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Classic Lightweights UK
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The Nelson Cycle Co (J & E Holland)

Author Bryan Clarke




J & E Holland must rank alongside the many London cycle and frame builders almost lost to obscurity although they seem to have had a long and successful business. 

A recent acquisition and a chance meeting with Paul Dean revealed that the company had moved from the Old Kent Road to West Wickham in Kent and remained in business as E W Holland (Nelson Cycles) until at least the early 1970s. Paul had a bike made for him in 1967 and the bill of sale for the bike which he still owns shows that the firm was established in 1909.

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The firms address at 383 and 5 Old Kent Road was on the corner of Astley Street now long gone but a stones throw away from one of the areas most famous public houses ‘The Lord Nelson’ that was on the opposite side of the street. It seems likely that the Nelson Cycle Company owed its conception to this association. Much of The Old Kent Road has been demolished and redeveloped over the years and nothing now remains of the shop premises on that side of the street. This redevelopment may have forced the firm to look for other premises and a pair of shops with flats above at 131 and 3 High Street West Wickham came up for sale which they purchased. Paul was told by Ernie Witcomb that they too were interested in moving to this site but the price was too high as it included the flats above the shop. The business was run by E W and his son but according to Paul his son died unexpectedly leaving his father to soldier on alone. Finally, the premises were sold to a motorcycle dealership in the early 1970s.

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Seeing pictures sent to me of Paul’s bike and examining a frame from the early 1950s that I acquired recently there is little doubt in my mind that they were built on the premises.  They clearly had their own design ideas. Despite being made in Reynolds 531 butted tubing and having brazings for the then modern Simplex gears as well as conventional geometry for the time, the early 50s frame uses split pins for cable stops and has a very long fork rake that gives the frame an extraordinary wheel base of 43”. 

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The fork crown has a decorative polished metal cover not seen on any other lightweight but common on mainstream roadsters of the time. Paul’s bike also has a long fork rake for a frame made in 1967 and has I think Cyclo rear ends and a two plate fork crown reminiscent of a 1940s Hobbs. This makes them very much an individual mount but attractive in a quirky kind of way. The head and seat tube transfers on the 50s frame has an Edwardian appearance and one might speculate why there is a Royal Standard placed over a cycle wheel that is the focal point of the design.

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Two images showing head lugs, transfer,fork crown and braze-on for Simplex lever

As an old American crime series once put it ‘there are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them’!!
I am grateful to Paul Dean for sharing his information and pictures with me.

Bryan Clarke. May 2014