a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Wearwell CC a brand with history - revived.

The Covid-pandemic has thrown up a lot of challenges for all of us and lots of folks have missed out the things that they would have enjoyed during the summer, for me that means no racing season for the first time in thirty six years, I did manage half a dozen low key events in January and February so at least I've pinned a number on this year which is more than most people. 

It now seems clear that there will be no 'meaningful' bike racing in the UK for the whole of 2020, there are some time trials around of course but to be honest any race format that doesn't allow me to keep my beard out of the wind is a none starter for me (just saying) So a full year of racing has been lost and it's been a big blow to a lot of people, me included. Missing the whole season is also likely to have put the future of some of our longest standing events at risk. So if one year is a big loss and damaging to the sport what effect would sixty years without racing on the roads have ? why the question ? because that was the length of time up to the middle of the last century that road racing in the UK didn't happen. Bike racing on Britain's roads was effectively banned in 1890, a ban that was put in place by the then governing body of cycling the National Cyclists Union (NCU) and driven by increasing hostility towards racing on public roads (sound familiar ?).
                                                    Wearwell a historic British cycling brand now revived after a gap of over forty years.

I have been reflecting on this situation and it prompted me to do a bit of research to remind myself of the full story and the circumstances behind it, in doing that I came across a website called Tour Racing which is a great resource if you have any interest at all in the history of cycling's big races from the 1950's onward's. There are some great pictures on the Tour-Racing site and one that caught my attention (above) led me to some British cycling history that I had never heard of, the story of a historic cycling brand called Wearwell Cycles I'm not a cycling historian by any means, although I have written a couple of cycling history posts in the past, including this one on women's cycling from Bloomers to Boom-Pods 

What I like about the Wearwell story is that it has all the ingredients of a classic cycling saga, a bitter feud, intrigue and betrayal and triumph against the odds. It's a story definitely worthy of re-telling but as it is recounted in detail on the Wearwell CC website there is no need for me to cover it all here, so I will just touch on a little of Wearwell's history and their participation in the very early editions of the Tour of Britain. 
The original Wearwell Cycle Company Ltd was established in Wolverhampton in 1889 as a bicycle manufacturer and was owned from 1922 by a man called George Alexander Waine, I'll come back to old George a little later. The Wearwell story starts with a company called the Cogent Cycle Company was founded by Henry Clarke in 1867 unfortunately Henry died prematurely and the business was taken over by his five sons who promptly had a family feud over how the company should be run. At this point The Wearwell Cycle Company was formed by four of the Clarke brothers who wanted the brand to stand for quality, honesty and integrity. By the early 1900's Wearwell were producing over five hundred bikes per week and exporting them all over the world. Unfortunately this is where the intrigue and betrayal part of the story happened and you can read about that here Wearwell History

I love this picture from the Tour of Britain: the spectators, the cap, the bottle (and stopper), the knitted Wearwell jersey over what looks like a wool crew neck base layer, really cool  ... or perhaps not ? 

So going back to the start, why was racing banned in the first place ? well it was essentially an issue of social class, racing events on public roads had quickly become very popular and were regarded by many as disruptive working class gatherings that disturbed the weekend tranquillity of the countryside. Obviously these were very different times but not too difficult to see the similarities with  the current amateur racing scene (pre-Covid) and the difficulties that race organisers face in some parts of the country. Anyway, in its wisdom the NCU decided that it was their duty to preserve cycling as a gentleman’s leisure pursuit as they were concerned that the unpopularity of racing with the public, would lead to a total ban on cycling as a recreational activity, sounds odd now but that was their reasoning.

It wasn't until 1922 when the Road Racing Council (RRC) was formed that racing on public roads in Britain was officially sanctioned, and then only in the form of time trials against the clock. Follow this link to my post on the origins and history of UK time trialling with the rather catchy title Scorching - and pretending not to race. (if you read the post and you will understand) Even with time trials now taking place bunch racing remained confined to motor racing circuits or private roads.

This situation remained until Percy Thornley Stallard a Wolverhampton bicycle shop owner, instigated the re-introduction of road racing in the UK by staging an ‘illegal' road race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton on 7th June 1942. The NCU promptly suspended all those involved and in response Stallard founded the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC). It was this organisation that re-introduced massed start road racing in Britain by attracting sponsorship and publicity following the continental format and it was this approach that eventually led to the first Tour of Britain in 1951 under the sponsorship of The Daily Express.

In 1952 Wearwell sent their first sponsored team to compete in the second edition of The Tour of Britain although the young and fairly inexperienced squad failed to make their mark despite regularly placing riders in breakaways, the next year was to be completely different story with a much stronger team of Trevor Fenwick, Johnny Welch, John Pottier, Les Scales and Ian Greenfield.

In the 1953 edition of the tour the Wearwell Cycles squad became champions of Britain winning the Team Classification by taking four podium places on the General Classification and Les Scales taking 2nd and 3rd John Pottier 3rd having been the first British rider to wear the Yellow jersey against continental opposition. In 1954 Wearwell were again represented at the now thirteen stage Tour of Britain with a stronger six man squad this time taking three stage wins and a six podiums.  

 "The Wearwell riders took team honours. theirs was no fluke victory. Study the result lists and you will find no team more consistent in its placings, each man playing his part at the right time. They derved every minute of their win. And there are a quite a lot of minutes in 210 hours 28 minutes 2 secs"
                                                                                       The Bicycle 23rd September 1953

Unfortunately during the difficult economic times of the 1970's coupled with a rapid increase in car ownership bike sales took a huge hit and after struggling on until 1975 the Wearwell company finally closed its doors and that was the end of the 100 year history of the Wearwell brand - until recently.

The current Wearwell kit, you can always tell when people are serious about what they are doing with a brand from the effort that they put in to the small details, when the packaging and presentation are first class you just know the contents are going to be good. It's not just about the packaging though, anybody can do that, what particularly impressed me is the effort made to make the link to Wearwell's history, like enclosing a picture of  John Pottier, yellow jersey wearer at the 1953 Tour of Britain with an account of Stage 6, the 151 miles from Newcastle to Glasgow, along with a post card sized image of the Wearwell Tour squad.
  I have been riding in Wearwell kit it for a couple of weeks now and posting pictures on Instagram obviously, the quality is top notch and everything about it gives you the feeling that Will Laughton and Alex Joynson the guys behind Wearwell really do care passionately about the brand and it's revival. Possibly not too surprising in Alex's case as  Wearwell CC  represents the re-birth of his family business and an opportunity to contribute to the family cycling legacy, remember George Alexander Waine at the top of the post who bought the company in 1922 well that was Alex's great-great Grandfather.



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