Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited

19 03 2010

The Irwell safety bicycle made by the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited, Manchester, U.K.

Irwell - Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited headbadge.

This is an Irwell safety bicycle made by the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company, Limited in Manchester U.K. I have been able to find out very little about this manufacturer. They appear to have made bicycles starting in the mid to late 1880s and by 1901 they were out of business. I found an 1887 advertisement from a Luxembourg newspaper advertising a three wheel safety/high wheel. And, there is another safety bicycle from Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Co., Ltd. called a claviger in the Pinkerton Collection that resides at the Manchester Velodrome.

The bicycle itself is in excellent condition for it’s age. It’s present owner purchased it as a 13 year old boy from a bicycle shop in Greenwich, Connecticut. He had been eyeing it for a few years and knew it had been hanging over the door in the shop for a long time. He convinced the shop owner to sell it to him for $4. That was a lot of money for a boy . . . in 1948. He rode the bike frequently for the next 10 years. He regularly rode it from Greenwich to Norwalk, a trip of about 17 miles. Each way! He has kept it lovingly for the past 62 years and, it has recently come down from it’s place in his barn for the first time in 40 years. Before he stored it he lubricated the entire bicycle utilizing the numerous lubrication fittings installed by the manufacturer. It must have worked, everything on the bicycle is in working order. The cranks spin freely. The pedals spin freely. The wheels spin freely. It is almost ride-able, almost. The chain needs to be inspected. The rear wheel is missing two of it’s straight pull spokes that thread at the hub. They need to be custom manufactured exclusively for the bicycle. And, the seat needs new leather.

As best as I can guess the bicycle is from the 1890s. It is an amazing example for it’s age. The straight pull, radial laced wheels are marvelous. The adjustable bottom bracket, to tension the massive chain, features a set of cranks with an 1874 french patent. The rear dropouts are cast pieces with vertical dropouts. The left dropout is cast to include a foot peg for mounting the bicycle, a holdover in design from the high wheel era of the decade earlier. The solid rubber tires are slowed through the hooded front tire scrubber. The headset is tensioned through a combination of springs mounted both above and below the headtube. The saddle features the cutout design that has become popular again called a hygenic saddle. Other than the obviously poor early frame geometry the quality of the external lugwork is amazing.

Claviger Safety c1887 – 1890
The Claviger (meaning “one who carries a club”) was added to the at the Velodrome later than the rest of the colection and little is known other than it was designed by William Golding and produced at New Bridge Street, Strangeways in Manchester by the Manchester cycle Manufacturing Company Ltd.
The machine was lever driven (as against chain) and was considered better than a pedal driven machine in many ways.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited bottom bracket.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited bottom bracket.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited brake.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited cog and chain.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited rear dropout and footpeg.

Irwell – Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Limited crank.




6 responses

19 03 2010

That’s some serious chain!

14 04 2010
Nick Forder

In December 1889 the Claviger Cycle Company Ltd changed its name to the Manchester Cycle Manufacturing Company Ltd, with a nominal capital increased from £6,000 to £21,000. This marked the end of the claviger system as the company sought to produce conventional, train-driven bicycles. In 1890 the capital was increased to £50,000 in order to finance the building of a new factory on Clayton Lane, Clayton, Manchester. Here two basic types were made : the Irwell (retailing at £13 10/- for the basic model) and the Belsize (from £18). One source suggests that the Irwell was designed specifically for women. One customer was the 5th Volunteer Battalion, the Manchester Regiment, which purchased 20 cycles. Sales were good during the bicycle boom years of 1895-6, but by 1898 the company was struggling to compete with companies like Rudge-Whitworth, selling their Standard cycle at £10 10/-. Receivership followed, and the company had been wound up and the assets sold by 1900.

The factory (known as the Belsize works) was taken over later by Marshall & Co for the manufacture of Hurtu Benz-type cars. Marshall renamed itself Belsize, after the factory. It ceased manufacture in 1925, after a year under admistrtaion by Barclays Bank (the main creditors).

14 04 2010

Thanks so much for the additional information. That really helps fill in some gaps. The bicycle’s owner will be pleased. The Irwell is in the process of being restored to ride-able condition. Additional images will follow.

19 07 2010
Conor Madden

Your not going to belive this. July 2010 Doing some renovation to a house in Cork, Ireland and found a catalogues on the belsize cycles, dated December 1896. showing pictures of the belsize – roadster, road racer, lady’s bicycle, girls juvenile. Also pictures and write ups of where the belsize cycles are made. From Machinery department to there Packing department.

2 08 2010
Nick Clayton

Nick Forder’s information is correct. I wrote a paper for the International Cycling History Conference in San Remo 2001 on William Golding and the Claviger Cycle Co. Ltd. See ‘Cycle History 12’, Cycle Publishing /Van der Plas Publications, San Francisco 2002. ISBN 1-892495-07-4.
I have a large file on the company including some catalogues and your machine is definitely 1890, either an Irwell Roadster Safety Bicycle No.1 at £16 (solid rims) or an Irwell Light Roadster Safety Bicycle No.1 at £17 (hollow rims).
I know of two Clavigers one in the Pinkerton Collection and a tricycle in the Stockdale Collection and there is another Irwell safety at St Etienne museum in France.

7 05 2011
Matt Hall

I think the company was owned by my great grandfather. Do you have any information on the company ownership. After the company went into receivership he and his brother emigrated to Australia. Anything you know would be helpful.

Many thanks

Matt Hall

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