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April 8, 2012

The Bicycle Pioneers

Pleasure Gardens

Molineux Pleasure Grounds.

It is safe to say the the name “Molyneux” is famous in every part of the World of Sport. It is surely synonymous with “soccer” at its best whatever the current fortunes of the Wolverhampton Wanderer’s side.

But how many followers of the leather ball are aware that Molyneneux was originally the family name of one of the great Wolverhampton families, or that the stadium now covers the gardens of the house their forebear John Molineux built.

This house later the Molineux Hotel, was enlarged by his son Benjamin one of the towns leading ironmasters in the 18th century.

Cartoon No 12

Cartoon No.12 History of the Wolves.

Looking at the bottom half of the number 12 Cartoon in a series printed just after the war by The Birmingham Argus.

We can see probably just after the Molyneux family left the town and football arrived   the existing grounds  were  used for a variety of purposes including the new sport of cycle-racing. Thousands used to flock to see these new fangle machines racing in much the same manner as they do today as they flock to see Speedway racing on motor-cycles.

Star Map

The advent of the Bicycle.

But the advent of the bicycle had more far – reaching effects than the provision of a new and exiting spectacle for the public. It was an entirely new mode of transportation and one so cheap that it came within the means of thousands who could not afford a horse and carriage.

The result of its poularity was to bring an end to those territorial restrictions under which nearly  all but the wealthy spent their days. It opened up the age of popular travel and introduced thousands to the delights of the countryside and the freedom of the open road.

In this social revolution Wolverhampton played a leading part.

Cogent Bicycles

Henry Clarke Cogent Works Darlington Street.

At one time and another there were no fewer than thirty Wolverhampton firms engaged in the manufacture of bicycles and in in 1900 the industry employed 3.000 men.
The honor of being first in the field (or on the road) with a bicycle was probably Henry Clark  In 1868 he founded the ‘Cogent Cycle Company’ in Darlington Street, and was joined by his five sons; Tom, George, William, Jack, and Henry.

The Special Cogent machines apparently sold extremely well.

The Tiger Inn

The The Tiger Inn, Church Street,Wolverhampton.

Talk to anyone about bicycle manufacture in Wolverhampton during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the name Dan Rudge will probably be mentioned. At one time he was the landlord of the Tiger Inn, Church Street and actively associated with the cycle racing at the Molineux.

He was the inventor of “ball-pedals and Rudge bearings and his racing machines became famous.
When Daniel Rudge died in 1880 the business was sold and transferred to Coventry to become the celebrated Rudge Cycle Company.

SunBeam Ad

The 3 Speed Golden Sunbeam.

Perhaps the most famous name of all these pioneers is that of John Marston. Born in Ludlow on leaving school he became apprenticed to Edward Perry, tin plate worker and japanner at Jeddo works.
At the end of his apprenticeship in 1859 he purchased a japanning business at Bilston from Daniel Lester. This venture proved to be a great success, so much so that when Edward Perry died in 1871 John purchased Jeddo Works and returned to business life in Wolverhampton.

With his son in partnership he produced the famous oil-bath gear-case for the Sunbeam Cycle which he manufactured here in Paul Street and whose name was to become synonymous with the higher quality of cycle manufacture.

Cleveland Road

The Cleveland Road Wolverhampton in 1902.

It was  W. S.Lewis an Ironfounder of Cleveland Road, Wolverhampton who first had the idea of making the rim concave, thus enabling a solid rubber tyre to be fitted. In 1888 a belfast veterinary surgeon, John Boyd Dunlop, produced the pneumatic tyre.

But the road to this important development was at least in part, pioneered by the Wulfrunian capacity of inventiveness.