Saturday, 28 April 2012

Clifton Cycles - Follow up

Paddy Ward on his Clifton bicycle.

The Clifton cycles follow-up was prompted by a request from the Baird family, asking if anyone had information or remembered their grandfather Thomas Baird.
Ray Baird sent the following information.

 "After some reason research I understand my Grandfather started
 his apprentice at Clifton Cycles in 1920 ish. I understand they did speed
 trials cycling the Wirral and short tack time trials and had many awards. He
 later worked for Longworths in Wallasey Village. My Grandfather was Thomas
 Baird born 1907. I would like to know if you your your members have any
 information as he was part of the North End Cycle Club".

Ray was sent the following e-mail from Geoff Hughes, secretary of the Birkenhead cycling club.

Hello Ray

Interesting, your enquiry about Clifton Cycles!   I will tell you what I can dredge up from the old memory banks.

My first contact with ‘The Clifton’ as it was always known to us lads was around 1950 when I joined the North End as a youth of 16.   I think the business was acquired by the Hewitt Bros probably about 1947/48.   On Saturdays, it was the place to visit and in the back room there was an open fire and tea was brewed in a traditional tea can and swung round to establish a proper cyclists’ brew.   I doubt if the business went back as far as 1900 but I may be wrong on that.   I have been trying to recall the name of the owner before the Hewitts but all I seem to remember was him being referred to as ‘Old Johnner’.   I do remember being told that the Clifton got its name because OJ rode down Clifton Road to work – as simple as that.   Of the brothers Hewitt, I know that George, the elder, had been a welder in Lairds and Bill was in the Guards during the war and saw service in the campaign up through Italy.   I know this because,in 1960, ten of us travelled in the Bill-owned Bedford minibus as far south as  Salerno so that Bill could photograph some war graves for cycling associated relatives.   There are some hilarious tales connected with that trip I can tell you!   I remember that Bill wished to visit a hill called Battaglia (Battle Mountain?) where he had helped to supply a small strategic outpost that could only be reached at night with mules.   The Americans held it and lost a lot of men because they had too many on what was a small area.   The Brits put a tenth of the Americans and were successful.   I know I digress.   To make the climb, we camped at the edge of the road – two A-pole tents with the two ladies with us (one Bill’s sister and the other my wife) in the bus itself.   We arrived in the dark after a liberal partaking of Chianti.   Close to the tents were some bushes and it was only in the dawn that one of us investigated them to find that on the other side was a 1000ft drop!   How lucky was that?

I started racing in time trials in 1951 and rode my first two on my Raleigh Lenton sports but without the hub gear and dynamo having bought (from the Clifton of course!) new alloy wheels to ride ‘fixie’.   But my third race was on the delight of my life, to that point anyway, my new hand-built Clifton frame!   I think it was £18.7s 6d with cranks.   A few years back I ordered a handbuilt touring frame which cost me £750 with cranks extra at £175!   Only about 1991 did my original Clifton give up the ghost on my then ride to work.   I still have a Clifton track frame in the loft, which I used for many years.

Back to the Clifton.   It was initially a corner shop until it moved two doors along the block, which was not behind the Haymarket but on one side of it.   All was cleared for the Tunnel approach roads but the corner is still there on...and here I am unable to see the name of the road on the A-Z.   However, the old Shaftsbury Boys’ Club building is still there (now a night club) and in front you can see where the cellars were where  the frame workshop was.   At some point around the late 50s, they stopped making frames themselves and contracted the work out to, I think, a Manchester or Liverpool builder.

When the shop was demolished, Bill got himself a job elsewhere and George moved the shop to Grange Mount but it closed some time after about   1982.   George built wheels for my cycle shop in Heswall for few years after that.   George died only a few years ago but Bill is still alive and lives in the Farndon area and is about 91 and as far as I know in reasonable health.   Bill helped me a great deal in my early days of racing even loaning me his racing sprint wheels after he had given up the sport itself.    I have spoken with Bill only once in the last 25 years due to a serious difference of opinion within the North End, which resulted in a number of us leaving and re-forming a dormant Birkenhead CC, which is,in fact, one of the oldest clubs on Merseyside – I think the Anfield BC is the oldest – but The CC as it was/is known is the oldest on Wirral formed in 1898 the North End being only three years younger – 1901.   I was in the North End for 35 years until 1985.

Clearly, Bill Hewitt is the man to fill in the detail but I do not have any more information not even who the current Secretary is for the North End.

Best regards
Geoff Hughes.

So if anyone can help Ray and Debbie Baird out, on their quest for further information on Thomas Baird, please contact the blog.

I like to thank Geoff Hughes for giving us permission to publish his wonderful e-mail. There's more to come from Goeff, in a future post.

Please contact us with any contribution large or small at

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