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September 6, 2011 17 comments

Brooks Historical Timeline

Saddles, Bags, Etc. Curiosities Heritage
By Alasdair
Brooks Historical Timeline
A graphic derived from one of the many patents filed by J.B. Brooks The next time you find yourself perched comfortably atop your favourite Brooks-equipped bicycle, enjoying a smooth ride and experiencing no discomfort due to inadequate or even downright unsuitable seating arrangements, take a moment and spare a thought for your earliest bicycling forebears. At the time of the first craze for two-wheeled locomotion in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the new-fangled devices were dubbed "bone-shakers", being reliant upon a bar of iron (that famously supple material!) across the top of the frame to support the seat! Food for further rumination whilst enjoying your ride in Brooks-supported comfort, here are a few further milestones in the history of the company which have perhaps done the most to reduce the shaking of your bones. Alas, this being a Blog somewhat hampers any depiction of these events as a 'Timeline'. None-the-less, this chronology of events culminating in the supreme comfort from which you benefit each time you mount your bicycle serves to illustrate our dedication to your posterior comfort. 1865 – The young John Boultbee Brooks, 19 years of age, aquires a new-fangled velocipede, upon which he cuts a dashing figure. However, that was not all that he cut, the wooden saddle proving to be excruciatingly uncomfortable. Fortunately, his father produced leather for the manufacture of horse saddles, still the most common mode of transport for JB Brooks and his contemporaries. Young Brooks set about designing and developing a comfortable leather bicycle saddle at his father's workshop. The rest, as the somewhat timeworn expression goes, is history: 1866 – JB Brooks (1846-1921) establishes a works in Great Charles Street, Birmingham, for the manufacture of leather strapping for horse harnesses and general leather goods. 1870 – Having noted that ever more of his customers were indulging in the new pastime of cycling, JB Brooks began to concentrate on the manufacture of bicycle saddles. 1880 – The first safety bicycles became available, and with them the requirement of more comfortable saddles. Riders then were as unwilling then as today to suffer undue discomfort, and were scornful of the painful 'shaped piece of wood' variety of cycle seating. 1882 – Brooks filed his first patent for a sprung bicycle saddle, itself a first. He went on to file further patents for bicycle saddle designs, as well as motorcycle saddles and a veritable multitude of other goods. These included galoshes, snap-on leggings, handlebar muffs, folding footrests, toe-straps, gents and ladies cycling shoes, oil-skin clothing and of course bags. Many of these items can be seen today in cycling museums in both Wales and Cornwall. It is less well known that Brooks also manufactured furniture – chairs, tables, desks, cabinets and mirrors for home, hotel or business use, as well as stools, lockers, cupboards, bins, shelves and tables for commercial and industrial use. Many of these items are chronicled in the Brooks England collection of historic product catalogues and sundry publications. 1900 – By the early 1900's Brooks Ltd. offered an astonishingly broad range of bicycle saddles and sundry accessories such as saddle bags, tool bags, inner tube cases, motorcycle belt cases, pannier bags, hat cases and even bicycle-mounted cigar trays. A 'cyclists anklet' as depicted in the Brooks catalogue of 1901 The handy Brooks spanner, as depicted in the 1903 Brooks product catalogue, was a staple of our line of sundry items for many decades. 1920's – Brooks took over the Lycett Saddle Company, and in the same year became the established first choice saddle of cycling champions. This marked the beginning of a period during which every rider in the Tours rode upon a Brooks saddle. Indeed it is this pedigree which is the focus of our current marketing campaign, which features images of famous racing cyclists of yesteryear riding the great stage races with Brooks saddles. 1926 – The B66 saddle was introduced, going on to become our best seller and still accounting for over a third of the company's total saddle sales. This despite the subsequent introduction of ever more refined saddle designs! The B66 saddle as depicted in the Brooks catalogue of 1927, a year after its introduction 1930 – Brooks took over the Leatheries Cycle Saddles company, as well as purchasing a motorcycle company named, coincidentally, the Brookes Company. 1935 – No fewer than 60% of the 2,733,000 cycle saddles produced annually in Great Britain are the products of J.B. Brooks and Co. 1939 – With the advent of war the Brooks' skills and plant were rapidly harnessed to assist the British war effort. 1945 – The war over, Brooks entered a period of rapid expansion on a greater scale than all years previous. 1955 – Brooks experiences a boom period, with a workforce of over 1,500 manufacturing some 55,000 leather saddles plus 25,000 mattress saddles every week. 1958 – The saddle division of Brooks Industries Limited was acquired by the Raleigh Cycle Company. 1960 – Raleigh Cycles was in turn acquired by British Tube Investment Group, who subsequently transfer both Brooks and Sturmey-Archer first to their automotive division, then to the bicycle division. 1962 – Brooks relocates to the Downing Street Works, Smethwick, Birmingham, there to be amalgamated with the Wright Saddle Company to become the Raleigh Saddle Division of TI. The current Brooks facility is only a few miles north west of the original Smethwick site. 1969 – During July the Brooks facility is ravaged by fire, and completely gutted. Undaunted, Brooks staff salvaged what remained of the plant and stock and recommenced production. 1987 – Brooks, as part of the TI Bicycle Division, was taken over by the American Derby International Group. 2002 – Brooks England is acquired by Selle Royal, Italian saddle giants themselves who manufacture a staggering 80,000 foam padded saddles a day, which is more or less the number of leather saddles which Brooks puts out in an entire year. Despite the marked difference between the highly technologically advanced products of Selle Royal and the more traditional manufacturing skills involved in the creation of Brooks leather saddles, the intentions of the new parent company are to respect and maintain the traditions and history of Brooks, which will continue to be made only in Smethwick, Birmingham, England. Today – Brooks saddles are available in over 20 countries. A unique range has been newly developed for Japan, where Brooks enjoys a highly regarded position as the choice of the cycling connoisseur. In Scandinavia Brooks is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity, having not been represented there for over two decades. Germany continues to be the largest consumer of Brooks saddles by quantity, the Netherlands per capita. More and more high-end manufacturers of bicycles are now specifying Brooks saddles as original equipment, including the likes of Cannondale and Koga Miyata. Of course we still enjoy the support of highly reputable framebuilders such as Roberts, Mercian and George Longstaff, to mention but a few.
I'm obliged to you for taking the trouble when, as you say, there are better things that you could be doing.
The specific question regarding Lycett was only an illustration of my concern that many of the 'facts' that are quoted in your 'Historical Timeline' are speculative at best, and entirely wrong at worst. The statement against 1865, for instance, is patently ridiculous, and most (excepting the heirs and supporters of Harry Lawson, in the main) would strongly dispute the observation for 1880 - note also that the 'cycling museum in Cornwall (see '1882') no longer exists, having been moved more-or-less lock, stock and saddle to the Czech Republic more than a year ago (fact, not theory). And let's not get started on Leatheries...
This is obviously not the place for a serious debate on the accuracy of much of the 'information' published by the Company through it's many media outlets, and most reasonable people will accept the more vainglorious examples with a generous pinch of salt, as it injects a much-needed element of humour into the sordid business of selling product. However, Brooks has much to be proud of, regarding it's achievements over nearly 130 years of service to the cycling community, and I'd suggest that it might do well to 'soft pedal' the use of specific claims that have little, or no, validity?
If we can agree on this, it might go some small way towards easing the burden (largely self-inflicted, of course) on my shoulders - I, too, have better things that I could be doing.
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
OK, Bregan, I guess that we can draw our own conclusions from your response.
Please don't characterize my request simply as 'curiosity'. - as I spend a great deal of my time carefully answering questions regarding the history of the Company and it's products, forwarded to me by your Birmingham 'branch', I'd expect a rather more responsible attitude in return.
If you're inclined to dismiss this comment as 'inappropriate', please refer the matter to Andrea before doing so.
Thank you.
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
No thanks, Tony. We really have better things to do than satisfy your "curiosity".
BREGAN May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
The SOURCE of what?
Does this mean that you invent your own version of history?
Please dig up your evidence - I genuinely want to know!
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
My alternate theory is that you are wrong, but I'll be pleased to be corrected and look forward to your digging up the evidence.
Thanks, again.
Tony Colegrave May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
Evidence? Yes, please.
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
Yes, please. Thanks.
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
[...] The Brooks England Blog » Blog Archive » Brooks History. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Gear. Bookmark the permalink. ← Pedal Powered Lawn Mower [...]
The Brooks England Blog | Rainbow Riding Society May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
[...] This is rad. Ever wonder just how much history is behind that hand-crafted Brooks you’ve been breaking in? They started out in 1865 and were awarded their first patent in 1882 for the sprung bicycle seat. By the early 1900s, a range of saddles were being produced as well as bags and accessories. Get filled in on the full story at the Brooks England Blog. [...]
Brooks Historical Timeline | Culture Cycles May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
Any idea when the B.17 was first produced?
Bill May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
I don't have all of the early Brooks catalogues at my immediate disposal, but I have found the B17 depicted on p16 of the 1898 "Illustrated List of Brooks' Cycle Saddles and Accoutrements", in which it is described as "A neat, light saddle of best quality. Careful attention to detail. May also be used for road racing."
Alasdair May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
Do you have evidence for all the facts quoted above, please?
For instance, did Brooks really 'take over' the Lycett Saddle Company as early as 1920?
Tony Colegrave. May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM
BREGAN May 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM