Classic Lightweights UK
Les Ephgrave - a pictorial historyImages by kind permission of James Grundy - Connecticut
Text by Peter Underwood
James Grundy was importing Ephgrave frames to the United States in the early 60's even though he was only sixteen years of age. He visited Les in 1963 and 64 at his rather cramped premises in a dark little cubby behind Henley's garage at 150 Upper Clapton Road. Les was struggling to keep his business going against the flow of cheaper imports; Ron Kitching for example was selling Cinelli frames for less than £8 wholesale price. James was amazed that such beautiful frames could be produced by Les in such depressing surroundings. Les was thin, greying, and somewhat frail looking and he gave these pictures to James showing the business as it was some years earlier when trade was much stronger and Les was in better health.
The pictures look like a set taken by a professional photographer, either at Ephgrave's request to use as publicity, or possibly by a local newspaper or magazine to illustrate an article on a local business. It looks as if Les is holding his own 'bike show' at his Aveley Works premises. Smaller builders did this rather than pay the large costs of exhibiting at the Annual Cycle Show at Earls Court in November. These fees would take a great slice of a builder's profits for the year and many of the larger exhibiters were the builders of mass-produced machines.
In November of 1950 a consortium of seventeen London builders each organised an 'At Home' exhibition at their own works and they achieved editorial coverage for the event in Cycling of November 9th of that year - the event to run until 18th. The seventeen consisted of Bates of London, E G Bates, Buckley Bros., F H Carpenter, Claud Butler, F W Evans, Excel Cycle Co., Gillott, Granby, F H Grubb, R O Harrison, Hetchin's, Higgins, Hobbs of Barbican, W F Holdsworth, Macleans and Paris. This list contains the names of all the major lightweight builders in the area and it is surprising that Ephgrave was not on it. This makes me wonder if this exhibition was his answer to the promotion. It is possible that Les used the exhibition at Aveley Works as several of the builders showing in the London 'At Home' were advertising the attraction of being able to see the frames built on the premises as well as discussing their needs.
Roger Chamberlain has identified the worker with a moustache as Fred Greaves who worked for Ephgrave from 1949-55. Roger lived opposite the Ephgrave works for many years and was a great friend of Les Ephgrave and his family as well as being a customer. During the period when his output was at its peak Les employed three workers at Aveley Works so these images show all of them except for Les himself. As Fred Greaves is in the pictures the event must have been between during the years he worked at Ephgrave. The 'A' badge on some of the machines was known to have been used in 1949. I had wondered whether, if the seventeen other London builders were organising a show that year, this would date the images to 1950 as well; however Roger points out that Les had a shop in Tottenham at this time.
In his later years when James met him Les was also making badge bars for the E-type Jaguar - I guess the customers were not as demanding!
Click on images below for larger versions
An image of Les Ephgrave's upstairs showroom decked out for an exhibition.
The corner of an office partition can be seen on the left.
The table in middle of showroom has two 'sub' frames to show gears, one an Osgear, the other a double-pulley gear -
the cranks are fitted with pedals to enable the gears to be 'spun' by the prospective customer.
On the table in the corner there is the mini main triangle of a frame, no doubt built to showcase the lugs, other builders
did this but not on such a small scale, this looks as if it would fit into a briefcase but I don't think Les employed reps.
On the right-hand wall are frame tubes sprayed to display colour options.
There are plenty of Reynolds 531 posters on show, no doubt supplied by Reynolds for the event,
and a selection of frames and built machines to whet the customers appetite.
Against the rear wall is a display unit with a complete machine displayed on top (in front of two frames hanging on the wall),
it is possible to make out a womens 'open' frame in front of the complete machine on this unit.
The complete machine and (Italia?) frame to the right have the 'A' headbadge as used on early machines.
The other end of the showroom shown above with a selection of machines and frames on offer.
There is a better view of the sub-frame built to display a working Osgear.
On the right-hand office partition wall hangs an Ephgrave tandem with straight seat tubes.
A road frame with gear hanger is on a display stand in front of the window.
To the left, a road frame, with Simplex gear boss in foreground, behind this a built-up road machine with flint-catchers
and gears including Simplex? double chainring and Simplex lever. Another frame and built-up machine behind that.
The above two images show either end of one showroom, which begs the question as to whether Les had
two showrooms in addition to the workshop. The two images below don't relate to the ones above although
the roofline in the lower one is similar.
Another display with an Ephgrave in the foreground fitted with a trike conversion, with fixed wheel and one brake.
Possibly the conversion was ordered by a customer unless Ephgrave acted as agents for the conversion.
Behind there is a road frame set with BB, forks, headset and seat pin fitted as was the norm.
Next on display is a complete track 'iron' set up in true 50's style with low stem and short seat pin showing. This machine
has a large 5-pin inch-pitch chainset and drive. The wheels look like sprint rims on Airlites, Brooks saddle (possibly Sprinter)
and a beautifully set up pair of bars on a long steel stem. It has close clearance as would be expected on a pure track machine.
There are three other frames and, just showing, two more complete machines.
On the display in the corner are various boxed components and several chainsets
Two tandems in one picture of this showroom (in addition to the one in the second picture which has
a long diagonal tube from head to rear seat tube where it splits into an extra set of stays).
In this corner an USWB track frame with curved seat tube, the other with straight seat tube.
Two road frames hang from the ceiling and two more are on the stand with the tandems.
Other frames cannot be identified but the track iron is also in the above image.
A display case on the right-hand wall shows forks of diffrent profile and rake alongside a display of chainstays.
Now the virtual tour takes us to the workshops where the real work was done
Fred Greaves (1949-55), one of Les's craftsmen at work in the workshop on a road frame with gear boss and cable eyes.
Here he is sighting up the seatstay brake bridge before brazing commences.
Strangely this bridge has no drilling for brake - see frames hanging on left in the background.
Seeing a frame built like this shows how much cleaning-up has to be done before finishing and painting (see below).
If you see a frame sand-blasted before a respray there is just a pencil-thin line of braze showing at the lug edges.
In the background, a selection of track and road frames in various states of finish.
One of the 'filers' cleaning up a frame after brazing. After the frames were brazed the areas around the lugs were
sandblasted to remove flux and residues from the brazing operation which can be seen clearly in the image above.
This was done to make the filing down of the lugs easier, the filer is working on the headlugs, the seat cluster
and bottom bracket are still to be tackled. (Roger Chamberlain)
The frame is held in the vice using blocks of some soft material (lead?) shaped to hold the frame without damaging it.
There is what looks like a waist-high small brazing hearth against the wall. Note the 'torch' aflame near the chimney cowl.
Here is another 'filer' trusted with the job of filing the lugs, for which Ephgraves are famous.
This one held on a piece of tubing in the vice to give just the right height for working on.
The operater is using a small round file with a wooden or cork handle for comfort.
There are several of these files of different sizes on the table.
Note the box of lugs waiting for a final finish as well as odd ones already filed on the vice and worktop.
I wonder if this chap has returned from his national service as there is a battledress blouse hanging on the wall.
(A friend on mine who worked for Macleans in the early 50's told me he spent his entire time there in a small room upstairs filing lugs.)
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