For many years Raleigh’s huge plant on Triumph Road, Nottingham was one of the city’s biggest employers, and one of the world’s largest bike factories. Now its history is being preserved on a website launched today that gathers together images and video and audio interviews with the people who worked there.
I Worked At Raleigh has over 50 interviews with former Raleigh staff, and scores of images including views inside the factory, staff newsletters, prototypes that never made production, sponsored racers and lots more.
It’s hard to imagine today how vast a part of the British cycling landscape Raleigh was. At one point in the 1950s the factory covered 60 acres, employed over 6,000 people and made 5 million bikes per year.
In 1960, after Raleigh was acquired by Tube Investments, bikes from the various TI-Raleigh brands — including Phillips, Hercules, Rudge and BSA as well as Raleigh itself — comprised 75 percent of British bike sales.
The plant in Nottingham made everything from spokes to handlebar grips, and Raleigh owned both saddle maker Brooks and hub gear manufacturer Sturmey Archer, a level of vertical integration of manufacturing that’s now virtually unknown.
The Alpha, a prototype that never got to production. (Courtesy I Worked At Raleigh)
I Worked At Raleigh brings together some of the company’s history. The site and accompanying app is the result of a three year collaboration between the Nottingham University, which now occupies some of the former Raleigh site, and theatrical event team Excavate, formerly Hanby and Barrett.
Former analytical chemist Terry Sleaford, 64, of Nottingham, said: “I was at the factory between 1970 and 1986 and I would test virtually anything from steel tubing to brake blocks to make sure they were safe before they were put on the bike.
“The working environment for us was not bad but on the factory floor it was very noisy and smelt like machine oil.
“I have been interviewed and an audio recording will appear on the website.
“I think the project is a great idea and it is something that was not there before and it is going to be a resource that anyone can use.”
Professor Christine Hall, head of the school of education at Nottingham University, told the Nottingham Post: “This project has been about capturing the voices and stories of local people who worked at Raleigh, an industry which has been hugely important to the history of Nottingham.
“We wanted to explore and celebrate the history of our site and make what we found out available to as wide an audience as possible.
“We hope that the website will be used in schools, in the university and by anyone interested in local history, and that visitors to the Jubilee Campus will enjoy using the app.”
The app version of the website is allows you to walk the site of the former factory, hearing voices and seeing images from the past as you stand in the place where once thousands of people worked making bicycles. The app allows you to position yourself in the factory as you access the audio and image files.
Writer Andy Barrett from Excavate said: “We really wanted to tell the story of this iconic Nottingham factory from the people who worked there; from across the ages and across the many, many departments.
“The best way to do that is to go and meet the workers, to have a cup of tea and to chat.”
Producer Julian Hanby added: “We’re really proud of both the quality and quantity of material that the website contains.
“The site isn’t an official history of the company, with lists of statistics, it is a collection of memories of what it was really like to work at a huge twentieth century factory.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.