t run, it was Works Manager Tom O’Grady who spent time first repairing then test riding it. Within ten months, O’Grady had obtained plans and built a small internal combustion engine, which was fitted to one of the pacing triplets and tested in Freeman St in March 1899. Although bicycles remained the focus through 1899, O’Grady’s motor was developed further and fitted to a tandem, then removed from the tandem to be the power unit of the first Lewis car, which took to the streets of Adelaide in November 1900. From that date on the name of the business changed to reflect its new-found interests: Lewis Cycle Works became Lewis Cycle & Motor Works.

1903_Lewis motorcycle



Around 1895, Ormonde Cycle Co amalgamated with the St. Andrews Cycle Co of Romford, the latter company’s large factory being used by the new concern. Subsequent companies were the New Ormonde Cycle Co and, after 1900, the Ormonde Motor & Cycle Co (described as the Ormonde Motor Co in their motorcycle adverts, below). Their first motorcycle was introduced in 1900, being a bicycle with engine centrally located (a 1901 example of which can be viewed at the Haynes Motor Museum in London).

oldbike museum




An interesting footnote to the company history is that, like other manufacturers of ‘motor bicycles’ the company realised that their prototype machine with an engine mounted into a normal bicycle was not strong enough to cope with the extra stresses of motorisation. So subsequent motorcycle frames were made for Ormonde by Taylor Gue Ltd.
This company was run by William Gue and John Taylor (previously known as John Goodman or Johann Gutgemann: the Goodman family were Jewish refugees from Germany named Gutgemann). After joining the Ormonde company in 1904, they took it over in that year in order to produce their own motorcycles. Their first new motorcycle, a 2hp belt-drive machine called The Veloce, was not successful.
Veloce Ltd was established in 1905 by John Taylor to sell cycles and associated products (presumably those previously made by Ormonde as well as their own items). John’s sons Percy and Eugene set up New Veloce Motors in 1907 to to make and market a Veloce Motor Car. The car did not go into production, and the company offered general engineering and various non-motorcycle products.
John’s firm, Veloce Ltd, started work on a new motorcycle in 1908, with engines supplied by his sons’ company. Introduced the following year with many innovative features, the 2.5hp four stroke machine was quite advanced: it had a 2.5hp engine with overhead inlet- and side exhaust-valves, mechanical lubrication and a two-speed gearbox. As well as this sophisticated model there was a 499cc side valve on offer.
It took a few years for Veloce sales to pick up but, by 1912, the 2.5hp machine (illustrated below) started to sell well.
1913 Veloce
As evidence of its remarkable Hill Climbing Qualities we give an illustration of 
a Performance witnessed by Mr J. Urry of Bicycling News and Motor Review:
This is to certify that on March 18th, 
I witnessed the Veloce Motor Bicycle,
 fitted with patent 2 1/2 Horse Power two-
speed engine – with gear ratios 5 to 1 on
the high speed and 8 to 1 on the low speed
- climb Gough Street Hill, Birmingham,
which has a gradient of 1 in 7, and is
known as one of the toughest acclivities
in the Midlands, with a very awkward
”take off”, at speeds varying from 25
to 5 miles per hour. The performance was
repeated several times, – and on the
majority of the trials the machine carried
two passengers, whose combined weight was
 22 stones. The starts were some of them
standing, and when a single passenger 
rode, he could always stop and start on
any part of the hill. It was in every 
respect a satisfactory and valuable test 
for the Veloce Engine.
In 1913, a lightweight two-stroke model was added, the Velocette. As Velocette, the company became one of Great Britain’s most famous motorcycle manufacturers.
As a vintage motorcycle dealer since the late 1970s, I’ve belonged to the Velocette Owners Club on and off for thirty years and owned many examples of the marque. The 1922 Type E2 pictured below is the one I most regret selling.
1922 Velocette E2
The only Velocette I still own, purchased in 1982, is the one below. It is much easier to park than a full-size LE Velocette 🙂
Model LE Velocette











Ormonde history with thanks to Ray Miller’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers’

V Lewis, Australia, history and photos with thanks to Leon Mitchell – http://earlymotor.com/lewis/history/html/ormonde.htm

Velocette history with thanks to the Velocette Owners Club – http://www.velocetteowners.com/