John Pinkerton’s brief history based on two interviews with Norman Moore in the late 1980s
F.E. MOORE CYCLES – 1914 to late ’20s,
F.E. MOORE & SON – late ’20s to 1938
F.E. MOORE & SONS – 1938 to 29th September 1976.
The business that became F.E. Moore & Sons was established in 1914 at 816, Pershore Road, Selly Park, Birmingham using the front room of this terraced house as a shop. Earlier in the year, on 13th March 1914 Norman, the second of two sons, was born to the proprietor Francis Ernest Moore (pictured below) and his wife Rebecca. Ernest Henry, their elder son, had been born eight years earlier on 23rd September 1906.
The first company name used was F.E. Moore. The name was later changed to F.E. Moore & Son when Ernest was brought into the business as a partner in the late 1920s.
Expansion took place first into 818 Pershore Road, the c.1890s Victorian terraced house next door. A workshop approximately 30ft. square was built across the two gardens at the rear. It was a prefabricated building purchased specifically for that purpose.
Bicycle frame building was carried out using ‘Town Gas’ and air in a coke hearth; the air was supplied by foot-bellows
By the early 30s business had increased to such an extent that a display area for cycles was set up in a proper shop at the corner of Wallace & Pershore Roads. The hardware business from these premises was transferred to the ‘shop’ in the front room of 818 in April 1933.
It must be remembered that the whole business had been originally opened in the small front room of a terraced house where there would be little room to display cycles. Few small companies were able to afford stocks of cycles and most were bought-in to order. Cyclists of that period were cautious and spent many hours poring over makers catalogues (such as the 1930s example opposite) before spending hard-earned money. Consequently, they were prepared to wait for a cycle to be delivered. Delivery would usually only take a day or two at most.
At sometime during 1932, Hiley’s Shoe Shop was taken on at 816 Bristol Road South, Northfield some three miles away. By coincidence, it had the same street number as the headquarters in Pershore Road. The shopfitting was carried out by Norman in his ‘spare-time’ after work. He had excelled at woodwork due to the kindness shown by Mr Webb, the woodwork teacher at Bournville School. This was unusual for that period of draconian education. Bournville is best known for its chocolate made by the Quaker family of Cadbury.
When the new shop was running smoothly carrying out repairs and selling spares with Norman in sole charge, a manager by the name of Plevy was employed but this proved to be unsatisfactory. A cousin replaced him and stayed with the company until the start of WW2.
This left Norman free to open up another shop at 7 High Street, Smethwick in 1934. It remained open until 1946. As with the Northfield branch, Norman carried out the shop fitting and rigged up a workshop for repairs. This was sold in 1946 whilst Norman was still working at the Aluminium Bronze Company. Brother Ernie was running Northfield and F.E. was running headquarters with Norman’s help after work.
At long last in 1938 the company name was changed to F.E. Moore & Sons, Norman being formally taken into the business. He had started his business career in 1928 after leaving school at 14. His career was not initially in the family cycle business, as there was only enough to keep F.E.& Ernest Jnr., but in the office of the Stolzeburgh File Company at 10 shillings (50p) per week gross for 44 hours a week. After a month’s probationary period, it rose to 12 shillings & 6 pence (62.5p).
After a few months Norman moved to the offices of Lloyd, Withers & Pitt, Iron & Steel Stockists which proved to be more interesting. He stayed with them until they went ‘bump’, which may have been due to his 17 shillings & 6 pence wage for 44 hours.
Prior to leaving school Norman had been used liberally as free labour in his father’s firm. Now Ernest Jnr. was finding it hard to cope, so Norman was again used to ‘pitch in’. As they got older, Norman and Ernest we got on well together, both working 60-70 hours per week for pocket money.
One memorable Whitsuntide, they were inundated with work and starting at 8.00am Friday, worked right through until 9.00pm Saturday, with meals being taken at the bench. At 2.00am Norman took two new bicycle to New Street Station, riding his own machine, not wishing to walk the four miles home. He had one slung over his shoulder and pushed the other. The parcel office being closed, he rode straight onto the platform and being unable to lift the machine off his shoulder, he banged the office door with his front wheel. When a porter eventually came, Norman asked for some help: the porter’s response was unrepeatable. Nonetheless, their customer in Edinburgh was able to collect his new mount from the station later that day just in time to start his tour.
In 1940 Norman and brother Ernest moved to Aluminium Bronze Limited, a foundry alongside the brook in Bournbrook, Selly Oak. Adjacent to Vincent Timber Merchants, it later became and still is Patrick Motors. Ariel Cycles were close by in Dale Road, Edgbaston below Birmingham University renowned for its local red brick clock tower and buildings. Here Norman earned £3 15s. a week gross, at a time when a middle of the range bicycle cost £10 if you could get one. Later he became foreman. This was no doubt due to his ability and to work with other men old enough to be his father.
The working day started at 6.40am, work starting at 7.00am with 30 minutes break at midday for sandwiches, there being no canteen. They finished at 5.30pm and then went directly to Northfield to open up at 6.00pm until 8.00pm or 9.00pm according to business. They then had a 30 minute ride home in the permanent blackout unless there was an air raid.
Fittings, tubes, etc.
Lugs and fittings for the cheaper models were bought from Brampton & Brothers. Ernest Moore Jnr. personally sorted these in the store when collecting them from Rocky Lane off Aston Road. Lugs were also purchased from Charles Vaughan, later Dixon Vaughan in Legge Street off Corporation Street near the city centre; they would cast lugs to order, the patterns being made by a self-employed man in Aston Road.
Tubes were bought from Reynolds Tubes, Tyseley, Birmingham and also Accles & Pollocks Limited of Oldbury. This company would also make handlebars to any pattern. Stiff wire was bent to the customers instruction and off Norman would go on his bicycle with an order for two or three bends of various patterns. In a few days they would be ready for collection, necessitating another ride for Norman. If the customer approved they would be celluloid covered – yet another ride.
Plating was carried out by Willet & Cobb, Berkley Street & Gas Street corner. Deposits of copper, nickel and finally chrome ensured a lasting finish.
Claim to fame
Most Moorson cycles were made to order, the specification following the current fashion. However, in 1926 F.E. Moore introduced his Twin Tube frame, registered design 726545, patent no. 269418, which was one of the first unorthodox frames of the 1920s and attracted attention, as did others such as Granby Taper Tube and later Hetchins, Baines, Bates, etc. The design extended the seat & chainstay around the seat tube forming twin top and down tubes. Here they were flattened and wrapped around the steering head top and bottom. This gave extra strength and rigidity all round. Various experimental lugs were tried but finally discarded in favour of lapped tubes. This technique was lighter and neater, as well as permitting any frame angle to be made, including ladies’ open frames. At least two of these still exist. Interestingly, the World War 2 BSA Army Folder also uses this method of construction. The Moorson was used by many successful racers in the Midlands and it is possible that the designer of the BSA folder had seen a Moorson Twin Tube.
One of the 1930s catalogues tells us:
- The Twin Tube Lap Jointed Head weighs 8½lbs.
- The Twin Tube with all lugs weighs 8¾lbs.
- The Standard single tube weighs 9½lbs
Besides the Twin Tube, F.E. Moore also designed and patented the ‘Adjustable Handle Bars,’ illustrated below, consisting of four separate bends adjustable to any shape from full drops to Lauterwasser Flats and usable with any stem.
The Moorson frame had many successes and became quite popular in the Birmingham area. It was available as a tourer, path or road racer, and in ladies’ and tandem versions. In one catalogue, the Roadster Model specification tells us that “It is strong enough to convert into a tradesman’s cycle by fitting a detachable carrier and carrier tyres.” In fact, F.E. had intended to build a tricycle and had purchased a used Abingdon axle for that purpose. Regretfully neither F.E. nor Norman his successor built one. The axle is now in the Pinkerton Cycle Collection together with two gents’ models and the Moore’s Brothers own Twin Tube tandem. The catalogue picture below shows the Twin Tube tandem frame.
On 29th September 1976, Norman sold the two businesses, lock, stock & barrel to Thomas Lugsdin. Neither Tom or his wife Anita had a clue and let both businesses run down. Finally Tom repaired cycles in the back of a large van.
In 1978, two years after he had sold the business, Norman made the last Twin Tube for himself which he used until his death on 4th May 1995 for tours and special occasions. He used a 1968 model for local and everyday rides.
According to Gwen, he made one more frame which was destined for his grandson. However, when their daughter had a second son and Norman had no more lugs, he would not favour either of his descendants with the last frame. This ‘last’ new frame was sold by Veteran-Cycle Auctions in October 1996.
Some notes on frame numbers and dating. Norman regretted leaving all the order sheets with records of who all of the Moorson Frames or cycles had been supplied to. However, he did write to me in 1994 and say that he could tell the year of manufacture with numbers from seat lug and under bottom bracket shell. S and T prefixes denote Single or Twin tube models. 531 in the number is the tubing and 6039 was June 1939. there was also an individual frame number, such as 431.
A lifetime of cycling
Norman graduated from a friend’s scooter to an old crock of a juvenile bicycle, taken in part exchange, learning to ride it without assistance ‘scooter fashion’ in a narrow passage. His father saw him and Norman thought he was ‘for it’ but after watching for a short, while father walked away. The next time Norman saw the bicycle it had been serviced by his brother and was safe to ride. “Great” said Norman! He desperately wanted a fixed wheel but father would have none of it. Undeterred, he tried hammering tin-tacks into the free-wheel but without success – surprise, surprise!
A few years later, he was given a Twin Tube that Joe Bragg had used: Joe was one of the Midlands fast men. Norman was justly proud of it and delighted with the 60″ fixed wheel ‘like all the men had.’ The fixed made him sit still and ‘twiddle’ like his idol Walter Holland, a impeccable local rider.
The bicycle was used for school as well as business trips for the shop (unpaid of course). Before he moved to manage the Northfield shop, if a customer asked for something that was not in stock, Norman was sent off to one of the many local factors, usually a round trip of six miles. With quick service he could be back in half an hour, but father’s last words would always be “Don’t hang about, the customer is waiting!” One outstanding trip was to collect a damaged cycle from Evesham, a round trip of 60 miles, Norman told me “it still makes me tired just to think about it, 50 years later!”
Transport of cycles between shops was done by riding one and pushing the other, no mean feat considering the tramlines, stone setts and horse droppings. He also made a large metal box to fit over the rear carrier. This would frequently be loaded with up to 50 lb. of spares etc. On one such occasion he was carrying a few frames on his back when he misjudged the width of his load and touched a ‘Bobby’ on point duty in Victoria Square. All the policeman said was “Aye, careful with that!”
At 14, Norman joined the Southern Section of CTC, raced with the Wyndham Racing CC (which later amalgamated with the Rover Racing Cyclist Club to form the Birmingham Racing Cyclists Club) and was also a member of the Midland Cycling & Athletic Club. Fred Venables was also a CTC member and they became life long friends. (Fred was 82 in 1988 at the time of our second conversation.) The CTC met under The Clock at Snow Hill Station (Great Western Railway) and cycled to Clent Hills, taking the train back from nearby Blakedown.
During 1940, when most of his club mates had been called up, Norman was transferred from the shop to the foundry to carry out vital war work. One evening at the Smethwick shop, a customer invited him to go out with the Birmingham Rambling Club. Ever eager for pastures new, he agreed to try it, if only once. Surprisingly, he enjoyed it and cycled and rambled on alternate Sundays. He was attracted to a friend of a girl called Gwen but “could not cope with the competition” to quote Norman. However, over the months a friendship developed with Gwen, which lasted a lifetime. They married in 1946. Gwen was Gwendolyn Upton, daughter of William Upton, transport manager of the Midland Motor Cylinders, Smethwick.
© John Pinkerton
28th February 2001
Edited by Tony Hadland, 10th February 2002.
All illustrations from 1930s Moorson catalogues.