History – The Oldest Custom Steel Framebuilders In The UK
The Oldest Custom Steel Framebuilders In The UK
Ellis Briggs Cycles was founded in 1936 by Mr Leonard Ellis and Mr Thomas Briggs hence the name Ellis-Briggs. Which makes us the oldest custom steel framebuilders in the UK. Leonard was the son of a railway man and Thomas was the son of a coal miner and served in the artillery during the First World War. Both men came from Hunslet in Leeds, which is where Tom met Leonard’s eldest sister Nellie.
When the shop opened in 1936 there were actually two bicycle shops in Shipley although that shop has disappeared now. Shipley’s cycling heritage actually goes back over 100 years.
The Early Years (1936 – 1945)
Thomas Briggs was persuaded to open a bike shop by his brother-in-law Leonard Ellis who had previous experience in the bike business. Leonard had been shop manager at JT Rodgers in the center of Leeds.
Tom Briggs had a history of building successful business and wanted his new firm to be the best.
Creating A High Quality Product
The club cycling scene was booming in the 1930s, although there wasn’t many manufacturers of lightweights in West Yorkshire at the time. The most notable was established builder was W.R. Baines whose factory was based at Thackley. Leonard and Tom had a vision for creating high quality lightweight racing frames. From day one they put the investment into making the Ellis Briggs workshop one of the most advanced of its time. When most framebuilders were “one man bands” working with a few files and a vice, Ellis Briggs had purpose-built fixtures, tube mitering machines and lug cutting dies. Tom was never happy to stand still, if he could innovate he would.
Tom and Leonard also knew that their frames needed to have a really nice finish in order to really stand out from the crowd. They achieved this by also having an enamelling shop in house from day one, which was located at the back of the main building.
Of course it wasn’t long before the outbreak of World War Two and during the war years the shop survived selling anything from bikes to boys lumber jackets! But it was a testament to the strong foundation that Leonard and Tom had built in just 3 years that the shop did survive the war years.
The Birth of Road Racing the UK
It was after the war that the lightweight business took off. Service men who returned from Europe and had experienced road races in places like Italy and France realised that similar racing could be held here in the UK. It was with the birth of Road Racing in the UK that Ellis Briggs had its biggest success, but more on that later.
More staff were needed to cope with demand during the 50s, some of the new employees went on to become great riders such as Ken Russell and Doug Petty.
Thomas’s son Jack was in charge of the frame shop and the workshop and it was under his care that Ellis Briggs continued to gain reputation for quality of materials, workmanship and attention to detail. Qualities that we maintain to this day.
The Fifties Onwards
Thomas Briggs health had been deteriorating at the beginning of the 1950s and Jack took over the Business officially when he passed away in 1956. It was also at this point that Leonard Ellis parted ways and left to manage his shop in Castleford.
The first of Jack’s nephews Rodney Priestley joined the business in the late 50s and quickly found his place in the enamelling shop. Another of Jack’s nephews, John Rayner started working in the shop in 1959 and soon after became shop manager.
In 1965 the shop and factory moved out of the old premises and moved across the road into a brand new building. The 60s weren’t a great time for the bicycle business in the UK. Car ownership soared and bicycle use lessened as a result.
Across the pond in the US things couldn’t have been more different. The framebuilders that existed there before the war had pretty much all retired and passed on, without passing on their skills to a new generation. So when young Americans were looking for 10 speed racing bikes, they looked towards the three main bike building nations of Europe, France, Italy and Britain. As a consequence our exports soared.
Jack and Nora Briggs retired in 1986. Their two sons John and Paul, had been working in the shop since the 60’s, Paul as a mechanic and John as Salesman.
The Modern Era
John and Paul took the reigns and run the business for nearly 30 years now. The lightweight business in the 1980s was becoming increasingly difficult with competition from mailorder in an already small niche market. So John and Paul decided to more family oriented cycling products and bikes. This also coincided with both the BMX boom and later the mountain bike boom. With this new focus the business flourished for the next 25 years.
Diversification helped us to keep the custom framebuilding side alive when most other bicycle manufacturers and custom builders in the UK shut up shop completely.
However in the early 2000s just when steel framebuilding in the uk had hit rock bottom, there was renewed interest in custom hand made frames. This was thanks to framebuilders in the USA who championed the bespoke frame.
By 2014 the framebuilding department, made up of Master Framebuilder Andrew Poudziunas and Framebuilder Paul Gibson had grown the steel frame business to make up a large part of our turnover once again. Although now the focus was more on touring and audax bikes as well as repairing, altering and renovating classic steel frames.
In 2015 John and Paul Briggs retirement was now looming. It was Paul Gibson who had been working in the business for the last 16 years who had the vision and expertise to take Ellis Briggs forward and carry on the legacy.
So it was in February 2016 that John and Paul retired, that Paul Gibson took the business back to its roots.
Working alongside Paul is Simon Oldfield who started working for the company in 1989. SImon, who has over 27 years experience of working on steel frames handles most of the workshop duties.
Ellis Briggs – Specialists In Steel
Ellis Briggs now specialises in all things steel. We manufacture traditional lugged steel frames using the same process that we perfected in the 1950s, we repair and modify classic and vintage steel frames and bring them back to life with new paintwork and we can supply classic and retro parts to suit vintage and new steel frames. We also repair and service all makes of quality bikes and we are an appointed Brompton dealer.
Over the years we have sponsored many of Yorkshire best riders, such as Dave Rayner, Dave Mann, Bernie Burns, Bernard Burns, Albert Hitchen, Arthur Metcalf, Harry Bond, Doug Petty, Peter Nowell, Danny Horton, Gordon Thomas, Brian Robinson and Ken Russell but to name few.
Our Frames have competed in and had success in the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships, the Tour de France and British National Championships. Although due to riders sponsors the frames didn’t always have our name on!
Our biggest success was in the fifties when Ken Russell won the Tour of Britain win in 1952, completely unaided by any team support was our first major success. Two years later Brian Robinson gained 4th place in the Tour of Britain, before going on to race in the Tour de France and win two stages (riding on Ellis Briggs frames badged up as Geminiani). The great Beryl Burton, also preferred to have an Ellis Briggs frame, although due to her sponsorship they couldn’t have our name on!
Success in the British National Road Championship came in 1971 when the late Danny Horton won riding an Ellis Briggs with Falcon transfers on.
In the 1980s we set up the Ellis Briggs Saturne Racing Team to help kick off the late Dave Rayner’s career, as well as other talented local riders such as Bernie Burns, Dave Mann and Ian Smith. Before Dave Rayner turned pro he won Junior British Road Race in 1984. Which made it the second time a rider had won the national jersey riding an Ellis Briggs. This time the frame had our transfers on!
Unfortunately Dave was tragically killed outside a Bradford nightclub in 1994. His memory still lives on in the Dave Rayner Memorial Fund, which was set up to help young riders go to europe and further their cycling careers. One of the first and most famous recipients was David Millar. You can read all about Dave Rayner and the fund in a new book which has just been published Everybody’s Friend. All proceeds go directly to the Rayner fund.
Today we still sponsor the Ellis Briggs Road Team which is a continuation of the backing we have always given to the sport.
We have been manufacturing hand made cycle frames since the ’30s. Our wealth of knowledge really is unsurpassed. Our frames have been exported all over the world, but in particular to the United States and Canada. Over the years 100s of our frames have found their way across the pond and we regularly get emails off happy owners. Even today our frames and cycles are highly sought after, although fashions have changed and the majority we sell are for touring and audax rather than racing.
So what ever your reason from visiting Ellis Briggs, we’ll be happy to help.
Our Framebuilding History
Our framebuilding records haven’t survived from our very early days, but we have been building frames since the shop opened in the mid 30s. On our early frames we just offered one lug design and built frames to the customers specification with their choice of colour and finish.
We have a consistent frame numbering system which have used throughout our history. All our handbuilt frames have a four digit number stamped into the bottom bracket shell and the fork column.
In the first few years after the war and due to lack of raw materials, at least half the frames we built were “Sif Bronze” welded (or fillet brazed as is the common term now).
However once materials became more readily available we first developed our Superbe model in 1947 and then later our International model which had more cut outs in the lugs.
Our Superbe and International lug set was made using a fly press to cut our design out of plain lugs. Then the lugs were filed by hand to meet standard.
We also began to produce 2 other models, the Competition and the All-Rounder.
In the early 50s we experimented with some frames with very short chainstays. One style featured a split seat tube and the other had a special bottom bracket lug which mounted the seat tube further up down tube, again to give rear wheel clearance.
These frames weren’t a success for us and consequently are very rare.
In the 1960’s we started to use Nervex lugs. Our International frame still had our own design of lugs which we cut in our own workshop, however our Superbe and Competition frames was built with Nervex Professional lugs.
1960s More Italian Influence – The Gran-Premo
As fashions changed going into the 1960s, many customers found our 1950s designs old-fashioned, we needed to launch a new model. John Rayner (shop manager from the 60s through to the late 80s) came up with the Gran Premo name and design, which was our answer to customers wanting an Italian styled frame.. This frame featured Prugnat lugs, a deep Italian fork crown and “fast back” Italian seatstays. Most of these 1960s frames were built for Mafac centre pulls, which were popular at the time.
In the picture of Danny Horton racing in the 1960s, he is aboard one of these very frames. If you look closely, you can see that the frame has Eclipse panels which were a feature of our frames in the 1960s.
By the end of the 1960s many of these frames we’re built with Nervex Professional Lugs.
Some customers still found our Ellis-Briggs transfers old-fashioned, so again we came up with an alternative. In 1965 John Rayner was responsible for coming up with Favori name, which then became the transfers of choice for racing cyclists.
In the 1960s demand for our Superbe and International lugs had dropped but we started to build frames with Nervex Professional lugs as an option, which proved popular.
San Remo Super
Into the mid 70s and and the 80s our top of the range frame was the San Remo Super, which had Reynolds top of the range tubeset with Cinelli lugs which had cut-outs to the customers choice, such as the club in the picture opposite.
The Modern Era – Andrew Puodziunas
During the 70s Jack Briggs had less time to spend framebuilding than he’d have liked as he had the rest of the business to run. So the search started for an apprentice to carry on the framebuilding tradition. After Paul Briggs decided it wasn’t for him, one of our mechanics Andrew Puodziunas, who had been working in the workshop since he was 14 was asked. Framebuilding suited Andrews personality perfectly. He was gifted with the brazing torch, had an eye for detail and had the patience to spend hours filing and thinning down lugs to the standard which Jack Briggs liked.
Doug Fattic wrote to us asking if he could come as an apprentice in the summer of 1975. Over the previous summers, Doug had spent his summers bicycle touring around the UK and visiting many British framebuilders. One thing he noticed was that many British builders at the time had very basic workshops and put very little care into the final product. However both Ellis Briggs and Johnny Berry were prepared to spend the time building and finishing their frames to a high standard even if it meant that they couldn’t sell as many frames as more prolific builders. Even the most revered framebuilders of the 20th century mostly aligned their frames purely by eye, where as we have always had an alignment process which ends up with a frame in near perfect alignment.
One of the aims of his trips was to find somewhere to come and apprentice. It was Johnny Berry of Manchester and Ellis Briggs who had really stood out, so Doug wrote letters asking both if he could come across from the states and apprentice. Unfortunately Johnny Berry had passed away not long after Doug had visited him in 1974 but luckily for Doug we accepted his request.
Doug has since gone on to become one of the best and most respected framebuilders in the US and has taught many other young aspiring framebuilders, in his workshop in Niles Michigan.
Our current framebuilder Paul apprenticed under Andrews guidance as well as working as a mechanic for the last 15 years. Andrew was often unforgiving in his teaching style, which was due to a combination of his own passion for quality and his personality. What this meant for Paul is that every time he touches a file, its with a desire to exceed expectations
In order to further his knowledge and skills Paul accepted an invite from Doug Fattic to go visit him in Niles, Michigan in the winter of 2014. Amongst many of his talents, Doug Fattic is an expert in lug cutting and fancy lug designs.
Paul is now the current custodian of our nearly 80 years of accumulated knowledge on bike fitting, bike design and frame repair.
Paul now shares Andrew’s eye for detail and his drive to do things the right way or not at all.