Carpenter Cycles (F. H. Carpenter)
Author: John Gill
From the 1920s to
Carpenter cycles are acknowledged by connoisseurs as being one of the
best of lightweight cycle frames. They always made orthodox frames of
the highest quality and their elegant proportions, superb finish and
fine workmanship established a reputation for quality and performance
that many thought was not surpassed by any other frame builder.
On the right is a 1949 frame in
black and chrome with double box-lining. Below are detail
images of the same frame
This black frame is a 1949 "one off ". History obscure but it
surfaced at Herne Hill a few years ago - at that time it was totally
original - CLB brakes, Allumite rims on LF Blumels with double-fixed
,Tour de France bars on GB stem, Brook B17 Swallow saddle,
Williams C1000 crank etc. I know this because I saw the bike
there myself and photographed it. Unfortunately, by the time I
was offered the frame all the original parts had long gone. However, I
have managed to find virtually all the correct parts for it (except the
bars if you know of any available). I had the frame refinished to
original specification and it should be on the road soon. The frame
clearly illustrates Carpenters fine lug finishing and
Established in the early 1920s ,the earliest catalogue available to the
author, dated 1927, gives their address as H. Carpenter &
Son, Head Office and Works, 43,Penton Street, London N.1.
Certainly they had been trading for several years previous to
this date – in 1925 they had introduced a range
sprint wheels. Located near “The Angel”
a locality that was becoming well known to lightweight cycle
enthusiasts. Several of the famous
“names” in frame
building had their shops in this area of London at this time.
Even at this early period the range of Carpenter frames included two
sporting tandems ,a “Special Record Tricycle", two path
and both gents and ladies sports models. Clearly they had already
become involved in sporting events with some success. They were also
innovators of some note having introduced the hollow spindle and the
revolutionary forward quick release rear ends (see advert below) which
were then adopted by other manufacturers.
In 1929 they introduced a Duralium hub. In the early 1930s reference is
made in the catalogues to “Reynolds high-manganese butted
and in 1935 this is referred to as “Reynolds H.M. or 531
During W.W.II the bomb damage to the Islington area caused them to move
from Penton Street, and at some period towards the end of the war they
relocated to Kingston on Thames where they spent the rest of their
life. The address became F.H.Carpenter, 52 Surbiton Road,
Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey. They continued their business at this
location throughout the ‘50 and ‘60s and had
success in competition events with riders such as Mike Gambrill, Robin
Buchan and Jack Manning.
In the 1960s, F.H. Carpenter fell ill and had to retire from the
business. For a short period Carpenter frames were
under licence by Swindon Cycles of 90 Commercial road, Swindon who also
built Colin Cape frames. It is thought that this
closed in the early 1970s.
1945 - 1968
from Sporting Cyclist May 1961 showing range of models including Olympic M.S.
During the time they were based in Kingston the Carpenter shop became
the centre of sporting cyclists in the area. Frank Carpenter was a
leading figure in the Festival Road Club and the shop became its
unofficial second clubroom. Frank was President of the Club for many
years. The shop was well known for its friendly atmosphere
Mrs Carpenter ran the shop's administration side and kept detailed
records in her precise handwriting. She also ran a
“book” for the younger riders which enabled them to
equipment by spreading repayments over a period of time. Known by club
members as “Mrs C”, she was liked and admired by
dealt with the shop. Frank was regarded with some awe and
respected for his fanatical attention to detail. He often
advice and guidance to young riders and rode competitively in
younger days. However, he could be a little feisty if
delivered to him or any sub-contracted work was not up to his high
writes of this period:
“I remember Frank Carpenter during the 1960/70s. Like most
artisan frame builders he worked on his frame building in a tiny
workshop at the back of the shop in Surbiton Park Terrace, while his
wife minded the shop!
His father had built racing motorcycle frames which were used by racers
on the famous Brooklands circuit at Weybridge, a few miles away. He was
a total perfectionist. At that time he did file his own lugs
mainly used Nervex Professional which were not good enough for him, so
he spent hours filing each set so they were absolutely smooth
sharp. Frank was conservative, and not overkeen on adopting
heavier seat stays and ultra close clearances which came into fashion,
preferring slim, elegant seat and chain stays. His perfectionist
tendencies led him to examine each pair of Reynolds forks minutely,
usually complaining how they were now made by machines and the blades
no longer came in identical matching pairs!
Frank was also an ace wheel builder which set him apart from
others. At this time we time-trialists
wanted 7-ounce wood
insert sprint rims, built with 24 or 28 spokes and fitted with 5 ounce
tyres, we then rode them over potholed roads! Any defective
with a shake of more that about 5mm was declared, "trueable, but needs
a new rim really!"
It is said that Frank supplied wheels to many leading competition
cyclists of that time including Reg Harris.
on pages for larger version)
Some of the successful riders who used Carpenter frames:
A well known rider of the 1950s and a member of the
Clarence Wheelers. One of Mike’s best
races was the
“Epic Dresden Madison “ of 1959 in which
paired with Norman Sheil .Fresh from their success of a few days
earlier in Leipzig the pair faced stiff opposition from riders from
Berlin and the local Dresden Matadors team. Mikes younger brother Robin
was paired with Ken Craven. At half distance a new 20km track record
time of 25min 31sec was set. The British pair took first
with 21points and a track record of 40km in 51.41.2 (29. 5mph). Mike
rode a 26 inch Carpenter track frame in this event.
Jack Manning. (rode frame nos 4146 & 4215)
Notorious for racing anything anywhere Jack was a
rider whose racing career was severely curtailed by the outbreak of WW
11 .He was the last man to win a cycle race at Brooklands on the
Campbell circuit. He worked as a toolmaker with an aircraft company.
After the war he took part in many top-class events using his Carpenter
frames. He was invited to join the first Milk Race team but declined
due to his wife’s concern about him attending the race.
During the period 1959 – 63 Johnny worked
as a frame
builder with Carpenters. He was also a keen competition cyclist and
rode Time Trials during this period.
Freddie Smeeth (?)
Freddie worked at the Carpenter shop as wheel builder and mechanic
Worked with H.Carpenter at the Penton Rd address as
builder , reputed to have slept in the shop cellar for a period when
digs were not available.
(rode frame no 5279)
Bill, with two other founder members, had brought touring cycling to
Woking in 1922 and by 1928 had formed the West Surrey D.A. A rider of
no mean ability, who told tales of daily mileages of more than 100
miles whilst carrying camping kit on dreadnaught cycles, with 28 x 1.5"
wheels and tyres, in the early years. He became the President of the
West Surrey D.A.in 1955 continuing in office until his death in 1992.
Rode for the Festival Road Club .Won the Bath Road 100 in 1961 with a
time of 4hr.2min.27sec.In the same year Jim together with the twin
brothers John and Brian Froud won the National Championship 100 team
Festival Road Club. Rode in the Tour of Britain , the Milk
Race and the Peace race (Berlin –Warsaw – Prague)
(rode frame no 4756)
Rode with the Norwood Paragon C.C. The 1960 Olympics saw Robin Buchan
travel to Rome as reserve for the team pursuit and road team. He set a
record for the 24hr Senior Mens class in 1971 covering 483.84 miles.
Carpenter adopted a simple sequential numbering system for their
frames. All numbers are stamped on the underneath of the bottom bracket
and on the front fork tube. Examples:-
verified by copy of original receipt
by copy of original receipt
verified by copy of original receipt
24th February 1962
verified by copy of original receipt
verified by copy of original receipt
The earliest Frame Number on the register is 3050 and the
5752 . It is reasonable to draw from the verified dates that Carpenters
produced around 100 frames per year and this makes dating frames a
relatively easy job. The marque enthusiast maintains a register of
frames and their details and is happy to assist in dating frames for
Contact:- JOHN GILL email - john.gill6(at)btinternet.com
Enthusiast would like
to express his gratitude to the many people who have helped with
information and reminisces of Carpenter cycles. In particular Mrs
Valerie Walker, Keith Mitchell and Les Bowerman.
Additional by: Peter Underwood (written before the piece
above was submitted)
As a teenager several riders from the nearby Wisbech Wheelers used to
own Carpenter machines. For some reason I have always had a
feeling for them although I don't own one.
My first catalogue for information is obviously from the 30s with
from £3 7s 6d. Carpenter are located at 43 Penton
London, N1 in this catalogue. Carpenter state that they are
issuing this new
catalogue introducing some new models which they list as
Model No. 1
£3 7s 6d
Model No. 2
H M Super Clubman Model No. 3
£4 5s 0d
D P Road Racing
Model No. 4
£4 12s 6d
H M Path Racing
Model No. 5
£5 0s 0d
H M 'Supalite Special' Model No. 6
£5 12s 6d
De Luxe Touring
Model No. 7
£3 10s 0d
Model No. 8
£5 5s 0d
Plus two tandems, Road Race and H M 'Supalite Special'
All frames were supplied complete with head and bracket fittings,
cranks, seat pin, etc. Usual brazed-on refinements.
Enamelled to choice. Chromium front and rear ends.
There was an extra charge for BSA or Chater Lea fittings.
Gears offered were: Cyclo 3-speed; TriVelox; Osgear;
Conloy;Simplex Super or Professional models.
Witney 2-speed; Villiers; Cyclo.
Sturmey 3-speed also available with brake or as close or medium ratio.
All frames jig-built ensuring absolute accuracy. Tubes are
and pinned into special angled lugs superbly filed and lightened.
We have lugs
of all angles and do not resort to the dangerous practice of lug pulling.
My next brochure seems to be from the 50s and at this time they were
located at 52 Surbiton Road, Kingston-on-Thames and I believe there
was a shop with this name until a few years ago.
like many shops
it dealt mainly in mountain bikes in later years.
This catalogue has an
introduction which states each machine produced is under my (F H
Carpenter) personal supervision, technically perfect in all details,
balance, weight, distribution and steering. This they say is
outcome of over 30 years practical experience in cycle building.
This would put their launch date at sometime in the 1920s.
By now the number of models is down to four, the frame prices are
'Path' Model £16 0s 0d; 'Ace' Continental £14 10s
B.A.R. Road Racing £13 15s 0d and the 'Super Clubman' at
£13 10s 0d.
As an aside, an iteresting piece in this catalogue offers head fittings
as, 'head clip' or 'colonial'. I guess that 'colonial' would
an expander-bolt fitting but I have never heard it called this before.
The 'Path' model is offered to a very hich specification as a complete
machine with 75° head and 72° seat, all round forks
plate crown, alloy or wood sprints on Airlites, Chater chainset with
block chain (when available), Merkins or Major Taylor stem and Brooks
B17 Sprinter saddle. This specification is a s good as it got
The 'Ace Continental' was offered with either 73° x 71°
72° x 70° angles whereas 72° parallel was very
those days. All of these angles are recommended
but Carpenter would build a machine to the rider's own specification at
no extra cost.