A postcard from South London

There’s a bike shop that sits near the top of East Hill in Wandsworth called Stratton Cycles.

It’s been there for nearly 100 years.

The shop was opened by a man called Claud Butler, one of five shops the now iconic frame builder set up in London during the 1930s.

These were heady days. Club cycling in Britain was booming, and every town across the land had at least one active cycling club.

The story goes that Butler developed an interest in cycling after delivering bottles of medicine for a doctor in south London.

He was a successful club cyclist, riding for Balham CC and working for the Halford Cycle Company as a mechanic, before setting up on his own at a workshop in Clapham in the late 1920s.

Butler began to experiment with bronze-welded construction and decorative lugs, fashionable techniques and features that until this point were the domain of continental frame builders.

Weekly magazine of the time The Bicycle reflected in a 1957 issue that the “ideas, practical innovations and use of the latest machinery brought “C.B.” bicycles well to the fore in the lightweight industry. Claud Butler accomplished many fine technical achievements, and pioneered many of the present-day developments.”

The thirties were golden years for the Claud Butler marque. His bikes were raced at world championships in Denmark, France, Italy and Germany, as well as the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The advent of the second world war curtailed the rise of Claud Butler however, as international cycling events were suspended and domestic races cut.

By the mid-fifties the glory days were over. Post-war prosperity brought with it aspirations towards consumerism and motorized transport; cycling’s popularity suffered.

Declining demand and a large tax bill meant the end for Claud Butler in 1957.

The marque has changed hands a couple of times since then, and bikes bearing the famous name are still manufactured today. Any similarity ends there however.

Cycling historian David Palk writes:

“The sad fate that has befallen the Claud Butler name, ever since 1957, has put an undeserved tarnish on what really should be celebrated as a shining example of quality, flair, self- promotion and business acumen… Had the marque been allowed to end with the bankruptcy, then Claud Butler would surely be celebrated today as an equal to the most sought after names within our interest.”

Butler’s original work bench drawers are still there in the Stratton Cycles workshop to this day.

Current owner Mark Trent is a wonderful mechanic, possessing skills and knowledge honed over decades; skills and knowledge that can’t be ordered online. He’s the man other mechanics send their customers to, to fix problems they can’t.

The new online behemoths are putting serious pressure on the local bike industry. Skills are in real danger of being lost.

Let’s hope Stratton Cycles continues to keep the local residents of Wandsworth moving on two wheels for many more decades to come.

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