F. C. Parkes? A bit of a head scratcher...

The Parkes' serial number: LL1650

This F. C. Parkes is proving a hard one to pin down. First I thought it was a 1939/early '40s bike, then a 1947 machine based on the date code on the Sturmey AW rear and now the front BF drum hub says it was made in June, 1948. I'm unearthing these wee clues one at a time because I've hardly any time to spend tinkering with the Parkes at the moment.

Then there's the other thing that's been bugging me: the Cyclo Standard mounting bracket on the chain stay. Assuming the original owner had the frame specially made for him, why would he ask for a Cyclo bracket and then fit a Sturmey Archer AW rear hub? This raises all sorts of questions (well, one or two at least!). Did he order the frame or was it one he picked up secondhand? If he had it made for himself, did he start off with a Cyclo Standard and switch to an AW in the late 1940s? How much of the bike actually relates to its first build and how much has been changed in the dim and distant past?

I saw another Parkes on the internet that had the same lugged stem as my bike and a similar swaged on chainring. I'm beginning to think that these two items may have been standard equipment on a Parkes built and equipped bike. Maybe the bike was bought fully built up - Cyclo and all - and an AW added later for a wider spread of gears? Who knows but it's fun to speculate.

Slightly bent rear dropout. Shouldn't be too hard to bend it back into shape.

The frame number appears to be LL1650. Now, if we rule out 1650 as the date when it was made then the LL might give us a clue. A 1945 Parkes on the Classic Lightweights website had the letters MW at the start. The owner said the M meant it was from the financial period April, 1945 - March, 1946. If that's true then, logically, my frame might well date from 1944-45. He said, "The frame number, stamped on the left rear drop-out, is MW 410. ‘M’ is the financial year number, in this case April 1945 – March 1946. W is the workshop. The number 410 would indicate that the frame was built late 1945, according to Peter Cowan the V-CC Parkes ME (Marque Enthusiast)."

I'm wondering if this is more of an educated guess by Peter Cowan rather than concrete information. If the second letter denotes the factory or workshop then what does "L" stand for? Maybe it was made in the "lounge" or the "ladies"? Or was there a "lightweight" division? 1940s Parkes were made at Aston in Birmingham just along the road from the Norton factory so L doesn't tie in with that. And 1650? Would they really have made so many Parkes lightweights in a year? Could it be a date, 1/6/50? Seems too late to me so possibly the 1650th frame produced by the Lightweight division in 1944-45?

Above and below: The proof of the wheels' roadster origins.

And then just tonight I had a look at the rims which I'd assumed were very rusty 26x11/4 Endricks. Well, they're Endricks and very rusty all right but 26x13/8 - roadster rims! I should have checked them out earlier but I'm just slowly cleaning this very dirty bike up and, to be fair, who would have imagined roadster wheels on a lightweight?

So, an elite, high class frame, Chater Lea pedals, Brooks B17, lugged stem and Parkes branded mudguards mated with a cheaper chainset, steel caliper brake and roadster wheels. I'm not sure what to make of that. It certainly calls my initial impression of "completely original" into question. I suppose, reaching out for that passing straw, that it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone might have specified an F. C. Parkes like that or bought a Parkes lightweight frame and built it up with what was to hand. Somehow, though, it would surely have made more sense to have bought a roadster.

A clearer view of the serial number.

I'm lucky enough to have a wee stash of 1940s parts that I could use to build the bike up as a "proper" period correct lightweight. I could do it like this:

  • Reynolds bars and stem
  • GB Hiduminium brakes and the Burlite levers
  • Conloy Standard rims/Blumfield Duralite hubs
  • Cyclo Standard gear
  • Williams chainset/Chater Lea pedals.

It's maybe a bit perverse but I'm tempted to keep it pretty much the way it is. Decent 26x11/4 Endricks and the Sturmey hubs, a GB Hiduminium rear caliper, Williams chainset and perhaps a Strata alloy seat post and that's it. More of a tourer than a racer, I suppose.