Classic Lightweights UK
Merlin Cycles (E.A. and A.L. Merlin)Bill Ives
Merlin Cycles were a small London builder in business for many years, right through the “classic” period. They had a strong, mainly local following although they also sold through agents such as Madgett's in Diss. They are, in the writer's opinion, much underrated, the original London built machines certainly. They always produced a good quality machine using “state of the art” materials and up-to-the-minute design. Some with hand-cut lugs, nicely filed. Their workmanship was of a high standard and they seem to have been quite conservative, no flamboyant “funny frames”.
It doesn’t help in identifying them that they used transfers not head badges so the frames lose their identity at the first re-paint. There may well be quite a few out there unidentified.
Merlin was started some time in 1918 (see page 1 of catalogue) by the two Merlin brothers. E A, Ernie, and A L, Augustus (Gus). Ernie was a racing man and long time member of the Polytechnic CC. After finishing third in the Olympic selection trial Ernie was a member of the 1912 British Olympic team in Sweden, he also won the Anfield 100 amongst other successes on the road and track. He was the practical man and wielded the torch building Merlin frames in a small workshop behind the shop in Goswell Road on the edge of the city. Frames were built “in house” but like many small builders they had no facilities for chroming or enamelling so this was done by contract outside. Gus was the businessman and ran the shop and retail side of things.
Below: An example of decorative pre-war Merlin lugs
Merlin imported continental racing tyres (tubs) which they sold to both retail customers and wholesale to the trade. Their letterhead used on correspondence, receipts etc. until at least the late forties was Merlin Tyre Co. This may have been the original company title. Among the tyre related items they sold were separate treads for gluing onto slick racing tubs.
They continued building right through the Second World War, the brothers would have been well into their fifties and too old to be called up for military service. There were severe war-time shortages of materials and a frame ordered in 1942 and delivered in 1943 was constructed of Reynolds HM tubing as 531 was not available.
Left: Merlin advert from the Bob Jackson address in Leeds Sporting Cyclist April 1960
The business's glory years were the 20’s and 30’s. By the Fifties trade was running down as the brothers headed for retirement. They both had sons who unfortunately were not interested in taking over so when the lease on the shop ran out the business closed and the name was sold. The rights were initially bought by Adam Hill who built the Hill Special (http://www.hill-special.co.uk/history.html). He sold the name on to Bob Jackson. According to the Bob Jackson web site this was in 1955. (http://www.bobjacksoncycles.co.uk/history.php).
Both the Merlin brothers were life long cyclists, Ernie rode race machines and Gus a tourer. Sadly, Ernie died in a road accident when he was knocked off his bike by a car in 1959.
Continued details of the Merlin story when under the J R J/Bob Jackson banner.
Many thanks to Dick Knight of the VCC who supplied much of the above information.
Images of Merlin Catalogue - 1940 below
© 2009 Classic Lightweights