H.R. Morris
A small lightweight builder based in N.E. London. Although in the cycle trade for many years, most cycles badged under his own name are post 1959. Frames built by the likes of H.R. Morris were all built by “the master”. Larger builders (all well known names) employed builders, most of whom build decent machines. H.R. Morris is synonymous with quality workmanship.
Herewith, find two articles, one reminiscences of the great man himself and one an article by this writer (for the Vintage Cycle Club magazine “The Boneshaker” 1999). 

Alexander von Tutschek, H.R. Morris Marque Enthusiast VCC, Bath, England.

 

Classic Lightweights and the Fashion for Fancy Lugwork.

The era of the “Classic Lightweight” club cycle, which peaked in the 1950’s, had its beginnings much earlier in the century. Throughout the 1920’2 and 1930’3 the frames and the immense variety of equipment that racing and touring cyclists kitted them out with had been in constant development. Much of this “development”- varying frame angles, peculiar fork rakes; the vogue for very small frames had been whims of fashion. Some brought actual benefits; examples of the latter would include the provision of quick release (skewer) hubs and the fitting of derailleur gears.

 Seemingly this is one of the least researched area of cycling’s’ past. There’s an immense wealth of knowledge in period magazines and component catalogues bat as yet, no comprehensive book has appeared on the subject.

 Most of the perceived better clubman’s frames were built by small local makers situated in the capital and throughout the country but dominated by the larger London builders (ie Selbach, Claud Butler, Holdsworth, Hetchins, Bates etc). This latter group often sold their frames nationally via local cycle shops, seemingly it was from the capital that fashions emanated. Most of these would have been based on copying continentals but one remained quite English. This was the vogue for cycle frames where the lugwork had been elaborately hand cut into patterns, some of great beauty- fancy lugwork.

 Despite extensive reading of the period cycling press, it seems that no-one at that time cared to record this fashion, something that today’s readers must find surprising. This particularly so, since the new generation of cycle collectors who focus in on Classic Lightweights judge frames to a great extent by the degree of workmanship in their build quality and lugwork. Here again, the recording of this phenomenon will, we are sure be the subject of future serious research, we merely draw attention to its unrecorded nature.

 Seemingly, this very English fashion started in a simple way in the late 1930’s and peaked in the 1950’s. Coincidentally, this was also the mainstream era of the handmade classic clubman’s cycle. By the early 1960’s growing national prosperity and car ownership had altered the cycling scene immeasurably.

 Long after mainstream cycling had consigned this fashion to the past, certain builders (e.g. Hetchins, Mercian, Cottingham) continued to service the small number of cyclists prepared to pay extra for this decoration. Much as Morgan cars and numerous kit car builders had continued to service a small market of folk who chased retro fashion- or the toys of their youth.

 This writer has been for many years an admirer of this subject. The thought of who was the master of master craftsmen has often been the topic of enthusiastic conversation with fellow converts.

 Whilst others (with lower standards!) might admire common makes, might I draw your attention to the work of H.R. Morris?

 This gentleman, now living in retirement in Cambridgeshire had until the 1980’s a small shop in Walthamstow, North East London. For many years a member of the Century Road Club and a regular club cyclist. Very well known in his local area, he built about 600 hundred frames under his own name. All were well crafted but a small number (under twenty?) were of exceptional quality. Together with these notes are photographs of two such frames. I leave you, the reader to assess and judge for yourself.

 

 

Some Reminiscences. Taken from a speech by H.R. Morris

 I was born in 1912 in Walthamstow, one of a large family. Although so young I can well remember incidents of the “Great War”. A Zeppelin alight in the sky, large bomb craters and houses without a pane of glass, flights of little planes, constant gunfire from the gun in Higham Hill. The incessant drone of “Gnome” rotary aero engines on test and an eight week spell in hospital caused by a fall in the stair well of the house when I came down on my head. You won’t remember, but after the First War the country was in a very bad way, long queues waiting for their dole money and unemployment had never been so bad. It was no better when I left school at Christmas 1926. I could have gone on to the grammar school as I was in the top standard for two years, but decided to leave and earn some money. I might just have well stayed at school for what money I was offered.

 I got a job with FJ Sanders who built bikes in Walthamstow and actually built my first frame from start to finish when I was 16. It got run over after 20 years use, touring and going to work.

 With my brothers we used to go to Herne Hill on Good Fridays, 1/- all day on the tram ticket. We saw the Wylde brothers from Derby, Frank and Monty Southall and Hallerback in a triplet pursuit, something unique and many of the famous foreigners as well as our own men of the time.  The number of bikes of the crowd has never been seen since those days.

 From Sanders I went to Bertrand and Co at Finchley where good bikes were made but wages still very poor. From there to Bates Bros at Plaistow, a bit more money it is true but not such nice bikes.

 By then in 1938 there was trouble brewing in Europe and I got out of the trade and went as a fitter into a motor firm in Finchley. They were building all kinds of trucks, trailers and articulated lorries, mostly for the war effort. That was the first time in my life that that I had got something like the money I earned. I had, though, been studying general workshop engineering practice at Polytechnic. I had always been keen on maths and drawing office work and was put on designing and making jigs and fixtures for production work for the Ministry of Supply. This was all for the imminent war. My application to go into the RAF was put in abeyance so I stuck with the job.

When the war started, as well as working days and often nights I worked some hours at the fire station, helping put out the incendiary bombs and keeping watch on our own works.

I married my girlfriend in March 1940.

 Regarding my cycling, I first went out with the NE section of the NCU, but joined the Century Road Club in 1929. I had 3 older brothers already in that club and I started racing (time trials) in 1930. Jack, my oldest brother bought a “Speedwell” trike off one of the century men. With Abingdon axle and wood sprints with 78’’ fixed it was a real racer of the time. Jack lent it to me to go for the club 25-mile record, but I missed out by two minutes.

 As a cyclist I have never been more than a middle marker in time trials. Although I have toured a lot I have never taken a bike out of our Islands. I certainly get much pleasure in reading of other people’s achievements, but have been quite happy to be in a blizzard out in the middle of Rannoch Moor, although my companion was cursing the weather and me, for taking him to Scotland.

 There is a photograph in front of me as I write of my first club dinner. This is the “Century RC” dinner at the Holborn Restaurant in 1930 with over 100 diners and I am not only easily the youngest chap there, but also quite certainly the only one still around. Just near me on my right is the great FT Bidlake, Frank Surrey, Sidney Van Heems of the Bath Road Club and head of the “House of Vanheems” in Berners street; the journalist “Wayfarer”; GH Stancer, Joe Van Hooydonk etc. and around the room were men who were riding the Olympics, World Championships, RRA record holders by the dozen. The Stott brothers, Maurice and Draisey; Jack Beauchamp, Bath Road, Jack Rossiter; ARM ‘Blob’ Harbour, etc and other well known people of the time. Stan Baron, Frank Thomas, Jim Dougal, SF Edge who had held the 24hour cycling record and the 24hour motoring world record at Brooklands and many more well known at that time. Who, amongst modern racing cyclists, have ever heard of these people? And yet these people were our heroes. Such is fame, have we not ourselves seen so many come and go and marvel until the next champions arrive?

 During the years I rode with the Century we had some great riders of the time; frank Lipscombe, who put up a new 100 miles comp record in the Bath road event; Stan Miles who was the best all rounder in 1935 and champion team with Lipscombe and Dave Johnson who was one of my school mates.

 Unfortunately my brother Jack got married and moved away and the trike went with him. Fair enough, I could not afford one of my own and it was many years before I had one of these weapons. At the motor works I eventually took over the inspection dept and as well as checking parts as they came in I travelled around the country a bit, inspecting machined parts before they were sent in. I must have saved my firm a lot of money this way.

I also acquired 2 sets of ‘531’ Reynolds tubes and some lugs and built a frame for myself and one for my wife. These were bicycles and were set up in my inspection department. A lot of time was spent on the cutting of the lugs, mostly at lunchtimes and the brazing I did out in the works. This must be about 50 years ago. Recently a collector offered me 1,600 for this bike, which was immaculate still, a fixed wheel track iron with one brake, no guards but unique lugwork with 5” handlebar stem to match. I let it go as I am not racing these days and it only took up room in my workshop.

 However, I saw an advert somewhere for a bike shop for sale in Walthamstow and was interested. It turned out to be the old place I had worked in when a lad.  Fred Sanders had died and Winnie wanted to move. Fred had opened this shop in 1919 when he came back from the war and started making bikes.  The place was a shambles, but I left my firm and took the plunge. Luckily I had plenty of tools, made some jigs etc for the frames and forks. I had orders for frames before I moved in and eventually built a bike, tandem and trike frames. Of course a trike frame for myself was soon on the road with an axle from George and Ken Rogers, not a conversion of course. A later trike came after, which I will never part with, it is my greatest joy to be out on. It really is as easy to propel as any bike.

 After the war, although I rode a great many time trials, I never got back to my pre-war times, but really enjoyed the riding and meeting the other riders. I rode in a few TA events, feeling the draughts as riders like Frank Cubis came by, but on very few occasions having the pleasure of catching one or two.

  I think that bikes these days have never been so ugly even though the riders make them go fast. The same with racing cars, they have no character or individuality. I would not want to be in the cycle trade with all the gimmicks and grossly inflated prices these days. Who really needs a 10 speed freewheel with three chain rings? It is not surprising that the boss end of trike axles break off because of the great overhang of multiple blocks.

 Ps. I must tell you of the sort of conditions folk were expected to put up with. An advert in a paper was for cycle wheel builders at Brown Brothers in Great Eastern Street, London. I went along and met one of the managers “yes, you can start in the morning- the rate for lacing up wheels for “Vindec” bikes 5d pair. This was 1927. After all, one could buy “Juno” or “Speed king” for 3.19.6d. complete then.