I am fortunate that since writing the book - 'Marguerite Wilson- The First Star of Woman's Cycling' several unexpected opportunities have come my way. These include an extensive photo archive and meeting Jim Ayley age 101, who was friends with Marguerite. I have helped a couple of authors who included Marguerite in their publications and a third book about the Lands End to John O'Groats is due for publication soon. Last summer, out of the blue, one of my patients gave me a message from a friend who had up until 1990 had interviewed those who know Marguerite and who owned her 1940 Claud Butler!
I lost no time in contacting Ben Sharp by e-mail, then telephone. Ben is a friendly and easy- going vintage bicycle collector. I visited his home which is effectively a Bicycle Museum, three floors crammed with rare and exotic machines. The walls covered with cycling posters and pictures, each room warm and cosy from two wood burning stoves.
Ben has been 'Marguerista' for many years since acquiring her 1940 Claud Butler - Miss Modern. As was the norm in the post war years, ownership a high quality frame passed between knowledgable cyclists with its connection to Marguerite celebrated. Ben was able to tell me about its provenance and chain of owners. I must admit that at first glance it was not obvious that this was MW's bike. It is a machine that has been in working order and used throughout its life, and thus has evolved from its original configuration. The wheels, mudguards and brakes are post-war. But on closer inspection all the rest is correct. The frame in the right size, in excellent condition, the stem and handlebars are correct as is the Williams Crank. The feature which 'seals the deal' for me is the pre-war Four Speed Sturmey Archer Hub and the extremely rare pre-war Sturmey Archer 4-speed gear trigger. This configuration was rare and specific to MW's Bicycle and it was no coincidence that Charley Davey her Racing Manager was also a Representative for Sturmey Archer.
After a tour of his museum we spent the afternoon making photos of Ben's original CB next to my faithful re-creation. Then we had had a cup of tea and looked through his archive material and chatted about Marguerite with Ben's partner Lisa. I had a great day. Thanks Ben & Lisa for having me.
The Claud Butler was built by my friend George Bolton, 90 year old retired aeronautical engineer and vintage/classic bike expert. Most of the parts were sourced from e-bay and specialist dealers. Everything is correct for the bike except for a few compromises. For example, the handlebar is a new Nito track bar from Japan - it looks close the the original judged from photos.
George gave me a pair of Bluemes muguards in mint condition, probably from the 1970s but the design little changed from 1940. The same applies to the new Brooks Saddle which gives the re-creation a top dollor finishing touch.
Prestige Plating of Mexborough did the chromwork. They don't advertise, all their work comes by personal recommendation. A husband and wife team, Diane takes the calls is knowledgable and very helpful, you feel confident that she knows exactly what is needed for specific vintage parts. They re-plated the Williams chainwheel and cranks, the stem, brake levers the Chater Lee Light Bracket and some components of the Resilion brakeset.
The Webb pedals came ready restored to a high standard. They have larger than standard bearings (5/16") and an aluminium alloy centre spindle with a neat quick release dust cap.
Resilion were the brakes to have in the 1930s. Their cantilever action provided powerful stopping power, although they were complex and heavy. They are so old and complex, that I think I did well to purchase the best complete set in good condition that I could find. They do come up from time to time, but you need to avoid buying a tandem set by mistake. I avoided dismantling the cables and callipers, but was able to remove some of the brightwork for plating. Overall a good compromise I think.
The four speed Sturmey Archer hub gear was a rarity pre-war. I purchased several, often finding that what looked like a complete unit turned out to have a vital part missing. George had a complete understanding and expertise of theses hubs which proved invaluable. Perhaps one of the rarest parts was the Sturmey Archer pre-war 4-speed trigger for changing gear. Finding one at all is hard, let alone one that is in working order is hard, mine came at quite a price!
Complete, my Miss Modern re-creation looks fantastic with its chrome-work and gorgeous leather saddle. It has plenty of talking points such as the cantilever brakes, the hub gears, wing nuts for the wheels and grease nipples on headset and bottom bracket. Despite being termed a 'Lightweight', its pretty hefty to lift.
Whats next? An assessment of how it rides. I hope this will be the subject of future post. And......
STOP PRESS! A Marguerite enthusiast has contacted me, and he has the original! - watch this space.
Britain's 400m Team Pursuit Team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. From L to R - Charlie Holland, Frank Southall, Bill Harvell & Ernest Johnston. The Italians - Marco Cimatti, Paolo Pedretti, Alberto Ghilardi and Nino Borsari - won Gold medals with 4min 53s, having set an Olympic record of 4min 52.9s in the heats. France won Silver with 4min 55.7s. & Britain won bronze with 4min 56s.
It was at the Dorset Constabulary Athletics meeting on Wednesday 26th June 1935 that Marguerite Wilson made her cycling debut by winning the Ladies one mile Grass-track Handicap. Star attraction that day was Poole Wheeler’s Olympian, Bill Harvell. Two years earlier he had won a Bronze Medal at the Loss Angeles Olympic Games. This must have made an impression on the 17 year old sports mad Bournemouth girl who as a schoolgirl had dreamed of representing her country in the Olympic games. She and Bill were later to become lifelong friends.
Here follows an account of the 1930 race published the first edition of the Poole C & AC club magazine. ‘Encouraged by the frantic shouts of 12,000 spectators, Billy Harvell won the 20 Miles Championship on May 7th in record time by half a length. Although all the weather had been dull, as evening drew near the Clerk of the Weather suddenly remembering our Big Event, shifted the threatening clouds and poured forth some welcome sunshine. Doe and Dominey were absentee from the starting card, but Gillard, a recently elected member, made the number twelve.
The Race - The start was tame and at first no one wanted to take the leadership, but after two miles things livened up. Giving the 12,000 full value for money, Harvell after hanging back till almost half a
Prize Giving - Never before have I seen such a sea of faces as when Alderman A. Shutler, Secretary of the first Poole Wheelers Club, addressed the crowd from the Pavillion. Before calling upon Miss Burge to present Harvell with the ‘Burge’ Cup, he said so many nice things about the race and the club in general, that the present Secretary blushed violently and immediately ordered a larger size in hats. Harvell stepped up for the silver and after smiling nicely for the photographers, and shaking hands with Miss Burge (some say he kissed her) he carefully tucked it under his arm and made way for the Sloop. After Hollywood and Barnes, amist roof lifting cheers, had taken their piece of china and silver, President Jimmy, looking very charming in a brand new suit, expressed the Club’s thanks to Mr and Miss Burge and the 12,000 for their attendance’.
Teammate Charlie Holland's memorabilia from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Brooklands Motor Museum collection.
Bill was selected to ride in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. This was during the great depression, the team was small, so Bill was called upon to compete in the 4000m team pursuit, the 1000m and the 100km road race (actually a time trial) all within the space of four days. Together with Frank Southall, Ernie Johnson and Charlie Holland, Bill won a Bronze Medal in the team pursuit. He came 4th in the 1,000m and 19th in the 'Road race'. All in the in the space of four days, or as Bill later put it with a smile, 'Three for the price of one'.
‘I was pleased with the Bronze medal but I cannot say I was anyway near to tears. I had experienced success quite often in National competition and coming third is really a consolation prize.’ Bill received a heroes welcome upon his return to Poole, he had brought the town to the worlds attention, the Mayor presented him with an illuminated address at the council's meeting later in the year. Read about cycling at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games in my previous blog- '1932 Los Angeles Olympic Cycling' published June 16- use the archives link above.
In 1933 Harvell lead the Poole Wheeler's team (Norman Barnes, Ray Cleal and Ernie Hollywood) to victory in the National Team Pursuit Championship at Herne Hill.
In 1934 he won a Bronze medal 10 mile Scratch at the British Empire Games whose track events were held in Manchester.
Poole Wheelers Club Run 1933. Top row (L to R) unknown, Reg Mullins, Aubrey Jenkins, Ernest Bridle, George Butler, Cyril Crouch. Middle row- Harold Crib, Bill Middle, George Butler, Percy Old, Doris Maddox, Topsy Emery (later rode in the Bournemouth Arrows Ladies Team with Marguerite Wilson), Kit Turner. Bottom row - Bill Harvell, Jack Hetherington, Ted Cake, Walter Paget.
In 1935 he returned to his native Hampshire and his original club, the Southampton Wheelers cc, his last competitive ride was at the 1939 Boscombe Carnival grass track meeting. Bill had been a Poole Wheeler during the peak of his glittering career, a life member, he always took an interest in his old club and in the early 1970s returned to Poole Park to ride a lap of honour.
Bill ran a bike shop in Hilsea near Portsmouth for 37 years, from 1937 until 1974. He specialised in lightweight racing bikes, in particular Rotrax. Described as warm hearted, interesting and welcoming he did valuable work in bringing along youngsters who showed promise in the sport.
In 1984 he was interviewed by a local newspaper. Age 76, Bill was still going out for an occasional ride along the seafront from his home in Southsea. In his a flat he was surrounded by mementos of his glittering cycling career . Among the most cherished were the Olympic Bronze and a British Empire Games medals, saved from the blaze that sadly destroyed the Hilsea bicycle shop in 1974. He died in his sleep a year later age 77.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for help in preparing this article:
George Bolton, Roger Watts, Don Booth, Eric Watts.
What was Marguerite like to know? ‘Very much like my wife, very reserved, yes, I would say she was a bit on the reserved side, but not a snob or any thing like that, and there was nothing coarse or crude about her, she had a class, sort of, I don’t know, you can’t quit put your finger on it… I don’t know if anybody else has said that but she was a smart girl and I think I wasn’t the only one…
I think it must have been 1941, I had a bike frame. I scraped it all off, painted it, went down to Bill Harvel’s shop in Portsmouth, bought some wheels and bits and pieces. I was working damned long hours, but I could finish work say at seven, go home, put my shorts on and go out. It reminded me of Marguerite because I used to love to ride all round Braishfield, Romsey, Stockbridge and back to the Braishfield Arms. I used to just thoroughly enjoy that and from reading your book Marguerite was precisely the same, she used to just like riding.
One day a week we were allowed off, I forget what day it was, but I was going out along Hursley and, low-and-behold but who comes towards me but Marguerite! I was over the moon because I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years. I looked round and she was stopping, so I whipped round, and of course there was no cars, you could turn round easy then and I rode with her. She was going up to some place, I think it was to see her fiancee or boyfriend up near Alton, so I rode with her I think it was 20 odd miles up to near Four Marks. We said cheerio, I had to get back to Eastleigh, that was about 20 odd miles.
Oh Marguerite, we’d ride together, she said I can’t understand why your fastest time is only 1 hr 7 min, no, 1 hr 9 min it was then. She said ‘I can’t understand it, you’re killing me! ha,ha ha, I can’t keep up’, but I lacked the concentration on time trialling.
BIO- Jim Ayley was raised in Hampshire and was apprenticed to become a precision fitter in the aeronautical industry. His was in a reserved occupation during the war. Jim with his colleagues would often work night and day to prepare or modify fighter aircraft. He married in 1942. He and his wife Margaret raised a son and two daughters in Southampton. Jim's passion for cycling was passed on to his children,
his son Colin became a very accomplished Chamnipoinship winning cyclist. Valerie's childhood was equally steeped in the sport, she continued to be heavily involved in cycling in Canada. A true cycling family.
Among his varied career, he ran a bicycle shop, designing and building his own frames. In 1965 Jim was seconded to work in Detroit for the Ford Motor Company. Jim's skills were highly valued in the USA, where he worked both in the aerospace and automotive industries taking up American citizenship.
In his youth Jim raced against many of the leading cyclists of the era. He promoted track meetings and races. He was involved in some of the very first road races to emerge when breakaway groups from the NCU were formed. Jim was a founder member of the Southern Paragon Cycling club. After cycling Jim's interest moved on to other interests including fly-fishing.
Now widowed, Jim lives back in the UK. In common with many of his generation cycling laid the foundation for excellent health. He lives independently, doing his own shopping and cooking, also taking on new projects. When I visited in the summer of 2016 Jim had been busy designing and making a dolly with casters for his plasm screen tv. I really enjoyed meeting Jim and spending the day with him.. We had a pub lunch together, Jim enjoying a pint of bitter. What a rare opportunity, to speak to a contemporary of Marguerite and someone who was at the heart of the cycling in the 1930s and 40's.
Quite frankly William, I found I used to get more fun riding round like that on my own than I did from the club runs and all that. It got, well in ’37, ’38, it got bitchy and the pleasure was gone and I do feel that it's a shame when it's all money and sponsorship. But having said that I joined the Clarion. I wanted to ride a 25, it was at Barnstable, north Devon, the firm give me the time off and I caught a train on the Friday and a manager of Alfred’s arranged some digs for me, they were good too, cockles and cream, mussels and I had a nice long weekend and won 1st handicap in the 25. But to be able to do that I had to join a club, I joined the Clarion and I didn’t really know their political line, they were out and out, I don’t like to use the word, ‘commies’ really, and although they were on one hand like that, they were grabbing with the other. I stuck that for about a year, then we formed the Southern Paragon and I was in touch with Marguerite through dinners at Elford bridge and the annual club dinner. We made her president of the new Southern Paragon which went on to enjoy success .
I remember the Bournemouth 25. Marguerite had a private trial, she often done that, she wasn’t allowed to enter, (As a profesional cyclist she was barred from all amateur cycling Ed). I don’t known what time she did, but she often done that, she wasn’t allowed to enter them, and that was about the period when we got the racing tights abolished, we could wear shorts down to the knee, and stockings up to the knee -rubbish! - I was in the event, I was just staging a bit of a comeback, I watched her finish. After the race we went down to Burt’s cafe. A little group, we sat down out on the grass verge, the sun was shining, a lot of the club people, the racers and Marguerite our President was there. We all done pretty well, oh we won the team prize. And those wonderful legs!, they always seemed to be brown, I don’t know if she had some special paint ha ha ha, but I think a lot of it was cycling in shorts so much and yeh, we stopped there for quite a while just joking and talking, they were great days. And when it came to breaking it up I had to push the boy’s eyes in to get them to see to go home! Yeh she was some girl!'
I came across all sorts of interesting material during research for my book Marguerite Wilson - The First Star of Women's Cycling, much of which, whilst fascinating was not relative to the narrative of the book. This Blog allows me to explore those interesting topics, all loosely connected to MW in more detail. Bill Harvell crops up several times in the book, he had the distinction of having ridden in the 1932 Loss Angeles Olympic games whilst a member of Poole Wheelers CC, winning a Bronze medal in the 4000m team pursuit. Marguerite knew Bill well, they rode in the same Dorset track meetings and the 1930s and in later years Marguerite would visit Bill at his bike shop in Portsmouth.
I've been unable to find an account of his experiences at the games but in the process of research I developed an interest in the cycling events of the '32 Olympics and in the Games in general. To find out more about Bill Harvell read my next blog andfollow the link (below) to read Roger Watts' appreciation.
The Loss Angeles Olympic games were held in 1932 during the Great Depression. It is important to realise the depths of the depression, many were struggling to put food on the table so funding an team to travel to compete at the Olympics was well down the list of priorities for many nations. For this reason fewer than half the number of athletes competed here than in the preceding Amsterdam games. Britain's team Captain Lord Beulieu refers to funding difficulties in the Pathe film (link below). California was very remote in the time before air travel. Many teams arrived by ship and received an enthusiastic welcome at the docks and then again at the Olympic Village. (The purpose built Olympic Village was a new innovation for theses games). Many cycling teams whilst aboard ship trained on rollers during their voyage. The Canadian squad drove down from Canada in an old truck taking turns to follow on behind by bike, partly as training and partly because there wasn't room for everyone in the truck!
You might have thought that the USA team would be well funded, but this was not the case. Despite a very vibrant track scene principally on the East coast (e.g. Madison Square Garden) riders were individuals completely self funded. Eddie Testa in an interview given in 1988 recalled how how he got into cycling encouraged by his father an Italian who had raced in Italy before emigrating. His bike was made by an elder brother using Reynolds 501 tubing imported from England. Eddie commented that it had a fixed gear and lightweight wood rimmed sprint wheels which he said had more life in them and stayed more true than steels. He was self coached and apart from being issued with his USA Jersey and a sleeveless sweater, completely self funded.
Cycling took place between he 1st and 4th August and was contested by 63 men from 13 nations. (It was not until Games returned to Loss Angeles in 1984 that women could take part). Track events took place over three days at the Pasadena Rose bowel on a board track constructed especially for the games. There were four track events, the 1000m sprint, the 1000m time trial, the tandem and the 4,000m team pursuit. The Road Race on the final day was in fact a 100km individual time trial starting at Moorpark the hills then along the Pacific coast highway towards Santa Monica.