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Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders  
 

George Brooks 

Author Bryan Clarke
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With the exception of Claud Butler, there cannot be many people who were so well known in the cycle trade that their face featured in advertisements in ‘Cycling’ and the ‘Sporting Cyclist’. However, the proprietor of a small North London lightweight shop did just that. His name was George Brooks. A small portly man with a round beaming face he was clearly well known and well liked.

His shop, which he ran jointly with his wife Peggy, was at 7 Wordsworth Parade just off Green Lanes near Turnpike Lane tube station in Harringay, North London. It was within walking distance of the old established lightweight dealer, George V Chapman at 410 West Green Road, Tottenham and one of the branches of Claud Butler further down Green Lanes near Harringay Stadium. Several reports suggest that Brooks 5George started out in the cycle trade as a salesman and manager for GA Cycles, Gt. Cambridge Road, Tottenham who were an important manufacturer of lightweight bikes before WWII but never regained the same kind of kudos in the post war boom. It is also said that he went on to work for Claud Butler and this may explain why he acted as an agent when the local branch was so close. He was also agent for other English lightweight frame and bike builders, such as Les Ephgrave, Percy Stallard, Pat Skeates, Hobbs, Rotrax, and Viking, as well as continental imports like Frejus, Olmo and Urago. Bespoke frames could also be made to customers’ requirements under the George Brooks name. 

Terry Starr-Marshall and his school friends were regulars at the shop in the mid 1950s. Money was tight and he could not afford to buy an Ephgrave, so a George Brooks frame was the next best thing at £12 10s. Terry was a member of the Norian Road Club whose headquarters were not far away in a church near Wightman Road. A number of his friends also bought George Brooks framesets, which seem to have been a simple choice between a road or track model and probably all made at that time with the ubiquitous Nervex Pro lugs (no others with different lugs have so far come to light for the Harringay models) and therefore they are difficult to identify without corroborating evidence. A choice of brazings was clearly available to customers’ specification as well as chrome. It is thought that the shop opened around c1951 until 1957 when it was sold to Dave Davey who had been the manager of the local Claud Butler branch since the 1940s (see Dave Davey web page) The old CB shop was taken over by W.Hinds (Sports & Cycles) Ltd who also acquired the Lewisham branch.

 
George re-emerged as the proprietor of a new much larger shop at Downend near Bristol in April1958 where he apparently proved popular with members of the Bristol South CC and who also bought his frames. 

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This was certainly the case with one of their ace time-triallists, Chris Holloway who was runner up in the 1965 BAR. (see photo below). However, it is thought that this shop closed down sometime in the late1960s. In the early 1980s Terry remembers talking about George with Terry Cronin who at that time ran the cycle shop Birds of Colindale and apparently George could still be seen at trade gatherings.

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Speculation remains about who was responsible for building George Brooks frames and Les Ephgrave is a name mentioned regularly. This is borne out by Neil Palmer via Stan Broome who apparently worked there. However, Roger Chamberlain whose family lived opposite Aveley Works and was a close friend to Les is adamant that he made frames only
for Rory O’Brien and carried out repairs for him and Dave Davey. Bill Hurlow when asked suggested Vic Edwards and there is a likeness and build quality of a Rory O’Brien that I own from the same period that may have been built by Vic. The wrap over on frame number 1034 has something of Wally Green about it. 


It is also interesting that George was an agent for the equally talented Pat Skeates whose frame-building career appeared to be relatively short lived.

 

Brooks 4Examination of frames with numbers 742 and 1034, one from around 1954 and the other from around 1957, show consistencies suggesting that the same builder was employed for both, although the lugs on 742 are better filed. It is very similar to the one pictured being ridden by Terry, which shares the same fork crown and top class forged Agrati ends. It would seem that the gear hanger was cut off before chroming in the case of 742 but Terry who had a penchant for Simplex gears was happy to retain his. He first rode with Simplex Tour de France gears and then 

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progressed to Simplex Juy 51: moving from 4-speed 1/8” to 10-speed 3/32” later in 1955 after a shunt necessitated a replacement top tube. His frame in keeping with the other frames also had pump pegs under the top tube originally. 1034 has Campag ends, wrap-over tops to the seat stays (image left) and a Campag double gear lever clip actually brazed onto the down tube rather than bolted as was the norm (see image right), suggesting that braze-on bosses were not widely available at that time. (The levers that came with the frame were the cherished open ‘C’ type). Both 742 and 1034 have attractive reinforced arched rear brake bridges in common with ones found on Ephgrave, Lipscombe and Rory O’Brien frames of the same period and the flanges have been removed from the Nervex Pro head lugs. Chris Holloway’s bike and frame No. 1034 both have Olympic rings as transfers on seat tubes but it is not known why.



Brooks 3Frame Numbers

The frame numbers are stamped on the left side rear dropout (see image right from frame 742) and on the fork column. The numbers seem sequential but difficult to estimate what the first number might have been, bearing in mind that a small business probably never sold a huge quantity.

 Frame numbers known to the author:

        742     1954?

        753     January 1955 owned by Terry Starr-Marshall and sold in the 1960s

        880     track or road/track owned by VCC member Mike Kitchen – 1956?

        1034    1957

I have rebuilt frame 742 as close to Terry’s bike as I can, as a kind of homage to him as the person who got me interested in the lightweight road bikes in the first place.

 

 

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Two images of Terry Starr-Marshall on his George Brooks frame No. 753
The image on the right is inscribed: London Clarion LM 25-miles - Barnet By-pass F4A - 3rd July 1955
(The LM refers to a long-markers event; F4A is a code for the course)
Below is 742 restored by Bryan Clarke
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Acknowledgements:
I wish to thank Roger Chamberlain, John Holder (image of shop), Mike Kitchen, Terry Starr–Marshall, Neil Palmer and Peter Underwood. Some information was taken from correspondence in VCC ‘News and Views’ 2005. Special thanks go to Steve Griffiths who provided me with a set of special nuts and bolts and a chain ring for the double Williams C.45 chainset seen on the replica of Terry’s bike.