(With extensive extracts from John Gill’s piece in Classiclightweights.co.uk)
Early 1920s. The Carpenter business was established in 43 Penton Street, London N.1. near “The Angel”, Islington. This locality was becoming well known to lightweight cycle enthusiasts – several other famous “names” in frame building had their shops nearby.
Car ownership was a luxury hobby – there were only 100,000 licensed drivers in London.
1925 Carpenter introduced a range of imported sprint wheels.
By the 1920s, all riders in the Tour de France were using Brooks saddles.
1927 This is the date of the earliest Carpenter catalogue available. Even at this early period the range includes two sporting tandems, a “Special Record Tricycle”, two path frames and both gents and ladies sports models. Clearly they have already become involved in sporting events with some success. They are also innovators of some note having introduced the hollow spindle and the revolutionary forward “quick release” rear ends which were then adopted by other manufacturers.
The BBC was inaugurated. As almost no homes had electricity, very large ariels were needed to pick up signals with enough energy to power crystal set receivers.
1927 Tullio Campagnolo cursed the need to remove his wheel to change gear on the Croce d’Aune. “Bisogna cambià qualcossa de trio.” He patented his cam-operated quick release hub in 1930, formed his company in 1933.
1929 Aluminium components were slowly gaining acceptance. Carpenter introduced a Duralium hub.
The Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression.
1930 Car ownership remained rare. There were still only 260,000 licensed drivers in London.
1931 Mitchell’s Supermarine S6.B racing seaplane won the international Schneider trophy outright at Calshott. Reynolds H.M. (High Manganese) tubing was integral to the construction of this plane which became the prototype for the Spitfire. This material was widely adopted for lightweight cycle frames.
Rolls Royce developed the ‘RR’ family of high duty aluminium alloys for the Supermarine engine components. RR56 seat pins were introduced by Reynolds. (This alloy was marketed as ‘Hiduminium’ after WW2).
J.L. Baird made an experimental TV transmission of the Derby.
1931 Frank Carpenter married Beatrice Bartlett on the 21st Oct. in Chessington. Valerie was born the next year, Anthony in 1941.
1932 Unemployment exceeded 22% in Britain, more in the North.
Massed start cycle racing, prohibited on the public highway, became established at the motor-racing circuits of Brooklands, Crystal Palace and Donington Park.
1934 Over 1 million private cars were now on the roads of Britain, a similar number of buses and lorries. For most, the primary means of transport was still the bicycle. Horse drawn vehicles had pretty much disappeared.
By this time the Carpenter marque had become established in the vanguard specialist builders of lightweight racing cycles. “This was the world of black alpacas and racing tights, of dawn starts and riding out on Saturday to overnight accommodation. We talked of Chater-Lea hubs, Selbach, Claud Butler and Carpenter cycles, the pride of every cyclist.” (Sid Hall recounting the early ’30s start of the Hemel Hempstead Cycling Club).
1935 Reynolds introduced their now legendary ‘531’ tubing. This was destined to become the dominant tubing of lightweight cycles for over 50 years, first in Britain, then on the continent. 26 Tour de France winners from Charly Gaul (’58) to Big Mig Indurain (’91) used 531 frames.
Carpenter immediately adopted this tubing and offered “Reynolds H.M. or 531 tubing”.
1936 Brooks introduced the B17 Flyweight Flyer, incorporating a weight-saving aluminium alloy cantle-plate. Brooks were now selling almost 2 million saddles annually.
Economic recovery was underway in Southern England. The electrification of homes had at last started, still only 12,000 homes had a supply by 1936. The lucky few could enjoy much improved lighting and wireless sets. Those living within 20 miles of Alexandra Palace could indulge in the novelty of a TV service – if they could afford the price of a car for a set that delivered an indistinct flickering image.
1937 For the first time since 1919 the Tour de France organisers permitted the use of gears – but only Super Champion. Interest in the Continental racing scene was growing in Britain but the flat airfield circuit races sanctioned by the NCU were thin gruel indeed. Charles Holland and Bill Burl became the first British cyclists to ride the Tour. Burl lasted two stages, Holland retired after 14 with mechanical problems.
In this year Carpenter showed his ‘Ace Continental’ model with the Super Champion ‘Osgear’ gearing system, Reynolds 531 tubing, Brooks Flyweight saddle, RR56 seat pin and Italian Gloria alloy brakes – a leading edge specification for its day. See #3257
Over this period, Harry Grey worked at the Penton Rd address as a frame builder. He is reputed to have slept in the shop cellar for a period when digs were not available.
Wimbledon was televised for the first time, heralding a new era for all sports. in 1938 the Boat Race and FA Cup were also televised.
1938. Massed start road racing was introduced at the Empire Games in Sidney, bringing these into line with Continental championships. Both ‘Osgear’ and Sturmey Archer gears were in evidence. The search for competitive gearing systems was on.
Carpenter covered all bases, the 1938 catalogue shows the ‘Ace Continental’ (now dubbed ‘LA Continental’) with Super Champion derailleur, the ‘SA Speed Ace’ with Sturmey-Archer AM (close ratio) or AR (ultra-close) hub gears, the ‘BAR Road Racing’ with traditional fixed gears.
1939 Jack Manning, Charlotteville CC , won the last cycle race to be held on the Brooklands track. By September the country was at war again, the Brooklands site taken over for aircraft production, motor and cycle racing there stopped. TV broadcasting was halted for the duration of the war.
During 1939 vegetarian Tommy Godwin covered 75,065 miles (over 200 miles/day average) using a 30 lb. bike equipped with Sturmey Archer gears, a record that stood for over 75 years. He went on to complete 100,000 miles by May 1940 setting a record that stood until 2016. Sturmey Archer retained a following amongst racing cyclist for distance and hilly events.
Over the winter of 1940-41, 685 High Explosive bombs hit Islington alone including the junction of Donegal Street and Penton Street, close to the Carpenters’ home and workshop. This closed the Carpenters’ Penton Street business. With tubing and component suppliers devoting their production to the war effort, Carpenter cycle production ceased until after the war. Henry was 69 by now; he took no further active part in the business.