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Classic Lightweights UK
Reminiscences  
 

Working at Rivetts of Leytonstone

Author: Terry Drury


Rivetts Terry Drury"The bread and butter side of Rivetts went back to the 1890s as stated. There were old bikes hanging up in the premises with funny chains, not block chains, covered in cobwebs.  They were still there when I left: nothing was thrown away in case it was ever needed.
Right: Terry Drury on a 3-day old Rivetts
still in primer paint, Dunmow Airfield about 1953


I worked at Rivetts for about four years with Slash Beales. I started work when I left school and ended up repairing and building frames.   We built several different priced frames from £15 to £22.10s for both track & road - chroming was extra. The basic £15 frame was sif-bronze welded, the next had Nervex lugs filed before brazing and the rib removed from the top and bottom of the head lugs.   The lugs were then sand blasted and filed again, then polished with emery strip.   Some frames were built with hand-cut cast lugs and a few were made as per Paris with bi-laminated hand-cut tube brazed onto the tube then sif-bronze welded.   The forks had either twin-plate crown on round blades or hand-cut cast on oval blades.   I can just imagine now a pressed fork crown flying past me down the workshop when Slash lost his temper!  

Almost all the frames were built with Reynolds 531 DB tubing but once when we had run out of, and could not get, Reynolds tubes we had some Accles & Pollock's tubing.  They flew down the workshop several times before Slash would build with them, he felt that they were so dead.  We did build two but they came back and were cut up.

We also built trikes, solo and tandem, using Higgins conversions.  If your frame has not been filed and no brazed fillet under bottom head lug it seems very odd as Slash was very particular about this or perhaps your’s is pre-Nervex lug crack.

I only threw my frame building notes away a few months ago after over 50 years without use.  Every frame was made from start to finish as one unit. There was no mass-production of pre-made parts. I don't suppose you will find two exactly the same.  Frame numbering was very much what Slash thought of on the day, no particular order unless a frame was for stock, which wasn't very often.   I don't suppose our output reached an average of two per week, more like one.  

We repaired a lot of other makes such as curly Hetchins which had chain and seat stays rotted through. We had an old pulley wheel we shaped them on, like a plumbers bending former, but we used a rubber mallet. We normally had a waiting list of 10 plus frames being repaired, besides other cycle repairs.  

We also sold a lot of purpose built wheels by mail order.  On Friday the new and repaired frames came back. It was 2 weeks turn around as they went back again after sand blasting to the paint shop.  Slash cut this down to one week by transforming a 600 gallon oil tank and gas cylinder into a sand blaster. It upset the garage as it took all of their compressed air.   He also made all the workshop cutters and reamers. We used to turn a lot of chainwheels down from 1/8 to 3/32.

Rivetts was a very big firm. Not only did it have a lightweight section, it had a large general bike section with several hundred bikes in stock.  One year they bought up the entire Sun range straight from Earls Court, including Sid Patterson's bike.

They also had 50 plus new motor bikes plus sidecars and sold lots of motorcycle clothing through their mail order dept.  There was also a large car and motorcycle repair garage.  After I left I heard that they were building circuit-racing sidecar chassis for motor bikes.  Slash again I expect. He lived almost next door. He would build a frame in an evening. He said he only came to work for a rest. My rate when I left was £6.10s per week for 50 hrs, his was between £8 and £9 - that didn’t go very far even in those days.

Phil Ingrams, it would be the lightweight department he started I would think, in a separate shop backing onto the Garage via single story new extension.  The frame building and workshop part of building was 2 or 3 storeys high.   Alex Jackson was riding when I first went there. I remember rebuilding his Mavic rear wheel when the tub had come off and ground through the rim.

I built the wheels and turned down the 60t Williams 5 pin chainwheel for either Dennis or Clive to have a go at the hour record at Herne Hill.    I can remember bikes and frames, even wheels, but not people. I supposed we never looked at them.  Once we went in for a ride in Cursey (?),  the lightweight shop manager's 1920's Aston Martin car, with 6 people in and no shock absorbers - quite hairy.

Slash was the frame builder.  Most days he had people in watching and chatting while he worked, how they never got branded I don't know.  He always said when it stops sizzling it's burning.   On Saturday you couldn't work in there. I used to retreat to the upstairs 1890s workshop while he held court. He didn't get much work done on Saturdays but sold a lot of gear.  My bike was usually the guinea pig on the stand: if the Campag Gran Sport gears had been indexed they would have been worn out by the end of the day. That is also why I would have 3-day old unpainted bike to ride, see picture above.   I believe the Comet CC was still going strong. I left as I raced against them in inter-club events.

From what I remember, most of the lightweight and motorcycle clothing was sold mail order. That was the reason for the pro rider's.  Bikes and motor bikes also had mail-order catalogues.

We did a lot of frame repairs and refinishing, wheel building and frame building was fitted in, we could have cleared the order list in not much over a week but they purposely kept about a 10-week waiting list.  Slash Beales also built Stokes.  If a frame was built in Leyton or Walthamstow and you can't find the builder, it could well have been Slash as he built for most names. "

Slash 1947“At Rivetts, we carried out a “Slash test” as our bike's were ridden very hard both on road and track.

Left: Dennis (Slasher) Beales riding in the ECCA 50-mile TT in 1947

We used a half-shaft from some long forgotten car or lorry which had been turned down to fit either head or seat tube and welded firmly to the work bench.

We then made up several test pieces of head tube and down tube mitred to a close fit as if for a frame build. Testing a cast head lug, uncut just as it came, it snapped at the tube almost like cutting with a guillotine,due to the expansion of the tube outside lug after it was heated.

With a hand-cut cast lug, the tube bent up into the cutaway but didn't break until flexed several times.  This was the original reason for cut-outs in lugs, not to help feeding the brass under the lug, because if the lug is prepared properly it will flow all round, you can watch it do this when the temperature is just right.

The Nervex lug cracked underneath when pushed up and tore away from the head tube which only bent. This happened with both types of Nervex, curly or early and late this refers to front of lug.   We had seen this on some other makes of bikes which were brought in to repair, the owners complained of the frame clicking as they rode them.    This is what started the testing we did.

With a Sif-bronze joint you could break the tube back away from the weld after many flex's but the weld stayed intact.

Bi-laminates were similar to sif-bronze, the tube would collapse upwards first after many flexes.

This test was by no means scientific and the pressure was put in without the rest of the triangle, it just shows that the chap who first made the diamond frame was very clever.  ‘Funny’ frames still keep turning up but the diamond will go on as long as there are bikes built from tubing.

Although Sif-bronze frames were much lighter than lug-built they were never very popular.  A bottom tube was about a third the weight of a bottom bracket lug, but weight didn't seem to matter that much, it was looks and legs that mattered.”

I asked Terry about the habit of grinding off the lip at the top and bottom of Nervex Professional lugs, I knew Slash Beales always did this and Patricia has two frames with this done.

Terry replied: “The lip was sometimes partly cut away with a head-cutting tool used to square off the frame so that the head set ran true.   We trued up the head on every frame we reconditioned in addition to any other work required.

The rest of rib was then filed away, it was much easier and we thought looked better.  The fillet underneath was put there first of all to make the lug look better and to blend it in. I liked the look of it and later after our tests described above it was there for a purpose.  If the frames we repaired had still got ribs on when they came in we removed them before going out.    These frames, if only cracked, were cut back and repaired with a sif-bronze weld, one or two may have needed new head lugs and tube.

We all used the same tool to take out lug race cups from older frames so as to fit new headsets, this was a tool made by Slash in the lathe.   He also made a similar one for squaring up bottom bracket shells and reaming out the stripped threads so as to be able to fit a Baylis Wiley unit bottom brackets which didn’t thread into the frame but use the threads on the unit housing to locate it.   He made the tools, I did most of the cutting and reaming.

When a frame was refinished it would have original makers transfers fitted before laqueur and the head badge refitted.   All of our refinishing was done, I think, at Kings, Cross & Attwood.   I think they did most of the quality work for a lot of the London builders, some of the box lining, fish tailing and lug lining was incredible and their chroming was also very good.   I think they were near London Bridge Station.  One of the reasons we had so many people in for frame repairs and upgrades was that Slash liked a challenge.  If someone had a repair to be done, which other builders would not take on, he liked to show his mettle.  Some frames were almost  totaly retubed, my job was to to get it apart and clean it up.    Slash would cut the fancy lugs and scroll-work to match and he would do in an hour what would take me a day, he didn’t have a lot off patience so you got told what to do once and then it had to be right first time.

Dave Bedwell used to have a very small Rory O’Brien, I think he may have been semi-sponsered by them.  Then we made him a frame with the top tubes and down tubes almost touching as it had a very low bottom bracket to go with his 6” cranks.  It was never a success as the headset never stayed tight - a young lady bought it and didn't give it such a hard time, she was happy and it was quite quick for her.

I don't suppose a frame builder could afford to spend so much time now and materials are changing anyway. Slash would hand-cut a set of lugs in not much over an hour, it took me most of the day.   I expect the cost was the same to the customer.   There were no master patterns, every set would be slightly different, the pattern was drawn on a piece of paper folded in half and cut out – a bit like origamo.  This was then stuck on the lug, holes of different sizes were drilled all over lug either for scrolls or for the turning points of the warding file we used to shape the lug.   After a few sets you could do this without a pattern as they tended to fall off anyway.  The lugs were quite often tack welded to scrap tubing to hold them while they were cut, bi-laminations were done the same way but were made from off-cuts of Reynolds tubing.
The very fine points were cut first, a lot of more mass-produced frame makers used stamped flat sheet or several pieces to makeup the fancy bits.  We usually had to remake these when repairing frames, on some you could see the join through the paintwork.

To make re-placement  lug patterns we just rubbed a pencil on paper (like a brass rubbing really) over the lug edges and then cut out the design using it as a pattern.        Most of the repaired lugs were in effect bi-laminated wholly or partly, this saved taking the frame apart, we always gave the customer the choice, either the expensive way or our way.   Apart from being cheaper ours was usually stronger .

All of our road frames were fitted with Campag front and rear ends, gear lever bosses, cable stops and guides. There were no dynamo brackets, mudguard eyes on seat stays or forks or lamp boss on forks -  these would only be fitted to other makes of frames.

Track frames would have no mudguard eyes, these were removed from the ends before fitting.  The front forks were round and drilled for a brake but not the rear bridge unless asked for.   Chainstays were round rapid taper and the seat stays for track were thicker than those for time-trial frames.   As you may guess most of these frames were used for time trailing as this is what most cyclists were doing in those days.

Terry Drury 2It surprises me how people rave over Bates and Hetchins these days as in the 50s not that many rode them.   I raced for about 4 years and can’t remember ever seeing one competing.  At the tea stop on Sunday afternoon you might see one or two.   I lived only a couple miles away from where both were made.  The ones with chrome bottom brackets and head lugs sometimes used to rot away from inside, it was said it was due to them not being cleansed after coming out of electro tank and sadly some were beyond repair.”

Terry still has a collection of bikes and gets out on them when he can.  To show he is a man of many talents above is a three-wheel car he built up from a chassis made by Phil Gregory using modified Citreon front suspension components plus some motor-cycle parts.  He also restores vintage cars.

Robert Roue tells us:- Dennis (Slasher) Beales was my Grandad. He died on the 20th of July 2005, aged 84.
Slash was a member of Comet CC, which amalgamated in 1969 with Crescent Wheelers and is now named Lea Valley Cycling Club. His ashes were buried last summer at Lea Valley CC's bungalow in Burton End.  Robert supplied us with the image of 'Slasher' shown above.

Dennis's daughter Gillian Moreland adds a little more:
Have read your reminiscences of my dad and just loved them.  There is a part where you mention going for an uncomfortable ride in someone's car. His name was Eric Cursey, he worked at Rivetts too. I know he now lives in Barking.

My dad was always tinkering about in the shed at the bottom of our garden in Carr Road. One night he was in the shed as usual messing around with something or another when the front doorbell rang. He answered the door and stood there chatting away as he always did. Eventually the conversation finished and he returned to the shed, lit his fag, and blew the whole shed up. He had just turned on the gas tap before the doorbell went and forgot to turn it off.  He woke most of the neighbours up at gone 1 o'clock in the morning and sported singed eyebrows for a while.  Well that's my dad, I miss him, but am so proud he is on the internet 2 years after his death and his memory will go on forever. My wonderful dad.....