Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,139 pages of information and 245,599 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Thomas Humber

From Graces Guide
xx. From 'Bartleet's Bicycle Book'.
1874. Early Price List.
1884. The First Humber Safety Bicycle.
1886. A. J. Wilson and G. P. Mills on a Humber Tandem Tricycle.

Thomas Humber (1841-1910), the founder of Humber

1841 October 16th. Born in Andrew Street, Brightside, Sheffield, the son of Samuel Humber (a tailor) and his wife Lucy (nee Turton).

1849 His parents moved to Kingston upon Hull, where he was educated at Salthouse lane school in the city.

1854 Family moved to Nottingham; Thomas became an Apprentice Wheelwright and Blacksmith for William Campion of Roden Street, Nottingham [1].

After leaving school, he was employed by a number of companies including Cross of Mortimer Street, Nottingham[2].

1857 Employed as a smith (not a formal apprentice) by Cross of Nottingham, wheelwright and blacksmith[3].

Early 1860s: Employed by Butterley Iron Co; provided competitive tenders for deck beams for HMS Ocean (launched 1863) and HMS Achilles (launched 1863)[4].

Late 1860s: After working for several other firms, returned to Nottingham and set up as a blacksmith on his own account[5].

1867 Campion brought back from Paris a simple bicycle (Michaux Velocipede) with the pedals acting directly on the front wheel. Thomas saw this and saw that it could be improved [6].

1868 Humber saw an article about the Michaux machine in 'The English Mechanic' of 4th December 1868 and believed that this design could be improved upon, so produced his first bicycle. This was made at his house in 65 Northumberland Street, Nottingham and was similar to the Michaux. It was purchased by (presumably) T. Harrison Lambert[7].

1869 February he made his second machine with improvements including in fork heads and conical back-bone sockets[8] which he also sold to Lambert.

1870 Thomas Humber moved to premises at 29a Stretton Street, Nottingham

1871/2 Humber was producing his 'Spider Bicycle' that was an early form of the 'Ordinary' (or Penny-Farthing) bicycle.

1873 Humber issued his first price list, which included testimonials to the durability of the Spider bicycle and included one from Fred Cooper; it illustrated the "Spider Bicycle", an 'ordinary' with 50 inch front wheel[9].

1875 Formed a partnership Humber and Marriott with Thomas Rushforth Marriott to produce bicycles.

1875 Moved the business to Queen's Road in Nottingham.

Responding to the demands of the racing community, Humber developed a machine that was both light and strong[10].

1877 Fred Cooper joined the partnership and it became Humber, Marriott and Cooper

1878 Patent. '3126. To Matthew Doubleday, of Old Radford, Nottingham, Slater, and Thomas Humber, of Queens-road, Nottingham, Bicycle Manufacturer, for the invention of "an improved tricycle."'[11]

1878 The company moved to a new factory at Beeston near Nottingham.

Branch opened in London at Lillie Road, close to Brompton Cemetery.

Started to produce tricycles. The Humber tandem tricycle was one of the fastest of its type with large front wheels and smaller rear wheel which provided steering action[12].

1884 Humber "safety" bicycle patented by Thomas Humber (24th April, 1884, No. 6767); this machine was a key step in the development of the bicycle[13]; it was one of the first to use a "diamond" frame, which was stiffer than the single tube backbone used previously. Humber was one of several makers who exhibited bicycles at the Stanley Shows featuring a small front wheel connected to a long sloping fork (unlike Lawson's earlier Bicyclette with large front wheel)[14].

1884 Tricycle of the modern arrangement produced, front direct steering and rear drive; known as the Humber-Cripper after the first person to race it, Robert Cripps.

1885 Beeston Humber Tandem Safety produced. This was the first tandem cycle and was based on the Humber tandem tricycle[15].

1885 Cooper and Marriott left the partnership and set up as wholesalers of cycles, Marriott and Cooper. They then produced cycles of similar design which were made for them by Rudge. By arrangement, retained an equal right with the Humber Company to use the name Humber, and to use any of the old company's patents in their products. Shortly after the dissolution, the Humber company began advertising their cycle as the genuine Humber and sought to register the phrase as their trade mark. Cooper and Marriott resisted this, and succeeded in an action at law in upholding their right to use the name; they also prevented the registration of the genuine Humber name.

1885 T. Harrison Lambert became a partner with Thomas Humber

  • 1887 April: Humber and Lambert agreed to sell the business to William Horton[16].

1887 Humber and Co formed to amalgamate 4 cycle businesses acquired by Horton and others. Thomas Humber agreed to act as general manager for 5 years from the formation of the new company, and to superintend the manufacturing departments of all the works[17].

Lambert introduced M. D. Rucker to the company; he became the manager of the company's Holborn Viaduct branch and later became the company's General Manager.

1892 Thomas Humber retired from the business

By 1900 Humber was one of the largest bicycle firms in Britain.

1910 He died of cancer on the 24th November at Albany Park, Kingston-upon-Thames aged 69 years.

Thomas Humber never used bridle rod steering. Humber fitted an anti-vibration device under the head in November, 1884. These early experiments gave Humber the idea for an improved tricycle, the first specimen of which was sent to Mrs. J. W. Maude in November, 1884: this was tried by Robert Cripps in May, 1885, and "handsome Bob" — as he was known — immediately discovered its advantages from a speed point of view. How he exploited this type of three-wheeler, which became famous as the "Cripper," is another story.

On 27th September, 1884, the first "Kangaroo" 100 miles road race was held, the winner being George Smith, of the Merry Rovers, whose time was 7 hrs. 11 mins. 10 secs. S. Golder was second, T. A. Edge third, and R. T. Cassall fourth. All the official competitors in the race rode Kangaroos, the event being organized by the makers of that machine. Bob Cripps, on one of the new Humber rear-driving safeties, started with the competitors, and finished in 7 hrs. 32 mins. 55 secs., having sustained a broken crank due to a crash at 74 miles. H. J. Webb also went through on a Humber tricycle; his time, 7 hrs 35 mins., beating the record for the type.

This locates the date of the introduction of the Humber safety, and it should be clearly understood that it was made and on the market before the "Cripper" Tricycle (on which Cripps won the 5 miles tricycle championship in 1885.) At the time of which I write, Fred Cooper was manager of the Humber Depot at 98 Richmond Road, West Brompton.

When — about November, 1885 — Marriott and Cooper severed their connection with Thomas Humber, J. W. Maude came to London to manage the Metropolitan business, and in February, 1886, he opened No. 32 Holborn Viaduct, which remained the London H. Q. for 40 years. Here I must pay a tribute to the memory of that prince of good fellows, "Billy" Maude, one of the most popular men the cycle trade has ever known: he died on 30th April, 1929. “Bob" Cripps died on 11th July, 1925. Tom Humber died 23rd November, 1910.

In 1886 the height of the front wheel was increased to 22 inches, and the 1887 model was the first with equal 28 inch wheels: one of these was supplied to W. B. Gurney, of Bradford, who improved it by having two half-inch solid steel rods fitted from the bracket to the seat-pillar lug, to which they were bolted and not brazed. Humber immediately saw the advantage of thus trussing the frame, and adopted the improvement in his 1888 roadster model; which also had the bracket built into the frame. The racer of 1888 had a single tube (curved to follow the radius of the back wheel) from seat-lug to bracket.

In 1891 we find the Humber roadster equipped with a band brake on the front hub. Reference to the illustration reveals that the bottom bracket is designed to slide on a continuation of the chain-stays, being held by a clamping bolt; after unscrewing the nut on this bolt, the bracket is moved by a central draw-bolt in order to adjust the chain; the back wheel, being rigidly held in the fork-ends, is always central.

Incidentally, "Billy" Maude steadfastly maintained that — as made by Tom Humber — the bracket was always above the slide; whereas the photo shows it slung below. Here is yet another little piece of intimate information, it is from a letter written by Maude a few years before his death, and reveals the great Thomas Humber as the autocrat that we know him to have been, as well as an ingenious mechanic:

"Regarding the position of the barrel bracket, I am absolutely positive that no machine left the works in Mr. Humber's time with bracket below the gantry. I have the best of reasons for this statement, as I had a most severe and caustic castigation at the hands of my old friend Humber for reversing mine! In winning a hill-climb at Melton Mowbray, I broke my seat-pillar, and to get home, I cut it off one inch from the top, fixed it directly on top of the frame, and reversed the bracket to below the frame; although the top run of the chain rubbed on the stay, I thought I had been smart. In the evening Mr. H. called at the depot to learn the result of the hill-climb; he spotted my machine, and immediately said: 'Who has done this? Reverse it at once. The gantry is there to support the bracket, the clamping bolt is merely to hold it in position, and I am not risking my reputation on a inch bolt. If you are not satisfied to ride our machines as they are turned out from the works, get something else, but do not mutilate ours!'"

Foolishly, instead of explaining, I pointed out that the clamping bolt was stronger than the pedal-pin, to which the chief replied: 'Young man, your knowledge of strains and stresses is not commensurate with your experience; if you fail to realize the difference between applying pressure at a flexible point which will yield, and a point which is anchored and will not yield, your time spent in the works has been badly employed. Any more attempts to, experiment, in public, will cause us to part company.'

Ultimately, Maude explained his action, and was forgiven. He concludes: "The gantry would allow anyone to reverse the bracket, but not with a standard gear; they would require a larger chain-wheel, to enable the top section of the chain to clear the chain-stay. If the bracket of the Museum machine is below the gantry, I should imagine it has been altered after leaving the works."

Block chains for the early Humber "safeties” and tricycles were obtained from Thomas Green and Son, the lawn-mower makers, of Smithfield Iron Works, Leeds. [18]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Humber Car Museum[1]
  2. Humber Car Museum[2]
  3. The Graphic, 5 March 1898
  4. The Graphic, 5 March 1898
  5. The Graphic, 5 March 1898
  6. Humber Car Museum[3]
  7. The Graphic, 5 March 1898
  8. The Times, Friday, Apr 06, 1906
  9. The STory of the Bicycle, by John Woodforde, 1970
  10. The Story of the Bicycle, by John Woodforde, 1970
  11. [4] Gazette Issue 24616 published on the 23 August 1878. Page 67 of 100
  12. The Story of the Bicycle, by John Woodforde, 1970
  13. Bartleet's Bicycle Book
  14. Bicycle: The History by David V. Herlihy, Yale University Press, 2006
  15. The Story of the Bicycle, by John Woodforde, 1970
  16. The Morning Post, 17 June 1887
  17. The Morning Post, 17 June 1887
  18. Bartleet's Bicycle Book