Classic Lightweights UK

Restoring John Beck's Claud Butler 

Author Jon Derricott

John Beck, original owner, with the Claud Butler now owned and restored by Jon Derricott

I was really lucky to get this bike just after its 60th birthday from it’s original owner John Beck. When I first went to look at it John casually slipped, “it’s seen a few murders you know” into the conversation. John had owned the bike from new, buying it as a frame only and building it up himself, adding better quality parts when he could afford them.

When I got it, it still had the pressed steel brakes on it from the Raleigh Lenton Sports that had been John’s previous bike. It also had flat bars added as John’s flexibility diminished with increasing age, but John had the original Titan Maes bars and gave these to me with the bike. It even came with its original Britton pump.

All I’ve done is to replace the brakes, fit the original handlebars, and get the stem re-chromed. Everything else is as it came to me. I’ve chosen to keep it this way, even though the paint job and transfers clearly indicate that it was ‘refreshed’ in the late 70’s or early 80’s. To me it’s a bike that clearly shows its history and I will only redo the frame when it really needs it.

The Sturmey-Archer FM hub has a date of 1958 on it, which fits perfectly with the stories John told me of his two tours of Norway on the bike. For his first foreign tour in 1956, John was given a derailleur to try by the MD of a Willenhall chainwheel manufacturer (Williams?). The less than perfect road surfaces of Northern Norway quickly rendered these ‘new-fangled’ gears inoperative, prompting John to literally ‘throw them in a lake’ (well, fjord actually) and ride on one gear for the rest of that trip. For his return in 1958, John chose to add the FM hub, which caused him no problems.

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Left is the 1958 Sturmey Archer 4-speed FM gear, matched to a large-flange Blumfield hub in the front wheel

The bike has ‘seen a few murders’ because John was a provincial newspaper reporter, and used it as his principal means of transport for many years. In his autobiographical 2003 book Perhaps I’m Really Mervyn Davenport, John details many of his lifetime experiences. Unsurprisingly, the beloved bike features in this book and has pride of place in the front cover photograph.

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Left: Cover of John's book, Perhaps I’m Really Mervyn Davenpor ISBN 185845 3577 - with the Claud Butler on cover
Right: John fending off mountain goats during his 1956 tour of Norway

The bike was never raced, John being at heart a long-distance tourist, once completing 230 miles in under 24 hours. Although to quote from John’s book… “…I was tempted to try racing. In those days National Cyclists’ Union Time Trials were held in the early morning on rural courses that were not advertised and were only identified by codes known to the participants. I signed on to take part in a second division event on roads near Worcester for, I believe, either Audnum Wheelers of Stourbridge or Worcester Road Club. I practised hard on my new cycle in the days before the event. I had stripped it down to what approximated racing form – no mudguards, smoother tyres and higher gears. I felt fit. I felt ready. My mother called me early that Sunday morning and I set out to ride the 15 miles or so to the secret course. I should have taken the precaution of being accompanied by a better map reader. The clandestine course was so well hidden that after traversing the labyrinth of lanes in the area for an hour or so I did not stumble upon the start until the last man had been pushed off.”

Perhaps next year I’ll finally take it out on a club time-trial. I also plan to do some saddlebag touring on a bike that fits me perfectly and rides as smoothly as you could wish for.

Claud Butler New Allrounder 24” Frame number 513 (March 1951); Wheels -  26” Constrictor Conloy hubs on Blumfield Duralite hub (front) and Sturmey Archer FM rear; Gears, Sturmey Archer FM – 4-Speed; Brakes – Weinmann type 730;  Saddle - Brooks B17;  Pedals - Chater Lea; Chainset - Williams; Stem - GB Kromo; Bars - Titan Maes;  Pump - original Britton