As a teenager in the 1930s Jack Taylor bought his first bicycle – a Raleigh Sports Model. He had pain-stakingly saved up for the bicycle with money his grandfather had given him. He then joined the local cycling club, Stockton Wheelers and took part in their time trials.
While Jack was not one of the fastest cyclists, he became one of the most innovative. One of the problems Jack had come across while cycling was the breaking of his spokes when he hit a bump or pothole. With a lack of specialist equipment and little money, Jack began building his own wheels which could handle the road better.
At the time, all bicycle racing on British roads were regulated under the National Cyclists Union (NCU), which only allowed racing on roads which were closed to other vehicles. In the 1940s the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) was founded by cyclists who wanted to challenge these rules and promote more free racing.
Jack and his brothers, Ken and Norman, who by this point were keen cyclists, joined the BLRC. As part of the league they were able to take part in better races and because the races were publicly promoted, they began to make names for themselves. One of the best Road Racing Championships for the brothers was the Brighton to Glasgow and they took part in it five times.
Jack Taylor in the Brighton to Glasgow Race, 1945. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum.
Jack’s ability to build his own bicycle parts prompted him to start his own business alongside two friends in 1936. He set up a small shop in a shed in the back of his mother’s house on Greta Road in Stockton where he would undertake his bike-building.
While it was a business, Jack still needed to hold down another job, and would work on his bicycles after he came home from work. He could easily lose a sense of time while working in his shed, so, ever the inventor, Jack put together a makeshift loudspeaker which was wired from the radio in the house to his shed. With this loudspeaker he could hear when the hourly news was broadcast. When he heard the 10 o’clock news come on, he knew it was time to stop for the evening.
As the years went on Ken and Norman began helping in the business, and Jack cut ties with his original business partners, who were not as mechanically skilled as him. The business became a family operation and was officially registered as Jack Taylor Cycles in 1945.
Jack Taylor Cycles business logo. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum.
Jack had dreams of improving the business and bought a piece of land on Church Road in Stockton to build a factory where he could mass-produce bicycles. The building of the ‘bicycle factory’ began and the brothers all started working full-time for the business.
During the War years business was good and the brothers even managed to employ nine people. From the 1950s however motor cars became more commonplace and demand for bicycles declined, and Jack had to put his dream aside. Instead a smaller, custom-built bike shop was set-up.
The Taylor brothers made custom-built bikes suited to their customers and their needs. Their tandem bikes even became popular in America and up to 200 bicycles a year were sent to the United States. Their bikes and their story of local success were so popular that the BBC commissioned a short documentary about them, which you can view here. Their Church Road bike shop closed in 1990, but the brothers would build the odd bike now and again.
Jack Taylor died in November 2014. His funeral was attended by many keen cyclists and customers who had known Jack as a friend, and for his ingenuity in buildings bikes.
Do you have any memories or photos of the Taylor Brothers, or their shop, or a Taylor Brothers bike? If you do, we would like to hear from you. You can send any stories or photographs to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Taylor Brothers in their workshop (from left to right, Ken, Jack and Norman). Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum.