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Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society caters for veteran cars, vintage cars & classic cars, as well as commercials and motorcycles.


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:: [   FLAMING JUNE -  2020  ] ::

Flaming June !  The coronavirus lock-down continues and the ban  on public meetings is still in force. Still not able to carry out the normal range of Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society outside and inside gatherings. We have therefore encouraged all our members to take photographs instead of any of their allowable distancing machinery and share them on our website. Many of our Members are of the 'elderly variety' so were hunkered deep down thinking of survival rather than escape,  but some have been 'socially cycling' and have sent photos to us.  

Our Membership Secretary Chas Moody apart from being keen vintage car owner is also a very keen 'two-wheels man'. As well as having a 1914 Triumph TT Roadster Motorcycle ( Virtual 81st Pioneer Motorcycle Run - 2020  ) he is also a regular 'modern' sports biker, and he has a much broken leg to prove it, - he is also a collector of old bicycles. A number of his cycling adventures during the Corona Lockdown have already been covered in these pages. Chas is also a convert to photography and has now sent some lovely photos to prove it. This cycle ride he describes as a "Bridge too Far" and he says this could well be of more interest to railway enthusiasts than cyclists!

"Here in Hurst Green we have good rail links to London via Oxted to the north, and southwards down to Uckfield and East Grinstead. The lanes in the area, which are ideal for cycling, are criss-crossed by rail lines running through tunnels and cuttings and over bridges and viaducts necessary to deal with the gradients and valleys. The focus of attention today is the highly unusual 'Little Browns Tunnel' (No.56), which is actually two tunnels

First a brief history of the rail lines! The building of the rail line from Croydon to Oxted and down to East Grinstead was beset with problems but was finally opened by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in 1884. Then in 1888 a further branch line down to Uckfield was completed, the two lines dividing just south of Hurst Green station. The first railway in the area however, was the Redhill to Tonbridge line running east-west, opened in 1842 by South Eastern Railway.  LB&SCR was absorbed in 1923 into the Southern Railway, which became the Southern Region of British Railways on nationaisation in 1948. This then became the Southern Railway again after privatisation in 1996. Map above survives at the entrance to Victoria Station terminal in London.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see the FULL SIZE picture

The ride out passes through Staffhurst Wood then over the Tonbridge line at Black Robin Bridge (No.54), named after Black Robin's Farm. Crossing the border from Surrey to Kent, we arrive at Little Browns Lane and the tunnel bearing its name. The unusual feature is that the Tonbridge railway line passes under Hilders Lane in a cutting which was built in 1841 and when the Uckfield line was built at a later date, it had to be run underneath the Tonbridge line in tunnels, north and south of the Tonbridge line, so the roof of the Uckfield tunnel forms a bridge for the Tonbridge line where the two lines cross at right angles. Quite an engineering feat. The picture, looking east towards Tonbridge, should explain everything! 


Continuing east along Little Browns lane then south along Crouch House Road we meet the Uckfield line again, this time passing over the road by means of Crouch Lane Bridge (No.533). On the return journey we re-cross Black Robin Bridge then continue north along Grants Lane, crossing over the Uckfield line at Grants Lane Bridge (No.527). Nearly home, we turn into Holland Lane which passes over the Uckfield Line (Bridge No.525) then crosses the East Grinstead line (Bridge No.844).

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see the FULL SIZE picture

Today's bike is a 1956 Hercules 'Artisan' cycle which were mass produced in Birmingham. The Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited was founded in 1910 by Edmund and Harry Crane. The name Hercules, the hero and god of Roman mythology, was chosen for its associations with durability and robustness. Trading on low price and high quality, Hercules cycles were some of the cheapest on the market and by the end of the 1930's Hercules had produced over six million cycles and could claim to be the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world. 


In 1946 the company was sold to Tube Investments (later known as TI Group) who also acquired Raleigh in 1960 but sales declined and by 1963 there was little left of the distinctive Hercules marque. In 2003 the original company, which was still part of Raleigh, was dissolved. This bicycle is a standard 'ride to work' machine of the type that provided economical, reliable transport for millions of workers between the Wars and up to the 1950's when low priced family cars began to be afforded by the average worker.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see the FULL SIZE picture

 Whilst this humble machine would hardly raise the pulse of any cycling enthusiast (except if they rode it for any distance!), it rightly deserves its place in both social and transport history.

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see the FULL SIZE picture

The Hercules bicycle is of great significance to Chairman Bozi Mohacek, as this was his very first bicycle in England. " Back home in Croatia I had a number of children's bikes of various impressive appearances because in the very late 1940s I lived with my Grandparents who lived very close to a cyclebuilder who specialised in exotic looking machinery. However when I came to England I was sent to a boarding school where bikes were not allowed. So it was not until about 1956, when my mother came to the UK that I had a 'home base' where a bicycle could be kept. However, in her attempting to make me grow up self-sufficient, I had to buy the bike myself ; not that easy at the age of 13. 'Home base' was a rented flat very close to the beach in Hove in Sussex, very near the famous boating' Lagoon'. Lots of affluentish houses all needing their morning newspaper, - and guess who was delivering them! Yes, I was allowed a bicycle as long as I got a holiday paper round to pay for it, morning and evening. 

I have vague recollections about parental/newsagent discussions relating to my age, and limited English. I remember a local cycling competition being involved, and my ownership of the bike was dependant on it. Anyway, got my bag and did the rounds. I thought I had no photos left of this episode of my life but lots of searching through obscure places came up with the photo above and the two photos below. All are enlargements of very tiny 'brownie' type photos, I guess Christmas 1956 may have played a part in the saga because two of the pictures feature snow! The lady above was my mother. (In the background was a Jaguar dealership where I faithfully promised myself an XK140. Never did get one, but did manage some equally faster ones since!)

Please Click on the thumbnail photos to see the FULL SIZE picture

I had completely forgotten about the bike until the mention in the above article by Chas of the HERCULES. I remember the name extremely well because the pronunciations of it in English and Croatian were quite different. I guess the bike was probably not new but second-hand, but it was gleaming, - and kept so by me. I cannot remember if it was a full size bike, because I wasn't, but I do remember that it was a smidgen too big for me. It would have been quite basic due to my limited earning capability. I remember it had an ' H ' on the badge.

Chas Moody had mentioned in his article that the Hercules bicycle was manufactured in Birmingham. This is a bit of a problem because I seem to have a strong recollection that my bike had something to do with Germany ? So a bit of research was needed. And it seems that there were indeed two bicycle companies in Europe called Hercules. One was indeed in Birmingham and the other was indeed in Nurnberg, Germany. So a bit of investigation need as to when these were making bicycles.

The (British) Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited was founded around the purchase of the Petros Cycle Company but several bankruptcies later was registered as Hercules in 1910 in Aston, Birmingham. Initially they made 25 bicycles a week subsequently growing due  relatively high quality machines being sold for a low price. A couple of relocations  to new premises saw them making 10,000 a year by 1914. In World War 1 they mass produced shells. By 1923 they were making 1,000 cycles a day, each taking less than 10 minutes to assemble. In 1928 they exported one in five of all British cycles and, by 1935, 40 per cent. The company made its six millionth bicycle in February 1939 and claimed to be the biggest manufacturer in the world. They became one of the largest companies in Aston and Aston Villa mascot is Hercules the Lion. In 1946 the company was sold to Tube Investments and by 1956 was absorbed with other cycle manufacturers into the British Cycle Corporation. This seems to have coincided with major redundancies following deadlock with unions. TI then bought Raleigh in 1960 forming TI Raleigh Industries and management of British Cycle Corporation was given to Raleigh. By 1963 there was little left of a distinctive Hercules, which was closed down eventually as recently as 2003. Hercules name remains as part of TI Cycles of India. Chas' above article features a number of quite detailed Hercules photos.

The (German) Hercules Fahrrad Werke, Nurnberg started in 1889 as Carl Marschuts & Co, employing 70 people and producing 800 bicycles; by 1894 there were 170 employees making 4,700 bicycles. By 1900, however, over-production created difficulties and American imports compounded the problem. Like many other companies they diversified into also making motorcycles. In 1903 they changed the name to Hercules Werke AG mainly making a motorcycle with engine hung on a bicycle frame. Direct drive to rear wheel via belt, and then continued with  motorcycles with small capacity engines. They made various commercial vehicles between 1905 and 1928. In 1932, when tax reductions made 3-wheeler cars profitable, they brought out the two-seater Hercules Coupe powered by a 200cc engine. It was only in production for one year. 

Please Click on the photos to see larger picture

Bicycle production continued as a subsidiary activity and sold well, being a well built reliable machine. There does not seem to be much info available about Hercules after WW2 when their works were destroyed. They recommenced activities by repairing bicycles but 'war reparations' took all their machinery. Information suggests they were still being made in the 1950s and 1960s by the Nurnberger Hercules Werke GMBH. These were both the older fashioned sit-up-beg and the more sporty version with dropped bars.- But it is the motorbikes and mopeds they became known for and that is mostly what comes up in any Hercules Germany searches..

So this has not bought me any further in clarifying why I should have thought my bike was German. Only thing that I noted in my searches was that the front brake rod on the later period German bike went through the mudguard to a rubber pad that pressed into the tyre. Mine definitely seems to have rim brakes. British Hercules seemed to have the letter H incorporated into the main sprocket and a more comprehensive chain guard. I found a site that was comparing a 1939 German to 1949 British machine saying that the British was more lively and nippy, whereas the German one was strong and built as for war (?!).  Not much detail can be pulled out of my photos to say either way but all my studies, despite my recollections, seemed to be suggesting that it was a British Hercules. 

Geran Hercules leftBritish Hercules right
So I finally turned to our 'Bike Guru' Chas Moody, who has a British Hercules, to see if he can recognise any details in my photos to pinpoint the country of origin. The badge? He replied that he also could not find when the German Hercules ceased to be made but attached a photo of the badge on his Hercules and the shape looks similar to the one on my bike, plus it has a large 'H' as I had recalled it having. It also has similar chrome shrouds over the 'shoulders' of the front forks.

Geran Hercules leftBritish Hercules right
Please Click on the photos to see larger picture
Regretfully my montage of the badges above shows both had an 'H' on it and both had chrome shoulders.  However, the badge was definitely much more British shape than German. The German Hercules generally had the stylized zeppelin mascot on the front of the front mudguard, and also the front brake going through the mudguard was specifically on the German bike. So Chas and I both now seem to agree that my Hercules was the British make and made about the same time as the one that Chas has, about 1956?  - So where the blazes does Germany come in?? Sadly nobody about anymore who could solve the puzzle.

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