This is going to be a blog about how I was given a gift, and a project and an heroic bike, all in one. And here it is….
I had decided not to restore the bike (which would have been much harder to source original parts), but to sympathetically renovate it. This blog post doesn’t cover the practical and technical aspects of the renovation, it is more about the life-story of the bike. Go here for the renovation details.
The first part of the renovation was obvious, a new coat of paint for the frame. However, it nearly didn’t get past this first post, as after some web investigation I decided the best approach was to take the frame into a local-ish builder of steel framed bikes, Mercians, and get them to do it for me. They gave me a quote but also identified a flaw in the frame, a crack in one of the iconic curly chainstays. They decided that they couldn’t fix it to the extent that the bike could be ridden, and I wasn’t paying out good money to get a bike I couldn’t ride, so the project looked to be dead in the water. For a few months the frame languished in my study until late in the 2015 season, my local club, Rockingham Forest Wheelers held their local inter-club hill climb. I did OK in the climb (on my Bianchi), and afterwards a number of us free-wheeled back down the hill to a local pub/coffee shop for recovery fluids!
As we pulled up we realised that there were a couple of dozen steel-framed bikes outside, and the first one I saw was a beautifully presented curly-stays Hetchins. At that moment its owner emerged from the premises and I explained that I ‘had one of those at home, but it was cracked’. He told me that I needed to see Trevor. ‘Who’s Trevor?’, I asked. ‘He’s a frame-builder and is inside having a coffee’. So in I trotted.
Trevor turned out to be the very experienced Trevor Jarvis, who build bikes using ‘Flying Gate’ frames. These frames have a vertical post from the BB to the top tube, and a separate stubby seat tube. He reinvigorated this design after it’s originator, Baines, had gone out of business in the ’50s. Here’s Trevor Jarvis’s website.
Anyway, Trevor is based in Shropshire, and we had accidentally bumped into him on the annual ‘Flying Gate Weekend’, which by chance had happened to be based in Leicestershire in 2015. He thought he would be able to help, if only I could get him the frame… By even greater coincidence I was booked to go on holiday to Shropshire in 2 weeks time, so a date was set for me to take the frame to his new frame-building partner, Liz Colebrook for review and quote. A couple of weeks later came the good news that the frame could be fixed, painted and rechromed to look splendid. I just needed to decide the colours..
If you’ve read the section below about Harry Hetchins, and where the bikes were built, you won’t be surprised at the colours I picked were white and dark blue – Spurs colours. Trevor was a little concerned about my choice, as they were not traditional and befitting a restoration, but I persuaded him that this wasn’t what I was trying to do, so he went along with it. Once all the work was done and the result unveiled on 2nd Jan 2016, we both agreed that the colours looked splendid on the frame, and it was over to me to add sympathetic components to bring the frame to life as a bike.
Summer 2015 – Harry Hetchins
I was keen to know a bit more about the history of the manufacturer, Hetchins. Hetchin’s was a company built by an immigrant to the UK, Hyman (‘Harry’) Hetchin, who started by selling bicycles in the 1920s. Harry was born in Russia and came to England just after the First World War, around the time of the Russian Revolution.
One of the most interesting aspects to me was that Hetchin’s bikes were made and sold from the shop at 800 Seven Sisters Road in London, a road I knew well as I support Tottenham Hotspurs FC and in the 1970s used to walk the length of Seven Sisters Road to get from the tube to White Hart Lane, where ‘Spurs play their matches. Sadly the shop is no more (just a block of flats), but owning a Hetchin’s and knowing that it was built in Tottenham has a great connection to me and the team I have supported ever since I was 10. Later on, Hetchin’s bikes moved to Southend, but my bike is one of the earliest, so I know it was built in Tottenham. There is loads more history about the marque on the hetchins.org website, so I won’t repeat it here – this blog will be for anything that happened (or is happening) to my specific frame.
Also November 2014 – How Old?
One of the first things I wanted to do was to find out more about the history of the bike. Indeed, this blog will focus on the life of the bike, from manufacture through to the current day; I’ll be starting another blog on how I renovated it.
Hetchin’s has a group of loyal followers, including an archivist. So I sent Len the following note and some pictures:
“It’s provenance was that it belonged to the mother of the friend who gave it to me; he believes that his mother bought it second hand in 1949, and in time it was handed down to him as a youth. It was repainted by my friend so has no transfers or original paintwork visible, but appears to have Brilliant lugs. Looking at the pictures on the hetchins.org website, I believe that it could be pre-war. I can’t see any serial number on the frame, though I guess the paint job could be hiding it.”
Len showed me where to look – serial numbers should be on both the gear side rear dropout and the steerer tube. After cleaning the paint off, this is what I could see.
So the two numbers that should have matched didn’t. Despite the damage caused by the wheel nut, the dropout reads 63232 and the steerer 64251. Len shared the code structure used for early Hetchins serial numbers:
The ‘6’ is 1936 and the second digit is the month, followed by a number which started at ‘1’ in Aug 1935 through to 8000+ in 1961 when a new sequence was used. So the two parts were from different builds, a month apart. The frame built in March 1936 and the forks in April. We don’t know if the two parts were swapped at time of purchase (maybe the original forks on 63232 were damaged, or just that 64251 had nicer forks in some way), or whether the two elements were partnered at a point later in the life of the bike.
Amazingly, from the historic sales records, Len knows who these two bikes were sold to. 63232 was sold on the 30th Jan 1937 to Mr B. Grange of Harlesden in London for £12.00s.00d on a Hire Purchase agreement. The forks belonged to a cycle sent to M. Tate, Cycle trader, of Swinton, Nr Rotherham on the 22nd Dec 1936, a month earlier.
So we know the main frame of the bike was built in March 1936, less than a year after Harry Hetchins started building the curly stay frame style. Indeed, Len believes it is the 15th oldest Hetchin’s in existence, one of 181 pre-war frames known to him. Something well worth looking after!
November 2014 – Acquisition
My friend gave this frame to me from his garage telling me that it was a renowned brand from the middle of the 20th century, a Hetchin’s. The brand’s distinguishing design feature was the curly chain-stays clearly visible in the photo. It has a lot of period features, such as the nicely shaped lugs, grease nipples etc.
The back story on the frame was that it used to be his mum’s and then was passed on to him as a teenager in the seventies. He reckoned his mum bought it in the fifties, second hand: before then was anyone’s guess. He wanted someone to love it like he used to, but he doesn’t ride now so he gave it to me in November 2014 for me to try and rejuvenate it. And that’s how my Hetchins project started.
Along with the bike he handed me a saddle (with a whistful look in his eye). It was a classic, a Brookes B17, dry and dusty but undamaged.