Fred Hopper first made bicycles in Barton 130 years ago
1890 was a momentous year for Barton, when Fred Hopper started to make and sell bicycles in Barton and to build a company that became one of the main cycle producers in the country. The first advertisement appeared in the North Lindsey Star on 1 February 1890 where we learn that he was an agent for Singer, Humber and Rudge and stocked Ordinaries (penny-farthings – like the one at the Ropewalk café), Safeties and Tricycles.
But the big news was that his North Lincolnshire Cycle Works had started manufacturing ‘Ajax’ Cycles with a classic cross frame safety bicycle. At this time bicycles were very expensive and so only affordable by those with a fair amount of spare money.
The factory was on the west side of Brigg Road, opposite the flats that were built as offices for the growing company in 1905. This is shown in the second photograph that dates from the early to mid-1890s.
The last decade of the 19th century saw a huge boom in cycle manufacture, with Coventry as the biggest producer. However, like all booms, this one collapsed around 1898 when those ‘dratted’ cars started to make an appearance and became the must-have transport for the well-off. So, what could the cycle manufacturers do? Some turned to motorcycles and cars, of course – Singer, Rudge and Humber, for example, but though Hopper had a go at both these new forms of transport, his location proved ideal for bringing the cost of cycle manufacture down to a level where more and more people could afford them. Employment in Barton was still largely agricultural, so attracting employees was not a problem. After a few ups and downs Hopper had built a new factory on Marsh Lane, the Brigg Road offices and packing shops and employed an astonishing 800+ people in 1912, far and away more than any other factory in town.
So what of Elswick? This was the name of a Newcastle based cycle maker of quite splendid quality in the 1880s/90s. They went into receivership and the designs and patents were bought by Hopper and his partners in 1910, when they formed the Elswick Cycles and Manufacturing Co. Things did not go quite according to plan of course, but to learn more you will have to read my book, Elswick-Hopper of Barton on Humber!
– Nigel Land