Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders
Querée Brothers (Cycle Engineers)Laurie Weeks
Starting with a 1994 interview with Berkley Querée:
When the School Road premises were eventually found and secured, much work needed to be done to fix it up for the kind of work we were going to do; this entailed obtaining suitable timber- no easy task, and then constructing benches and other fittings. Tools had to be obtained and supplies of accessories and materials. Against the background of those rather miserable times, it was a very testing period and had we known of the trials to come we might well have decided to throw in the sponge before we had gone even this far.
The business opened in the first week of May 1946 and business was not very encouraging at first. However, due mainly to Wint's connections with the cycling fraternity, we soon had a few visitors interested in what we were about, and in the mysterious way that these things have of getting around we soon became reasonably well known. Our policy was always to give the absolute best service to our customers, whether it should be a small boy with his ailing machine, or a racing man seeking 'something new'.
We had already decided that we would make some lightweight machines of our own and although the going was rather hard at the time, we set about making our first frame that year. This first was of rather unusual design - forced upon us almost by the great difficulty at that time of obtaining many of the manufactured special parts such as lugs of a suitable form, as they were virtually impossible to get. So we decided upon a hybrid. This frame was constructed in the normal way as far as the rear end was concerned, that is the seat lug and bottom bracket. Lugs for the head of a suitable angle in pressed steel were not available so we made a frame using a technique known as bronze welding. This is a form of brazing in that it uses a lower temperature than steel welding, and was not really welding at all, but it allowed a generous supporting fillet to be placed at the head tube junction.
The method required the mating tubes to be 'scarfed' or contoured to a true mating shape; besides this a jig had to be designed and made to maintain the required juxtaposition during the welding process. It is not known whether the frame survived. A further novelty was the fitting of an aluminium plate on the down tube upper face bearing the engraved name 'La Querée'. This frame was quite successful and proved to be a delightfully responsive ride, and was made up and used by Wint for some time. It was the only frame in the first year as we were occupied with more mundane tasks, of necessity, because the everyday working of a cycle retail and repair business is of its nature mundane. There were always opportunities to work out a few new ideas and to continue with more everyday activities such as wheel-building, enamelling, and so forth. We were extremely glad to see any kind of bicycle being brought in for repair because trade in general was very poor.
We soon found out that we were getting the kind of work which other businesses were either not inclined to take on because the profit margin was not high enough, or because they simply did not have the expertise, an instance being that of one branch of a well known cycle retailer in King Heath sending customers to us for free after sales service!
are rather important to the maker and user alike.
The owner of the machine likes to display to the world that
he or she is in possession of something special, or at least something
that has an identifiable origin, and the maker wants his wares to
become known to all and sundry. It also indicates the makers
confidence in his product. We decided to have a metal badge.
We would have had a metal and enamel badge but that would
have meant ordering many more than we could envisage using for quite a
long time, and the price was prohibitive in our delicate financial
state. The aluminium and brass badges were made by us to our
own contour, and were hand engraved by a professional. It is
not possible to say how many of theses were made but their use was
definitely confined to the earlier models, as also was the distinctive
metal lettering on the down or top tubes, though one machine of our
make was furnished with such letters in later years with our blessing.
Later machines displayed transfer badges and lettering of the normal
kind. These were supplied by various firms, initially Harold Peace and
later Butcher and Co.
Right: An early production model of the Querée Bothers' gear change
The production model was not quite as labour intensive as the original - economically it just could not be! The new version was made from aluminium castings from our patterns, other parts being fabricated for us by a small machining shop of an acquaintance. It performed excellently and I used on myself for a considerable time. The controls were originally clipped to the frame by cast aluminium clips. Later, in line with the established fashion of brazing (silver soldering in our case) small fittings to the frame, we began fitting lugs. It is pleasing to know that some of these change levers are still in use after to many years. Later development of this component would probably have been in the direction of a positive change lever similar in action to the motor cycle gear change system where one gear up or down is selected by a single movement either way. That this and other ideas were not pursued was due to the immense demands made by day-to-day affairs. I was personally interested in the reintroduction, in a modified form, of the back-pedal brake operated from with the bracket.
One activity which formed a big part of our business, particularly in later years, was the building of wheels. The same care and attention to detail was exercised here and we acquired an enviable reputation in this field, supplying other lightweight cycle firms as well as cycle factors. This aspect of our output in later years involved other work being transferred elsewhere as there was no longer sufficient room for activities such as making up frames on the premises. It should be emphasised, however, that nothing was ever produced by us that did not come up to our standards, as may be shown by the fact that even today we hear of some of our machines still in use, and the certain knowledge that quite a few of our frames soon will be carrying riders fifty years after they were first wheeled onto the road. We suppose that is some reward for our efforts, particularly those of Wint who held the fort for so long. Dare we hope that one of them will see its centenary?
Left: Later version of the gear mounted on braze-on frame bosses and showing cable routing through the down tube to Simplex changer at the rear. It is also possible to see "LA QUERÉE" seat tube transfer. This was Winter Querée's own bike.
At the end of 1951 in spite of the amount of work we had done in the previous five years we found that the business could no longer sustain both of us full time. I therefore left the business for employment in the technical college at Aston. Wint, who had during some of the difficult early days, worked as a manager at Simpson's Cycles on the Stratford Road, and later as representative for a cycle components firm, now carried on, holding the fort for another twenty years, but all hopes of further development had to be relinquished due to lack to funds. He dearly wished to be able to move to larger premises, install new equipment and establish a showroom, and of course, a workshop on the premises. At the end the house which incorporated the shop at 130 School Road was condemned and though Wint continued for a few more years in temporary accommodation on spare ground at the side of the old premises, he decided, reluctantly, to call it a day and take early retirement to pursue his other great love, painting in oils, something that very few knew about. For myself, I never really got back to cycling, which in many ways I have often regretted. When I retired from Birmingham Poly I spent most of my time researching and making replicas of early lutes!
The name Querée is from the Channel Islands rather than France (in its Anglicised form it is spelt 'Carey'). The Channel Islands originally belonged to the Dukedom of Normandy and after the Norman conquest of England became part of the English Kingdom. The use of the definite article 'Le', sometimes used in earlier days as a prefix, was re-adopted by us, though in its feminine form because it was to be applied to a bicycle, as perhaps adding a Continental flavour to our name, so there was a sound and not contrived reason for its use in this way."
My first visit to the Querée cycle shop at 130 School Road, Moseley, Birmingham was in 1947. In those post war years finding new 27” high pressure tyres was very difficult and most Saturdays were spent riding round to all the cycle shops searching for these elusive items. A fellow cyclist at one of the shops, learning of my search, asked if I had “tried the new shop” at the Kings Heath end of School Road. I set off at once and found this new, freshly painted but quite small shop open for business and manned by Berkley and Winter Querée. I did not obtain any tyres but I did acquire, gradually, two new friends.
The shop was, in fact, the front part of an end terraced house and had previously been a greengrocers. Berkley and Winter partitioned off a small area for customers to stand whilst being served, the remaining part being the workshop. Some idea of the size of the establishment can be gained when I mention that four customers at once comfortably filled the waiting area, any more than this involved a complex set of chess–like moves to allow the shop door to be opened.
Despite its small size the shop soon attracted the keen lightweight and racing types and Saturdays in the summer months would see a mouth watering selection of bikes cluttering up the hard standing in front of the shop as the riders made their purchases or just chatted. Fortunately both Winter and Berkley were very easy going and amiable characters with a very dry sense of humour and never seemed to mind the premises being taken over in this way although I sometimes wonder if the presence of all these hard riders did not perhaps deter the occasional "normal" cyclist wishing to buy a lamp battery or some such item.
By this time the Querée Brothers had started building their own frames which, after testing, they were happy to produce for customers. These were titled “La Querée.” The frames were silver soldered and had hand-cut lugs and distinctive little features in the form of hand made pump pegs and seatstay tops. Most made use of transfers for the head and down tube but some had aluminium head badges and a few had brass head badges and the words “La Querée” in brass letters soldered into place which made the frames very distinctive. These brass items were costly to make and very time consuming to fit so they were soon discontinued. Suddenly, the Dawes had lost its charm.
Laurie's own La Querée complete with the gear lever mentioned above
Before WW2 Berkley had been a motorcycle mechanic and had equipped his pedal cycle with two modified twist grips one to control the three speed Sturmey Archer hub and the other the front changer. Some time later Berkley sold this cycle to a man who came up from Southampton to collect it and set off to ride it back there; he may have arrived by now!
With the cycle shop in operation the brothers began experimenting with their own design of gear mechanism which worked well but which they could not afford to produce. To work with this gear they had also designed a positive stop gear lever which they could produce “in house” and as they were now on with an up dated version I was able to purchase one of the original type they had been using themselves. This early version had an alloy quadrant mounted by three alloy clips round the seat and down tubes just above the bottom bracket. From the pivot point an alloy and steel lever projected upwards to a convenient height and had a small spring loaded trigger at its top. Indents in the top of the quadrant located each gear position as the lever was moved backwards from the down tube towards the seat tube and, to go back through the gears, the trigger could be flicked to move one step at a time or, by holding the trigger, the lever could be moved in one sweep over all five gears. Used in conjunction with the Simplex of the day this was a superb gear change.
The later version of the gear levers used just the arc of the quadrant bolted to lugs silver soldered to the seat and down tubes with a separate lug for the lever pivot. The base of the lever was now an alloy casting with a chrome plated tube leading to the trigger although I do have an all steel version that Winter was experimenting with. Before fitting it to my road bike I had the frame re-enamelled in green lustre with a candy floss pink (!) panel on the seat tube. With polished brass letters and head badge the machine looked superb. It had been my intention to keep this machine until I was too old to ride any more, but in my later Morgan three-wheeler years, I lent the bike to a friend of mine who was in need of transport, but it was stolen from where he kept it.
Fortunately, the bike was in fixed wheel form when I lent it and I had the Querée lever and the Simplex mechanism safe at home. Shortly after the shop opened a German couple who had lived in this Country since before the war offered the brothers a pair of Siddell and Naumann 'his and her' cycles. These had been made in Dresden and they had brought them over when they came to live here. The brothers purchased the machines and used them to ride from home to the shop and back each day including through the terrible winter of 1947. The bikes had the wheelbase of a bus, yellow painted steel rims with 2” balloon tyres, a Torpedo back pedal brake and a cotterless steel chainset. They also boasted a front brake which, when used, pushed a steel pad down onto the front tyre but as the sudden use of this item resulted in impromptu flying lessons these were soon removed.
Winter Querée had the ability to ride at a pace that was fast yet effortless and appeared to go along the flat and up or down hills at the same speed. He was of slight build, had dark curly hair, was well tanned and would not have looked out of place in the Tour de France. Berkley had a more casual approach to riding and was always willing to stop and aim his Baldinette 35mm camera at something which attracted his attention.
© 2009 Classic Lightweights