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.