Cycle Sales and Repairs

There were two great inventions which directly affected people's domestic lives in the nineteenth century: the sewing machine and the bicycle. The mass production of these inventions changed the face of society to a remarkable degree. It was the bicycle in particular that enabled people to travel greater distances in a shorter time. This is reflected in the parish registers, where clearly relationships sprang up between folk who lived relatively far from each other, eventually resulting in marriages or job opportunities. Cycling also became a recreational activity.

Lady cyclists in the early 1900s
Lady cyclists in the early 1900s

People were keen to be mobile and therefore purchasing or hiring a bicycle was important. Also cycling clubs were set up and the relevant literature on touring and maps was made available to the general public. This meant there was an ever-increasing opportunity to earn money from selling, hiring and repairing bicycles. The Forncett area was no exception and three names are closely associated with the bicycle business: Fox, Aldridge and Humphreys.

At Forncett End, opposite the Methodist Chapel, David Fox had been running the general stores and post office since the late 1880s. In the early 1900's his sons, Fergus and Urbane, saw a new opportunity set up a separate business, Fox Bros., selling, hiring and repairing bicycles. The cycle business was located next to the shop and is just visible on the right of the photo below.

The enterprise was obviously successful and by 1908 they had expanded and had a second shop in New Buckenham. In due course they were also agents for motor cycles (advert with thanks to Carleton Rode History Group). 

A 1913 trade diary from the New Buckenham shop gave a fascinating insight into the business of Fox. Bros. (An article entitled "Fox Brothers of New Buckenham", by Peter Fuller, based on this diary was published in the Boneshaker magazine of the Veteran-Cycle Club, in 2012). Three "New Hudson" cycles were bought for the Forncett store in February but two were apparently later recalled to New Buckenham and sold to customers in Carleton Rode and New Buckenham. A new bicycle typically cost between £4 and £6 or you could hire a bike for about 6d (equivalent to 2.5p) per day.

A Ladies Rolfe cycle was sold to Mrs. Humphreys at Forncett End.

In the 1930s, Osmond ('Ozzie') Jackson took over the store at Forncett End and the cycle and motor cycle business was continued by Fergus Fox in New Buckenham. It finally closed in 1960.

However, the original cycle shop at Fox's Stores was still standing in the mid-1950s when the Ludkin family were running the shop there.

After Fox. Bros. closed in Forncett, cycle repairs were carried out by William (Billy) Aldridge (1911-1956) and Norman Humphreys (1899-1989). Billy and Hilda Aldridge's business was on Aslacton Road near the 'Five Ways' and it was a popular meeting place for Forncett's teenagers in the 1950's.

Billy Aldridge's shop. L-R, Joe Allison, Paul Brock and Hilda Aldridge

Outside Billy's shop. L-R, Alan Womack, Bruce Nights, Joe Allison, Neville Reynolds, Reggie Nights

Billy's tombstone (below) in Forncett St Peter churchyard bears a permanent reminder of his trade. 

Norman Humphreys had his little repair workshop in the garden of his house [Louie-Holme] at Forncett End, not far from 'The Jolly Farmers' public house. He also used to repair radios and wireless sets. He had acquired his engineering expertise from his time in the RFC & RAF. He and his brother, Leonard (Lenny), were involved in driving buses from Forncett to Norwich for the family business set up by their father, Chellis Humphreys of Forncett End. 

Thanks to Charles Oxley (New Buckenham Archive), Peter Fuller (Veteran-Cycle Club) and the "Boneshaker" magazine, as well as Dennis Ludkin and Peter & Pauline Thrower, for help in researching this article. 

The initial material for this article was  Forncett Archive Note No.22 - written by John Webster